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Combating Shopping Cart Abandonment

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

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Despite widespread knowledge of the problem, shopping-cartabandonment continues to plague e-tailers. In fact, 52 percent ofshopping carts were abandoned last year, according to Geoff Ramsey,CEO and co-founder of e-business research firm eMarketer in NewYork City. While myriad reasons might explain why prospectivecustomers ditch the contents of a shopping cart at the last minuteor fail to click the final "Buy Now" button, experts saya key reason is that the checkout process often simply takes toolong.

Waiting Game

That's what Steven Mckean, 35-year-old CEO and co-founder ofBuyTelcoInc., has found. His Hollywood, Florida, company's Website, which went live in 2000, allows consumers and businesses toenter their information and learn what high-speed Internet plansare available from cable and DSL providers in their neighborhoods.Clients can buy the plans from the site in a seamlesstransaction.

But was it really seamless? Mckean learned a few years ago thatwhen people visited his site, "0.7 percent-not even 1 out of100 people-would buy." Determined to fix the problem, Mckeanused Web analytics to track how customers were navigating his site.He learned that part of the problem was that customers had to surfthrough five Web pages to check out-from the time they chose aproduct to when they received an order confirmation. It simply tookcustomers too long to complete the transaction. He says, "Wesaw that this is where people were dropping out."

BuyTelco was collecting so much data because the cable and DSLproviders selling through BuyTelco wanted various types ofinformation collected from customers. So BuyTelco asked for allpossible information in the checkout process. "While oneprovider wanted information from questions one through nine, andanother wanted information from questions seven through 20, welisted one through 20 in the checkout process," says Mckean."We were collecting a lot of redundant and unnecessaryinformation. 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 Websites' conversion rates, Mckean was able to reduce the checkoutprocess from five pages to one. To do this, he reduced the amountof information he was collecting. For example, when ordering cable,the customer is now only asked to provide his or her name, contactphone number, e-mail address, and whether he or she wants to rentor buy a modem. All questions appear on a single page. If aparticular vendor needs more information, those questions will alsoappear on the page, but only if the customer wants the service fromthat vendor. This database-driven system was set up on the back endat BuyTelco.

Also, other content cluttering the page was put into pop-ups,says Mckean, which ultimately minimized the number of checkoutpages. These changes weren't difficult to implement, yet theyled to a marked improvement. After switching over to the new formatin February 2003, says Mckean, "3 out of 100 people are buyingfrom our site."

Better Than Ever

Mckean says that while going from five pages to one andincorporating more content into pop-ups accounted for about half ofthe decrease in shopping-cart abandonment, "there were another20 things we did to get the other 50 percent." Some of thesechanges included adding a progress indicator and a page number toeach step of the checkout process so BuyTelco customers couldreview and make changes to what they had already completed. Itemsin a shopping cart are now hot-linked to product descriptions, soshoppers can review their choices one last time.

Bryan Eisenberg says these tactics may be the only neededimprovements to a shopping cart. Even better, they'rerelatively inexpensive and do not require too many technicalchanges. Changing the number of steps in the checkout process, onthe other hand, is more difficult, time-consuming andexpensive.

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

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

"The number of shopping carts abandoned could be reduceddramatically," says Eisenberg, "if retailers were to makethese relatively minor changes to their online checkoutprocesses."

Finally, before making any changes to your shopping cart,Eisenberg recommends using Web analysis software to see how peoplenavigate through a site, as Mckean did. By doing so, you can learnnot only what frustrates online shoppers, but also what keeps themopening their wallets.

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer inNew York City.

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