Buyers abandon carts. It’s normal. In fact, about three of every four retail shoppers simply leave their items behind in their online cart.

To understand how to deal with this, you really need to get inside your customers’ heads. The key to getting them back is understanding why they left.

So let’s say we’re an online electronics retailer and dive straight into our perfect customer’s head.

Meet Brian. Brian is a 54-year-old man looking to buy a new laptop. He’s computer literate and knows all about browsing online stores, hunting for the best deals and buying from abroad.

brian persona 

Brian Baker - our perfect customer (Image source: UXPressia)

Pretending you are a customer going through the stages of purchasing a product on your website can be a really valuable exercise. First, let’s see what Brian is struggling with once he has identified the laptop he wants. 

How much is shipping and tax?

“This Lenovo looks good to me. It has a Core i3, so it should suit my needs. It has 8GB of RAM, and it has a 256GB SDD. It’s listed at $679, but what about the shipping? And I’m not in the U.S.; what about the tax? Maybe if I put it in my cart, I’ll see what the shipping costs.

“Ah, there we go. $11 shipping. Oh wait, no. That’s domestic. How do I see international? Perhaps if I take the next step? OK, let’s see…

“So, $28 shipping, plus the price has gone up to $703. Maybe I’ll look elsewhere.”

Brian has encountered a common problem: struggling to determine the amount he actually has to pay.

How do we get around that?

Add cookies and ask for permission to track each visitor’s location, then serve that visitor specific information in his or her basket.

Amazon does this to great effect for customers ordering from another country, adding on the tax costs and P&P for shipping abroad after just one step. When customers enter their basket and proceed to checkout, they can see a full breakdown of costs specific to their address.

amazon price breakdown

Amazon’s cost breakdown (Image source: Amazon)

This relates to the psychological principle known as the Pain of Paying. First explored by Prelec and Loewenstein in 1998, it is based on the findings that spending money activates the areas in our brain associated with physical pain and feelings of disgust.

You want to minimize the steps involved in payment to limit this pain, and part of this is displaying the full pricing breakdown as simply as possible. 

Maybe I can get a better deal elsewhere?

“Wow, $499 for this! OK, let’s get it... but wait. What if there’s a better deal elsewhere? Maybe I should run a quick search and see. OK, there it’s $499, too. Let’s see if they have any discounts. If I buy from them and then find it elsewhere cheaper, they’ll refund the difference …”

One of your biggest challenges in ecommerce is being undercut. What if someone exits your cart only to buy from somewhere else for the same price? It makes sense that someone who shops around and finds the same price elsewhere will make the purchase from whatever store they have open.

However, there is a way to reduce the likelihood of people shopping around - it’s as simple as offering a price match guarantee. 

Just design a small badge saying you’ll pay the difference if your customer finds it for cheaper elsewhere and stick it in your basket view. Some 90% or more of buyers won’t bother to shop around after they’ve already bought the item.

But that peace of mind will help people like Brian make up their minds right then and there.

currys price match

Curry’s price match guarantee (Image source: Curry’s)

There’s another option, too, but it depends on your market. Brian didn’t buy because he feared there might be a deal elsewhere. He had a fear of missing out.

So why not ramp it up and list how many devices are left on the product page? One way would be to include this information alongside the Call-to-Action to ‘Add to Basket’. Booking.com does this well with room availability, and combines this with information on other users to create a sense of urgency.

scarcity info

Scarcity information that plays on fear of missing out (Image source: Booking.com)

Another way is to have inventory information appear as a notification a few seconds after someone arrives at the product page. This way, they have time to digest the information about the product before a persuasive notification appears to encourage them to purchase.

stock level

Convertize’s persuasive notification feature

This plays on the Scarcity principle, whereby the more difficult or urgent it is to acquire an item, the more value it has in our minds. We assume it is scarce because of its high quality and desirability.

Couple that information with the price-match guarantee and you’re onto a surefire winner.

Why do people add items to their cart?

More than one in three cart abandonments happen because the user was just browsing. So while these solutions can reduce abandonment, they don’t come close to solving this issue. The real question is: Are we looking at the right issue?

Let’s look at Brian again, and see what happens when he’s just browsing.

“This laptop looks good. I should save it for later. How can I do that? Oh well, let’s just add it to the cart …”

This isn’t a cart abandonment issue, but it has become one because adding the laptop to the cart is the only way Brian can save it as a potential purchase. A wish-list feature is a simple way to stop people adding items to their cart when they just wanted to save them. 

currys add to wishlist

Curry’s Add to Wishlist button (Image source: Curry’s)

However, ultimately you want people to add a product to their basket to move one step closer to a purchase, so make your ‘Add to basket’ CTA more prominent. 

What happens afterwards?

Shall we check in on Brian to see what he’s up to?

“Oh look, those cats are adorable! I wonder where I should go skiing next year? Do dolphins sleep?”

Hmm, it looks like Brian may have forgotten about his cart. And I totally understand that. Websites have only a brief window before a customer leaves, but if someone adds something to their cart that is useful data to inform future interactions. 

If Brian had signed up as a customer to our store, we’d be able to send him a personalized email telling him all about his poor, abandoned cart. So why don’t we?

Better yet, let’s give him something extra, and I don’t mean a discount.

Let’s take a look at the reasons people abandon their shopping carts.

The top reasons customers leave without paying (Image source: Shopify.com / Statista)

If you take out the factor of price competition and the already-addressed unexpected costs, just browsing and deciding against buying are two of the most common reasons for cart abandonment. So let’s think what might happen if we sent Brian an email reminding him of his previous interest in the laptop.

“Oh, that’s the computer I was looking at. Oh, I put it in my cart; they thought I wanted to buy it then and there. Yeah, I can move it to my wish list. OK, I’ll click through. And what’s this? A buying guide? How to shop for mid-range laptops online. That may be handy, let’s take a look.”

This goes back to the fundamentals of content marketing. We don’t want to sell to Brian at the first point of contact. We want to give him something that makes him see us as a valuable expert in our field. And a free report that is seemingly tailor-made for his needs hits that spot.

So if he reads this free report, there’s a good chance he’ll come back when he decides he wants to act on that information. But that’s only half the story. How do we make sure Brian comes back and actually completes his purchase?

We could send a different email…

“It’s that computer I was looking at again. Oh, they’re almost out of stock and they’ve reserved one for me. That’s nice. You know what, that guide was really useful. I think this would be the right choice. Let’s buy it. OK, checking out. Done. Three days and I have a new computer.”

Sure, that’s a bit simplified: not all of your potential customers will be so easy. But a visitor who got as far as adding something to their cart can be converted into a customer with a combination of targeted strategies. 

It all comes back to the fundamental question: what can I give to this customer above and beyond a simple transaction?

Solutions

A discount is the simplest answer, but it’s not very creative. And if you hand out discounts every time someone abandons their cart, you run the risk of triggering a reaction like Pavlov with his dogs.

You don’t want people to abandon their cart; you want them to use your site the way you intended and to buy from you.

Let’s have a quick run-through of the strategies we deployed to encourage Brian to complete his purchase:

  • Hidden costs put him off making the purchase — so make sure everything is upfront.
  • Fear of missing out on discounts caused him to look elsewhere — so offer price-match guarantees. Also, remind him of scarcity.
  • It wasn’t obvious how to save his item to a wish list. Make it obvious.
  • He got an email reminding him of the laptop and offering him something extra.
  • He was given a personalised offer — a reservation on a limited item he had shown interest in— so he bought.

One final suggestion: ask your customers questions.

It sounds basic, but when was the last time a retailer simply asked you how your purchase was? Even a few responses can highlight potential issues with your checkout process. 

Dealing with shopping cart abandonment is all about understanding your perfect (and imperfect) customer’s thought process as they navigate your website. Don’t neglect these visitors - often all they need is a little nudge towards completing their purchase.

For more on this topic, subscribers can download Econsultancy's Ecommerce Best Practice Guide.

Ben Robertson

Published 3 January, 2018 by Ben Robertson

Ben is Product Marketing Executive at Convertize. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Here's a copy of the research paper which introduced the Pain of Paying: "The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt". This starts by considering purchasing as two distinct activities - (1) enjoying whatever you bought which is pleasurable and (2) paying for it which is painful. So far, so obvious.
https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/redblack.pdf

The authors' flash of inspiration is that people feel strong debt aversion - they don't like worrying about debt. So people prefer to pay a MORE now (or fixed fees at known intervals), rather than an uncertain amount that's probably going to be LESS in future. Hence the popularity of Amazon Prime, "all you can eat" internet plans, and why cable TV sells fixed-price channel packages rather than a variable price for just the programs you watch.

This makes no sense in traditional economic terms, because of the "time value theory" for money. That assumes money NOW is always more more valuable than the same amount of money LATER - because e.g. you can invest it to earn interest in the mean time - so rational consumers should always want to delay paying. But people aren't totally rational and B2C marketers can take this into account. And B2B customers? - that's the million dollar question.
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/timevalueofmoney.asp

Meanwhile, an essential part of dealing with cart and browse abandonment is by sending shoppers cart and browse abandonment emails. This really, really works. Some examples:
https://www.freshrelevance.com/resources/8-of-our-favorite-cart-and-browse-abandonment-emails-and-why-we-love-them

6 months ago

Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson, Product Marketing Executive at Convertize

@Pete Thanks for sharing The Red and the Black - it's so important to be aware of these types of studies when trying to understand customer behaviours.

Regarding B2B customers, as a SaaS company we've had to consider this a lot when thinking about pricing. Do marketing managers prefer higher but simpler upfront costs, or a cheaper option that adjusts for usage?

Funnily enough, we regularly work on optimising checkout pages to reduce cart abandonment, but don't have an exact equivalent on our own website. Perhaps pricing page abandonment?

6 months ago

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