eCommerce cart abandonment demystified

Cart abandonment—it’s a sad fact of life for eCommerce retailers.

As a shopper, you’ve probably abandoned plenty of carts yourself. As a retailer, you often wish that more people would actually complete a purchase instead of leaving their carts behind.

But can you do anything about eCommerce cart abandonment, and win back some of those lost sales?

You certainly can, but there are a lot of different areas to navigate and improve. That’s why we’ve created this in-depth guide to completely demystify eCommerce cart abandonment.

It will cover:

  • What eCommerce cart abandonment is, along with some key stats on the issue
  • Why people abandon their carts
  • How you can reduce eCommerce cart abandonment to get more revenue out of that cart and into your bank account
  • How you can recover the carts that do get abandoned (because you’ll never get your abandonment rate to zero)

Ready? Let’s begin.

What is eCommerce cart abandonment?

Let’s start with a definition of eCommerce cart abandonment. eCommerce cart abandonment is when online shoppers add items to the shopping cart, then leave your site before completing the sale.

This happens a lot. The Baymard Institute puts the average eCommerce cart abandonment rate at 69 percent.

And Barilliance reports global cart abandonment rates of 77 percent.

Cart abandonment rates are even higher on mobile devices. Barillance’s data shows a rate of 73 percent on desktops, 80.7 percent on tablets, and a whopping 85.6 percent on mobile phones.

But it’s not a totally lost cause. Baymard reckons that optimizing the checkout process can help sites boost conversions by 35 percent. In fact, as a whole, eCommerce retailers could recover up to $260 billion (yes, billion) in revenue with just a few improvements.

We’ll look at some ways to do that later in this guide, but first, let’s examine the main reasons for eCommerce cart abandonment.

Top reasons for cart abandonment

There have been a bunch of studies on the reasons for eCommerce cart abandonment. In addition to Baymard’s data, Statista also has some interesting stats.

We’ve combined them to come up with a list of the top causes of shopping cart abandonment.

1. Shipping costs and delivery times

Shipping is a major issue for many shoppers. Walker Sands’ Future of Retail says 80 percent of shoppers cite free shipping as the primary incentive for shopping online. When shipping isn’t free, they’re definitely less interested. In fact,  Statista says 63 percent of American shoppers will abandon their carts if they discover that shipping costs are too high.

Related to that, shipping time is also a major factor in eCommerce cart abandonment. Walker Sands indicates that fast shipping motivates 54 percent of shoppers to buy. So, if an item’s going to take too long to arrive, many shoppers will leave it in the cart, and look for a quicker option.

Plus, shoppers hate surprises, so finding out shipping costs only late in the checkout process is another major turnoff. According to Statista, around a quarter of shoppers will abandon carts if they can’t easily figure out the shipping costs.

2. Complicated or high pricing

But shipping costs aren’t the only costs that matter to customers. Price, in general, is also a factor.

Here’s the thing: visitors to your site don’t want to do complicated sums in their heads in order to work out what something is going to cost. If they can’t quickly and easily see what they owe, Baymard says 23 percent of them will abandon the whole experience.

Plus, if prices seem too high, shoppers will change their minds. We’ll look at some ways to address that later in this guide.

3. They’re not ready to buy

A lot of people add items to their shopping carts just to keep track of them. Since you can access your cart from any page of most eCommerce sites, it’s a handy place to stash items you might want to buy. That doesn’t mean they’re actually ready to checkout, though.

Statista’s data backs this up. They found that 40 percent of people are simply browsing, while 38 percent of people are still researching. The good news? Some of those people might be back to make a purchase. But that’s only if there are no other bottlenecks…

4. Poor website experience

The stats show that eCommerce cart abandonment isn’t just about what happens at the checkout (though we’ll get to that in a minute). The overall experience of using your site has a big impact on whether people buy or abandon their carts. Here are a couple of issues that come up.

Statista says poor site navigation is an issue for 16 percent of online shoppers. It’s a definite turnoff when you land on a site and can’t easily find the items you want to buy. Sure, on a fashion site, most people can probably locate men’s or women’s fashion, but how easy is it to dig down and find a particular brand of sportswear or a certain type of shoe?

Baymard adds that 20 percent of people will abandon their carts if the site crashes or has major errors.

Here’s the bottom line: most visitors won’t bother to work out how to get the information they need. If your site doesn’t work for them, they’ll just go somewhere else.

5. Not mobile optimized

More and more people are shopping via their mobile devices, so mobile user experience is a vital consideration when it comes to lowering your eCommerce cart abandonment rate. According to Walker Sands, 85 percent of consumers have mobile shopping apps and 66 percent have used those apps to buy something. The rate of shoppers starting purchases on desktops and completing them on mobile has increased by 259 percent.

Meanwhile, as we mentioned earlier, the mobile cart abandonment rate is ridiculously high. Mobile device users will quickly abandon sites that aren’t mobile optimized, don’t work well, and don’t load quickly—and that’s even before they get to the shopping cart. That problem will only get worse as consumers come to expect a seamless cross-platform experience.

6. Checkout annoyances

At checkout, there are a bunch of annoyances that make people abandon their shopping carts. For example, Baymard says the need to create an account before buying is an issue for 37 percent of people. Statista agrees it’s an issue, but cites a lower (but still significant) figure: 22 percent.

But account creation isn’t the only turnoff for shoppers. Complicated checkout processes are likely to drive them away, too, especially if parts of the process don’t work. If you think about it, we’ve all given up on difficult checkouts before. Your customers are the same.

We’ll talk about how to solve some of the major checkout annoyances in the section on fixing eCommerce cart abandonment.

7. Payment problems

Even when customers progress from the cart to the checkout page, there’s still potential for disaster. According to Baymard, some people abandon checkouts because they don’t see the payment method they want (8 percent) or because their credit card is declined (four percent).

And let’s not forget the mobile issue we mentioned earlier. With global mobile payments slated to surpass US$1 billion by 2019, and mobile payment methods widely accepted among younger shoppers, this is another payment issue waiting to affect online retailers.

Via: Statista.

Finally, there’s another issue related to payment: trust. According to Baymard, 19 percent of shoppers abandon carts because they don’t trust sites with their payment information. Shopify also cites concerns with security as a major reason for cart abandonment.

Trust is a huge issue online, and there’s an age gap. Stats from Adestra’s Consumer Usage and Digital Behavior study show that younger people are much more willing to hand over personal information than older ones.

So, if you notice that your cart abandoners skew older, think about some ways to win back their trust. We’ll help you with that, and with other eCommerce cart abandonment issues, in the next section of this guide.

How to fix eCommerce cart abandonment

Cart abandonment is a big problem, but it’s not an unfixable problem. Let’s look at some of the ways that you can easily reduce your eCommerce cart abandonment rate. In addition to providing fixes for the issues identified earlier, we’ll suggest a few other general improvements for your eCommerce site.

1. Offer free (or discounted) shipping

Given the stats we shared earlier, it’s a no-brainer to offer free shipping on your eCommerce website. Since it’s an issue for so many shoppers, this one fix alone could make a huge difference to revenue. If shoppers have to choose between sites that offer free shipping, and those that don’t, you know which one they’ll pick.

But here’s the thing. If you do offer free shipping, tell the world. Don’t bury the info in the footer of your site where shoppers need a microscope to find it. Put a big, bold banner on your home page and at the top of every page.

“Studies have shown that the earlier in the checkout process a customer knows the shipping cost and time details, the less likely they are to abandon cart,” advises Ryan BeMiller of Shopping Signals.

But be careful when offering free or discounted shipping. For most businesses, you shouldn’t be taking a loss on free shipping. You need to make sure you have enough margin on your products to cover those shipping costs. One way to do that is to offer a threshold. That is, only offer free shipping when cart size reaches a specific dollar amount. That way, even if the margin on one product doesn’t cover the shipping costs, a cart with two or three items to reach the threshold might, in aggregate, have enough margin to make it work. Do the math and make sure you’re not losing money by offering free shipping—more sales aren’t worth it if you’re in the red!

If you do use a free shipping threshold, let shoppers know when they qualify, or how much more they need to spend to do so. Free shipping makes it five times as likely that visitors will buy, so don’t be shy about sharing this benefit.

Bonus: a threshold can also increase your average order value.

Bottom line: Unanticipated or too-high shipping costs are one of the biggest motivators for cart abandonment. If you have the margins to support it, offering free or discounted shipping is a proven way to increase checkout rates. Use a minimum order value threshold to protect margins and increase average order value.

2. Use psychology for pricing (and more)

When it comes to getting visitors to accept your pricing, psychology is half the battle. Here are a few strategies that can help your visitors avoid sticker shock:

► Offer choices

Putting an item you sell side by side with a more expensive one can make visitors more willing to buy the original item. Bailey Brand Consulting believes this is because visitors like to have the chance to compare so they can assess the relative merits of each product. As the firm points out, when Williams-Sonoma used this strategy with two breadmakers, the lower priced one started selling faster.

► Avoid analysis paralysis

At the same time, you don’t want to have so many options that visitors have trouble making up their minds. That’s called analysis paralysis, and visitors who experience it may just give up and leave items in the cart.

ConversionXL highlights a well-known case study, where conversions increased 10x when reducing the number of jams on offer from 24 to 6. One way to avoid the analysis paralysis syndrome is with a comparison table, something that many eCommerce sites use.

► Get the numbers right

There’s a whole science around pricing items to make them more appealing. And one of the big takeaways is the the number 9 works. For some reason, an item that’s $4.99 is more appealing than one that’s $5.00. But, you always have to test. As Kissmetrics points out, a price that doesn’t end in 9 but is a sale price can beat the price that’s usually more appealing.

► Avoid surprises

As we’ve seen, people don’t like surprises at checkout. So, if there’s a cost attached to shipping the item, make this clear the minute they get to the cart page (or if possible, even earlier on the product page). It helps to build trust. That’s also a great place to offer shipping choices, in case customers want to pay a premium to get items faster.

Bottom line: Psychological tricks, like displaying a high cost item next to a lower cost one, can be a good way to nudge customers toward checkout. Remember that unexpected costs are a big cause of cart abandonment, so make sure your all inclusive price is clearly shown before the checkout page.

3. Persuade customers to purchase

If customers aren’t ready to buy, they just aren’t ready. But you can make it more likely they’ll buy by being persuasive. This starts before the cart with your product page copy.

Robert Cialdini believes there are six principles that guide people’s behavior:

  • Reciprocity – if you get something, you want to give something back
  • Scarcity – if there’s less of something to go around, people want it more
  • Authority – if you’re a credible expert, people trust you more
  • Consistency – when people make a commitment, they like to follow through
  • Liking – if people like you, or think you’re similar to them, they’re more likely to say yes
  • Consensus – being guided by the behavior and actions of others

You can integrate these into the website experience to increase conversions and reduce abandonment. Shopify explains some ways eCommerce retailers can do this:

  • Free shipping is a prime example of reciprocity
  • Time limited sales, discounts and coupons use the principle of scarcity
  • Build authority by being a credible source of information, and using content marketing and SEO
  • Achieve consistency by asking questions people can say yes to. For example if you ask: “Do you want to save time on household chores”, and people say yes, they’re primed to follow through with positive action
  • You can be likable by injecting personality into your copy and email messages
  • Customer reviews help use the principle of consensus

By using these principles throughout your website, you make cart abandonment less likely.

► Improve the CTA

The call to action (CTA) is also essential. We’re not just talking about the “add to cart” and “checkout now” buttons. It’s also important to have other CTAs that get visitors to product pages, and even encourage them to buy more.

CTAs have to inspire action. Even though they’re often short, they’ll:

  • Include action words/verbs such as “buy,” “shop,” or “get”
  • Use urgency words such as “now” or “today”
  • Highlight the value or benefit: “free PDF,” “expert training,” and so on
  • Stand out from the site so they’re always visible

And you can get pretty creative, too. For example, AYR includes a CTA on one outfit of “Let’s Do This!”

Bottom line: Use persuasive marketing techniques, such as including social proof in the form of product reviews or developing scarcity with time limited deals, to encourage people to check out. These can be used all over your site, including in your product copy and your calls to action, and in your off-page marketing (such as in social media ads or emails).

Next, let’s look at the website experience, which can wipe out 20 percent of your customers, if you don’t get it right.

4. Optimize your website experience…

Another factor that helps reduce eCommerce cart abandonment is optimizing how your visitors experience your website. And it starts long before they actually get to the checkout page.

Think about this scenario. A shopper adds something to the cart, then tries to find another related item. If he can’t figure out where that item is on the site, he leaves, and buys nothing.

All the eCommerce stats point to a stark fact: people want their shopping personal, relevant, and fast—and they want it to work seamlessly no matter what device they use to make a purchase.

You can make your website more relevant by:

  • Dividing people into categories when they land on your site; for example, have them select which area of your site they’re most interested in when they first arrive
  • Personalizing navigation and search based on the products they look at
  • Hiding items that don’t interest them

Amazon does exactly this. When you go to your named Amazon page, it’s all about the things you like, making you more likely to buy.

You also need to look after site usability. Jakob Nielsen coined this term, which covers people’s ability to navigate your site and know what do. Each time visitors return to your site, they should feel more confident that they know how everything works. Optimizing navigation and search to help people easily find products is a huge part of this.

It’s also a good idea to check for technical errors, especially in the checkout. Remember, anything that gets in the way of visitors’ shopping experience will send them away. But you can also help visitors out by including on-site text that simply explains any data entry errors (like a user forgetting to choose a size for the shirt they’re trying to add to their cart), and helps them to fix those errors quickly.

Bottom line: Don’t let a bad page keep people from checking out. Make sure your site is accessible, free of bugs or errors, easy to navigate, personalized and relevant to each shopper, and works properly on all major web browsers.

5. …especially for mobile

As we saw earlier, mobile drives sales. That’s why mobile optimization is essential. But what exactly does that mean in terms of eCommerce cart abandonment?

Having a mobile optimized site is a given these days, but the whole shopping experience has to work on mobile if you’re to minimize cart abandonment. That means:

  • Looking after site speed; a load time over 3 seconds will drive visitors away
  • Using mobile-friendly navigation, which means navigation that lets people tap, pinch, and zoom rather than having to click
  • Making it easy to add items to the cart and pay for them with a mobile payment solution

Try checking out your site on your own mobile phone and see if you hit any bottlenecks.

Bottom line: More and more eCommerce happens on mobile devices, and that means your shop needs to work well on mobile too. Make sure your site loads fast, has a navigation that works with mobile gestures like tapping and pinching, and that you support popular mobile payment solutions (like Apple Pay or Google Pay).

6. Simplify the checkout

The fewer barriers there are to checkout, the less likely it is that visitors will abandon. As Nicole Leinbach Reyhle of Retail Minded points out, “To help overcome [cart abandonment], merchants need to be diligently aware of this risk and aim to please when it comes to making the checkout process more efficient. Speed, accuracy, convenience and trust that consumer information will be secure and safe are all key aspects in helping to avoid cart abandonment.”

One of the best ways to keep checkout simple is to remove the annoyance of account creation. Or to put it another way: include a guest checkout option. This lets people buy your products and services without creating an account. Once the purchase is complete, you can offer the option to create an account. If the purchase has gone smoothly, it’s likely that customers will want to do this. You can also incentivize account creation by offering a something in return (like a coupon off a future purchase or a free bonus download).

According to Branden Moskva of Nadimo, “The easiest win is to remove redundancies and unnecessary form fields” from your checkout process.

Other ways to simplify the checkout include:

  • Removing on-page distractions
  • Only collecting the information you need
  • Using address lookup technology to limit the amount of info people have to enter
  • Populating the billing address automatically from the shipping address
  • Keeping the checkout on a single page where possible
  • Showing progress as people complete the steps of checkout

You can also reduce cart abandonment and increase sales by using the right language on product, cart, and checkout pages. According to Smart Insights, the three magic phrases are:

  • Visitors who viewed this product also viewed (responsible for 68.4 percent of revenue)
  • Visitors who viewed this product ultimately bought (25.1 percent)
  • You might also like (16.1 percent)

Finally, for repeat customers, you can make checkout even easier. All you have to do is store their billing and shipping info, then you can offer a one-click checkout. (This is where account creation can be a major benefit for users, so be sure to emphasize why they’d want to make an account when you encourage them do it.)

Bottom line: Complicated checkout processes are a big turnoff, so make sure yours is as simple as possible. Don’t collect information you don’t need, don’t distract customers with unrelated CTAs once they’ve entered the checkout flow, keep it to as few pages as possible, and enable guest checkout.

7. Offer multiple payment options

When you’re in a store, and a particular credit card doesn’t work, what do you do? Most people just whip out another one.

Your online customers need to be able to do that too. That’s why it’s essential to offer multiple payment options. If you only accept credit cards or, worse, only one type of credit card, it’s a slap in the face for people who don’t have your preferred option.

In contrast, if people can choose the option they want, they’re much less likely to abandon their carts if a particular option doesn’t work (and they’ll be less likely not to see their favorite option). Digital and mobile payment options are now essential. Even people who don’t like to share their credit card information will happily pay with PayPal instead. And 44 percent of shoppers are happy to add their credit card to a mobile payment solution, then pay with that instead.

Our tip: Integrate Google Pay (formerly Android Pay), Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and PayPal as payment options. If people can pay with a tap or click, it makes it easy for them to complete purchases. In fact, between 2015 and 2018, the use of NFC mobile payment is expected to triple to reach 166 million users worldwide.

And make sure your payment trust seals are easy to see—people need to know their payment info is safe. According to Baymard, Norton is a clear winner in making shoppers feel your site is trustworthy.

But adding additional payment methods in general can increase trust. One of the reasons many people prefer to use options like PayPal over credit card is that it takes payment off-site to a place they know is secure. They don’t have to worry that their credit card information might be stolen, and are more likely to check out.

Bottom line: Many shoppers won’t buy if they don’t see their preferred payment method, so integrating additional options might immediately boost your order completion rates. Because so much online shopping now happens on mobile, it’s important to support mobile payment methods, and if you have customers in countries outside your own, be sure to check on what popular payment methods are available in each country (for example, in China, WeChat Pay and Alipay are popular options that are virtually unused in the U.S.).

8. Use SEO

Wondering what search engine optimization (SEO) has to do with cart abandonment? Have you ever searched for a product, clicked a link, then headed back to the search engine because it wasn’t what you wanted? We have too. That’s called “pogosticking,” and it’s bad for your search results ranking.

The thing is, how well you’ve optimized your page for search informs Google and searchers what they’ll find on your site. If they find what you promise, then they’ll likely buy it. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

So make sure you provide accurate descriptions of pages and images—that means more happy visitors, and more sales. For more on SEO, check out this comprehensive guide on OptinMonster.

And if you want to future proof the shopping experience, optimize your site so visitors can shop by voice.

Bottom line: When a customer arrives from search and doesn’t find what they’re looking for, they won’t buy. When they abandon your site, that hurts your cart abandonment rate and your search ranking.

9. Support the sale

If people do have a problem completing a purchase, offering a little bit of support at the right time can help save the sale. For example, you can:

  • Guide them through the purchase with on-screen help and informative error messages
  • Provide FAQs, so they can troubleshoot errors themselves
  • Offer live chat, so shoppers can talk to a real person about their concerns

This last one is increasingly important. The live chat stats roundup from SuperOffice shows that 30 percent of customers now expect you to have live chat on your website. And that number is more than double if the customer is using a mobile device. Live chat also brings back repeat visitors and boosts average order value.

You can also use popups to encourage visitors to get in touch if they have questions. With the right incentive, you’ll provide a service for them and get contact details—those’ll come in handy later.

Bottom line: Many shoppers abandon shopping carts because they can’t get their questions answered about your products, policies, or payment. Make sure you give shoppers ample opportunity to connect with your during checkout so they can ask questions and trouble shoot any problems they might run into.

10. Always be testing

Finally, test, test, and test again. Split testing can help you optimize every aspect of your website from the headlines, product images, and descriptions to the actual checkout page itself. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out these split testing ideas from Optimizely.

Bottom line: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to eCommerce shopping cart abandonment. What works for Merchant A might not work for Merchant B, so try out the above tips and then measure the results and adjust as necessary to find the right solution for your store.

How to recover lost sales after cart abandonment

We have some good news and some bad news.

The good: you’re practically guaranteed to reduce your eCommerce cart abandonment rate with the tips we’ve shared above.

The bad: some people are still going to abandon their carts. It’s unavoidable. But don’t worry; we’ve got a couple more strategies to help you bring them back to your site to complete the sale.

11. Harness the power of retargeting ads

When it comes to cart recovery, cookies are your friend. These are small data files that carry anonymous (mostly) information about where your visitors have been on your site and what they’ve looked at. You can feed this information into ad networks, like Google Ads, Facebook, or Taboola, so when people visit a completely different site, they see ads for the products they’ve left behind.

You often see this in action on Facebook. As Acquisio explains, you install the Facebook pixel (another code snippet) on your site. This drops a cookie which gives information to Facebook. Then you can create a custom audience and display retargeting ads.

You can also use email retargeting.

12. Send abandoned cart recovery emails

One of the most powerful techniques for recovering abandoned carts is sending emails to remind people about what they left behind. According to Salesforce, it’s totally worth it: if you send a cart abandonment email within a day, you can recover 60 percent of sales.

The best advice on abandonment emails suggests:

  • Send one within a few hours checking if there were technical errors, or other issues, that stopped them from completing the sale and reminding them of what they left behind
  • Send a second within 24 hours, with a reminder of the cart contents and potentially including a discount
  • Send a third within 48 hours, offering (or reiterating) a discount or other incentive for completing the sale and employing the persuasion technique of scarcity (such as by telling customers their cart will expire soon)

See some cool examples of abandoned cart recovery emails on the OptinMonster blog.

The good news here is that tools exist that will automatically create and send abandonment emails, track their success, and allow you to easily tweak your strategy as you go. One of the leading tools is Jilt, which publishes this site. Jilt is an automated lifecycle email marketing app that has the most advanced abandoned cart recovery technology available for Shopify, WooCommerce, and Easy Digital Downloads.

Check out the tour to see how Jilt can help you recover abandoned carts.

That’s it! Now you know all the eCommerce cart abandonment best practices to help you recover more sales.

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at


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