How to deal with shopping cart abandonment

Contributor - Chloë Thomas

Shopping basket over flowing with boxes and gifts

Losing online customers at the last minute - after they have gone to the trouble of adding items to their shopping basket - is certainly frustrating for ecommerce retailers. Chloe Thomas explains how to tempt those customers back

Online retailers spend a lot of time focused on getting more customers to their ecommerce website. But what happens when they get there? Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the skill of improving what happens when someone gets to your website - it covers many different things, one of the most important of which is what happens in the shopping cart.

In particular, "shopping cart abandonment" is when someone puts something into their basket on your website, and then fails to proceed to the checkout.

How does your shopping cart perform?

Every ecommerce business has different patterns of shopping cart abandonment because key factors vary from one business to the next:

  • the technology may be different;
  • the set-up of the checkout is different, with different payment methods, words and layouts;
  • the customers are different and are buying for different reasons;
  • the products are different and require a different psychological purchase process.

Before starting to improve your cart abandonment rate, you first need to work out what's happening in your checkout.

The easiest way to do this is to set up a funnel in Google Analytics tracking the progress of visitors from the basket page through entering delivery and payment information to the order processing point. How you set this up will differ from site to site - so you may need to involve your website builder to get it all in place properly.

If you want to take your tracking to the next level, then add in the stage before - and track when someone adds something to their basket, but doesn't actually go there.

Some website systems will give you a "number of baskets created" stat - this is also very useful when you compare it to your orders in the same period. Once all this is set up you can keep an eye on your performance from month to month and see if the changes you make are increasing your sales.

Do you have a shopping cart abandonment issue?

No matter what your stats are, you may not have as big a problem as you think. Consumers use the basket in a number of different ways. A basket abandoned today might not be the lost sale you think it is.

Customers "abandon" their basket because:

  • buying your product is a household/group decision, they've done the initial research and now need everyone else's opinion before going ahead;
  • they had every intention of buying, but the phone rang or the baby woke up - they'll be back tomorrow;
  • they are using the basket as a wish list and they will buy when they are ready;
  • it's a gift hint to their significant other and the basket will be left open on the tablet screen;
  • it wasn't the right product after all;
  • they found it cheaper or with better delivery terms on another ecommerce website;
  • they've decided to visit the high street and have a look at a real one before coming back to buy it online.

The list is potentially endless - so it's important to make sure you're not making assumptions about the reason the customer has left their basket.

In almost all of these cases, it's well worth giving the customer a friendly reminder or making it easier for them to get on with their order. This involves either making the cart better, or using marketing to remind them about their potential purchase.

How to make the cart better

One of the reasons people abandon carts on your website is because they get stuck, confused or even exasperated trying to use your checkout. If you can make it easier to use, then the abandonment rate will drop.

It's vital to improve your cart with your target customer in mind. What you need to do is run some user testing; is a great tool - but better still, invite a few of your customers in and watch them (without helping!) try to complete a purchase.

Before you do that, take a walk through your own checkout and critically analyse it. Where is it confusing? Is the text up to scratch? Are the navigation buttons clear enough? Is it out of date or inconsistent?

Here's a list of tweaks that may improve cart performance - but always test them yourself before you make changes:

  • remove the rest of the website navigation from the cart so there are no distractions;
  • make the delivery pricing obvious and clear;
  • don't force account creation or registration;
  • provide multiple payment options - including PayPal, Amazon Pay or bitcoin - whatever is relevant to your customer;
  • use a postcode look-up/address finder solution;
  • for mobile checkouts, make sure each text entry box is set up to trigger the correct keyboard (eg entering a phone number - go straight to number keypad).

Using marketing to win back those abandoned shopping carts

You can only use marketing if you have the necessary information and permissions about your customers. If you don't have their email address, and they don't allow cookies to be used, there's not much you can do other than hope your online marketing attracts them to come back.

Don't think you have to incentivise them to come back - if you look back at the list of abandonment issues, most of them are about timing. These customers don't need a discount to get them back - they just need a friendly reminder.

By all means test an offer at some point - but don't put it in the first message you send them.

If you've got their email, you can send them one or more emails to encourage them to come back. Make sure you stop sending reminders if they do buy.

The first email you send is the most powerful. Send it as soon after the cart is abandoned as possible. Include in it as much information about the cart as you can, including the products in it.

If you're working up a series of emails, you may want to test a "your basket will be deleted in 24 hours" - maybe one week after it was left, or longer depending on how long people take to make the purchase decision (you can find that information in Google Analytics).

If you don't have their email address, you may be able to drop a cookie on them, and then remarket to them using Google, Facebook or another remarketing system. The key restriction here is that you need a minimum number of people in your list before you can activate the marketing, and the sooner the marketing happens the more useful it will be. A simple place to start is by putting them all in one list, and putting a generic brand message in front of them.

Whichever options you explore, try to avoid re-inventing the wheel; there are a lot of great software solutions out there that will do a large chunk of this for you. The major ecommerce platforms have abandoned basket plug-ins and widgets for you to use, your email provider may have a templated sequence you can quickly set up, and many remarketing systems have one too. Once you have your reporting set up, take a look around to see what solutions are easily implementable for you.

Expert profile picture


Chloë Thomas

Chloë has been working in eCommerce since 2003. Client side, supplier-side, as a consultant she experienced many many different types of eCommerce marketing over the years. Now she focuses on helping eCommerce business owners and marketers via her books and podcasts.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.