Curb your ditched carts: Reducing site shipping cart abandonment

The Web is awash with abandoned carts: More than half of all shopping cart sessions are abandoned without the checkout process ever being completed. There are myriad reasons for cart abandonment, but there are typically four factors that cause shoppers to walk away from online carts: comparison shopping, impatience, confusion and fear.

Can you do anything to prevent or reduce cart abandonment? Sure. But you have to understand why people are not completing their purchases.

Comparison shopping

This is really about sticker shock when a shopper gets to the end of the transaction. Far too many Websites require users to go through the entire checkout process to unearth the true cost of goods — including tax and shipping. In shock, users then abandon the cart in the final stages of the purchase process.

Users expect the shopping cart to show all the items they have chosen, including subtotal and any other ancillary charges, before they commit to giving personal information.

So tell your customers up front what they want to know. Playing cat and mouse with supplemental charges only irritates users and might in itself cause them to abandon the cart altogether.


A checkout process should be completed within six pages, preferably less, and the input form on each page should not appear to be long or laborious. Online shoppers tend to suffer from what I call This-looks-like-a-lot-of-work-for-me fatigue when confronted with seemingly endless questions to answer.


Never take usability for granted, especially when it comes to the checkout form. Users expect to see all relevant details about a purchase before committing to it. Missing information or unpleasant surprises can drive them away from your site.

Only through “usable” design and consistent messaging do you create a clear path for users to follow. Users are easily distracted by confusing messages and unanswered questions during the checkout process.


The top reasons people decide not to make an online purchase: 1) They’re afraid their credit-card data will be intercepted; and 2) Fear that personal information will be sold to other merchants.

In spite of the popularity of e-commerce, fear of credit card fraud keeps many wary shoppers from buying online. How do they know when they enter their credit card details online that their personal information and card details are not going to fall into the wrong hands?

Security and privacy reminders in the shopping cart assures users that your Website is secure and trustworthy. Let them know that their personal information will be kept secure and private.

Attend to momentum-building messages

A shopping cart’s checkout process should indeed be fundamental, with clear points of action. The problems lie in how programmers and designers structure the information flow and attend to momentum-building messages.

Too many shopping carts are disorganized, burdensome and inherently flawed. The problems encountered by users are pervasive and destructive to the checkout process.

The old adage that says close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades aptly reminds us that the only true measure of an e-commerce site is the rate at which users convert into buyers. No other metric really matters if you’re not converting hits, clicks and page-views to sales transactions.

So how do you design and deliver a better checkout experience from the users point of view? Forget the razzle-dazzle with eye candy; instead, give users crystal-clear and immediately comprehensible information that creates momentum through the entire checkout process. Play to the strengths of human behavior and people’s aversion to risk, uncertainyy and cognitive friction — especially when they have one hand on the keyboard and the other holding their credit card.

Security badges are confidence-building tools

Once users land on your view-cart page, and every subsequent checkout page, you should prominently display above the fold the Website’s security badges from reputable, independent companies such as VeriSign and HackerSafe. These badges verify that the site can be trusted because it meets all the latest security standards.

Many Websites thoughtlessly place these badges at the bottom of the page where many viewers might never see them. More surprising is that many e-commerce sites neglect to place these badges on their shopping cart pages, where most customers might need reassurance about their security before committing to a purchase.

VeriSign tests and confirms that your site adheres to secure encryption known as Secure Sockets Layer. SSL encrypts data by breaking it up into small pieces so that the information can’t be read by anyone attempting to intercept it. This level of security is a must-have for any e-commerce site. Most browsers today alert users upon entering the shopping cart page that it’s not secured in this way.

Prominently display links to your return and shipping policies

Users might have lingering questions about your return and shipping policies. Addressing those concerns — then and there — keeps users in the cart and on track. I recommend addressing these questions with links to a pop-up window, thereby keeping users on the view cart page. Linking them away from the page might invite a break in their intent-to-transact momentum.

Reveal shipping charges before asking for personal information

Before users commit to a purchase and enter their personal information, they want to know the total price — which includes shipping and tax. This can be a technical challenge for some sites. Displaying this information helps users commit to giving their personal data. One option might be to invite them to enter their zip code to view a detailed summary of charges before they proceed.

Clearly explain how to correct input errors

Mistyping and omitted information is commonplace while checking out, and computer users have encountered vague or misleading alert messages because good alert messages are hard to write. The first challenge is to write error-checking code that loops through all possible errors and then determines which alert message is best suited.

Telling users their credit card number is “invalid” can mean many things. Does it mean the card was not approved? Does it mean a number was mistyped? Does it mean a digit might be missing?

Alerting users, “it appears you entered only 15 digits” when 16 are required goes a long way to getting them back on track. It’s just as important to list the alert message in proximity to the input box where the error occurred.

If you require a phone number and a user omits or mistypes it, list the alert message directly above that input box (in red copy, for example), clearly alerting them to the error: “Please provide us with your phone. We will contact you only if it’s necessary.”

Let users do it their way

Even though form designers might have a clear picture of the attending database and the fields the information goes into, users don’t care about database schema. Data entry errors can be prevented or minimized by allowing users to enter their information in a familiar order into appropriate-length fields.

Allowing users to enter the information in a way that is familiar to them keeps the checkout process moving. Validate the information behind the scene. Let the code choke and chew on the data: redact, edit and clean it up dynamically for well-formed data input. Make the software do the work. Let users keep moving through the process.

Be sure the input boxes have the appropriate number of character inputs to indicate what the form is expecting. If your database stores 10-digit phone numbers (no dashes or spaces), your input field should still be long enough to accommodate dashes and spaces, and then have the validation code strip out unwanted characters before inputting the record into the database.

Limit the amount of required information

The checkout process should be as long as — but not longer than — necessary to get the job done. Users are sensitive to additional requirements that have little or nothing to do with their selecting and ordering a product.

Above all, do not require users to create an account before checking out. It’s presumptuous to think that users intend to be repeat customers.

You can always invite them to create an account at the end of the process simply by having them create a password. At that point, you’ve got all the pertinent information you need.

And resist the temptation to survey customers while they’re checking out. The shopping cart is sacred ground; leave users to the most important task at hand of buying your products and services.

Make all next-step buttons prominent

Buttons should state what they do from the users’ point of view, and users shouldn’t have to scroll to find action buttons. Make the next-step buttons prominent and visually distinct from the site navigation and other elements. Show steps in the process with a processes-completed indictor bar that clearly illustrates where users are in the process.

Include “remove” buttons for each item

Provide users with remove buttons for each item. Buttons that are textually expressive, that tell users the action they are taking, create confidence and reduce cognitive friction. Changing the item to zero and clicking “update” doesn’t work for many users.

Order the steps in the checkout process according to users’ expectations

Research shows that users, after they verify the items and other charges, want to complete the steps in the following order:

  1. Enter coupon code (if applicable) to confirm promotional pricing;
  2. Choose a shipping method;
  3. Enter shipping address information;
  4. Input billing information if different from shipping address; and
  5. Enter credit card information.

We remember three things about any presentation: the first, the best and the last elements. Your shopping cart’s checkout process is the last thing your customers will remember about interacting with your Website. Make it safe, simple and secure for a lasting last impression.

Kevin Rourke is director of e-commerce and Internet operations for Transamerican Auto Parts.