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Experts offer tips on reducing cart abandonment

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Shopping carts have plagued retailers and their customers for years.

There's something inherent to their design -- or perhaps it's Murphy's Law -- that dictates that all four wheels may not, under any condition, be able to simultaneously roll in the same direction. More than once, the subsequent rattling and precarious instability, akin to driving without power steering, has forced me to abandon the cart altogether and fend for myself.

Then, there are virtual shopping carts.

According to SeeWhy Inc founder Charles Nicholls, over 70% of online customers will abandon their virtual shopping carts. Cart abandonment is a pressing problem for digital retailers across the board, and that's why Nicholls, along with Director Andrew Balazs and Marketing VP Brandon Proctor, came together at's 2011 Annual Summit for a session entitled, "The Science of Shopping Cart Optimization."

Nicholls began the session by running down a litany of statistics detailing why customers abandon their carts and offering insights on how retailers can win them back. According to his research, customers abandon their carts either because it's not the right time or because it's not the right price. As all retailers know, timing and price are two of the most difficult factors to combat when trying to complete a sale, so recapturing those sales is certainly not an easy process.

Here's a quick rundown of some of Nicholls's other primary points:

  • Design your remarketing campaigns to address timing and price objections. Although this seems intuitive, Nicholls said it was amazing how many retailers overlook this step in their remarketing process.
  • Realize that not all abandonment is bad. For many purchases, abandonment is a natural part of the product-buying process. Shoppers research, price check and then finally purchase, often with one or more cart abandonment occurring between the initial "add to cart" and final purchase.
  • Begin remarketing as soon as your customer abandons the cart. They say that within the first 12 hours is your greatest opportunity to recapture the sale -- Nicholls says, however, that sometimes even 12 hours is too long. The quicker you are to remarket to the customer, and the more personalized the remarketing campaign is, the better your chances are of completing the sale.

Balazs gave attendees a look into the behind-the-scenes process that occurred in Saks' virtual shopping cart redesign effort. Saks recognized the problems they were having with cart abandonment and decided to give its shopping cart system an honest review and makeover. Their objective was to improve the completion rate for customers who start the checkout process. The most common problems that Saks' cart system had, according to Balazs, are: (1) customers entering checkout just to determine the final sales price; (2) customers leave in order to modify their cart; (3) a confusing user experience; (4) buggy checkout process.

So here are a few of the suggestions that Balazs made in light of Saks' research and testing:

  • Let your customers know what the final price is before they start checkout.
  • Make it easy to make changes and see the subsequent impact on the cart.
  • Ensure that key information is easy to see and edit.

Proctor wrapped up the session by offering what he believed to be the biggest takeaways for digital retailers. Convenience appears to have been a theme of the afternoon, with each presenter insisting that the easier the process the higher the conversion rate. For instance, Proctor noted that coupons are "bigger than Britney Spears" right now (before amending that to "bigger than Justin Bieber, because Britney isn't that big anymore"). This means that retailers should attempt to make the use of online coupons as easy as possible, going as far as providing coupon codes during the checkout process.

Here are the rest of Proctor's takeaways:

  • Give the customers what they want. Proctor noted how shocked customers are when retailers actually provide them with the experience and products they wanted. The more retailers can do this, the better. He also added that it is "unforgivable to not give customers what they want, given how much information digital retailers are able to gather about their customers."
  • Listen to the customer. Another stalwart of the retail community that is too often forgotten when it comes to designing checkout processes.
  • Create a thoughtless shopping experience. Convenience, convenience, convenience.