The Electronic Catalog: Adieu to Abandoned Carts

Not every online shopper makes it through the virtual checkout line. “The industry average for cart abandonment is about 60%, but I would say that realistically that figure is closer to 70%,” says Kara Heinrichs, “chief experience officer” for New York-based Web design firm Fry Multimedia.

But while it’s important to know how many customers are abandoning their carts, if you want to reduce abandonment rates you also need to know where on the site shoppers are leaving the virtual carts.

Shipping and shopping

Many consumers abandon their shopping carts once they determine the shipping charges. On many a Website, shoppers cannot find out how much shipping will cost until they put an item in the cart and proceed to the checkout. Then, if they learn that shipping charges are higher than expected, they’ll abandon the cart.

To that end, Kathy Hecht, vice president of Web strategies for toys marketer LearningStar Corp., says her company has made its shipping charges available on the Frequently Asked Questions page of its SmarterKids.com site, so that customers are less inclined to put items in a cart just to find out the shipping costs.

Another way to solve the problem: “Calculate the total purchase price with tax and shipping on a continual basis or on customer demand, not just at final checkout,” says Peter Ripley, president of New York-based Web consultancy Solvient. “This helps shoppers understand their total purchase cost.”

Many customers also use the shopping cart as a place to store items they like but do not plan to purchase at that time. “Customers often want to compare products to others elsewhere,” Heinrichs says. This happens at a greater rate with luxury goods: “If you’re going to drop $300 on a purse or pair of shoes, you want to make sure you’re getting the right one,” she adds. “A customer may visit a site anywhere from three to seven times before he makes his first purchase, and that number of visits rises as the purchase price of the items rise.”

Sometimes shoppers need another opinion before completing a purchase. If two friends are chipping in to buy a gift, for instance, one of them may make the initial visit, then ask the other to look at the item before they buy it. “Merchants can facilitate this type of multiple-buyer behavior by adding prominent features such as wish lists, gift registries, ‘remember this’ or ‘save for later,’ and ‘tell-a-friend,’” Ripley says.

Needham, MA-based LearningStar has already incorporated a “save for later” option on its Website that allows customers to return at a later visit to products they were interested in earlier. “We also occasionally e-mail our registered users to remind them of the item they abandoned and ask if they are interested in purchasing it,” Hecht says.

Keep it simple

Shoppers may also be abandoning carts midway through the checkout process “if anything there is wrong or confusing — or if the process is too long,” Heinrichs says. “And you’ve probably lost the purchase for good at that piece of the pipeline.”

In response to customer feedback, apparel cataloger Lands’ End has streamlined its checkout process to reduce the number of clicks needed to complete a purchase, says spokesperson Andrea Stephenson. The Dodge-ville, WI-based company’s abandonment rate is around 50% — lower than the industry average.

Stephenson credits Lands’ End’s relatively low abandonment rate not only to the simplified checkout but also to the company’s strong brand and customer loyalty. Other Web features, such as its three-dimensional My Virtual Model and My Personal Shopper, provide additional product information, which may help reduce abandonment. And while the company does not require registration in order for customers to shop from its Website, registered users are able to save items for purchase at a later date.

Jewelry and gifts cataloger/retailer Ross-Simons is also redesigning its checkout process, from six screens to three. “If we can reduce abandonment 10% or 20%, we can get a huge incremental business from that,” says Rick Isenberg, vice president of marketing for the Cranston, RI-based company.

Word from the Wise

“We see more cart abandonment when the shipping charge is a greater percentage of the purchase price, rather than based on the weight of the purchased item,” says Kara Heinrichs, “chief experience officer” for Web design firm Fry Multimedia. With this shipping model, the higher the purchase price, the higher the shipping costs. Not only does this boost abandonment rates, but “shipping for profit debilitates the online experience,” Heinrichs says. “You’re penalizing your best customers.”

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