Design Tips to Reduce Shopping Cart Abandonment in Your E-Commerce Website

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July 19, 2012

As e-commerce and m-commerce (stands for mobile commerce not buying pictures of “M” from James Bond) become increasingly popular sales channels, one of the major focus areas for web designers is how to reduce shopping cart abandonment rates. Having people put your precious cargo into their shopping cart leave stinks. In the real world, it would be like going to Best Buy, putting tons of really great electronics in your shopping cart, then leaving the cart next to the cashier and just walking out. Studies have shown that average shopping card abandonment rates are as high as 70%. We need to do something about that!

I feel that changes in consumer behavior are one the major causes of high rates of shopping cart abandonments. For example, the abandonment rate spikes up when web shoppers indulge in comparison shopping across multiple sites and attempt to view total cost of purchase (including shipping and taxes) before finalizing on the purchase. Don’t pretend that you don’t go to FatWallet or RetailMeNot before you buy anything online. The severe competition in the e-commerce space has led to a culture of discounts and promo-codes and this again causes cart abandonment. Does this mean you need to compromise on your profits and offer crazy coupon codes to get business? Not really. Low price isn’t everything! If it was then this post wouldn’t be about design tips to reduce shopping cart abandonment.

There are several design aspects which  contribute to shopping cart abandonment. Do you like lists? So do I and here is a list of things that you should avoid in your design if you want your customers to actually part with their credit card information. I’m about to reveal some pretty powerful stuff so read with caution as following the tips below could get you in a primo monetary position enabling frivolous & gratuitous spending sprees.

Mandatory Registrations: Most poorly designed websites do not understand the psyche of an online shopper. In a frenzy to build an email list, they require users to perform a mandatory (and often lengthy) registration process before they can actually make the payment. That’s like filling out a questionnaire before you buy your Snickers Bar and Doritos dinner combo at the grocery store. A much better design strategy would be to have a guest checkout option and just ask the user to provide an email address (that too not mandatory) where you can send status updates regarding order delivery. You can always ask for a complete registration after the payment process is completed, but leave it up to the customer if they want to go that far. This way, you are not driving away the customer from your site. Still want to build that email list? Then encourage “complete” sign ups after the sale with some type of improvement dangling carrot like improved tracking, saving credit card information, etc.

Attention Diverting Promos: Some sites have exclusive promos for specific credit cards or loyalty cards. Studies have shown that these are counter-productive as potential customers who do not qualify for such promos feel that they are not getting the best deal and hence abandon the cart. It is much better to have a uniform promo for a specific time period for all customers. Something like free shipping until the end of the month on orders over $50 or buy one get one free deals.

Complicated Check-Out Process: Several e-commerce sites have lengthy and complicated check-out processes that give customers too many chances to renege. The check-out process should be simple, uncluttered and designed to load fast.

It is a good idea to store all the information entered by the user in the check-out form (except sensitive credit card information) and have a shopping cart icon in every page of your website so that customers who go back to look for additional products in the middle of a check-out can resume from where they left off.  Another way in which the checkout process can be made faster is to pre-populate the address fields for a returning customer. Yet another design tip is to include a progress meter for the checkout process, so that customers know how close they are to finish the transaction. Progress meters are like little windows to the light at the end of the tunnel – the light being the goods you just bought & the tunnel being your website checkout process.

Lack of Follow-Up: Studies have shown that post abandonment communications have a significant role to play in completing the sales and savvy web designers include an automatic email script which would  generate a ‘gentle reminder’ along with helpful guidance if the shopping cart abandonment occurs after contact information has been provided. You don’t want to scare your visitors away with threats that you are going to ship the contents to them anyway & demand a C.O.D. payment. Something like “Oops! It looks like you left something at our store!” works much better.

Inability to Build Trust: Despite the prevalence of e-commerce stores, a large number of online shoppers are still reluctant to part with credit card information online. It is therefore necessary to re-assure the shopper about security in the site in as many ways as possible. This includes implementing technology related aspects such as SSL encryption for credit card payment processing and CVV verification to prevent unauthorized use of credit cards as well as confidence building measures such as giving a toll free contact number and voice chat for customers to talk to you before making the payment. Don’t forget about keeping your SSL certs current too. Nothing creeps out a buyer more than clicking on the checkout and having Internet Explorer start screaming about the security of the site. It is also important to convey to customers that you take data security and privacy seriously by having a page dedicated to data security and privacy and making it available from every page of your website.  It is also important to introduce the team behind the venture in order to lend credibility to your operations. This can be done by including videos and photographs of the senior management members of your team in the ‘About Us’ page along with a physical contact address. How about contracting with a <a href=””>call center as a service</a> to give your clients a 24/7 gateway to call you? Nothing says “We Love Our Customers” more than direct around the clock telephone access to your company for quick resolution of any issues.

Hidden Costs: This is a well known but often neglected aspect of the checkout process – hidden costs in the form of shipping charges and taxes. The best way of course is to offer free shipping for your products, but if you cannot afford to do that, then you should ideally have a flat shipping charge for all products and mention that in all product listings. This would keep things simple and prevent customers from abandoning their shopping carts due to last minute surprises. This is my #1 reason why I abandon shipping costs & why I often go right to Amazon for the same product. They usually have free shipping options or really really really low shipping.

Obtain Feedback: You must always be willing to listen to what customers have to say about their shopping experience in your site. You must make it easy for customers to leave feedback. You can also request customers who have abandoned the shopping cart as to the reason why they did so, so as to gain valuable inputs on how to improve your site design. On the other side, people hate to leave feedback & will often only leave feedback for negative experiences so you need to look at feedback in line with other factors like abandonment rates, time on page, etc. – basically all the little goodies in your Analytics suite.

And Act on It: Collecting feedback is not going to be of any use, if you do not act on it. Therefore, it is important to tweak your website design based on user feedback, in order to be able to drive more sales.

Want to get invited to all the best Hollywood parties and make enough money through your e-commerce business to buy an Island? Then you need to follow the above steps. If there is anything I missed, please comment below!

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  • Seema Gautam

    Thanks for another informative site. Where else could I get that type of information written in such an ideal way.