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Combating Shopping Cart Abandonment

Easy solutions to keep your online customers from ditching their shopping carts during checkout.

Despite widespread knowledge of the problem, shopping-cart abandonment continues to plague e-tailers. In fact, 52 percent of shopping carts were abandoned last year, according to Geoff Ramsey, CEO and co-founder of e-business research firm eMarketer in New York City. While myriad reasons might explain why prospective customers ditch the contents of a shopping cart at the last minute or fail to click the final "Buy Now" button, experts say a key reason is that the checkout process often simply takes too long.

Waiting Game

That's what Steven Mckean, 35-year-old CEO and co-founder of BuyTelco Inc., has found. His Hollywood, Florida, company's Web site, which went live in 2000, allows consumers and businesses to enter their information and learn what high-speed Internet plans are available from cable and DSL providers in their neighborhoods. Clients can buy the plans from the site in a seamless transaction.

But was it really seamless? Mckean learned a few years ago that when people visited his site, "0.7 percent-not even 1 out of 100 people-would buy." Determined to fix the problem, Mckean used Web analytics to track how customers were navigating his site. He learned that part of the problem was that customers had to surf through five Web pages to check out-from the time they chose a product to when they received an order confirmation. It simply took customers too long to complete the transaction. He says, "We saw that this is where people were dropping out."

BuyTelco was collecting so much data because the cable and DSL providers selling through BuyTelco wanted various types of information collected from customers. So BuyTelco asked for all possible information in the checkout process. "While one provider wanted information from questions one through nine, and another wanted information from questions seven through 20, we listed one through 20 in the checkout process," says Mckean. "We were collecting a lot of redundant and unnecessary information. It was a very heavy, arduous process."

Working with brothers Bryan and Jeff Eisenberg of Future Now Inc., a New York City firm that helps companies increase their Web sites' conversion rates, Mckean was able to reduce the checkout process from five pages to one. To do this, he reduced the amount of information he was collecting. For example, when ordering cable, the customer is now only asked to provide his or her name, contact phone number, e-mail address, and whether he or she wants to rent or buy a modem. All questions appear on a single page. If a particular vendor needs more information, those questions will also appear on the page, but only if the customer wants the service from that vendor. This database-driven system was set up on the back end at BuyTelco.

Also, other content cluttering the page was put into pop-ups, says Mckean, which ultimately minimized the number of checkout pages. These changes weren't difficult to implement, yet they led to a marked improvement. After switching over to the new format in February 2003, says Mckean, "3 out of 100 people are buying from our site."

Better Than Ever

Mckean says that while going from five pages to one and incorporating more content into pop-ups accounted for about half of the decrease in shopping-cart abandonment, "there were another 20 things we did to get the other 50 percent." Some of these changes included adding a progress indicator and a page number to each step of the checkout process so BuyTelco customers could review and make changes to what they had already completed. Items in a shopping cart are now hot-linked to product descriptions, so shoppers can review their choices one last time.

Bryan Eisenberg says these tactics may be the only needed improvements to a shopping cart. Even better, they're relatively inexpensive and do not require too many technical changes. Changing the number of steps in the checkout process, on the other hand, is more difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

Eisenberg offers these additional, easy tips to minimize shopping-cart abandonment:

  • Remind people of what they're getting as they're checking out.
  • Provide shipping costs early on.
  • Show stock availability on the product page, and offer an estimated delivery date.
  • Include a prominent "Next Step" or "Continue With Checkout" button on each checkout page.
  • Add "shop with confidence" messages that remind customers of your security/privacy policies.

"The number of shopping carts abandoned could be reduced dramatically," says Eisenberg, "if retailers were to make these relatively minor changes to their online checkout processes."

Finally, before making any changes to your shopping cart, Eisenberg recommends using Web analysis software to see how people navigate through a site, as Mckean did. By doing so, you can learn not only what frustrates online shoppers, but also what keeps them opening their wallets.


Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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