Recent research from Adobe has delivered shopping cart bailout rates by device:

  • Average desktop shopping cart bailouts: 74%
  • Average tablet shopping cart bailouts: 78%
  • Average smartphone shopping cart bailouts: 84%

There are two reasons as to why this data is alarming:

  1. The sheer volume of people making the effort to start the cart process and not finishing.
  2. The general acceptance of retailers that bailouts will always be high. There appears to be no real urgency and a sense of acceptance around poor checkout performance.

Imagine if this was happening in a physical retail setting. If the CEO of a retail brand found 74% to 84% of consumers who selected an item, approached the till and then suddenly left the store without purchasing, he/she would become directly involved in finding out why and work to develop a solution.

Why? Because the CEO recognises fixing the problem(s) would translate to millions in extra revenue.

Online is no different and should be thought of in the same way.

The checkout process from the consumer’s perspective

To understand what is contributing to these high bailout percentages, retailers need to pause for a moment and understand the shopping cart process from the perspective of the consumer.

Throughout the journey, the consumer has had full control of the content he/she wishes to engage with, prior to reaching the checkout process. The consumer has also had full control of the direction their journey has taken. They have gone forward and backwards to their hearts content.

But (and this is a big “but”), once the consumer begins the shopping cart process, he/she loses all of this control. The consumer must follow and conform to a series of forward steps dictated by the retailer, delivering the necessary information deemed necessary BY the retailer, to satisfy the retailer’s needs for a transaction.

Great online experiences occur when the consumer feels they are in full control of their journey and their exposure to relevant content to engage with, from beginning to end. This includes the checkout process.

This experience dichotomy (the consumer having full control leading up to the checkout process, then having no control through the checkout process) can be dissected into two experience types:

  1. Persuasion experience: The experiences the consumers control, engaging with relevant content aligned to his/her need.
  2. Conversion experience: The linear process of a retailer requesting information, forcing consumers through specific steps, and taking payment.

Figure 1 – the persuasion and conversion stages of the funnel, with the checkout part of the linear conversion stage

Herein lies the issue with shopping carts, it’s in complete contradiction to how today’s “empowered consumer” wants to engage and enjoy online experiences. The consumer always wants to be in control.As soon as the consumer is forced down a clunky series of steps, their sense of control is lost.

Why is this persuasion/conversion juxtaposition important to understand?

Don’t be one of those retailers or researchers who say “a large portion of cart abandonments are simply a natural consequence of how users browse eCommerce sites”.

This philosophy is a cop out. Consumers don’t come to a site not to engage and buy. Consumers who are intent driven, want the path of least resistance to fulfil a need.

The truth is this, if the consumer had a better experience leading up to the shopping cart process, and was presented with a higher standard of checkout process, less consumers would bail out. So before a retailer considers high bailout percentages is something to accept, think again.

Sure, there is an argument for consumers who legitimately want to view content online and go in store, but this article is not talking about reducing bailouts from 84% to 0%. But imagine the business impacts if bailouts are reduced from 84% to 50%?

So what can be done to dramatically reduce shopping cart bailouts?

Solution #1 – Gain an understanding of how to create amazing online experiences

One of the biggest issues faced by retailers is they don’t know what amazing online experiences are supposed to look like for their target consumers and existing customers. My recently published article in Econsultancy on the 10 principles required to create amazing online experiences explains the approach to take, why these principles are crucial, and provides examples of how to activate each of them.

Reading and understanding these principles is the first step. Once you have gained this appreciation, you can move on to the next set of solutions.

Solution #2 – Choose your shopping cart flow wisely?

What is the best shopping cart flow philosophy?

Be careful not to become caught in the trap of thinking less shopping cart steps equals a better shopping cart experience. There is no correlation between reducing the number of shopping cart steps, and the reduction of “friction” produced (“friction” being the exact opposite of delivering a seamless and intuitive experience). In fact there is a negative correlation.

As at the end of 2016, the trends in the top 50 grossing US eCommerce shopping cart checkout flows for a first-time customer is 5.42 steps long. This has grown since 2012 where the average number of steps used to be 5.08.

Have a look at Figure 2 below which breaks down and compares the average checkout steps in 2012 vs 2016. Notice how 1-to-3 step checkout flows have become less popular and 6-step checkouts more popular in ecommerce.

Figure 2 – average checkout steps 2012 vs 2016, via Baymard.

Why is the average number of checkout steps increasing?

Retailers are breaking down the checkout flow in a more granular approach to ensure specific steps are easy for consumers to understand and complete across all screen types.

The most common step requiring more information processing from the consumer is delivery/pick up options. Consumers now commonly have options to pick up products in store at various times, or have multiple delivery options for orders to be sent to their home or place of work. And many also offer locker delivery/pick up options.

Multiple pick-up and delivery options has a down side. This flexibility and control the retailer is offering is only advantageous if the selection process online is seamless and intuitive (or friction-less).

To make the checkout steps longer falls in line with best practice customer experience design. The simplification of potentially complicated steps, reduces the likelihood of consumer confusion at this critical step. It’s OK to add steps if they are intuitive and make sense to the consumer.

For retailers who are passionately attached to their one step checkout flow consider this…

You are not asking the consumer for any less information. You are merely cramming the same information requirements into a single page/step increasing the risk of confusion due to the construction of what can only be described as a complicated and busy looking page. This is why they are on the decline.

Amazon get’s it – “Amazon GO”

Amazon realised the power of reducing friction in the checkout process very early on, and worked exceptionally hard to deconstruct the traditional online cart process.

This online passion has recently translated back to physical retail. You only need to look at their new physical grocery store concept (where there are no checkouts) to understand the passion and focus this retailer has for delivering frictionless checkout experiences.

While Amazon calls it “Just walk out technology” they are simply taking checkouts away and in the process gaining deep consumer buying behaviour insights.

Solution #3: Analyse consumer shopping cart behaviours

Below are three example of the types of consumer behaviours to look out for and why:

a. Analyse the shopping cart journeys for those who do not purchase

Online behavioural measurement tools (such as Google Analytics) have the capability to follow consumers once they leave the cart process (for those who remain on the site). Analysing their journeys once leaving the checkout will deliver insight into the reasons why they left.

b. Introduce or improve the visibility of online chat support during the checkout process

Introduce an online chat tool with a call to action like “We Are Here to Help” in the checkout process. Forrester states that “53% of US online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.”

The introduction of chat achieves two things:

  1. Enables consumers to reach out to the retailer and ask quick questions in the middle of their checkout process without the need for them to leave.
  2. It delivers a valuable feedback loop by capturing insights from consumers in the “buying moment”. The consumer is reaching out because he/she is missing important information stopping them from continuing.

c. Analyse call centre data and interview call centre employees

This is an extension to the above tactic. For those who do not have chat available, consumers with intent will pick up the phone or email the support team with their questions. This data becomes another valuable feedback loop in uncovering why consumers are bailing.

These frontline employees are the people who are confronted with “consumer pain” every day and have equipped themselves with the necessary tools to overcome objections and various queries to initiate a sale online. The data gathered from this and previous steps, informs the business of what changes can and should be made to stifle the need for future consumers to reach out for support.

It’s important to remember, the retailer’s site has created this pain. The consumer has expectations of a seamlessly intuitive engaging experience where he/she is exposed to content relevant to their current need. The absence of this creates discomfort, frustration resulting in the creation of “consumer pain”.

Many times, consumers will leave in the hope another retailer (your competitor) will not deliver this same pain. And if this happens, you lose. This process of seeking out the “consumer pain” is a key part to gaining the right insights to inform the business of what changes in the shopping cart process must occur.

Solution #4: Audit the fields of information asked of consumers in the checkout

The checkout process is NOT the time to be pestering consumers for extra information. Only once they become customers (a “customer” is someone who has completed a transaction with a retailer) can you begin to ask permission for more information to improve future experiences.

In an extensive review of checkout processes, a Baymard found (on average) the checkout contains 14.88 form fields. A deeper analysis revealed sites can achieve a 20% to 60% reduction in the number of form fields.

This comes back to the reduction of friction and improving this linear experience.

Solution #5 – Improve the ease of use of the shopping cart

While consumers appreciate there are steps required to checkout, retailers need to work hard to construct a frictionless checkout journey for new and existing customers. By achieving this the consumer is given a sense of control because the steps and the information they provide makes intuitive sense to them.

Baymard has also found that the act of reducing friction by fixing design improvements alone can improve shopping cart conversion rates by (approximately) 35%.

While there are retargeting and cart abandonment email tactics, the most effective and robust business strategy is to close the consumer while they are initially engaging with you.

The improvement of a shopping cart’s ease of use can be brought to life through the activation of the 10 principles in creating amazing online experiences.

Applying the 10 principles

Now that the cart flow of choice is understood, the number of required fields has been audited and reduced, and valuable insights on what is causing the “consumer pain” has been gathered, there is enough to embark on and apply the 10 principles to dramatically improve checkout experiences (refer to the 10 principles article for more context).

Below is a high-level summary of what activating the 10 principles would look like:

  1. Wireframes (or prototypes) are created showing the adjusted page layouts of each step of the shopping cart process.
  2. These wireframes are simultaneously created for all device types.
  3. Apply best practice “interaction cost” management and “value creation” across all wireframes.
  4. Respect and honour the fold across all device types when constructing wireframes.
  5. Ensure the call-to-action hierarchy is on point.
  6. Work closely with the design team to ensure the integrity of the wireframes is properly translated.
  7. Work closely with your eCommerce technology vendor on all changes. Protect the integrity of the planned changes and do not allow the eCommerce technology vendor to make changes or talk you out of the newly created “experience plan”. If the vendor cannot make changes to enrich consumer experiences, they are not adding business value.
  8. Modify the behavioural measurement tool (such as Google Analytics) and tag all new changes being made.
  9. As a result of the new experiences being offered, new behaviours will appear requiring tight monitoring. Repeat Solution 3 and in time and make more changes based on new insights gathered.

JC Penney’s shopping cart in action:

To add impact to the comments made above, and better articulate why shopping cart bailouts are as high as 84%, an assessment on a shopping cart process has been completed below. The purpose of this section is not to produce a detailed view of faults, it is to show a checkout experience through the eyes of the consumer and introduce the potential friction points being created from a known brand.

The example below is of JC Penney’s desktop cart process for “International Customers” (those outside of the US).

The Consumer’s Step 1 – My Bag:

The first step shows the product, the pricing, saving options and “Ship to home”. There are calls to action both above and below the fold. The only criticism at this stage is the absence of expectation setting for two important things:

  1. The delivery cost (something very important for international consumers).
  2. The absence of a “progress bar” or visual element indicating the number of steps required to complete the checkout process.

For today’s consumer (who wants to be in control), setting expectation is an important part of delivering amazing online experiences.

The Consumer’s Step 2 – Sign In:

Upon selecting the “Checkout” call to action in the previous step, the consumer is taken to the “Sign In” step. In this scenario, the “Continue As Guest” is selected.

The comment to make here is the size and visibility of the “Sign In” button. On this page, there are two different actions a consumer can take, both are of equal importance depending on the consumer’s circumstance. So why is the “Sign In” button for repeat customers so much smaller? The risk with this call to action imbalance is returning customers will select the large blue button purely because it is visually stronger.

It’s good “Sign In” is a different colour to “Continue as Guest”, but they both should be the identical size. Both buttons should also be right aligned within their space of the page to signal forward momentum (a common tactic used for the Western Culture, essentially those who read left to right).

The Consumer’s Step 3 – Shipping:

Once the consumer selects “Continue as Guest” they are presented with what’s shown above. The consumer has already completed 2 steps, and yet the title at the top of this page presents “Step 1 Shipping”. This may be “Step 1” for JC Penney, but it’s not for the consumer. This introduces friction.

The checkout process begins as a “multi step” then moves to accordion, this is where the accordion format begins. For the consumer, this is another point of friction introduced. The consumer began with moving from one page/step to another in the first two steps, and now they are confronted with a format where the pages are layered vertically over top of each other.

Another source of friction is the competing call to actions on this page.  In this step, it visually looks as if the “View Coupons” call to action is the most important action the consumer is to take on this checkout step. This is a good example of the call to action hierarchy gone wrong.

In the checkout, its crucial for all call to actions to…

  1. be visually clear and obvious
  2. be the dominant action for every step
  3. use wording that sets expectations as to what happens if they click on it. For example, instead of “Continue” shown in Figure 5, use “Continue to Payment”.

Structuring checkout CTA’s in this way reduces friction.

Once a consumer goes through the process of entering their address details, they select “Continue” (see Figure 5). Because the consumer has entered all the necessary fields of information displayed on the page and selects the “Continue” call to action, his/her expectation is they will be moving on to another step. However, once the consumer selects “Continue”, the page refreshes and displays the information shown below:

For the consumer, whenever a page refreshes, their eyes do not know where to travel (this is the danger in using page refresh). When the page refreshes, the consumer seeks out visual cues to verify the system has captured their delivery information and they have moved on to the next step. However, JC Penney keeps the consumer in the same step and presents “Shipping Methods” at the bottom of the page (see the image above). This is another source of friction; the consumer’s expectations have not been met.

What makes this potentially worse is, for many smaller laptop screens the “Shipping Method” content and page elements will not be visible above the fold, so the page would refresh and the consumer would essentially see the same page and content.  It is at this moment the consumer will lose confidence thinking the system is broken and will produce anxiety because this page is dealing with the consumer’s personal details. More friction.

Taking a step back

Think back to the conversion earlier where consumers want to be in control throughout their experience. When consumers reach content not quite what they are looking for, one of the more common consumer behaviours is to take a “Back” step.  If there is no obvious “Back” step within the page, the consumer will use their browser back button.

If the consumer lands on the payment page (see below) and takes a back step, they are moved back to the Sign In page (also shown below).

Hitting the back button in browser takes users from the JC Penney checkout back to the sign-in page

The consumer’s definition of a “back step” is the previous step. The technology has taken him/her back to the Sign In page. Friction.

Technically, this makes sense, the accordion checkout does not produce a URL, the browser back button takes consumers to the previous URL, but none of this helps the consumer who has an expectation of moving back one step.


In the physical retail setting, it’s unusual for a consumer to leave the till without purchasing the product, the same philosophy should be taken to online.

The difference is, retailers need to work harder to keep consumers in the online checkout process. The online checkout is a faceless, cold, impersonal medium where consumers are doing two things they hate the most: filling out forms and parting with their hard-earned money.

As can be seen by the JC Penney commentary above, friction can easily be introduced and lead to high bailout rates.

Retailers need to lift their standard of empathy towards consumers during the checkout process and extinguish all elements of friction being delivered in the checkout process for all devices.

As this article illustrates, there is a lot of work to get this right. And the numbers don’t lie, not many retailers are doing a good job of this.

Many retailers will look at the bailout data and shrug their shoulders in despair, but it is these exact numbers that springs me out of bed every morning. The opportunity in getting this right is huge and worth the effort.

In a world where retailers struggle to find a point of difference, adopting the above process and fixing the checkout process is a robust approach to lifting revenues.

Econsultancy subscribers can download the Ecommerce Checkout Guidelines template files