The Definite Guide to Shopping Cart Abandonment

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Imagine John coming into a local grocery store. He walks in with his shopping list in hand and starts looking for things he needs. With a full cart of products, he navigates through aisles to the check out.

Then he starts thinking. Maybe he could find milk cheaper in the store across the street. And they might also have the vanilla version of cookies he loves. But the clerk already started scanning the products, and John doesn’t want to make a scene.

The bill comes out at more than John thought. The store added an extra ‘scanning and packaging’ fee. And they wouldn’t take his check either. Finally, John furiously leaves the store without completing his purchase.

Unlikely scenario. But not in e-commerce.

With the growth of online stores, shopping cart abandonment rate continues to rise. Right now, the average rate of a bunch of studies calculated by Baymard is 68.07%. That means that only roughly 1 in every 4 customers actually finish the purchase.

What if we could gain back those 68%? How much more revenue would that mean for your store? Business Insider estimates that collectively, as much as $4 trillion worth of shopping carts have been abandoned in 2014.

Can you even imagine $4 trillion in cash? I know I can’t.

Why cart abandonment happens

It’s easy to assume that abandonment happens because people are not sure about the purchase. But in reality, there are a number of reasons — and “not being ready for purchase” only takes third place according to research from BI:


In fact, a number of reasons (including the top one) are really about transparency of total cost. Customers complain about steep shipping costs and no up-front information about it. Usability issues only take the 7th and 8th place.

shipping costs made total more than expected

ups reseach paper

Free shipping continues to be the most preferred option when checking out online, however it is not the only valued option. Seeing the estimated delivery date and shipping costs early in the process are also important.

says the 2014 study made by Ups.

It’s important to give your customers all info up-front. The days of being able to ‘trick’ people into paying more money are long over — if you can’t provide clear overview of the costs, they will leave your site and shop at your competitors’.

Be sure to clearly state all terms of purchase in an easy-to-understand form before a user adds the product into the cart.

Was researching total cost

If you’re serious about measuring your funnel’s performance, you can’t have researchers polluting your data. To pin-point real conversion and usability issues, you’ll need to exclude these users from the cart analytics.

One way of doing that is offering a cost calculator somewhere on your site, preferably on the product page. Once they have calculated the costs, give your visitors a time-sensitive offer to convert “researchers” right away. Keep in mind that your lead is now still in the research stage so you must word the offer correctly. Saying “Get 40% off shipping costs if you finish this order within the next 10 minutes” will give them a good enough incentive to drop the browsing and get to action.

Bad practice: Threadless only gives you the estimated shipping cost after an item is added to the cart.
Bad practice: Threadless only gives you the estimated shipping cost after an item is added to the cart.

Was not ready to purchase, saved for later

Shopping carts have the specific task of letting people collect all the products they’re going to buy and then gently direct them toward check-out. However, some people appear to only add items to the shopping cart to save them for later.


Yoast blog offers a great suggestion to avoid that. Letting people “Save for later” or “Add to wishlist” will exclude those who are not sure about the purchase yet from your stats.

SeeWhy did a research finding out that 99% of all new visitors won’t buy on their first visit. It actually takes multiple visits and even multiple abandonments to complete the order. On the bright side, three quarters of those leave shopping carts intend to return. So how do we bring them back?

Abandoned cart emails

Business Insider says that

Initial emails, sent three hours after a consumer abandons a cart, average a 40% open rate and a 20% click-through rate […].

You should always try to get your visitors’ emails early in the buying process. Even though that might distract them from buying a product right away, their contact is much more useful. Especially for the first-time visitors, this can be an invaluable way of getting them to know, like, and trust your brand.

By the way, [In-post CTA [text link] linkedtext=”click here to get on my list”] and never miss another epic post like this one.

With the help of shopping cart abandonment-triggered emails you can bring customers back to the site and have them complete the purchase.

The simplest form of SCA recovery are triggered emails.
The simplest form of SCA recovery are triggered emails.


Another way of bringing your visitors back to the site is with retargeting ads. Amazon does a great job with those — have you ever browsed for a, say, bento box only to end up only seeing ads for different bento boxes all over the web?

VWO’s survey on ecommerce (page 12) showed that 72% of all people aged 25-34 were very likely to buy a product they left in their carts if offered again at a discounted price (the average of all age groups was 54%). This is definitely another great opportunity for lowering shopping cart abandonment rate.

Did not qualify for free shipping

Not only does free shipping increase cart conversion rates, but it also encourages 93% shoppers to buy more stuff, shows this study by Compete.

Zappos prominently showcases their free shipping
Zappos prominently showcases their free shipping.

Obviously, you’ll need to make free shipping profitable for you. Kissmetrics blog suggests the following workflow to find out if you can offer it to your customers:

  1. First, find out conversion rates with and without free shipping.
  2. Then, increase the minimum order value for free shipping, and compare.
  3. Test only offering free shipping on some products.
  4. Increase your prices to make up for shipping costs.

Don’t forget to promote your new offer. Retention science found out that customers react much better to the free shipping offers than to percentage-based discounts.

Shipping costs were listed too late
eBay gives you all the information up-front
eBay gives you all the information up-front

Unexpected costs is a huge deal-breaker for many online shoppers, shows this Statista graph. This is another friction point that could’ve been easily avoided by being up-front and concise with info on prices.

Estimated shipping time was too long

Moz posted an evergreen checklist for fixing user experience of shopping carts. In it, they also discuss the topic of shipping:

[…] many shoppers are willing to pay a nominal fee to receive the product faster if given an option.

Customers are willing to wait for their packages, but need to know what is happening – they want estimated delivery time clearly stated and they want e-mail or text alerts about their delivery.

If you can, offer your customers a way to track their orders. Even if it’s a long wait to receive it, you should make them feel in charge by giving them regular updates.

Did not want to create an account

This is a classic usability problem. The VWO survey mentioned earlier found out that 23% of their respondents claimed to have left the shopping cart without paying due to this issue.

The obvious solution is to offer guest account or to ask customers to register an account after they’ve completed the purchase. Bonus points if the registration form “remembers” their info and fills it in for them.

thebookdepository lets you check out without creating an account
TheBookDepository lets you check out without creating an account

Preferred payment option was not available

There is really no excuse for at least trying to offer as many options as possible, especially with services like Paypal, Braintree, and Square. Does your store take Bitcoin yet?

Walmart offers a wide variety of payment options
Walmart offers a wide variety of payment options.


This concludes our guide for shopping cart abandonment. At 1800+ words, this is one of the longest pieces on Design for Founders and rightfully so. Abandonments are literally money left on the table, and there are just a few steps you should take in 2015 to fix that:

  1. Give customers clear information. This is the number one lesson we learned. By clearly stating the terms of purchase, you won’t only lower the SCA rate, but also appear transparent and trustworthy. Customers might even stop researching right there.
  2. Offer free shipping if you can. We discussed steps to take, and discovered that a setting a “free shipping treshold” might increase sales.
  3. Set up email remarketing already! At the very least, you should bring back customers who left. Many email marketing (Mailchimp, ConstantContact) providers offer this option automatically.
  4. Grab researchers with a time-limited offer. Researchers are interested. Offer them something so amazing that they’ll foget about your competition. For this, you can even use an exit-intent-triggered popup.
  5. Optimize user experience by not forcing your visitors to create an account, offer multiple payment options, and offering a wishlist. Oh, and don’t use coupon code fields. Those are costing you conversions too.

Shopping cart abandonment can be a great opportunity to bring back the visitors who already interacted with your site.

Click here to read about one tool you can use to start split testing right away.

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