Shopping Cart Abandonment | 6 Best Practices to Encourage Completion

shopping cart abandonment

If you run your own online store, you already know that a huge variety of elements play important roles in the success of any eCommerce venture. From design to content marketing, lead capture to promotional partnerships, there are tons of moving parts.

Let’s say you’ve checked off all the most important boxes as you launch your online store, even worked hard to develop your own retail app and perfectly optimized it to attract more attention. There’s one cold hard fact of eCommerce that you’ll still need to face — shopping cart abandonment.

It’s an unfortunate reality that it’s all too easy for users to browse your products, take the first steps towards placing an order, and then change their minds and leave your site. For online retailers it’s a continual battle, particularly for sectors or products that might be considered ‘impulse buys’. For instance, 40% of users abandon their orders from online clothing retailers before completing a purchase.

Shopping cart abandonment can occur for many reasons, and it affects all types of organizations and business models that rely on digital transactions. Abandonment largely springs from a mixture of three different forces at play:

  1. Barriers to Engagement
  2. Clunky User Experience
  3. Poor Web Design

While these categories are all closely related, they provide the easiest way to begin breaking down all the different elements that might contribute to a site’s high abandonment rate. Let’s walk through a few common issues within each category and some ways to solve them.

In some ways, low rates of shopping cart abandonment are unavoidable; that’s simply the nature of eCommerce. Never let this prevent you from taking action! Your shopping cart abandonment rate can always be improved, and it’s often much simpler than you might expect. Let’s dive in:

barriers to engagement

1. Barriers to Engagement

In a broad sense, preventable shopping cart abandonment occurs when users experience digital barriers on your site or store. Too often we actively make it more difficult for users to engage with our content without even realizing it. This is particularly true when it comes to eCommerce.

To begin understanding this problem, take a note from nonprofits that conduct pledge fundraising. Collecting pledges is difficult work, and nonprofits have learned that making it faster and easier for donors to pledge their support is the key to success. Don’t force them to create an account or pay on the spot, simply invite them to get involved focusing on eliminating barriers has already been shown to improve overall collection rates.

There are a few ways you can begin deconstructing those barriers on your online store today, too. Follow these best practices:

Don’t force new users to create accounts.

Reducing shopping cart abandonment certainly involves fine-tuning your site’s design and user experience, but look first to the more literal barriers that keep out potential customers.

Most of us have done this before: We browse an online store that we just stumbled across or saw advertised online, put an item or two in the cart, go to checkout, and immediately lose all motivation when faced with the dreaded login and account setup screen.

It kills the energy of the transaction and turns off new customers. Keeping your user moving smoothly is the only way to ensure they don’t second-guess their purchases.

Of course, every website that handles personal information or data needs to carefully authenticate their users and prioritize security. Remember, though, that we’re nearly two decades into the 21st century! Fast, intuitive, and extremely secure passwordless login options like Swoop are starting to change the ways that we engage with the internet.

We believe that the internet can only start living up to its real potential as a place to share content and foster the growth of small business when outdated barriers begin to fall away. Removing login and account creation hurdles is becoming increasingly important as more and more eCommerce traffic moves to retail apps and mobile versions of onlines stores.

Take pains to research and provide new, streamlined login methods for your customers, even if that simply means creating a “checkout as guest” option.

Avoid “price shock” whenever possible.

Additional prices and fees are another more literal barrier for your online users thinking of making a purchase. Price shock primarily refers to shipping costs. A user might be excited to make their purchase until they go to checkout, see the total including shipping, and suddenly lose all motivation to complete the order.

Shopping cart abandonment caused by excessive price shock is particularly frustrating for online retailers because it occurs right at the bottom of the conversion or purchase funnel.

That is, high shipping costs deter users at the very point that they were prepared to complete their purchase. Just as customers turn away from transactions when forced to waste time creating new accounts, high shipping costs increase abandonment at the crucial last step in the process.There are a few ways to mitigate the impact of price shock from shipping costs:

  • Stay transparent. Even if there’s little you can do to decrease standard shipping costs, make sure to offer your customers shipping calculators before checkout.
  • Offer promotional rates. Many users are willing to add an extra item to their cart to reach a threshold for free or discounted promotional shipping rates.
  • Provide options. Simply being given the choice to go with the cheapest shipping option can help keep users motivated to complete their orders.

Shopping cart abandonment due to price shock is an especially prevalent problem for smaller online businesses. Even with thoughtful and innovative marketing strategies that attract heavy traffic flows to your site, high or surprising shipping costs can be a major turn-off for customers depending on the types of products or services you offer.

clunky user experience

2. Clunky User Experience

Providing great user experience, or UX, on your online store is essential for reducing shopping cart abandonment. Poor user experience creates barriers to engagement similar to the ones discussed above, but they’re less literal.

For instance, an online store that simply doesn’t function well or has a disorganized, difficult-to-navigate catalog presents users with a major barrier. They’re not being kept out, but they are being discouraged from engaging with the store.

The best way to avoid creating a poor user experience on your site is to make sure it’s built from the ground-up using intuitive and comprehensive tools. If your store is hosted on WordPress, for instance, take the time to explore useful and top-rated plugins. There’s a concise rundown of our favorite eCommerce plugins over on the Swoop blog to get you started.

When considering the user experience of your store, make sure to consider it from both the front- and the backends. Here are two examples:

Simplify your store’s frontend navigation.

The quality of the frontend navigation of your online store is the primary defining factor in your site’s overall user experience.

Even if your site already offers fairly strong user experience with tidy navigational structures, it never hurts to take a second look with fresh eyes. Imagine yourself in the position of a brand new customer who’s found your store from a social media post or other online advertisement. Anticipating the wants and needs of your online visitors is the key to optimizing your site’s user experience.

Create an intuitive, seamless experience that offers the exact options and tools they need at the right moments. Work to minimize the number of pages an average customer will need to visit in order to complete an order.

Shoot for an ideal minimum of 3 clicks: visiting the product page, adding it to the cart, and clicking the checkout button. Keep a tight control on that third click, to your checkout page. Make it as easy and fast as possible to complete an order. There are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Don’t force customers to create new accounts as they start to complete their purchase. Offer guest checkout methods or passwordless login tools to streamline the process.
  • Keep all of the required payment and shipping input fields on one page or within a single smart widget. Several pages of data input can be a major turn off.
  • Reassure customers of the security of your site and payment processing services.
  • Offer multiple payment options, including both credit and PayPal.

We’ve all visited a website that offered terrible navigation poorly labeled or unlabeled sections, unintuitive placement of key buttons or links, overly-complex processes to complete simple tasks. This kind of negative experience can effectively turn a customer away from your store forever, so take the time to walk through their experience and identify problem areas.

Identify funnel leaks on the backend of your store.

As the administrator of your website, you can use Google Analytics tools to identify issues in your store’s conversion funnel in real time.

This ability can be invaluable for any online retailer or other business, but it’s particularly important for those who engage in multichannel selling, content marketing, and diverse advertising strategies across multiple outlets.

Analytics tools can show you the traffic volume flowing into each of your core pages and then help you analyze all the traffic that then leaves those pages. Some users will continue on to other product pages on your domain, while others will simply leave.

Understanding the ratio between those two user actions and why users choose to stay or leave is crucial for pinpointing user experience improvements on your site.

For example, if you find that a particular category, product, or promotion page sees a lot of incoming traffic but very little outgoing traffic, that’s a bottleneck that requires a closer look. A high number of users dropping out of your sales funnel at a very specific point might indicate any number of problems, like:

  • Technical issues that prevent the page from loading
  • Unintuitive navigation that leaves customers confused about how to continue
  • Confusing copy or layout that distracts users
  • Sudden price shock, as discussed above
  • Forced registration or login at a key point in the funnel

Taking the time to study your store’s traffic flows through the backend works hand-in-hand with frontend UX optimizations to strengthen your entire site.

Find problem points to locate UX issues, or find the navigation flows that your customers are already using most frequently to guide your improvements. Then use your analytics tools to study the effects and customer reactions to any updates you make.

poor web design

3. Poor Web Design

Poor web design is the third category of the root causes of shopping cart abandonment. ‘Web design’ is itself a fairly broad subject, so in some ways it encompasses the first two categories. Creating barriers to engagement (like account creation) and clunky UX (like poor navigation) relate heavily to the ways in which you design the structure of your online store.

As its own category, web design refers to the more specific visual elements and features that you offer your visitors and customers. Poor web design that causes customers to abandon their shopping carts, then, reflects a lack of those effective elements and features.

If you’re fairly inexperienced with web design, make sure you’re using a CMS that actively helps you optimize your content. Check out these design tips from Morweb for more context.

Simply put, a site that looks bad and is difficult to use will struggle to convert customers. There are two primary ways to combat this:

Focus on high-quality visuals.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but an attractive cover certainly doesn’t hurt if you’re trying to sell the book!

The copy on your online store, including product descriptions, page headers, and your ‘about us’ section, are all important for the overall quality and positive user experience of your site. Remember, though, that the internet is now foremost a visual medium, not a textual one.

Attractive, well-designed products will almost always sell better than a less attractive version with additional features. Of course this generalization varies industry by industry, but the main idea is that your online store and its product pages need to tell a better visual story. After all, we tend to be better motivated by images than by words alone.

With eCommerce, a customer can’t pick up and examine your products, so your images need to provide as close a digital experience as possible. Follow a few best practices to ensure your visuals are pulling their weight:

  • Use high resolution images, and include a zoom or magnification feature.
  • Make sure each product can be viewed from multiple angles and that the photos give a sense of its relative size.
  • Tell a story about how the product is used and how it can benefit your customers. Photos of models wearing your clothes or of your food products beautifully styled and arranged on a plate are great examples.
  • Include videos to explain the features of products whenever relevant.

Focusing on high-quality visuals ensures that your customers will have a strong understanding of your product’s actual physicality and will be able to imagine themselves using it. Both of these are essential for driving their purchases to completion; without high-quality visuals motivating them along the way, the odds a customer will abandon their cart increases greatly.

Include ‘social proof’ whenever possible.

Your online customers want to be reassured that your products actually look, feel, fit, or work as advertised. ‘Social proof’ is how you reassure them.

Think about it: any online purchase is in some ways a leap of faith. Your customers make their personal data and payment information vulnerable for a product that they can’t even hold or examine in-person.

We already discussed how high-quality visuals are important to help motivate and reassure customers, but social proof from other customers is just as (if not more) important. This primarily includes user-posted reviews, but social media has begun to expand the concept of social proof in new ways.

There are a number of key ways to incorporate social proof into your online store’s overall design and conversion funnel:

  • Provide easy ways for customers to leave reviews, but make sure their previous purchases can actually be verified.
  • Follow up with customers to ask for their reviews of specific products.
  • Use applications that show customers who else is buying your products, or find tools that pull from your store’s social media feeds to highlight directly highlight these organic reviews on your homepage.
  • Use positive testimonials wherever appropriate to reassure customers of your store’s and products’ quality.

Let’s think back to nonprofit organizations. Here again they offer a great example of the importance of social proof for motivating transactions. Asking for donations from online visitors is always difficult, but emphasizing the positive impacts of their work with letters, testimonials, videos, and lots of images helps nonprofits of all sizes continue attracting support online.

For eCommerce, simply providing proof that other customers have had great experiences with your business can go a long way to reducing abandonment.

No matter what products or services you sell online, you know that keeping your customers motivated all the way through the sales funnel can be a major challenge. Reducing shopping cart abandonment can be tricky, but understanding its wide variety of root causes can help you get started in reducing its impact on your sales.

Start by examining what literal barriers are blocking users from engaging with your store, then look to more specific user experience and web design best practices that can help.

Author Bio: John Killoran is CEO of Swoop, an exciting new login service that combines mailto technology, antispam encryption and WebSockets to provide a beautiful login experience that users will love. When he is not running a company, he is cooking food for his family and telling his dogs to stop barking.


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