Why do shoppers abandon carts? (and what can you do to convert them?)

"This is too long to read" summary:
Don't rely on just one method to fix cart abandonment. Get to the roots of the problem and solve it for good.

There are a lot of articles teaching you how to use email to reclaim abandoned carts. But why not be proactive, and attack the problem at both ends?


There is a lot more that you can, and should, do beyond just sending some automated emails. You should work to reduce the number of people who abandon their cart in the first place. If you can put and end-to-end strategy together to reduce your cart abandonment rate, you’ll regain a lot of leaking revenue.

What is cart abandonment?

Any time a visitor to your site adds something to the shopping cart and then does not complete their purchase, you’ve got an abandoned shopping cart.

According to this Baymard Institute study, nearly 70% of online shopping carts will be abandoned without a purchase being made. So on average, 70% of the time that someone visits an online store and adds something to their cart, they will then leave without completing their checkout.


Why add it to the cart if they’re not buying?

In the same study, we find some of the most common reasons for abandoning carts:

The largest segment (58.6%) said that they were just browsing or doing product research.

They may leave with the intention of returning, or they may never have had a real desire to buy from you in the first place. Some of these may return later on to complete a purchase. So there is very little you can do about that as a store owner. There are ways to address this kind of abandoned cart, and we’ll discuss them later.


A poor, lonely cart being abandoned

What about the rest?

Taking out the “just browsing” crowd, what else prevents visitors from buying?

  1. Extra fees such as shipping and taxes.
  2. Account Creation
  3. Complicated Checkout
  4. Unable to account for total cost before ordering (Same as number 1)
  5. Website technical issues/crashes
  6. Lack of trust in the site
  7. Slow Delivery
  8. Didn’t like return policy
  9. Not enough payment methods
  10. Declined Card


There are a lot of things here that you can actually do something about, so the ball for reducing your number of abandoned carts is firmly in your court.


What can you do to stop losing so many buyers this way?

There are 3 high-level things to do:

  1. Identify the reasons people leave your site without buying
  2. Stop giving them a reason to leave without buying
  3. Reclaim some of those who still leave without buying


Step 1- Identifying the reason people abandon their cart.

You may be suffering from every problem on that list, or just one. Either way, you need to identify the problem before you can fix it. Here are a few techniques to make that happen.

  • Find a non tech-savvy person (possibly a parent or grandparent) and have them try to make a purchase. Watch them. See where they have problems.
  • Get a friend moderately drunk or stoned and have them attempt to make a purchase. Have fun. Fix your site.
  • Pay for recorded user testing.
  • Look at your analytics and employ Hotjar or some other screen recording tool. See what is going wrong when people leave the site.
  • Take an impersonal look at it yourself. Try to look through the eyes you would use on someone else’s site. You have to be able to identify where you’ve messed up, and some business owners can’t handle that, which is the reason for all the other options.
  • Look at your analytics. If you have a 3-page checkout flow, and page 2 is losing a lot of people, figure out why.
  • Use the first email in your abandoned cart sequence to offer customer service. Ask if they had a problem or question.
  • Use Hotjar on-page feedback and survey mechanisms to find out what else they would like to see or what questions they have about purchasing.

Once you know what it is that’s making it hard for people to give you money, fix it.


Step 2- Stop giving people reasons to leave without buying

Once you know why people are leaving potential purchases behind, the first step is to fix the problems that cause them to do so.


Show them the full cost as early as possible

Do you have a flat shipping cost? Make sure they know that early on. Use it as part of your homepage copy. This is one big reason Amazon Prime is so successful. Speaking as a buyer, I know I get free shipping on almost anything I would buy from Amazon. I know the cost I see is what I’ll pay.

Allow your customers to quickly estimate shipping and tax costs within your shopping cart by adding a zip code. The longer you wait to show them a final number, the more are going to drop out without buying.


Don’t require account creation before checkout

Image of a checkout that requires account creation before checkout

You are already collecting all of their information if they are making a purchase. Shift account creation to the end of checkout, and make it completely optional if possible. At that point, they have already given you so much that tacking on a password is nothing.

An alternative is to give them good reason to create an account before buying. Offer a discount, wishlist functionality, or something else to make it worth it sign up.


Uncomplicate your checkout

Why? Why in the year 2017 is it difficult to make a purchase online? We’ve been doing this eCommerce thing for a long time. There are humans living full-time in an orbital space station. We can harness electricity from the sun. And you’re going to leave money on the table by making your checkout an Eldritch horror?


Stop making it hard for people to give you money.

  • Make them fill in as few form fields as possible.
  • Make the checkout into as few pages as possible, especially on mobile. (I have seen people rage and give up on buying a product entirely because of mobile checkout not transitioning correctly from page to page.)
  • Use a progress indicator so that they can visibly see how much longer it’s going to take them.
  • Keep their attention on the page by having text and visual of what they’re buying present at every stage. Especially if it’s a large price tag, they want to be sure it is the right color/size/model. If buyers have to detour away from the checkout page to see that, you’re going to lose some of them.
  • Offer them multiple options to pay (Credit Card, Google Wallet, Amazon)
  • Simplify pages. Any extraneous element on the checkout page should add to their experience (visually reminding them what they’re paying for) or be banished.
    • Example: There is zero reason I should see footer links to your blog while I’m selecting shipping. That is just begging me to forget my purchase and end up somewhere else.


Eliminate all the technical issues you can

I’m not a developer, so I don’t have a ton of advice here. I know sometimes web sites crash. Clean up everything you can, and make sure crashes are as few and far between as possible. That will be easier with fewer pages involved in the checkout because there will be fewer transmissions and fewer steps.

Load time is also an issue. As load times go up, so do cart abandonment rates. Load times should be reduced as much as possible throughout the site, but especially in the checkout phase.


Give them a reason to trust you

There is a lot that can be done to mitigate lack of trust, and much of it should come before checkout.

  • Use social proof on your front page. Show right up front that people have trusted you and loved the result. Press coverage and buyer reviews/testimonials will put buyers’ minds at ease.
  • Give them free information and help with your content marketing. Nothing builds a trusting relationship with a buyer like being the one who gives them reliable help.
  • Address customer questions and concerns from your customer service team, from returns, from bad reviews. Do this in your marketing copy, in FAQ’s, in videos or images. Make sure they understand that what you’re selling is what you say it is and does what you say it does. Anything less is a failure of marketing. 
  • Use trust icons and offer secure payment methods, people know these icons and they trust them. They don’t need to be in your site footer. They do need to be on your payment page.
  • Make your site look good. If I feel like I’m buying gray market amphetamines from Ukraine, I’m going to leave and go somewhere else.
  • If you ask for information beyond the bare minimum (like a phone number), tell the buyer why. If you tell me my number will only be called to resolve a shipping problem, you’ll get it.
  • Make it as easy as possible for buyers to ask you questions. Give them all your traditional contact information, and use onsite chat to allow them to talk to you quickly and easily
  • Side note: When someone has a question, especially if you get that question continually, answer it in your marketing copy. That means this is something your buyers care about. Address the issue prominently and you will profit.


State your return policy

Stand behind your product by having a return policy that doesn’t suck, and state it clearly in a place that’s easily seen. Having a well thought out, solid return policy can not only make your shoppers trust you more, it can also protect you against fraud.


Step 3- Reclaim some of the abandoned carts you still get

Okay, so you’ve found and eliminated the problems that you have control over.

Beyond these very legitimate reasons for people to leave without completing a purchase is another one that you can only really address after the fact.

People don’t always finish things.

They intend to come back later and buy, but they forget. Or they have to run pick up the kids or get something to eat. Or they are about to buy on their lunch break and have to go back to work and you just become another tab in their 40 open mobile browser tabs.

So what else can you do to reclaim some of the revenue you’re losing?

If someone added something to their cart, there is a good chance that they are at least interested in what you’re selling. Maybe they were just researching, maybe they were price-checking. But they at least thought they might want it. So now, it becomes your mission to get back in front of them, gain their awareness, and bring them back on-site.


Install an exit intent popup

Exit intent Popup example

Popups can be a little annoying, but effective. Using an exit intent pop-up as people leave the page and their shopping cart forces them to reconsider.

You can use the pop-up to get their email address or even offer a small discount to complete their purchase. If you offer a discount, do so only for first-time buyers, and make sure they know that this is a very limited-time, one-time offer.

Make the pop-up as little of an annoyance as possible. It should load and close very quickly, take up a minimal portion of the screen, be easy to close (especially on mobile), and be styled to match your site aesthetic.


Send automated abandoned cart emails

Example of a great 1st cart abandonment email

Abandoned Cart emails are one of the most effective ways to get back some of your lost revenue.

You will need their email address first, and getting it should be a goal very early on. Make it the first thing you do in the checkout process.

You should also be offering some sort of lead magnet that collects emails from people who never even add to cart. This should be something that will mainly generate interest from real potential buyers.

Giving away an Amazon gift card will get you a lot of email addresses, but they are less likely to buy than someone who wants discounts at your own store or information about the problem your product solves.


Once you have the address

You can use email automation (I use and recommend Klaviyo for my own clients) as an easy way to get in touch with those who abandon their carts. This makes it easy to send emails based on behavioral triggers like cart abandonment, and use segmented customization based on demographics, purchase history, etc.

I went in-depth on how to create and use abandoned cart emails here.


Retarget with ads

Retargeting ads allow you to put ads in front of past visitors with the goal of bringing them back to the site.

Especially with higher-cost purchases, a visitor may come to your site 2-3-4 times before making their first purchase. Retargeting ads can be a part of that process to make them aware of you, build trust, and bring them back on-site after an initial visit.

If you DO have their email address, there are two ways you can retarget. One is to match the email address they gave your site against those of ad networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and then serve them ads in their feed. The other is to use emails outside of the abandoned cart sequence to remarket.


Abandoned carts are a needless way to lose money

You are always going to have some level of cart abandonment, but there’s no reason to let it drain away any more of your revenue than you have to.

You’re now armed with the information you need to stop the bleeding. Go forth and reclaim the purchases that are thine by right. Or something like that.


If you want hands-on help to fix your abandoned cart problems, or want to find out how you could grow your eCommerce revenue, feel free to reach out and ask.

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