How to fix the REAL reasons behind your abandoned shopping carts

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Creative Commons License photo credit: macieklew

In early November at the Conversion Conference in London, I had the good fortune to hear Charles Nicholls from SeeWhy speak about abandoned online shopping carts.

He cited a Forrester Research study from earlier this year that examined the reasons why website visitors abandon online shopping carts. The top 5 were:

  1. Shipping and handling costs were too high – 44%
  2. I was not ready to purchase the product – 41%
  3. I wanted to compare prices on other sites – 27%
  4. Product price was higher than I was willing to pay – 25%
  5. Just wanted to save products in my cart for later consideration – 24%

Interestingly these 5 reasons can be classified into 2 groups:

  • Issues relating to cost
  • Issues relating to readiness to buy

Whilst you should quite rightly review your shopping cart process to increase conversions, addressing both these other issues may in fact have a greater impact.

1. Cost

Comparison sites, such as and, have made it very easy for consumers to find the best price for a product, dramatically reducing the research time and frustration of visiting multiple websites. Whilst that’s great for the consumer it’s meant the business owner needs to ensure her prices are competitive if she is to secure the sale from an ever more transient audience.

It’s not just the product price; the shipping charges are a bigger concern. Buying a discounted book at £6.99 suddenly looks less attractive when you discover you need to add £3.50 to cover postage. In some cases it’s suddenly more expensive than shopping instore.

The two most common ways of addressing this are unconditional and conditional free shipping.

Free Shipping

With unconditional free shipping the company absorbs the cost, either by holding the product price and eating into the profit margin or by upping the price to cover the postage. Both can be unhealthy for a business in the long term. It might be okay for a promotional period but you have to do the maths to know whether you’re attracting enough additional business to offset the cost.

The alternative might be conditional – offering free shopping once the consumer purchases a set amount. If you set that threshold at the right point you’ll find your average order price will increases as shoppers add a second item to their order to qualify for the free shipping.

This is the most popular offer from recruiters, with a survey quoted in the NY Times, stating that 71% of surveyed businesses would use this approach this year versus less than half taking the unconditional route.

The same article, however, highlights the risk of experimenting with shipping, referencing a case study that revealed that Timberland would need to generate 40% more sales to justify the cost of an unconditional free shipping promotion.

2. Readiness to buy

You may think there is little you can do if someone is not ready to buy. Many businesses will rely on the potential customer coming back when they have made a decision, but it’s a rather risky approach to take.

So what can you?

Speak to them – why are they not ready? Understand the issues and look for solutions. It may be that they just need a little more information. Run a survey like KissInsights or call if you have a telephone number.

Price comparison – if you’re confident about your prices, why not save them the hassle of research and show your prices versus your competitors. If you’re the cheapest, great, but if not demonstrate why it’s still better to buy from you (i.e. warranty, free accessories, loyalty points, etc).

A Free Whitepaper example from

Whitepaper & tools – Offer them a free whitepaper, guide or tool relevant to the product they’re considering buying in exchange for their email address. By giving the visitor something of value, you’re positioning yourself as an authority on the subject and providing a positive brand experience. As such they’ll be more inclined to part with their email address (for you to remarket to) and you’ll be a step closer to a future sale.

Scarcity & Urgency – how can you create a sense of urgency to encourage a quicker or immediate sale? Add a time-sensitive price (i.e. Offer ends Monday), or limit availability (i.e. Limited edition prints).

Build Confidence – when they say they’re not ready to buy, maybe they’re just not ready to buy from you. Maybe they don’t have confidence in you just yet. So what can you do?

You need to provide assurance. That could be via authorative trust marks, such as secure transactions seals, badges from trade association or industry body membership, logos of media you have appeared in/on or customer or influencer testimonials (social proof). These will help build credibility and confidence in your brand.

Finally, if you can afford it and have the resources, give them a Free Review. This can be just a sampling of your service, but like the Whitepaper, should give them something of value. The customer feels they are getting something for free (who doesn’t love a freebie?) and at the same time you get to showcase your business and product to them.

It’s not easy selling online; so many factors are out of your control. Leaving it to chance however, will not grow your business. Understand you customers, understand why they don’t buy and then address their concerns quickly. Then sit back and watch your conversion rates and revenue rise.

(Actually that’s just the beginning, there is a lot more work to be done, including continuous conversion optimisation to ensure you’ve got right. But, hey, that’s a story for another day)

What changes to your site or ecommerce pages have you made that helped you reduce your shopping cart abandonment? I’d love to hear your tips, please share them in the comments below.

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Gary Robinson is a UK digital marketer, who fell into this tech world by accident and decided to stay and play. That was 1999. He's still here. His current loves are conversion optimisation, mobile and tinkering with new technology. He also has a fondness for coffee.

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Posted in Business Performance, Conversion Testing


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