It's Time We Ditched the Term 'Cart' in Online Shopping

With all the innovations we've seen, why is the experience of actually making a purchase on the web still so poor?

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By Chris Bennett

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Pages. Bookmarks. Desktops. Scrolling, folders and trash.

For as long as any of us can remember, we have appropriated offline metaphors to describe their online equivalents. In the Web 1.0 era, putting real-life experiences directly online with little modification led to some of the greatest venture flops in history.

Today, when we talk about shopping online, the experience not surprisingly still centers around "the cart." The shopping cart is an antiquated metaphor. It is time to ditch the cart. Frictionless, in-stream shopping is the holy grail.

Related: The Future of Ecommerce Will Focus on Creating Experiences

Did you know that on average, 68 percent of people who add something to an online shopping cart do not follow through to actually purchase that item? This phenomenon is called "cart abandonment" and it is the scourge of online retail.

Twitter has started testing a "buy button", fast on the heels of Facebook's own effort. In combination, these experiments amount to a significant departure in how commerce is transacted, not just over social networks, but online overall.

At Soldsie, we surveyed more than 100 retailers about their social-selling efforts on Instagram. On average, the value of purchases per sale on Instagram is a whopping $82. Selling outside of "the cart" is no novelty. This is the way customers want to buy. This is the way that customers prefer to buy.

Did you also know that on average, it takes five clicks to purchase something on a mobile site? Making matters worse, preference data doesn't transport, and payment data doesn't sync across retailers. We're a nation of shoppers who spend nearly as much time "checking out" as we do shopping in the first place.

While we have done so much to innovate around payments, product discovery, sizing, subscriptions and more, it sucks that the typical experience of actually making a purchase is so distinctly poor.

In the offline world, the Apple Store long ago got rid of any notion of traditional checkout lines and cashiers, and other retailers are following suit. Friction at the point of sale doesn't have to be a condition of doing business.

One might even argue that the user experience of shopping has seen more innovation offline than on, and that's regrettable. Maybe we can learn something important from our brick-and-mortar counterparts after all.

Dustin Curtis, the visionary product designer behind Svbtle, drew our attention back in 2009 (archived version here) to the terrible user experience that printed restaurant receipts represent, in contrast to the high-end, satisfying experience they conceivably follow.

This is yet another example of how poorly we treat people who give us large chunks of money for products or services they love. I am astonished that the interaction retailers have with their customers at the most proximate points to the exchange of hard-won American dollars is so ... crusty. We're terrible at the last mile.

Online, we keep queuing, endlessly. Pushing a virtual cart around the web is a dissonant experience. It's not web-like. It's not germane to how the Internet generation expects to operate. Modern retailers will do well to meet their customers and sell to them where they already are. The cart feels fundamentally wrong to anyone who spends a significant amount of time on and around social networks.

Related: Here Are 4 Steps to Create an Awesome User Experience

Vendors like Shopify encourage retailers to "build a Facebook store" as if Facebook is just another channel. It's not. Facebook and other social networks are not just endpoints. They're full-on Internet societies, with their own cultures, norms and sets of values. Slapping a traditional store on top of Facebook rings false to its citizenry.

If I can't buy in-stream, it doesn't count. Promoting product listings on social networks is marketing, but it is not social selling. We need to stop thinking of social networks as a top-of-the funnel traffic tool that merely punts over to traditional processes.

Amazon, on the other hand, is barking up precisely the right tree and should be lauded.

I wrote a few months ago about how #AmazonCart is just a taste of where shopping is headed. The lesson there applies here as well. Certainly it's about reducing the number of clicks, and certainly it's about acting on impulse, but the biggest takeaway is this.

Customers these days prefer to make purchases wholly outside of any notion of a "funnel" or a "cart." They don't want to go on that particular ride anymore.

A top-50 retailer based in New York City told me recently that while "it is exciting to be able to start selling on social networks," the "UX of most solutions is clumsy" and as such are "unlikely to make a dent in sales."

That says it perfectly. The concept of social selling is sexy, but the pervasiveness of 1.0-era user experiences risks the same failures that Webvan, and others endured more than a decade ago.

We need to throw off the mantle of classic metaphors for selling and shopping online.

Cart-abandonment rates (and overall etail conversion rates) tell us that our customers find our collective approach to online shopping subpar. We have been judged and found wanting. Cart abandonment is just a symptom. Cart aversion is officially the disease.

Forcing a context switch from a delightful social networking experience to a disastrous cart-oriented one hinders the gains that retailers should otherwise expect, given the unabashed love for brands and their products that is evidenced everywhere online. What should be a conversion-rich environment can still be one, if we have the courage to throw our proverbial playbook directly out the window.

We need to be thinking of "native commerce" -- of buying and selling inside of a single context, without asking our customers to stop what they are doing, switch gears, go grab their wallet, and more. Shopping shouldn't be an interruption. Consummating a purchase should feel like a victory, not a chore.

Related: 5 Strategies for Turning Ecommerce Browsers Into Buyers

Chris Bennett

CEO and Co-Founder of Soldsie

Chris Bennett is the CEO and co-founder of Soldsie, a social shopping service. He is passionate about social change, innovation and the Internet.

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