The Top Causes of Shopping Cart Abandonment (And How to Combat Them)

/ 10 min read
Nicholas Shaw

The key to running a successful ecommerce store is converting as many visitors as possible into paying customers. Every person that leaves without making a purchase is a potential sale that's been lost.

Companies spend billions each year trying to refine this process. Yet despite this fact, 69.82% of online shopping carts are abandoned. That's almost 3/4 visitors leaving empty-handed.

In this article, we'll look at the top 10 causes of shopping cart abandonment and offer solutions to help your business decrease cart abandonment, boost your conversion rate and, ultimately, increase your revenue.

What is cart abandonment?

Shopping cart abandonment is the term for when potential customers add items to their shopping cart on your website, but then leave without completing the purchase.

It's an important ecommerce metric to track. Your cart abandonment rate is closely linked with your conversion rates and overall revenue, and is a great way to identify problem areas within your checkout experience.

A high cart abandonment rate means, at the last moment, something is dissuading customers not to purchase. This is caused by friction in the checkout process or another element of your user experience that's impacting the sales funnel.

How do you calculate the shopping cart abandonment rate of your store?

To calculate your cart abandonment rate, take the number of purchases completed and divide it by the total number of shopping carts created. Once you've done this, subtract this number from 1 and multiply it by 100 to get the percentage.

For example, lets say you have 30 completed purchases and 300 shopping carts created. 30 divided by 300 is .1. Taking that number and subtracting it from 1 would give you .9, or a whopping 90% shopping cart abandonment rate.

💡 Tip: Cart abandonment rates depend on multiple factors, including the industry you operate in, the audience you're selling to, and the country you're operating in. According to cart abandonment statistics on Statista, the automotive industry has an average abandonment rate of 96.88 percent—the highest across all measured categories

Top reasons people abandon their shopping carts

There are lots of reasons people abandon their shopping carts, but surprise costs and tricky or poorly designed checkout processes make the top of the list.

1. Unexpected additional costs

Many shoppers lose interest when they get to a checkout and see unexpected extra costs like high shipping costs, extra taxes or other fees that weren't outlined before.

These additional costs leave a bad taste in the mouth of shoppers for two main reasons:

  • Cost matters: Online shoppers are bargain hunters. They're accustomed to trying different sites to find the item they want for the cheapest price. When they come across additional fees, their first thought is to abandon the cart and look for a better deal elsewhere.
  • It feels sneaky: When there are hidden costs in the final stages of checkout, it can feel like you're being disingenuous, or trying to trick customers into the purchase. This makes them second guess doing business with you.

The solution

The simplest way to avoid losing customers to unseen costs is to make additional charges clear upfront. Allowing people to estimate shipping from the product page is just one example of this in practice.

Another common frustration for customers is when international customs fees or taxes aren't included in the price. If you're sending products internationally, consider automatically calculating these shipping costs to help reduce nasty surprises at checkout. Look for ways to be transparent about pricing with your customers.

2. Needing to create an account

For return shoppers, needing an account is no big deal. But first-time customers want a checkout experience that's lightning fast and friction-free. They don't want to enter their details and go through a lengthy account creation process—this causes them to get frustrated and abandon the transaction altogether.

Some fields, like address, phone number and other contact details, are essential. But anything more and you run the risk of alienating customers and losing the sale. Many customers don't want another membership or email newsletter. They just want to make a purchase order and go on with their day.

The solution

This is why it’s important to give customers a guest checkout option. This allows them to quickly and easily complete an online purchase without having to divulge all their personal details.

💡 Tip: Another great option is to provide an option for customers to shop using a social media profile. This allows for all their relevant data to be taken from where they’ve already inputted it, meaning purchases can be completed with just a few mouse clicks.

3. A lengthy checkout process

A quick, easy checkout process is one of the core reasons that people shop online. The more barriers that you place between a customer and their purchase (like bombarding them with notifications and popups, or making them fill out tons of text fields) the more likely they'll be to abandon the process altogether.

According to Baymard's benchmark report, the average checkout flow is 5.2 steps— including 11.8 form fields. They found that most sites can reduce form length by 20-60%, and, crucially, only need 8 form fields for an optimal checkout flow.

Graph showing reasons for cart abandonment during checkout(Image Source: Baymard)
Per Baymard, "The focus for the purposes of reducing checkout abandonments should be much less on whether a checkout should be 3, 4, or 5 steps and more on how to reduce the number of visible form fields to the minimum required for users to complete the checkout optimization process."

The solution

Aim to reduce the number of text fields a customer has to complete. In addition to this, with a platform like Paperform you can use conditional logic to fill in details based on previous information and make forms personalised to each customer.

By doing so, you'll see a dramatic improvement in your overall cart abandonment rate. Here are a few strategies to cut down the length of your form:

  • Adding auto-detection for address/post code
  • Having a single 'Name' field
  • Hide unnecessary fields
  • Separate the checkout into numbered sections (e.g. basket, shipping, payment)

💡 Tip: Using numbered sections has a marked impact on the checkout flow. It also has the added benefit of allowing customers to navigate between these sections, so they can easily go back to amend any mistakes they may have made without losing all of their progress.

4. An untrustworthy website

74% of US internet users are more concerned with their internet privacy than they've ever been. With identity fraud and a range of other cyber crimes on the rise, folks are becoming increasingly careful about sharing their payment details online.

Your website may be totally secure. But if there's even a seed of doubt about your site security or legitimacy, potential customers will take their business elsewhere. Luckily there are a few things you can do to allay any fears people may have.

The solution

Firstly, it's imperative to install an SSL certificate and make it visible. It acts as a seal of trust to reassure prospective buyers. Also make sure people can pay via recognised payment options like PayPal, Stripe and Square as well as by credit card—by aligning yourself with brands customers already trust, you legitimise your own business.

Featuring customer testimonials  is another good way to reinforce that your website is secure. With 92% of customers reading online reviews before making a purchase, social proof reassures customers your business is trustworthy and worth purchasing from.

5. Website errors/crashes

Picture this: a customer spends hours browsing your online store, stacking their virtual shopping basket with various items that've caught their eye. Then, just as they hit the 'Buy' button. . . The website crashes.  

In this instance, could you blame them for abandoning the purchase in frustration? Site errors, crashes and even frustratingly long load times all have the potential to deter potential customers from completing a purchase.

The solution

The best way to avoid this unenviable situation is by making sure your website is at optimal performance at all times. Regularly crawl your website for errors, and listen to customer feedback to identify situations when people have encountered issues.

It's also important to keep any website plugins you use up to date. WordPress sites are commonly slowed down by poorly optimised plugins. Check site speed through web development tools like Google Pagespeed Insights to see where errors occur.

This also extends to mobile usability. 52% of all website traffic comes from mobile phones. Think about that. More than half. That means your site can't just cater to desktop users—navigating through your store and checkout has to be just as smooth on mobile.

Adding an option for cart recovery, so customers can return to the contents of their online shopping cart later, means that even if the worst does happen, you may not lose the customer altogether by aiding them to begin their purchase from scratch.

💡 Tip: If you’re selling on several different channels, consider your multichannel order management procedures. Taking an order for an item that is actually no longer in stock is a costly waste of time for both you and your customer.

7. Inadequate returns policy

In an ideal world, every customer would be completely satisfied with every purchase, and products would never be faulty or damaged upon delivery. But we don't live in that world. Mistakes happen.

Occasionally, the need will arise for customers to return their purchases. When this happens, customers want the process to be three things: straightforward, simple and fair. A complicated and unfair return policy is a recipe for cart abandonment.

The solution

Take the time to establish a returns policy that works for your business and potential customers. For example, fashion retailer The Iconic was able to grow immense brand loyalty by offering free returns on all items for 30-days, a practice that has since been adopted by many businesses.

Think about how you can provide value to customers while sustaining your business. Once you've done this, make your return policy easily accessible across your website, including on the checkout page, so customers aren't taken by surprise after they have bought an item.

💡 Tip: If you can afford it, offering free postage on returns makes the returns process simpler for customers while helping to build trust. If you provide free returns, it shows customers you're confident in their quality, and that they won't need to be returned at all.

8. Lack of incentives

Online retail has never been more competitive. There are millions of stores offering the same or similar products, and as a result, smaller retailers struggle to match the prices offered by giant companies like Amazon.

As we covered earlier, online shoppers are bargain hunters. They are always on the lookout for the cheapest deal. And if they find one, they won't hesitate to abandon their shopping cart—unless you give them another reason to shop with you.

The solution

While you should always be aware of your prices in relation to direct competitors, it's not all about price. Instituting a loyalty program can incentivise repeat purchases, but so can a good customer experience or a notable brand mission.

Coupon codes can be useful to drum up business. They can be sent in cart abandonment emails, which you can setup to automatically generate and send when customers abandon their cart before purchasing.

💡 Tip: Be wary of using discount codes as a crutch, or making the option too visible at checkout. Though it shouldn't be hidden, making too much of the feature can deter customers who don't have a code.

9. Limited shipping options

One of the main drawbacks of ecommerce is that, unlike a brick-and-mortar store, customers have to wait to receive their products.

This isn't always an issue. But, as any person who has ever bought a last-minute Christmas present online will be able to tell you, fast shipping can be the difference between making—or losing—a sale.

The solution

Speed isn't everything. Some customers may prefer to wait a little longer if it means saving money on shipping.

Give people the ability to choose between couriers and postage times. This allows them to customise shipment to their needs, and makes it much more likely they'll go through with the sale.

If your business has overseas customers, make sure to include support for different currencies too. Adding localised currencies can help customers feel like your service is catered to them—and also means they won't have to leave your site to calculate an exchange rate.

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10. Excessive upselling

Any business wants to make the most sales possible. It can be tempting to want to cross-sell and upsell to maximise each purchase. But a "do you want fries with that" sales strategy doesn't always lend itself to retargeting customers to new products. Often it runs the risk of scaring customers off altogether.  

The solution

Be cautious when upselling. Instead of trying to shove your products down people's throats, upsell by adding further value.

Use strategies like offering relevant product recommendations based on previous purchases, or adding a 'customer also viewed' section to up-sell without seeming overbearing.

Cart recovery emails are another good way to upsell organically. Say a customer has filled and abandoned their cart. You could send an email inviting them to return to your store to purchase the products, and add a discount code for good measure. This way both parties receive benefits.

💡 Tip: Upselling and cross-selling appropriately is a fine balance. Look at your sales analytics frequently to see how people are responding, and what strategies work best. That way you can double down on these without alienating customers and affecting customer happiness.

Over to you

There may be any number of other reasons that customers leave a website before purchasing, but by understanding and tackling these common causes, you put your business in good stead to minimise cart abandonment.

Keeping things simple is always a good place to start. Whether that’s in regards to your shipping options, payment methods, returns policy, or your website design. It all comes down to one broad idea: the easier you make things for your customers, the more likely they'll be to buy from you.

This post was written by a guest author named Nicholas Shaw, the CRO at Brightpearl in Farham, England.


About the author
Nicholas Shaw
Nick Shaw is Chief Revenue Officer of Brightpearl, the #1 retail-focused digital operations platform. He has written for sites such as HubSpot and G2.

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