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10 Main Reasons Why People Are Abandoning Shopping Carts (And What You Can Do About It)

8 min

Imagine this story.

Customer John walks into a grocery store, pulling forward a huge, almost cartoonish-looking shopping cart. He walks along the aisles full of all different kinds of things, throwing this and that into his cart. John is happy. John is pleased. He’s found what he wanted (especially those mint chocolate cookies — yumm!), and he’s ready to pay.

He makes his way through a labyrinth of products and finally reaches the counter. Suddenly, he starts thinking: maybe there was another grocery store where milk was 0.20$ cheaper? Maybe he could find cherry-scented candles instead of vanilla? But oh well, it’s too late now anyways: the smiling cashier has already started to scan the products, so it would be too embarrassing to walk away.

But what is this? An extra fee for “scanning and packaging”? An extra bill for paying with VISA? And wait a second — now that John takes a better look at that cherry-scented candle, it actually smells like oranges!

Furiously, John storms out of the store, and the cashier’s smile turns to a frown. John swore he would never come back, and he never did.

Does this sound like it could happen in a brick-and-mortar store? Absolutely not. But in ecommerce? Definitely!!

This, along with many other reasons, are why shopping cart abandonment stats look so depressing: In 2011, cart abandonment was rated as high as 69%. In 2012, it raised to 72%. In 2013, it was already 74%. Slowly but steadily, shopping cart abandonment is growing and taking over online shops, and the rapid influence of mobile is only making the trend worse.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

In this article, we’re going to review 10 main reasons why customers abandon their shopping carts, and offer several solutions to the problem.

1. You don’t offer free shipping

Have you heard about the power of “free”? Chris Anderson explains it very well in his mega-bestseller called “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” (which I highly recommend). In the book, he shares a very illustrative example of how French Amazon failed at “almost free” shipping, trying to charge 20 cents for a second item if it was bought together with something else. Why fail? Because “almost free” is still not “free”. While 20 cents seemed to be as little as nothing, it appeared to be a huge deal breaker. People were not buying anything, and the sales were tanking.

“For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10”, explains David Bell, Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania,

So here’s the solution: If your abandonment rates are high, change delivery to “free”. The trick will work its magic.

2. Your checkout is too long

On average, it takes customers 5.08 steps to complete a checkout. Now, that’s way too many. Checkout should be short and sweet, and have the bare minimum amount of steps necessary to complete the purchase.

So here’s the solution: Reduce your checkout process and only ask for essential information, such as name, email and delivery addresses, and payment method. And never (!) make people fill out the same information twice. It also helps to add a progress bar, which essentially tells the customers when they reach the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like a coach that yells the “you’re almost there!” encouragements during the marathon.

Why are people abandoning shopping carts?
A progress bar by Net-A-Porter.

3. You don’t allow guest shopping

Registration shouldn’t be compulsory — it should be optional! Most people already receive myriads of emails and don’t want to be forced to sign up for Yet Another Newsletter. A majority of us have tons of logins and passwords — creating Yet Another One sometimes seems to be more than we can handle.

And yet, it’s often the case that online shops do not allow you to proceed with a checkout unless you register, sign up for a newsletter, or make any other kind of “commitment”. Modern customers want to shop with no strings attached.

So here’s the solution: Provide guest checkout opportunities for your customers, like Calvin Klein, for instance:

Why are people abandoning their shopping carts?
Guest checkout on Calvin Klein online store.

4. You have too many distractions on your checkout page

We’ve all heard that people’s attention span is shorter than one of a goldfish, haven’t we? Humans can officially boast only 8 seconds of continuous coherent thought now. As an online retailer, this means that you need to find a way to grasp customers’ attention before they switch it to something else.

So here’s the solution: Remove any distractions — get rid of banners, promotions, and unnecessary call-to-actions! Let your checkout page be clean and simple, so that the customer can focus on one thing only: hitting the “buy it” button.

5. Your site takes forever to load

Here’s a fun ecommerce fact: every second of delay decreases conversion by 7%. And every two seconds of delay increase shopping cart abandonment rate up to 87%, which is 15-20% above the average. So yes, page speed does play a very important role here.

So here’s a solution: Check up with Google’s PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix or Pingdom for a list of potential issues you could work on. Normally, you’d have to optimise and compress your images (so that they become as light as feathers), minify CSS and HTML work (so that your website flies at the speed of light), and get a better web-hosting service (which often kills two birds with one stone).

6. You’re not doing too great on the mobile front

Looking at the ecommerce predictions for 2017, mobile commerce is expected to grow 31% next year, expanding 200% faster than classic ecommerce. In fact, already 34% of all global online transactions are made through mobile,

And yet, about 40% of small web businesses are not optimized for mobile, and don’t even have a mobile site.

Are the product images too small? Are the buttons impossible to click on? Is the checkout process on the mobile a pain? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then it’s time to get a grip of your shop’s mobile performance!

So here’s a solution: Read this article from GetResponse on how to design a perfect mobile landing page.

7. Your images suck

I was once browsing on the web in search of a gift, when I stumbled upon an online clothing store for men, where they were selling jeans showing one single picture with the back view only. No front, no right, no left — just backside. A bit awkward, isn’t it?

Would I buy this product? Of course not!

In the world of online retail, where tactile experiences are substituted with images, a product has to be showcased just as well as in the offline retail world. People can’t touch and see the product in real life, so the only “proof” they can rely on is visual. And if those visuals suck, well… then you can tell the rest of the story yourself.

So here’s a solution: Add more images showing off the product’s details. Add more features, such as zoom-in availability, alternative view possibility, ability to see the product in different colors, etc. And even better — add videos. And even EVEN better — add User Generated Content.

8. You don’t offer coupons

Some customers are all about seasonal shopping, when each and every store undergoes a massive discount attack. Other customers, however, are into coupons — an everyday opportunity to get products at a lower price. And with websites like RetailMeNot, GoodSearch, and, finding coupons has never been easier.

So your job as a retailer is to provide a special spot in the checkout process for people to insert the code — like this example from & Other Stories, for instance:

Why are people abandoning shopping carts?
Coupons on the & Other Stories website.

So here’s a solution: Make friends with coupons! Your customers will appreciate that.

9. Your shopping cart isn’t persistent

There is nothing more disappointing than browsing in your favorite online store, saving a few items in the shopping cart to review later, coming back in an hour almost ready to buy, and then facing the annoying ‘your-shopping-cart-has-expired’ message.

Many customers actually use their shopping cart as some kind of a wish list that they tend to come back to later when they feel they are ready to make a purchase. If it’s impossible to save items in the shopping cart, very, very few people will go through the inconvenience of re-creating it from scratch.

So here’s the solution: Enable persistent shopping cart, which will allow people to keep items on hold for at least a few days.

10. You don’t send a reminder

Remember Customer John? Let’s get back to him. Imagine his story taking a different turn: John stuffed his shopping cart to the max, he was happy and pleased, he was ready to buy, when suddenly — mainly because John’s attention span is less than 8 seconds — he got distracted, lost interest in the cart, and, with a spaced-out facial expression, left the store.

There’s one simple thing you can do that can help John remember why he entered the store in the first place: remind him.

It is a common practice among online retailers to send cart abandonment emails, which are an effective way to refresh the memory of a ‘forgetful’ customer.

This is the type of email that Nordstrom sends, for example:

Example of a cart abandonment email reminder sent by an ecommerce brand Nordstrom featuring products the user left in their basket.
Email reminder from Nordstrom to retrieve an abandoned cart.

So here’s a solution: Explore the realm of email marketing, and write a gentle, kind reminder that they’ve left something nice in their shopping cart! And if you want to make the experience even sweeter, give them a small discount as an additional incentive to visit your store & finish their shopping.

To learn how you can recover lost sales with emails, check out this article on cart abandonment emails & this tutorial that’ll show you how to set up abandoned cart campaigns in GetResponse.

Also, this in-depth guide to ecommerce email automation includes even more strategies and ideas you can use to scale your online store.

Over to you

What is your best solution to prevent abandoned shopping carts? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

Olga Rabo
Olga Rabo
Olga Rabo is a Content Marketing Manager at Styla. She spends her days writing engaging content about e-commerce, digital storytelling, and marketing, as well as spreading the word about content commerce and shoppable content. Whenever she has a spare minute, she also travels and runs a blog of her own. If you want to say hi, follow her at @olgarabo on Twitter or get in touch at!