How can sites solve the online cart abandonment issue?

Discussion
Dec 07, 2015

Retailers are increasingly following consumers around the web when they abandon online shopping carts.

An article in The Wall Street Journal summed up four ways retailers are trying to reengage customers with their virtual carts:

  1. Showing them display ads for their abandoned products while they are browsing elsewhere on the internet;
  2. Sending e-mails with "cutesy reminders" about what was left in their online basket. An example given from Banana Republic: "Hello there your closet is calling";
  3. Text messaging and using mobile push notifications to remind customers of what they haven’t bought. Neiman Marcus associates, for instance, sometimes text message best customers;
  4. Using online discounts to tempt shoppers to revisit and close the purchase.

According to Baymard Institute, an e-commerce consultancy in Copenhagen, 69 percent of shopping carts on average are abandoned.

Studies show consumers are open to retargeting under the right conditions. A study of more than 60,000 online shoppers earlier this year by Bizrate Insights found 12 percent of those who abandoned their shopping carts saved the items to buy later and may only need a reminder.

Shopping cart

Sixty-two percent who couldn’t find what they were looking for and 77 percent of those encountering an out-of-stock indicated they would welcome help finding the right item, according to the study. Fifty-nine percent of cart abandoners indicated they would likely purchase with a 20 percent or less discount, and 20 percent indicated a notification of when the item goes on sale would help them purchase. Reducing shipping fees can also close a purchase, other studies find.

Technical hurdles — being forced to create an account, a complicated checkout process, payment security concerns, etc. — may be resolved with follow-up communications.

Retailers most often use e-mail to retarget cart abandoners, but the use of display ads and text messaging shows a desire for quicker methods.

In a column for Internet Retailer, Marc Pearce, multichannel marketing manager, Optilead, said his firm’s research shows that by contacting the cart-abandoned shopper with a phone call in the first 15 minutes, the e-retailer is three times more likely to complete the sale than if they call just one hour later.

The Journal article noted that marketers are seeking to understand what each shopper has done across their devices and are adjusting their various approaches to help retarget in relevant ways. Understanding the individual’s geographic location and past digital purchasing behavior is also critical to avoiding irrelevant follow-up pitches.

"Everyone is working on data to be more real-time and of-the-moment, or curated," Krista Berry, chief digital officer at Kohl’s, told the Journal.

Which retargeting methods — e-mails, display ads, text messages, phone calls, etc. — do you see as most appropriate and which will consumers likely find disturbing? What advice do you have for retailers trying to solve their online shopping cart abandonment problems?

Braintrust
"Display ads containing abandoned items are so commonplace that most consumers are unlikely to find them disturbing. Likewise for followup e-mails."
"It’s less about method and more about aggressiveness. Often a merchant is trying too hard and instead of coming across as a "reminder," their efforts come across as stalking."
"I think fundamentally the issue is if an abandoned cart is a sign of a failed transaction or a sign of a customer just doing research and purchasing from a different channel."

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19 Comments on "How can sites solve the online cart abandonment issue?"

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Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Display ads containing abandoned items are so commonplace that most consumers are unlikely to find them disturbing. Likewise for followup e-mails. I’ve gotten many emails from travel sites in particular showing lower prices on hotels that I may have searched for. I do think more intrusive types of followup (especially unwanted text messages or phone calls) probably cross the line.

The bigger question is whether these follow-up methods (especially the first two) are effective in closing the sale. If so, was an added price incentive involved? If not, why not? And why were the carts abandoned in the first place? Retailers have a lot to learn about how to cut down on this issue or to view it as a “cost of doing business.”

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Consumers frequently abandon shopping carts because retailers are not transparent upfront. Tell consumers how much shipping will cost and estimated delivery times. Tell them upfront if the items they want are in stock. Make it easy to find items and navigate a retail site. When consumers search on a site, only deliver relevant results. And make checkout easy. It’s surprising how few retailers master the basics.

If a consumer abandons his/her cart, a gentle reminder may help, but don’t be heavy handed. Some tactics, like phone calls, can seem Big Brother-ish.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

It’s less about method and more about aggressiveness. Often a merchant is trying too hard and instead of coming across as a “reminder,” their efforts come across as stalking. That said, carefully timed/spaced email reminders have the least likelihood of being intrusive, so long as they are unique and possibly entertaining, each send.

I can see the immediate phone call working with some customers, especially if they have a history with the brand and the rep takes on a problem solving tact, but for some people it will feel like an invasion of their trust and privacy and they will be lost forever.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Let’s talk about the negative. I’ve managed a number of dinner discussions with retailers lately and the topic of targeting ads always comes up. Retailers themselves say it’s “creepy” to visit a site and look at merchandise then see ads for it a few minutes later on a news site and for weeks to come.

There’s a limited return in trying to manage customer behavior.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

How can sites solve the online cart abandonment issue? 1. Stay in-stock, 2. Make the shopping and checkout process quick and simple, 3. Show shipping and other charges before final checkout screen and 4. Remain competitively-priced.

When you do have an abandoned cart, immediacy is key. So I concur with reaching out within a few minutes to try to close the sale.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think fundamentally the issue is if an abandoned cart is a sign of a failed transaction or a sign of a customer just doing research and purchasing from a different channel. I use the shopping cart as a shopping list, not necessarily to buy now but to figure out what I want to buy and compare, and as a precursor to seeing an item in person. From the website point-of-view it is  an abandoned cart, but it really isn’t. I think Amazon’s approach of having an active cart and then a place to move the item from cart to a list makes a lot of sense and reduces the false abandoned cart problem. I get reminders in ads and notification of what I had researched or already purchased, I don’t think it helps conversion because they are pushing the wrong action.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The use of the term abandonment is interesting. It has all types of negative connotations. When I decide not to complete a purchase it could be, as Max pointed out, the cost of shipping the item makes the total cost unacceptable or I simply changed my mind.

One of my daily practices is to delete all history, cookies, temporary internet files, etc., because I do find suddenly having a multitude of ads for an item I researched showing up a little creepy. However, I would definitely not like to have companies calling me or sending me text messages.

Kim Garretson
Guest
Kim Garretson
1 year 6 months ago

Thanks for the article Tom. Regarding the data on encountering out-of-stocks, I just did a study of 1,200 frequent online shoppers and asked what they did when encountering OOS. Fifty percent said they go right to Google to search for another source, and 46 percent said they type the name of a competitive retailer into their browser.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Well, retailers will use any or all of these method primarily because, whether they annoy consumers or not, they work. I just wish some of these methods would hurry up and get smarter, so that I don’t get stalked online by a dress I ended up buying in-store, for example.

In order to get a handle on how much cart abandonment is really an issue for a retailer, they need two things: First, an easy way to move things in a cart to a list or multiple lists (like Kenneth, I tend to use carts during the consideration phase of my purchase, and not executing on those cart items is not abandonment so much as down-selection). Second, retailers need a way to resolve items left in a cart against in-store purchases.

I think we’d find as an industry that if we did just those two things, the actual cart abandonment rate would turn out not as high as we think it is.

gordon arnold
Guest
Retailers with business-to-business sales as a part of or all of their total sales receipts have several pieces of information that will be of assistance here. The companies’ results can be validated with the implementation and use of software that is designed to demonstrate the value of any and all inquires. The first step might be to consider renaming abandoned carts as inquires and then creating a list of inquiry types to learn more about what is needed for additional success. The must-have categories might include titles like market surveyor (for competitors, vendors and market researchers), product rejection, price rejection, availability rejection and site navigation difficulties. This information is best collected in person-to-person communication types. Phone calls from well-trained and practiced professionals will get the best results for reasons of being able to quickly and accurately get to the exact source of the problem(s) as well as a means to keep and maintain the consumer’s interest and participation. Sales software that can identify site visitors that are chronic price shoppers with no substantive purchase history will save time and money in the search to improve sales from purposeful visitors. A look at these information reports will quickly reveal the opportunities… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
BrainTrust

Sending a text message within 15 minutes of when the cart was abandoned seems appropriate. Then, depending on how the shopper responds, another text message 24-hours after the abandonment, with a discount, should be the extent to which the retailer should go.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Please just one reminder; not an email, a re-targeted ad, a new banner or something else. If a gentle “one” doesn’t do the trick I don’t see how nagging me two or three other ways is going to help.

Sometimes cart abandonment is based on a price-check, based on the customer not being able to see the sale price for a manufacturer-based product without adding it to the cart. If this is the reason for the cart abandonment then please don’t bug me. If I didn’t buy it the first time chances are the price was too high, I was just curious.

Tom Martin
Guest
Tom Martin
1 year 6 months ago

Customers are educated and do their research. Comparing multiple prices and offers across websites is common and retailers need to assess whether certain products or product categories are more frequently getting added to carts and then left. If you can determine a pattern, you may be able to flesh out the motivations of the customer. For example, price may not be the only determining factor in getting a customer to make the leap to a purchase. They could be looking for the fastest delivery or want to buy from a retailer that offers them rewards/points for their purchase and loyalty. Moreover, they could have questions about the item they were looking at, but may not have been able to easily figure out how to contact customer service.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Well, I find the idea of being “followed around the web” disturbing, so I can abandon going far into the list. That having been said, I don’t think it’s the means of contact — though it’s hard to imagine a phone call ever being seen as something other than intrusive — as much as the reason for the contact. Is it really trying to help, or just push more stuff at you? Inquiring as to the reason for abandonment or suggesting reasonable — key word — alternatives (during shopping) or an e-mail informing you of an in-stock item (afterwards) are fine, spam along the lines of “We noticed you bought a red shirt five years ago, we have red umbrellas on sale!” is not.

Johanne Bernardi
Guest
Johanne Bernardi
1 year 6 months ago

My opinion is that the most disturbing method by far is a phone call — if that were to happen to me, in fact, I would never shop at that particular retailer again! I think emails and text messages can be personalized to be the least invasive yet best way to build a loyal following and get shoppers back to their carts.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

A simple follow-up (email, no text or retarget) and the occasional intriguing offer. As the retailer has the cart contents and often can associate that with my buying history please, create an offer that relates to my buying patterns. Occasional offers only, unless you want to train the customer to always abandon a cart to get a discount.

Marc Pearce
Guest
Marc Pearce
1 year 6 months ago
An interesting read. Worth noting though that Baymard cart abandonment stats work out at an average of 68.55% since they recorded data first in 2006 — so it’s not a particularly accurate figure. Our own data at Optilead shows the abandonment rate currently sits at 76% and Baymard reports Salecycle and Listrak very similar rates. Just to clarify — the use of the telephone to recover abandoned carts where people have abandoned at the checkout stages will deliver far greater returns than any other campaign. These are website visitors that have shown a clear interest in products, but for whatever reason have chosen to close a browser and not continue with the payment. This is not cold calling, our clients’ successes come from supporting the visitor — the sales follow. The telephone is best suited for products with a reasonable ROI. Applying a multi-channel solution including calling, email and SMS is the best approach — but you need to set priorities to maximise revenue. Let’s remember — people still buy from people — combining the online with the offline enhances a brand, but more importantly, increases the bottom line. Talking to these visitors also allows an ecommerce store the opportunity to understand the reasons behind abandonment,… Read more »
Chris Simon
Guest
Chris Simon
1 year 6 months ago

I think a lot of people use the shopping cart as a watch or list maker, since a lot of online sites do not offer those options.

The watch-item customer is probably waiting for a price reduction, so a discount offer would be an enticement. The list maker is starting the search process and communication of similar items could attract a sale.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This is a very common issue and can be solved readily. Stop making shopping carts so difficult to use. Just check out with the item you have…no signing up for an account, registering, etc. Close the deal. This is what consumers want. Simple, easy and direct.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Display ads containing abandoned items are so commonplace that most consumers are unlikely to find them disturbing. Likewise for followup e-mails."
"It’s less about method and more about aggressiveness. Often a merchant is trying too hard and instead of coming across as a "reminder," their efforts come across as stalking."
"I think fundamentally the issue is if an abandoned cart is a sign of a failed transaction or a sign of a customer just doing research and purchasing from a different channel."

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