You've probably seen it at your supermarket; a shopping cart half full of products that's been abandoned by it's owner. Actually, it's not all that common an occurrence in the real world, but in ecommerce it's an all too familiar sight.
Some studies peg a figure of around 57% of all shopping cart sessions being abandoned.
Why do people abandon shopping carts?
There are many reasons behind cart abandonment, but I feel that the majority of people do so for one of four major reasons, with other issues sprouting from those.
It's not unusual for consumers to go right through the buying process to the checkout stage to get a true indication of what their purchase will cost including tax and shipping. They may repeat this process on many sites before making a purchase.
This is a major issue. Consumers may be confused at how the process works, about added costs such as shipping or distracted by other elements on the pages.
Too many checkout pages, shopping cart pages that load slowly, sites that require registration before purchase or requests for too much non-purchase related information can send potential customers scurrying away.
The consumer is about to hand over their credit card details to a complete stranger, and if they have any degree of common sense, they'll be wary. Anything that seems a little out of the ordinary or order forms that ask for too much personal information may scare them away.
Minimizing shopping cart abandonment
Before putting any of these suggestions into action; you first need to think about the type of clients you cater to.
For example, the "me" generation wants everything now, skimming over information; whereas older shoppers may take the time to read everything on the cart pages and expect to be assured that it's safe to do business with you.
Shopping cart software
If your cart software is more than a couple of years old, chances are it's missing a lot of the features that are standard these days that shoppers expect. Like any online technology, carts have come a long way. For example, some shopping carts allow you to grab the email contact details of the customer early on in the checkout process, which then allows you to follow up with the person should he/she abandon the cart.
If your shopping cart is a bit dated, perhaps it's time to update your current software, or move over to a new product. Learn more in our shopping cart software guide, or read our shopping cart reviews.
Security - SSL
From time to time, I still see carts order forms requesting credit card details without a secure connection. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a crucial element of any ecommerce transaction and is indicated by a https:// address and associated lock icons in browsers.
Also tell your clients about the security measures you have in place, either via a scrolling text box on checkout pages so that it doesn't take up too much space, or a page dedicated to ecommerce security that is easily accessible from any page on your site.
Security warnings and errors
It's really important to test your cart and checkout process in Firefox *and* Internet Explorer as they handle security issues differently. On a secure page, i.e. one beginning with https://, Internet Explorer is far more fussier. If one of the elements on the page such as an image isn't referenced via a https: address; Internet Explorer will throw up an ominous message stating that one or more elements are not secure. Even if it's just an image that's causing the problem, it's enough to scare off wary customers and they are very likely to abandon the shopping cart. Firefox on the other hand just ignores such issues. So if you're a Firefox users, your site may be experiencing this problem and you wouldn't be aware of it.
Third party verification seals
Big and small, well known and unknown retailers experience the same issues of jittery shoppers, which contributes to increased shopping cart abandonment rates. It's been demonstrated that display of a third party verification seal can greatly increase retention and conversion rates. Learn more about online business security seals.
Requests for information
The checkout process might seem like an excellent place to gather demographics through survey-type questions, but it may scare some shoppers away. A "where did you hear about us" question is probably fine, but use a drop-down selection of answers to keep things moving along.
If you really want information regarding your clients' lifestyles and other similar info, carry out separate follow up surveys, and be sure to offer them something for parting with this information.
Clear, friendly navigation
Nothing irks me more in a checkout session than a cart that doesn't allow me to back track to any stage of the process. If your shopping cart checkout process is multi-page, place links to each section top and bottom of the pages. It's also good practice in a multi-page process to give clients a progress indicator.
Images of products, linking to information.
It doesn't hurt to have a thumbnail of the product the client is purchasing in the checkout pages; but make it bandwidth friendly. The image should link to a new window with summary information about the product. The use of images can help maintain orientation and ensure the client the product they want is the one they are ordering.
Consider implementing live chat software. A live help feature on your cart pages may encourage clients who are confused to ask for assistance, thus helping you to close more sales.
Of course, never dive in and offer to assist someone during a checkout process; you may scare them away. Let the client initiate the chat. If you are interested in learn more about this strategy, read our live chat software review - you can trial a service for free.
Phone assistance and ordering
This is particularly helpful with big ticket items. No matter how simple your cart is, some folks just won't get it. No matter what you do to show you're a legit business, some still won't trust. This is where offering a phone number for ordering can help and VoIP (Voice Over IP) allows you to set up phone ordering numbers around the world at minimal cost.
Friendly error handling
It's very frustrating to complete a cart session, all the way through to submitting the order form, only to be told "you moron, your postcode is invalid!" OK, it's an exaggeration, but developers aren't known for using subtlety in error messages :).
Ensure the software you are using has friendly, descriptive error messages and that when an error is detected, that the client does not have to start the ordering process all over again. They should be able to fix the error and pick up from where they left off.
A cart is not the place to have banners for other sites :). Other distractions such as flashing, whirring, spinning or buzzing elements should be terminated with extreme prejudice, unless they directly relate to the purchase - such as an error message or upsell/cross-sell offer.
As early as possible in the ordering process, the client should be made aware of *all* costs. Slipping an added fee in at the last moment or having low product prices then a whopping shipping charge is not clever; it's just bad business. Aside from the sticker shock it will induce, it also smells of trickery the customer may wonder what other nasty surprises may be in store when doing business with you.
Keep it simple
Anything and everything in your cart process should be as simple as possible. If it's not absolutely necessary to the purchase or doesn't provide the client with important information that *they* need, turf it.
It's important to remember that the US dollar is not the only currency in the world. While it has pretty much global acceptance, converting currency can be a mathematical nightmare for some. Even if you can only accept US funds via your payment gateway arrangements, at least provide a currency converter feature to save your non-US clients the effort of making the calculation. You can pick up a totally free currency conversion feature for your site from XE.com
Transparency and reassurance
So many online businesses try to hide who they are - their about pages do nothing but say "we're the best". This does nothing to assuage the fears of online shoppers. A person may be halfway through the checkout process and think "hrm, who are these guys anyway?". There should be a link to a contact and about/company profile page easily accessible from the cart and the profile page should be more than just puffery - it needs to contain solid information about your company focused on reassuring your visitors.
Get others to test your cart
Once we are familiar with our own software, it's very hard to be objective as to how easy it is for a first time visitor to use, as we become "store blind". Enlist the help of colleagues, staff, friends and family - ask them to test your cart and to be brutally honest. Analytics software can also help indicate a common point where consumers are abandoning their purchases.
Like most ecommerce merchants, you've put in a lot of blood, sweat, tears and cash in building and promoting your site - I hope some of these tips help you in boosting your profits!
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In Loving Memory - Mignon Ann Bloch
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