How to avoid shopping cart abandonment

Your shopping cart on your web site is more likely to be abandoned than used. Around six out of every ten people who select a product for purchase, give up just before pressing the “pay” button. It’s rather like walking up to the checkout in a bricks and mortar shop, handing over the items you want to purchase then as the assistant asks you for your payment you say “Oh no, sorry, I’ve changed my mind”. So why do people give up so easily when trying to buy from a web site?

One of the reasons is the socially constructed notion we have of these two different shopping experiences. It is not deemed polite or acceptable to go so far with the potential transaction in a “real” shop and then change our mind. There is social pressure from the “tut-tuts” of other shoppers in the queue, for instance, which means we almost always go through the purchase process in a physical shop.

Online, that social pressure does not exist. There’s no-one, such as a checkout assistant or another shopper in the queue to make us more likely to pay up, even if we have a few doubts about the purchase. The result is, we feel much more able to withdraw from the shopping process online than we do in the “real world”.

Trust is often quoted as a reason for abandoning shopping carts. However, this is unlikely to be the case. The need for trust happens earlier in the transaction. We need to trust the web site well before we decide to purchase anything. For example, take MarketLive, the company that recently released the figures on shopping cart abandonment. Go to their site and look up their latest news and you discover that the most recent item is from last July (2007). How much do you now trust them to really know what is going on with e-commerce? The fact is, they do, but they are not showing us they do as well as they might. This hit on their trust makes it less likely someone will purchase e-commerce facilities from them; people don’t even get as far as the shopping cart if web site trust is an issue.

Another view on shopping cart abandonment is the fact that online it is easy for shoppers to make comparisons. We can switch from one supplier to another quickly or use price comparison sites to find the cheapest source for the products and services we want. And whilst that may happen, it is going to be a rarity; changing your mind and looking for alternative suppliers at the point of purchase doesn’t really happen. The comparison sites and the ease of online shopping all happens before people get to the shopping cart.

So what is going on? Two possible things explain the abandonment rates. Firstly, most shopping carts are “non human”; how many bricks and mortar stores do you go to where you have to register or give your name and address before you can buy anything? Yet’s that what most web site shopping carts require. Secondly, most shopping carts are too cumbersome and technical – even the relative simplicity of Amazon’s shopping cart requires you to look in several different places on the screen, go through several different pages and confirm, then re-confirm who you are. Even this successful company has a shopping cart that appears designed to make it difficult for people to buy.

Just sit and watch people trying to buy from a web site. The shopping cart is usually the stumbling block because it is too technical and requires too much input from the shopper. It is so unlike their stereotypical shopping experience in their mind that they give up.

Online retail is predicted to grow dramatically, but your web site will only succeed with this opportunity if your shopping cart is so simple a five year old can use it. Think that’s daft? Ask a five year old to buy some sweets in a shop – they know exactly what to do. Ask them to do it online and they’d be as confused as the rest of us.

Shopping cart abandonment has little do with what the “experts” are telling is; it’s because the shopping cart companies have just made it all too technical and difficult.

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