How ecommerce businesses deal with cart abandonment

Ecommerce cart abandonment
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Welcome to the world of the virtual shopping trolley where all is not as it appears, but where the need for retailers to interpret customer behaviours and lost sales is ever-present.

Ecommerce may have only been with us for a decade or two, but plenty of that time has been spent by interested parties (ie. every retailer) trying to understand and influence customer behaviours at the virtual till. Those that get it right reap the benefits in boosted sales, while those that don’t may be seriously jeopardising their chances of viability and survival.

As you would imagine, there is no shortage of statistics around shopping cart abandonment, but the question of how to interpret the actions of customers – and what stopped them buying or whether they ever intended to buy at all – is a fraught area.

Why do people ditch ecommerce shopping carts?

It may sound a simple question, but it’s not. That’s because the reasons for a customer to use a shopping cart in the first place vary. It is, though, possible to find out more by at least asking a departing nearly-customer why they are off – and many retailers do.

Here are the three most common responses that come back when the question gets posed:

  • Shipping costs are too high or there’s no free shipping
  • The visitor wanted to know the total price, but wasn’t ready to buy
  • The visitor was using the shopping cart to create a wish list

As you can see, only shipping issues really counts here as a true ‘lost’ sale and the real reasons are behind this behaviour are more nuanced.

Dig a little deeper, perhaps with Google Analytics or a dedicated shopping-cart abandonment software tool, such as the features offered with Shopify, and you might get a list like this, along with the relative likelihood of each being on the agenda for a given customer:

  • The overall price was too expensive  
  • I didn’t want to set up an account
  • I only wanted to know the total price
  • I used the shopping cart as a wish list

That kind of checklist of issues has a flipside, of course, in that plenty of experts out there are willing to detail ways to address the situation with a fix.

The importance of tracking customer journeys

The journey a potential customer takes through an ecommerce website plays an important role in reducing cart abandonment; whether they purchase a product or not.

Moise Abubakr, web merchandiser assistant at personalised gifts store Ellie Ellie, says the team has several online analytics tools to track customers’ journeys and that this dictates where they invest:

“We are working really hard in tackling abandonment at an earlier stage. Improving the customer experience at the earliest possible pain points means less abandonment at the final stage so our abandonment measures span the entirety of the site.

“We’ve found that seeing where our customers struggle is helping us to simplify the design and certain features of our website. We want to make the shopping experience as easy and smooth as possible. Tracking when users leave the website helps us to see where we can improve on certain areas, for example, our product options or checkout process.”

Ellie Ellie has a team of 16 people and a turnover of over £1m (read more about their story here).

What to do about shipping and handling costs

Shipping costs are one of the biggest barriers to purchasing online, and retailers struggle to balance the potential impact on margin of offering a flat rate or effectively doing so by including delivery in the product price.

We’ve written in-depth about how ecommerce businesses deal with this issue on our sister site UK Business Forums. In terms of cart abandonment, clear labelling and explanations are crucial:

  • Show visitors shipping or other additional costs on the product pages, so there are no surprises
  • Incentivise by offering free shipping to visitors when a certain amount is spent
  • Always offer free shipping, but cover your costs in the product price
  • Make sure you don’t add extra cost surprises in the form of hard-to-understand fees
  • Add your goods to comparison shopping engines and get your technical team to include a ‘compare prices’ function for visitors

What to do about visitors who are not ready to purchase

We all love window shopping and it happens online too. Encouraging this behaviour is a powerful tactic in the long term, even though the shopping cart might count as ‘abandoned’.

Here are a few points to get you started:

  • You can include a wish-list function, or some other way for users to keep track of products they like in order to encourage them to come back. If possible, don’t make them create an account to do so
  • Make account creation really easy by enabling a login through a social giant like Facebook or the search giant Google
  • Add functionality, so that users can easily view total cost at any time without having to create a shopping basket

Customer confidence and the first-time sale

Completing a purchase is often down to customer confidence. Improving this includes simple signals like reassuring visitors about privacy, having great product descriptions and publishing reviews. Content marketing also plays a role and it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate authority.

Consumer products retailer JML, which boasts an annual turnover of £100m and sells products in more than 70 countries, ties this marketing channel directly back to reducing cart abandonment.

“Digital content is a huge play. We have our videos of course, which is our USP in many respects, but you can back that up and think like a digital publisher to really follow through. We want to take the knowledge a would-be customer might collect in store and curate it for online engagement – to help drive sales,”

“If there are lots of similar products to choose from you need to offer signposting. If they cannot find out what they need from you, they’ll look elsewhere,” says Jai Whiting, head of digital and ecommerce at JML.

The value of the follow-up email

Engaging with a customer after they’ve been through the sales journey can be an incredibly effective way to encourage them to come back and complete a purchase.

Depesh Mandalia, CMO of kids’ activity subscription service toucanBox and a marketing consultant at Seedcamp, says this is a primary tactic ecommerce businesses should consider to help reduce cart abandonment. The main approach is to remind the customer of what’s in the cart. This can be a simply list, but it can also be much more refined:

“At the very start, if you can simply remind them what was in their cart with a link back you’re already 70% of the way there. The other 30% is when you get more intelligent about what’s in their cart, the timing of your email and potentially including an offer,” Mandalia explains, adding that you might want to hold back the offer in the first follow-up email.

One additional layer of complexity is to be aware of the messaging they received before they reached that stage; if you’re offing them a deal make sure it’s the same or better than one they clicked through from.

Indeed, Ellie Ellie’s Abubakr, suggests using a friendly, helpful tone in these communications that match the way you talk to customers more generally.

It’s clear that pushing customers over the finish line to make a purchase isn’t simply about that final ‘buy’ button. Reducing cart abandonment is about understanding customer behaviour throughout their journey in marketing channels and the ecommerce site itself – the virtual sales funnel.

The success of the process depends on understanding customer behaviour and implementing improvements, whether it’s JML’s focus on content marketing or tucanBox’s user specific, well timed follow-up emails.

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