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Top 5 Tactics to Battle Shopping Cart Abandonment

Top 5 Tactics to Battle Shopping Cart Abandonment

There are few phrases more despised in the realm of online retailers than “shopping cart abandonment”, and for good reason. Recently it was estimated by Business Insider that over 70% of online shoppers who put an item in their virtual shopping cart leave before completing the purchase.

That equates to an estimated $4 trillion in abandoned merchandise this year alone as part of a trend that is increasing consistently over the past decade. According to the good people at BI,

“Shopping cart abandonment is increasing, and it will continue to do so as more consumers shift to online and mobile shopping. In 2013, as many as 74% of online shopping carts were abandoned by shoppers, That abandonment rate is up from 72% in 2012, and 69% in 2011.”

Cart Abandonment Reasons

Others who specialize in cart abandonment theory claim the 70%+ is not a final number since up to “three-fourths of shoppers who have abandoned shopping carts say they plan to return to the retailer’s website or store to make a purchase.” While that’s good news, it is not a reason to ignore the fact that even when done properly, it often takes more than one visit to a site to get a customer to purchase.

What causes a potential customer to abandon a shopping cart?

A 2012 study by Statista looked at the most common reasons for shopping cart abandonment. While the list is not particularly surprising, what is surprising is that these issues continue to get worse year after year.

To be blunt, this subject is one that has birthed hundreds of articles and exponentially more lists with tips like “make sure your site is functional” and “accept multiple forms of payment.”  I’ll spare you the obvious methods of improving your conversion rate but would like to take a brief look at some tactics that are undeniable when trying to solve cart abandonment.


Fifty-six percent of visitors to a site say they will abandon a sales funnel if they are presented with costs they did not expect up front. I am one of the 56% and, as one of them, I will speak for all of them. If I click “add to cart” for NFL champion New England Patriots tickets on a broker site, I’ve agreed to pay LIST PRICE x 3 for the privilege of watching Tom Brady be Tom Brady. Once in the cart, if additional fees start getting added, you’ve broken the mental contact we had and you’ve given me enough reason to abandon immediately. You want an additional $50 broker fee? It’s how much to have the tickets shipped FedEx 2 day express? Handling fees? What even is a “handling fee?” It’s not like I bought Plutonium…

Now we’ve gone from the initial agreement I mentally made when I clicked “add to cart” of:




Now I’m downright deflated.

The truth is that this could be easily avoided with two simple (some might say “honest”) changes to the cart

  • STUBHUBFees – Include additional fees into the price of the tickets. It is part of the ticket cost and hiding it to increase upfront interest only backfires as soon as the potential customer has the sizable fee added at check out. This also might explain part of the success StubHub (included), the industry leader, has over sites like SeatGeek (surprise fees), who’s cart I’ve abandoned on dozens of occasions.
  • Shipping Charges –Ideally, you can offer free shipping and/or build a flat fee into the list price. In many instances, this is not possible, so managing expectations becomes the prime directive. Mentioning shipping charges throughout the check-out process sets an expectation of additional costs and something as simple as a shipping calculator allows the user to decide how much they would like to pay. Smart marketers can even use this as an upsell opportunity, offering free shipping for order above a certain amount. In this way, you increase revenue while ensuring customer satisfaction. Additionally, you’ve made a new contract with the shopper.  If they spend X amount, they get free shipping, and if they don’t, THEY are culpable for the additional shipping charges and have nobody to blame but themselves.



I thought this t-shirt was pretty amusing and knew it would get me all kinds of digital street cred at the office, so I broke out my credit card and yelled “take my money” only to be stifled by the following message:


I was buying a simple t-shirt as an impulse purchase and the site is trying to make this the foundation for a relationship. Way too soon. I’m not ready for this kind of commitment. You’re not password creation worthy yet and I certainly don’t want to get a newsletter from you either!

According to Smashing Magazine in a look at the top 100 grossing e-commerce sites, “24% require account registration.” That may be fine if you have cache like Apple, Brooks Brothers or Sony, but in the case of most sites though, it’s an additional step that will stifle conversion.

A more elegant way to approach this would have been to provide a “guest” or “social” checkout option for this sale, and then ask if the customer would like to create an account for future use once the sale has been completed and you’ve gotten to know each other a bit better. Bonus points if you don’t pre-check the ‘Sign me up for your newsletter” box.


Shopping is an emotional activity and while Dr. Oz may condemn the use of this knowledge for commerce (unless, of course, it’s something he’s personally hocking), we all have bills to pay. Take a look at the image below. As an admirer of Tom Brady, you can bet that I can’t wait to get this shipment in the mail because I can already picture myself in that t-shirt mocking Seahawks fans with reckless abandon. Would that level of emotion still exist if the line items above were in text only format? Let’s face it, it much it’s much easier to covet something you can see throughout the entire checkout process.EMOTIONAL


People are going to abandon your cart. The fact that “I was just browsing” is # 2 on the list of reasons for cart abandonment, shows that shoppers have intent, but will research aspects such as price or availability and this process will delay an immediate purchase. We all know there are stages to any online purchase, as people look for a solution (Awareness), create a competitive set (Consideration), and then purchase (Decision). This process can take some time, so making sure that you are top of mind when they are ready to choose is essential.

  • STAGES OF CONVERSIONRemarketing – Targeting non-converters via remarketing has been around for some time, and in its most basic form still does a great job of keeping your company top of mind. For a more enticing offer, use a discount or promotion to reel people back into your site. Those who have the ability to create a Google Merchant Center can take this one step further by using Dynamic Remarketing, in which the ad seen by the searcher will include the actual items they were considering for purchase.
  • E-Mail – Sending an e-mail to a cart abandoner works wonders to bring them back. Sending an e-mail saying that the product they were looking out is nearly out of stock is an even better motivator!
  • Include a Save Option – Getting them back is only half the battle. Once you do, make sure that you have made it as easy as possible to finalize the purchase.


As was stated earlier, there is no shortage of articles offering a list of universal best practices for shopping cart checkout, including items like “make sure you have security badges”, “add customer testimonials,” and “single page checkout is superior.” While intuitively these tips make sense, without testing a variety of options, you are not employing due diligence. I can’t tell you how many times a client has assumed a tactic to be beneficial only to have it proven wrong when put to a test.

While I stand behind the five tactics above, there is no set of “universal best practices for website checkout.” Seeking out what works for you will require you to track and study what works and what does not.

Forthea’s mission is dedicated to helping clients achieve their full potential online through superior marketing that’s delivered with unsurpassed customer service and professionalism.


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