The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment

Shopping cart abandonment is when shoppers put items in their online shopping carts, but then leave before completing the purchase — a major issue facing ecommerce retailers.

According to Business Insider, $4.6 trillion worth of merchandise was left in abandoned carts in 2016, up from $4.2 trillion in 2013. Given all of the data we collect about shoppers during the buying journey, the fact that this number is growing is extremely discouraging. But we don’t have to despair – BI Intelligence estimates that about 60% of those lost dollars can be recovered.

 Reasons for shopping cart abandonment during checkout


Let’s start by understanding why consumers leave in the middle of placing an order. Consumers abandon their shopping cart for a myriad of reasons (Figure 1). Mirroring that is a complex state of affairs: There’s no single silver bullet for decreasing  shopping cart abandonment rates. However, marketers who attack the issue from many angles, and create personalized experiences by using all the information they have about the shopper, yield the best results.  

Consider the following steps to improve your cart abandonment rates and increase your AOV.

1. Optimize your forms for better conversions.

Clearly, forms are a pain point. Not only are people uncomfortable giving out their information online, forms tend to be full of frustrating glitches. To reduce shopping cart abandonment at this critical point, take the guesswork out of the process:

  1. Label required fields clearly.
  2. When people mistype a phone number, password, or email—or skip a required field—create a message that indicates precisely which fields need modification and why.
  3. Monitor data input in real time. When a phone number looks good, a green checkbox appears. When an email looks amiss, a pop-up window asks consumers to take a closer look.

The benefits of inline form validation are numerous when implemented correctly, yet 40% of sites still don’t have it, and 20% of the sites that do have flawed implementations.

Additionally, consultants the world over will tell you that a checkout process with fewer steps is ideal. And that’s not bad advice, particularly if you test and optimize each step. But keep in mind that a one-step checkout process isn’t always the most strategic. Why? Because fewer steps could result in longer checkout forms. When  people see long forms, many are likely to abandon the process.

Forms should also be designed to be compatible with mobile and should only ask for necessary information. For example: If you are an online business, you may not need to ask for a customer’s phone number or can leave this field as optional.

Since shorter forms tend to yield higher conversion rates, consider testing and optimizing a checkout process of at least two steps. In the first step, ask for your visitors’ email addresses, so if a cart is abandoned, you have their contact information. Which leads us, conveniently, to our next tip.

2. Follow up on abandoned carts.

One of the most effective ways to recover abandoned carts: Follow up with a well-crafted email campaign. Consider a scenario in which a visitor abandons a form they feel is too long. If that company previously gathered an email address, they can send a one- or two- part follow-up email that reads along these lines: 

We noticed that your order didn’t go through on your recent visit to our site. Can we do anything to help you complete the order? 

Research shows that, for service- and subscription-based companies, a second email with incentives—whether that’s a discount or other special offer—is a particularly powerful approach to recapturing sales. However, be careful when taking this approach. You don’t want users to abandon their carts in the future in the hope of getting additional discounts.

3. Display clear calls-to-action. 

Always have one primary call-to-action. That call-to-action must be the most prominent button at every step of the checkout process. Prominence is achieved with size, color, shape and contrast; the button should convey the feeling of forward momentum. Duplicate your buttons above and below the fold, so the shopper can find them. Keep your buttons consistent in terms of color and location. Finally, make all additional links (guarantees, etc.) in the cart open in pop-ups or separate new windows, to again, avoid any diversion from customer checkout completion.

Consider running your site through the “Grannie Test.” In your checkout process, ask yourself if your grandma would understand which button to click next. If she wouldn’t, then the time to clarify is now. Clear labels on the checkout page do a great deal of the work in this regard, so include a prominent “Checkout >>” button or “<< Continue Shopping” tab.

4. Make the steps in the checkout process easy.

No matter the number of steps in your process, progress indicators are a must. Number and label each step—and give shoppers the opportunity to review previous steps, moving back and forward without getting lost. It’s worth testing different types of progress indicators, but never neglect to include one.

Example: J.Crew checkout page

At the end of checkout, make sure users can double check their orders, so they can verify they have what they want. Be transparent. The last thing you want is the consumer to discover a surprise on their credit card statement or return items they did not mean to order.

Additionally, people’s concerns (read: tempers) are most likely to flare during checkout. Once consumers encounter an error message or can’t find the answer to one of their questions, they’re far less interested in conducting business with a machine. Let visitors know you’re a real company by providing full contact information and a dedicated, toll-free line for visitors who aren’t comfortable using a credit card online. In the screen grab below, this retailer reassures visitors with two boxes to the right of the billing information form.

This is also a smart place to add a “live chat” pop-up window letting consumers know a real person is available to answer questions.

5. Keep consumers focused at checkout.

Navigation bars on your checkout page divert shoppers from their primary objective, which is to complete their sale. When you do include navigation—or, in fact, any information other than a progress indicator and checkout steps—you’re giving already distracted consumers an opportunity to click themselves away from you. Here’s the basket page from John Lewis, with all of the navigation options on view:


As we continue into the checkout, it keeps consumers laser focused on the buying mission. Do not include navigation bars or unessential links.


6. Add pictures of products in users’ shopping carts.

Place a thumbnail image of the product in shoppers’ baskets. As it happens, a few pixels —like the thumbnail of a selected t-shirt below—go a long way: Research shows that this increases conversions by as much as 10 percent.

Example: J.Crew checkout page

Likewise, if you have promotional messaging on your product page, make sure items in your shopping cart reiterate these messages. This alone can make a big impact: for one Monetate customer, this simple change increased average order value by 3.8%.

7. Mitigate “shipping shock.”

Research from PayPal and comScore found that 46 percent of online shoppers—nearly half—say high shipping charges are a “very important reason” for leaving their carts in the dust. Attack the issue from all sides:

  1. Provide estimated shipping costs while visitors browse. Shipping fees should never take them by surprise.

  2. If you’re running special deals on shipping, announce that early and often.

  3. Include a feature that automatically populates information when consumers’ shipping and billing addresses are the same. Remember: Most visitors understand shipping fees are necessary, but they’re hardly enthralled by the prospect. Fewer steps make it an easier pill to swallow.

8. Play the “stock” market wisely.

When customers discover at checkout that their item—the one they deliberated over —is out of stock, you’ve lost their trust and dollars. Research shows that 23 percent of people who abandon carts do so at this point. So, let shoppers know about out-of-stock products early—on the product page— then tell them precisely when they can expect their backordered goods to arrive at their door. Being transparent will help decrease cart abandonment rates and could get you some new subscribers.

Example: Rue La La checkout page

9. Make it easy for consumers to change what’s in their carts

Make it easy for consumers to change quantities or options, or delete an item from the shopping cart. If a product comes in multiple sizes or colors, create a simple process for selecting or changing values in the shopping cart—like the straightforward size links and quantity box below.

10. Offer the right product recommendations

Recommendation engines are powerful revenue boosters, particularly if you personalize their visibility, location and types of product displayed. Although this varies from site to site, you might find that the best place to leverage up- and cross-sell opportunities is at checkout.

Allow visitors to stay in the shopping cart environment while reviewing recommended products. If you take them away from the checkout page, you risk losing people or confusing them about the status of their primary order. Has it disappeared? Or did the order go through? The better bet: Make recommendations via interstitials or pop-ups, which keeps shoppers’ primary order in full view.

11. Establish credibility with shoppers.

Research shows that 21 percent of cart abandoners leave when security concerns are unaddressed. Establish trust in your site by posting badges from VeriSign and Better Business Bureau, for example. Another method that performs well for increasing users’ perceived security of sensitive fields is to visually encapsulate them. Credit card logos are important as well, either boosting or maintaining conversion rates. In other words, they can’t hurt.

12. Offer a price guarantee.

If you sell name-brand products and your store is price competitive or truly provides better value, try a “Lowest Price Match” guarantee. This can encourage shoppers who may be looking for the best deal. By offering a best price guarantee, shoppers know that your store will always deliver the best price.

13. Offer a “Guest Checkout”.

Make the checkout process even easier for new visitors by offering  them a “Guest Checkout.” There is no need for them to register, since you will be able to capture almost all the information required during the checkout process anyway. Making users register with your site to make a purchase creates an unnecessary obstacle and may make the user reluctant to complete the purchase. Allowing users to checkout as guests still gives customers the benefits of a faster checkout process, while allowing new visitors to get acquainted with your brand.


Example: RevZilla checkout page

14. Give Customers Payment Options.

Sometimes people  abandoned their shopping carts say they did so because they couldn’t find their preferred payment option. Allow visitors to pay by credit card, check, PayPal and any other means you can.

Likewise, offer payment plans if you think they might be attractive to your customers. And finally, give your customers the option to check out using a “Speed Buy” option.

15. Provide superior customer service.

The best marketers anticipate and answer questions customers might have at every stage of the buying process. When you add links, sidebars or pop-up windows with information about warranties, shipping or safe-shopping guarantees, you’ve provided assurances at the right time and place. Notice the placement of the “Shop with Confidence” box below. It’s not accidental. Answers and third-party assurances should sit close to the point of action, like a “Submit My Order” button.

Remember to also include numbers to a real person on the checkout page or some live chat functionality so that customers have somewhere to turn should they not find the answers they are looking for.

Example: Zappos checkout page

16. Make a “Return” for the better.

One pressing concerns for online buyers: How hard will it be to return this item? It’s imperative to include complete, clear information on your return policy. And if possible, give consumers the opportunity to return items in person at a brick-and-mortar location. Use geo-targeting to determine whether shoppers live near a retail outlet, and then direct them to the closest location. If so, we direct them to the closest location.

17. Offer a “Wish List”.

People often use their shopping cart as a placeholder while they evaluate purchase options, or they may want to show it to someone else before making the decision to purchase. Enable them to save the cart or add items to a wish list without having to do all the hard work of browsing for the products and adding them to their cart again. You can also then try to email the cart to them to save the sale a few days later.


Final Thoughts

Now you have 17 different usability tips to decrease shopping cart abandonment. Every site is different, of course, with its own environment and issues. Following UX best practices at checkout will result in great improvements in reducing cart abandonment. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to test each one that’s appropriate—improving your conversion rates is a one-step-at-a-time process.

And if you are interested to learn how you can combat shopping cart abandonment issues with personalization, take a look at our solutions or contact us today.