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E-Commerce Marketing: Why Are Your Shopping Carts Being Abandoned?

Have you ever looked at your ecommerce analytics and thought, “Why didn’t they finish with the sale?” It’s frustrating, isn’t it? If those darn customers would just finish with the buying process and quit abandoning their shopping carts, you’d be making a cool million this year.

You aren’t alone with these and similar thoughts:

  • The average website only has a 2% to 3% conversion rate
  • 7 out of every 10 shopping carts never make it to checkout
  • Approximately $18 billion is lost in sales every year
  • Shopping cart abandonment is up to 75% (Listrak)
  • 88% of online consumers have abandoned a shopping cart at least once (2010 Forrester Study)

Wait – Come Back! You Forgot to Pay for Your Stuff!

Before you can fix it, you have to understand the underlying cause (we’ll tie this in later in the article). Why do visitors drop products in their online cart and then leave without paying? Several reasons:

  • Comparison shopping – many studies report that comparison shopping is one of the biggest reasons why carts are abandoned. “I just wanted to know how much it would all cost after shipping.” In fact, if you shop online, this is probably something you’ve done yourself.
  • Ran out of time– Many consumers are in a hurry when they’re shopping online. Sometimes the buying process takes so long, they run out of time. They click the “x” to close the site down, leaving them with a full shopping cart and you without a completed payment.
  • Shipping costs – Have you ever been told you’re going to pay $12 in shipping for a small purchase? We have, and we didn’t finish the buy. Unexpectedly high shipping costs, especially for products shipped within the same country, will lose you those completed sales.
  • Uncomfortable buying process – “It’s a download – why do you need my mailing address?” Often, consumers are inhibited by yet another registration process, requests for too much information and so on.
  • Technical problems – Occasionally, the buying process can go terribly wrong. “We’re sorry for the technical difficulties, but your order didn’t go through. Please try again.” Um… not likely.
  • Out of stock – Unless they’re loyal to your company for some reason, such as being a long term customer, few will wait until a product comes back into stock. If you have a “sold out” sign, it’s highly likely your visitors will find another site to buy from.

There are more reasons, such as a product costing too much, but most of them fall under the same type of issues. Now that you understand the reasoning, let’s get to the solution.

Getting Customers Back to the Buy

Often, e-commerce owners get the idea that once the cart is abandoned, there’s nothing left to do. Sure, it’s frustrating, but it’s not like you can go knocking on their doors, right? Wrong. Isn’t that sort of stalkerish? No, it’s just good business practice!

It’s called cart recovery (or remarketing).

Cart recovery emails

A simple email marketing plan can recover as little as 6%, and as much as 50%, of abandoned shopping carts. Wow – sounds like something you might want to get in on, doesn’t it? Especially if you own one of the e-commerce sites enjoying 2% to 3% conversion rates? Depending on your average cart amount, that could translate into thousands of dollars in retained sales per year.

How does it work? It’s simple. When a customer abandons the shopping cart, you send them an email. It’s simply a gentle reminder that they’ve left their cart sitting in your online store.

Keys to successful cart recovery emails:

Timing – An interesting MIT study, How Much Time Do You Have Before Web-Generated Leads Go Cold, points out the importance of immediate response. Within an hour, 90% of online leads go cold. 90%! Of course, the study was based on B2B or B2C lead generation – not abandoned shopping carts. What this shows, however, is that timing is everything.

Test to see what timing works best for your industry and target market. Generally, it’ll be within 72 hours for the first email. Too soon can be pushy; too late can be a lost sale. As well, the most successful email remarketing campaigns often send out three to six emails, spread out over a period of time.

Why does this work? If your visitor has abandoned their shopping cart, they obviously aren’t ready to buy. A sequence of emails (not just one), has the ability to:

  • Gently nudge them towards the buying point
  • Catch them at a more convenient time
  • Give them time to consider
  • Remind them (if they have forgotten or can’t remember the site address)

Relevance – Rather than send a generic email that looks like you weren’t paying attention (because you really weren’t), make sure the email is relevant to the items left in the shopping cart. For example, a relevant email might include such things:

  • The customer’s name
  • A list of the items left in the cart
  • Items similar to those left in the cart
  • A link to their cart for easy check-out
  • A way to reach sales and/or customer service in case they’d like to speak to a live (not robotic) person

At this point, remember it’s all about them, which brings us to…

Tone – This is gentle marketing, not brute force. Aggressive sales in a remarketing campaign can kill the sale altogether. What your visitors need is a legitimate reason to finish the sale. Hint: legitimate does not mean because we’re the best.

Think about why the possible reasons they abandoned the buying process, and address these issues in the email. Customer service and support are important at this point, which is why these links are included in the email. Let them know you company is there, and actively interested in answering any questions they may have.

Cart recovery phone calls

Some successful cart recovery campaigns use a phone call. If you have the budget, you can hire a company that specializes in recovery calls. They work a bit differently than emails, in that you obviously don’t want to call over and over again (test for the best timing). However, tone and relevance remain the same. It’s still the soft-sale approach, and it’s still all about them.

A mixture of email and phone

Some of the most impressive and successful remarketing campaigns have been a mixture of both. For example, a foray into Alpha Omega Publications’ abandonment recovery process is enlightening. We tested it, and this is what happened:

Step one. Within two hours, an email was sent that said, approximately, “Oops! Has there been a problem? You seem to have left some items sitting in your shopping cart.”

Step two. The next day, we received a follow up email that said, “This is a friendly reminder that you have items waiting. Would you like to empty your cart?”

Both emails included a phone number to call for customer service (not sales), a reminder of what we’d ordered, and a link to the cart.

Step three. Three days after the second email – five days all together – we received a phone call from a very nice, friendly woman from AOP customer care. She introduced herself and immediately told us why she was calling. “We noticed that you left some products in your shopping cart, and I’m calling to see if there’s something I can help you with.” At no point in time did she actually push the sale; the entire conversation was focused on helping us make a decision.

#1 Way to Stop Shopping Cart Abandonment

The caveat to cart recovery campaigns is that your shopping cart solution has to include some sort of information capture. Without that, you can’t very well contact them. If you have a “registration-free” option, however, your best option is to address the potential issue for abandonment before they leave the site (blog coming on this topic).

Of course, some leave because life gets in the way. For these, an email or a “send a cart reminder to my email” button comes in handy. For the others, remember – once they leave the site, it’s no longer about the sale; it’s about creating a long-term, repeat customer.


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8 Responses

  1. I think e-commerce is picking up due to people just not having any time these days. Even business software professionals are beginning to offer it as a standard procedure in their software. Buyers will always gravitate towards the website, software, and service that allows them and their customers the most flexibility. Some companies are old fashioned and think the data migration from online to their systems is a pain, as Cindy Jutras from Mint Jutras states in this interview

    Personally I’m a stat-dork, so I enjoy the web analytics that online e-commerce and marketing can offer a company.

  2. Excellent tips and comments which covers great details to make online shopping a more pleasant experience. Its really important to research on the e-shoppers if we are to sell our products and services. I found the post very informative since I was not aware of some of the important things of e-commerce marketing you discussed in this post.

  3. I have read a lot about this kind of thing but I always see one huge floor with it, people need to be logged in so that you can identify them as people who have dropped out, however, logging is usually the final thing they do before checking out. Are the numbers as high as 50% really just theory or do you think they could really be pulled off?

    1. Hi, Claire – thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Yes, unfortunately, you do have to have some type of email capture in place for cart recovery to work. We wrote a follow up article that touches on this topic: Has Your E-Commerce Shopping Cart Run Away With Your Sales?

      Does it work? There have been enough studies and testing to validate the “up to 50%” claim, although 50% isn’t the standard.

      As a side note, it’s easy to focus on numbers and wonder if the percentages are guaranteed. They aren’t. What is guaranteed, however, is this: if you have no recovery program in place, you know that most of those who abandon their carts aren’t going to convert. That’s a guarantee, and one that makes at least considering an email capture and subsequent cart recovery program.

      Thanks again for the comment – we always love hearing from our readers!

  4. Good reminder about letting leads go cold — and applies to any kind of lead. I liked the discount idea from Doc Sheldon — of course that might encourage customers to always abandon their cart just to get the discount coupon 🙂

  5. I see two things missing from that list.
    1) No Prices : Those sites that insist on you registering and logging in before showing you the costs!
    2) No obvious Cart/Checkout : Amazing the nubmer of sites that you ahve to hunt to see what you ahve selected, and how to actually give them your money!

    For all these problems – I blame “Developers”.
    In many cases, we have e-commerce platforms being built by programmers. Though they may work wonders on the backend – they have little/no concept of the front-end, user interaction, desires, goals, funnels etc.
    so what you end up with is somethign that “works” – but isn’t particularly useful.

    When explaining this to clients – I give them the “car” analogy.
    Techncially – the combustion engine hasn’t changed all that much over the last 50 years. What has changed is the focus on the “user”. Creature comforts were introduced, as well as considerations of ego and status.
    The same evolution should be happening with the online world – but it seems to be taking it’s time. This is largely due to the fact that few people are really multi-talented/cross skilled, and fewer still are willing to actually acknowledge the input from other fields.

    The solution?
    I make 2 common recomendations to my clients;

    A) Research as an e-shopper:
    Spend at least 1 day using e-commerce sites before you talk to anyone about buildign a site.
    Don’t limit yourself to your own sector/merchandise … browse related and unrelated sites as well.
    I usually suggest people look at auto-motive parts, shoes, kids toys and books as well as their own niche/industry (if not one of the above).

    B) Go look at the real world (the thing that isn’t attached to the keyboard).
    Go into related stores to those looked at online. Note the differences in how things are presented, the feel of the store to the site etc.

    They are asked to make notes aobut the problems they face, the concerns they had, what irked them … and what they saw that they liked.
    The lists that come back are invaribly the same in most cases … I don’t really need them telling me. The “homework” is a method to save me having to convince them of the points I usually make. Once they have experienced the problems, they are usually more willing to listen and to pay for the required work, rather than arguing with me.

    And rather than leave it there … some additional suggestions to save people researching ideas for their own store;
    1) Make sure the Cart/Basket link is clearly located and preferrably visible at all times.
    2) The same as (1) but for the Checkout/Payment link.
    3) Ensure your Cart/Basket page is informative. This includes little images, product names, quantities, item price and sub total based on quantity, product codes etc.
    Provide a link back to the product from the listing in the cart as well.
    4) Ensure your Cart is helpful. That means if you have shipping changes, you list them in the cart page. If you have conditional charges (based on order total, quantity ordered etc.) flag it to get the users attention (Ex: “you’ve totaled 155 so far, just 5 more and you get free shipping!”).
    5) Disqualify at the start of the entire process! If you do Not ship to certain countries – make it clearly obvious on your pages, and at the top/bottom of the cart and payment pages! If possible, get a bit of GEO-IP coding happening and flag a little message if it seems the user is from the wrong country!
    6) Make the Cart Flexible. Make it so that peoplw can alter the quantity, or remove an item from the cart page – easily.
    7) Make that Cart page enticing … no interstitial pages disrupting the order process, asking if they want to buy XYZ as well – do it on the Cart page … a nice little note suggesting they buy X batteries, or this nice bag to carry Y in etc.
    8) Make browsing the site friendly and fast. Link between related product pages as well as from the category page (you’d be amazed how annoying having to go back and forth is!).(Yes, this may help with SEO as well.)
    9)Effective Product Page layout is important. You must supply ALL the relevant infomation in short, quick and easy to read snippet like text, along with a quality image. You should have an enticing “buy” link at the top of the page next to this section, beside the price. Beneath this you should then have the fuller details, with a 2nd “Buy” button ready.
    10)Sell, don’t display! It’s no good having naff images and bland text that appears on 100’s of other sites. You should know exactly who your audience are, where they are from, their education/language usage etc. Your descriptions should entice, describe sensations and feelings. You should appeal to emotions and ego. Once you have the viewer thinking what they’d look like in that dress, what others will say when they see those alloys etc. – you are that much clsoer to closing and making money.

    Don’t use a boring, bland and uninformative rating system. Telling me somethign has 5 starts does nothing. I want to know whether it has durability, value for money, ease of use etc. Rate the product by specification if at all possible. You’ll find you increase sales and satisfy more.

  6. An interesting read. Many of these points just don’t even get considered during the process of setting up an e-commerce store. The default stance is just to let the client get on with it and hope for the best, but one massively important point that needs to be taken from this entire post is to keep the store and checkout process simple but official. Use official card logos and for other payment methods such as PayPal but don’t force your users to jump through a million different hoops as they will quickly lose patience and move on. Simplicity not only allows ease of use of your site, but also is likely to draw people to come back to use your site again, for the very reason that it was THAT easy the first time round.

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