Shopping cart abandonment is a big problem for online retailers: 59% of the time online shoppers put items into a web site’s cart they fail to complete the transaction, according to Forrester Research Inc. Knowing it’s a concern, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. studied the shopping carts and checkout flow of the top 200 e-retailers before launching its own new shopping cart last October.
On some issues, there was no consensus, the retailer found. For instance, half the sites eliminated the left-hand navigation aids on checkout pages to keep from distracting consumers, and the other half left them in place. Jos. A. Bank decided to omit the navigation in its new cart from interactive agency and web developer Rosetta.
But the retailer did find and implement some widely followed best practices. For instance, the company reduced its checkout process from five to three pages and now lets shoppers see what is in a cart during the entire checkout process rather than requiring them to backtrack to a separate page to see the contents.
The changes added up to an estimated 4% to 8% decrease in abandoned carts. The retailer hopes to reduce that rate further after more testing, for instance, testing to see if offering related products in the left-side navigation would increase basket size.
“We were aware of best practices, but limited by what we could do on our old platform in making a change,” says divisional vice president, e-commerce, Pete Zophy.
Changes like Jos. A. Bank made to its shopping cart are one way to address the reasons consumers abandon carts. Those reasons include shoppers wanting to comparison shop at other sites before buying, finding the checkout process too cumbersome or shipping costs too high, or deciding the merchant is not trustworthy, according to a 2009 study from e-mail marketing software vendor Bronto Software.
But besides improving the cart, retailers are taking measures to salvage uncompleted sales beyond the cart itself. Some retailers use e-mail, chat and discount offers to bring shoppers back to finish the purchases they started. These measures not only let retailers recoup sales of the items already in an abandoned cart, but also can yield insights into customer behavior that can reduce future cart abandonment.
The first stop for many e-retailers in tackling the issue of abandoned carts is small, easy-to-test and easy-to-implement improvements. Retailer Sun & Ski Sports says testing proposed improvements to its cart and checkout pages recently became more practical and speedier after it integrated Google’s free Website Optimizer, which allows fast multivariate testing of page elements.
Sun & Ski started small. One of its first tests compared the performance of red, green and blue Add to Cart buttons in its shopping cart from Volusion. So far, says director of e-commerce and interactive marketing Scott Blair, blue loses, with blue buttons producing 15% fewer clicks than either red or green buttons.
Though Sun & Ski’s overall visitor-to-sale conversion rate is about 1.5%, about 62% of shoppers who put an item in the cart complete the purchase, Blair says. “We’re looking for ways to pick up a percent or two here and there. Collectively, those changes could bring us closer to 70%,” he says.
Red and green Add to Cart buttons may work for Sun & Ski, but that doesn’t mean those colors will work for others. In fact, retailers often have different views of what will work in a checkout flow, as illustrated by the 50/50 split Jos. A. Bank discovered on whether to leave off the left-side navigation on checkout pages. While Jos. A. Bank decided to omit that navigation, Future Farmers of America is convinced that approach would be a mistake for its e-commerce site that sells many items that are not available elsewhere, such as licensed apparel and trophies.
“We’re a niche marketer,” says web designer Lisa Hedrick. “People come to us for some things they can’t get anywhere else.” She is not concerned that consumers might use the navigation features to leave checkout to investigate other products, figuring the unique nature of much of what FFA.org sells brings shoppers back to the cart eventually. The cart retains items left behind so that the shopper can see them on a return visit.
Hedrick says the shopping cart, part of the Nexternal Solutions e-commerce platform the site switched to last year from its initial Yahoo storefront, improves on the site’s earlier cart by staying in shoppers’ view throughout the checkout process. In addition, consumers now can enter coupon codes they receive via marketing e-mails and social networks to immediately display the total discounted cost in the cart, rather than waiting until the end of the process to see the final total.
“We went from e-commerce being responsible for about 30% of the organization’s retail revenue last year to 40% this year,” Hedrick says. “We attribute a lot of that to the fact that we are not seeing as much shopping cart abandonment.” Monthly web sales for the company range from $300,000 to $500,000, depending on promotional activity, she says.
While FFA.org gains sales by leaving uncompleted purchases in a shopper’s cart for her eventual return, other retailers take a more aggressive stance by using e-mail to actively remarket to shoppers who leave items in carts.
The e-commerce site of Movies Unlimited, which specializes in hard-to-find titles, worked with vendor Listrak on a campaign that e-mails shoppers 24 hours after they abandon a cart. Consumers can respond by buying the items, saving the cart for future purchase or clearing the cart. If shoppers don’t respond, they receive a second e-mail offering the same options.
In the first three weeks of the campaign, Movies Unlimited got a 1.5% lift in purchase transactions that it attributes to recapturing sales from abandoned carts, says general manager Ed Weiss.
Other retailers don’t wait until a shopper leaves a cart to take action-they’re experimenting with strategies designed to forestall abandonment by shoppers who may be teetering on the edge. It’s for this reason that online luxury retailer Jomashop.com offers live chat on the checkout page as well as on some other pages on the site.