Online Shopping Carts: The Moment of Truth

By Paul Dunay

Special to the eTail Blog

Although the average online shopping cart abandonment rate is a staggering 65 percent, incomplete purchases are largely credited to controllable issues: high shipping prices presented too late in the game, a long or confusing checkout process, not enough payment options, too many requests for customer information, etc. Sealing the deal comes down to being able to provide a great deal of information in as few clicks as possible.

Like many things in marketing, the solution lies in listening: listening to your customers, that is. And if you listen carefully enough, they have likely told (or showed) you why—and when—they are leaving without completing the sale.

Think about it: how do things like the existence of hidden shipping costs, lack of early shipping cost estimates, out of stock items and lengthy registration forms affect your overall conversions? Would reduced or free shipping increase the number of conversions? Are you telling visitors upfront when items are out of stock, or are you waiting to spring that on them when they go to checkout? Are they forced to leave the shopping cart to read your return policy when it strikes them that, “I’m not sure whether Aunt Susie is a size 4 or a 6 — I wonder if she’ll be able to return this?” The list of variables that create a good (or bad) checkout experience goes on and on.

According to Forrester Research, the top six reasons for abandoning a cart before making a purchase are:

1. Shipping and handling costs are too high (55%!)
2. Wasn’t ready to purchase the product
3. Wanted to compare prices on other sites
4. Product prices higher than they were willing to pay
5. Wanted to save products to the cart for lower comparison
6. Shipping costs were listed too late in the checkout process

Consumers are openly fickle, and telling. They want to make sure they are getting the best deal and experience possible, and it’s up to you to give it to them. To achieve this, here are some tried and true do’s and don’ts when it comes to your cart:

1. Ditch hidden shipping costs and fees. Be honest about what the cost is upfront; consumers appreciate integrity.

2. Offer free shipping promotions. Whether it’s via an offer, a time frame (act now!) or “buy a certain amount, get free shipping,” showing customers you know shipping fees are a pain point for them is an easy win. After all, by throwing them a bone with shipping fees, you’re sure to make up for those costs in additional sales and Average Order Values.

3. Make registration simple. Make sure your registration process is easy to get through, perhaps even with a progress indicator—lengthy or confusing forms cause frustration. Frustration causes visitors to wander.

4. Leave room for virtual lay-a-way. A “save for later” button, though doesn’t lend to the immediate sale, can be great for those who are in browse – not buy – mode. Consumers who can easily log back in to retrieve their item and buy it will convert faster than those who have to start over.

5. Make it safe and secure. While online shopping has become a very credible way to receive goods and services, many websites still display a “security logo” during the checkout process to ensure visitors that they are using a trusted site for their online purchases.

6. Test everything. A/B and multivariate testing will help you immediately pinpoint your trouble areas, rather than playing guessing games. And based on the data gathered in testing, you can optimize your checkout process to reflect the most popular combination of variables. For example, if testing reveals that last-minute or lengthy registration forms are a primary issue, you may decide to replace those with auto-filled forms for return visitors; let new users login with their social media accounts instead of filling out a new form, or simply provide guest checkouts.

With consistently greater demand for online shopping, comes greater opportunity. Putting customers at the heart of any online content and user experience decisions is crucial for not only surpassing revenue and conversion goals, but also to sustain lasting consumer relationships. Your online shopping cart is the moment of truth: is it ready?

Paul Dunay is the Vice President of Marketing for Maxymiser, Inc., a multi-variate testing provider for online retailers.