Thanks to a range of factors, including increased customer expectations, as well as behavioural factors such as comparison shopping, basket and checkout abandonment rates are rising. 

A recent Forrester survey found that 88% of consumers have abandoned shopping carts, and named the top five reasons given by customers. 

The top five reasons for cart abandonment were: 

  1. High shipping costs - 44%
  2. Not ready to purchase - 41% 
  3. Price checking - 27%
  4. Price too high - 25%
  5. Wanted to save products for later - 24% 

Of course, providing clear delivery charges on product pages and elsewhere so that customers don't have to add items to the cart to find out total costs would be one improvement, and it also makes sense for retailers to make it as easy as possible for customers to resume their sessions on subsequent visits. 

However, most of the reasons quoted here have something to do with comparison shopping, and except for high shipping costs, there is little that retailers can do. 

These are just reasons for basket abandonment though, so what makes customers abandon later on during the checkout process?

A recent survey of 1,267 visitors to Webcredible's website found that hidden charges and registration were the biggest culprits: 

In Econsultancy's recent Checkout Optimisation Guide, author Dr Mike Baxter quotes some stats from Coremetrics which show that abandonment rates have been rising over the last couple of years. 

The data from 300 etailers in the UK shows that, over a 23 month period between 2007 and 2009, checkout abandonment rates increased by an average of 0.1% per month. 

There are two factors quoted in the Checkout Guide which account for this rise in abandonment rates: 

A rise in customer expectations

Customers are less tolerant of problems during the checkout process than they used to be, so they are more likely to abandon sites that are slow to load.

This Akamai study from last year reveals that page load speed is a big factor determining whether customers buy from a site and return for subsequent purchases. 57% of online shoppers quoted in the survey insist on a rapid checkout process, up nearly 10% from the same study in 2006. 

Customers are also lees tolerant of the kind of annoyances uncovered by the Webcredible survey; hidden charges, registration, lengthy checkouts etc. 

Since finding hidden charges and compulsory registration before checkout are less common than they used to be a few years ago, customers are even less tolerant when they encounter these things during checkout. 

Etailers have failed to keep up with customer expectations

According to Dr Baxter, retailers haven't been keeping up with best practice over the past three years, so they haven't improved to stay in line with customers' increased expectations: 

It is difficult to identify any clear trends in the improvement of checkout – there are a few sites where checkout is a joy, yet for the majority of sites checkout is still unintuitive, unhelpful and error-prone. The most frustrating thing is that designing a good checkout isn‟t hard any more.

Losses during checkout have been highlighted for long enough now for best practice to have been identified and, in many cases, proven. If approached systematically, every checkout should be painless and effortless for the vast majority of customers.

Graham Charlton

Published 14 June, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (9)

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James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Graham, 

I read some of those stats recently on Charles from SeeWhy's conversion blog, hot on the heels of his post on retailers with the highest conversion rates not doing some of the things generally thought sinful e.g. compulsory registration to order.

What's interesting to me is not the functional barriers such as registration or unclear delivery pricing but the motivational and buying cycle factors e.g. not ready to buy.

The internet is being used increasingly as a research and planning tool, so companies must learn to segment their audience and unearth those who aren't one visit buyers. Different engagement paths/tools are needed to manage customers who visit multiple times or have a long gap between first visit and purchase. If you treat every visit as the conversion clincher you miss the bigger picture and could lose mindshare to a competitor that understands buying behaviour in more detail.

The danger with techniques like basket abdandonment is to have a myopic view of dropout and think it is something to do with your site or marketing. Sometimes people just aren't ready or willing to buy, so finding intelligent ways to identify them and engage with them outside their visit will have a potential benefit.

Re comparison shopping, why is there nothing retailers can do? There is always a positive action to take. Some brand use remarketing to tempt customers back when they are outside the site. Some companies will price match if a customer finds exactly the same product elsewhere. I think it's lazy to assume price comparison shoppers can't be engaged with more effectively - it needs proper thought and is not an overnight quick win. I use price comparison but price is not the only consideration - I value the quality of the company selling to me as well. If one company goes the extra mile, unless they are prohibitively expensive, they'll get my business.

And pretty much everything can be measured if you set-up your analytics tools in the right way.

What's your take on the latest stats?



about 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi James, 

I think some of these basket abandonment stats can be misleading, and they need to be distinguished from checkout abandonment stats. 

These recent basket abandonment stats reveal more about consumer research behaviour than checkout design, and I was trying to look at the factors that cause customers to abandon further on in the process. 

I'm not saying there's nothing companies can do; making it easy for customers to return to baskets or save the contents is one thing, as well as remarketing as you suggested. 

about 8 years ago

Mark Patron

Mark Patron, Consultant and non-exec director at Patron Direct LtdEnterprise

Hi Graham and James,

I agree that consumers are not always ready to buy. However this does not change the simple truth that it is normally more cost efective to improve website conversion, especially checkout abandonment, than say, spend 10% more with Google on lead generation.

and the Checkout Optimisation Guide is fabulous!

about 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mark,

Yes I agree that improving website conversion is really important. However, you need to understand the context of your traffic and the various conversion triggers to know how to optimise. For me, conversion optimisation doesn't just happen on the site, it happens in every contact you have with the customer both online and offline. The better you get your communication and service, the greater the likely conversion, however and wherever you are defining conversion.

If you read through Charles Nicholls @SeeWhy blogs you can find reference to retailers with the best online conversions actually not doing some of the key things the optimisation guide recommends (e.g. compulsory registration) - this indicates other factors influence conversion beyond site optimisation, such as brand loyalty. I'm not saying ignore the guide because I think it is incredibly insightful, my point is to think more laterally because consumer behaviour is changing so rapidly.

For example, a retailer I worked with struggled with what it perceived was a low conversion compared to the (usually misleading) industry averages. An analytics projects later and we understood the website acted as a research tool for a large % of visitors with the end transaction in-store because the product was expensive and people wanted to touch it before buying. The focus shifted from obsessing over a pure online conversion KPI towards a broader conversion model that also measured web-to-store traffic and conversion. This changed the investment perspective.

The beauty of online is that you can measure the impact of what you do so you can quickly find out which techniques add the most commercial value and focus your investment there.



about 8 years ago


Ailsa McKnight, Senior Director at Ladbrokes

I'd be interested in any stats on abandonment due to Verified By Visa and Mastercard Securecard processes. As a consumer I find these badly implemented and have abandoned checkout myself as a result.

Any thoughts?

about 8 years ago


Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

It seems like nothing much changes really - each time a report comes out on this subject it's the same reasons, and roughly the same % for each.

I read the SeeWhy report and had a good look at some of the sites of the top 10. In terms of the sites themselves, some are horrendous - makes me wonder what kind of improvements could be brought with some attention to best-practice in each context. But then again, would there be any improvement? It's about more than the on-site process, as James says.

Most of our clients have way 'better' sites, especially at the basket/checkout end, but only one comes anywhere near in terms of conversion rate and even that one is only around the 7% mark.

The upshot of that report was that these companies are just very, very good at marketing, engaging and selling to customers across multiple channels. There's a huge amount of trust and brand loyalty there, and a huge amount of effort put into retention and ensuring customers come back time and time again.

Quite ironically, repeat custom will mean a customer is much more likely to be happy to register, but we're generally of the opinion that it's important to make the first purchase as friction free as possible so they're happy to do it again. Once they've made 2 or more visits they're more likely to see value in registering.

Back to my opening statement, and I think it's really quite important to ask a question here: who's responsible?

Is it the retailer dictating to the web design company, or the other way round? I wonder about this one and I'm not so sure - if you look at the list of companies that have downloaded a report each time it's actually not that many. Perhaps there's a lack of professionalism on both sides of the fence - more people should read and act on these findings.

Certainly if a retailer tried to tell us they didn't want their phone number on the site, or that they absolutely must make customers register first then there would be a stand-up row. We'd argue for what we knew to be most effective until they played the 'who's paying who?' card and then necessarily give in. We'd certainly want to come back and A/B test our way later, which has stood us in good stead with clients to date, trust-wise. A client will be more willing to listen in future if a dev company can demonstrate a good understanding and track record.

If web design companies are not leading the way and insisting these things be addressed then more of them should read the reports too, and not be pushovers with clients! 

@Mark: 2 things...

Yes, you are right about the cost effectiveness issue - there's a table on our site that illustrates this very thing. It's massively more beneficial to increase conversion rate than to spend on new traffic.

Secondly, your reports are great, but the framing of the questioning misses a chunk of people like ourselves that undertake testing on behalf of our clients.

almost 8 years ago


Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

And yes Graham, you're spot on about separating basket and checkout.

The all-encompasing term 'cart' is really not helpful at all and a pet hate of mine.

almost 8 years ago


Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Also, on the retargeting issue: we've persuaded a couple of clients to do this as we feel it's a good strategy for them. Results have been encouraging, although the clients in question have expressed the opinion that it is impossible to tell who of the recaptured customers would have come back anyway.

I think overall, on a CPA model it's well worth considering as a 2nd line, although more resource should be focused in not losing them in the first place, IMHO.


almost 8 years ago


Ben Goodwin, Email marketing manager at Personal

It's worth noting that even though the % of people leaving for reasons like lengthy checkout process and phone number not provided are lower than, say, hidden charges, the gain you'd get from improving on them may be higher.

Not having hidden costs requires one of two things, get rid of the cost completely, or declare it earlier. One of those hammers your AOV, the other will cause at least some (in my experience the vast majority) of people who would have dropped out at the payment stage, to drop out earlier. Indeed the reason people often hide delivery costs, for example, is because they have tested and got better results from doing so.

Adding a phone number, however, would pick up every single one of those customers who dropped out because it wasn't there - so it may be that doing this will see you add more net conversions, rather than just shifting the point at which people drop out.

over 5 years ago

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