Online, nearly half the shopping carts are broken

Some 45 percent of online shopping carts don't lead to sales, a US survey says.

Frances M. Roberts/Newscom/File
An abandoned shopping cart is half-buried on the beach of Coney Island creek in Brooklyn, N.Y., in April. Online, businesses are hard at work trying to repair their broken shopping carts.

How many times have you been guilty of abandonment? You know who you are. You browse a merchant’s online site, drop goods into your shopping cart and then head to the checkout. But you disappear before hitting the "buy" button.

Shoppers like you are the bane of online retailing. "Shopping cart abandonment" is a huge problem. According to PayPal, 45 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. abandon carts, leaving baskets worth an average of $109 each time.

Something happened before you completed your purchase and sent your credit card details through the ether. In most cases, e-commerce experts say, what derailed your purchase was flawed shopping cart design. Unfortunately for the merchant, there’s no quick fix. But there are answers.

“An effective shopping cart and checkout is a crucial part of the overall e-commerce experience,” said Natalia A. Framil, the director of information architecture for Empathy Lab, an online retail consultancy. “It’s also a challenge that cannot be solved by simply following generic best practices of shopping cart and checkout design.”

The key to solving this challenge, Framil told BusinessNewsDaily, is to look at it from three perspectives: the business, the customer and the brand.

“Understanding your business model is the key to designing your site,” said Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy office of SeeWhy, a web analytics company. "Unfortunately, it takes a bit of soul searching. There are no easy checklists of what you need to do to have a successful shopping cart. Unfortunately, there’s no single formula that works well for everyone. You have to think about the emotional journey people go through in making a purchase.”

Nicholls cites Amazon as a model of shopping cart efficiency and effectiveness. The site is optimized for repeat purchases and is as frictionless as possible.

“They really understand what the customer wants,” he said.

In selecting a shopping cart, whether the business hosts its own or outsources the operation, the merchant should look for one that has a seamless integration with payment. Following Amazon’s model, he said, you also want your items to remain in the cart even if you temporarily leave the site.

“This is becoming much more important,” Nicholls said.

The merchant also should provide anonymous checkout, which is especially important for one-time shoppers, said Mike Julson, chief technology officer of Escalate, a company that supplies multichannel e-commerce solutions to online retailers including Brooks Brothers, Eileen Fisher and Frontgate. It’s also essential that a customer be able to easily modify his order by adding and deleting items, he added.

One feature often overlooked is the use of the “back" button, Julson said. When that function does not work in the shopping cart, it throws many people off, he said. Letting customers know where they are in the checkout process is also critical, he said.

”It’s good to give them a graphical indicator,” he said. “It gives consumers a feeling of control.”

Both Julson and Nicholls agree there’s way too much clutter in most shopping carts.

One element that shouldn’t be missing, said Nicholls, is a contact phone number for the merchant's site.

“It gives consumers confidence,” he said. “It’s a security blanket. It’s a really easy quick fix to do.”

From check-in to checkout, the user experience should be characterized by speed, said Josh Pierry, CEO of RevenueExpect, a company whose software helps e-commerce companies reduce shopping cart abandonment.

“Every time you add a step, you make another server call,” Pierry said. “You really want to make it fast. If your site is slow, kiss your customers goodbye.”

A good site, he added, also should offer multiple payment options.

“The number one thing that turns me off is when the only option is to pay with PayPal,” he said. “Get a credit card account.”

Other issues for customers include being asked for unneeded information and the lack of transparency about cost.

Customers want to see the delivery time frame, return/warranty policy, in-stock information and total price — including shipping — early in the process, said Empathy Lab’s Framil.

“Overall, the shopping cart and checkout experience should be easy, fast, secure, thoughtful and personal — just like great service at a register in a store.”

Most sites make it easy, fast and secure, she said, and some are thoughtful as well. Very few achieve being personal.

“Building personal relationships with clients is not easy in the offline world, and it’s even more difficult online. However, it’s great aspiration which can drive both innovation and business success.”


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