Fear of Abandonment

By Laura Rush | Posted January 28, 2004

When it comes to abandoning carts, I'm guilty as charged more often than I care to admit. Although a seasoned e-commerce veteran, my own reasons for leaving a full shopping cart at the virtual door range from the dreaded unfamiliarity with a small business, to the more benign lack of funds available at that time, to my overwhelming need for instant gratification.

Apparently, I'm not alone.

A recent consumer survey of online shopping behavior announced this week by Web analytics solutions provider NetIQ revealed the most common reasons why most consumers abandon online purchases — and not surprisingly they were pretty much in line with my own.

The NetIQ Survey showed that 35 percent of consumers who abandoned online purchases did so due to additional costs, like shipping and handling, or lengthy delivery times (35 percent). Complaints about Web sites that ask for too much information in order to make a purchase (30 percent) were a close second. Admittedly, I tend to shop from the same online stores because not only am I familiar with them and have established a certain level of comfort with the customer-merchant relationship, but the process of having to fill out three pages of forms in order to register with a new site is not exactly an appealing way to spend my time.

The survey also revealed that about one in five (17 percent) abandoned online purchases due to lack of product information, while 14 percent said they changed their minds and opted to purchase from a "brick and mortar," rather than online store. I can most certainly identify with the latter reason. Sometimes you just can't wait five to seven business days for new shampoo.

Abandoned Doesn't Last Forever
A lot of analysts talk about how abandoned shopping carts represent a huge loss for businesses. I don't necessarily see it as lost business — just temporarily deferred. Many times, when I add items to a shopping cart, and then decide to not complete the order, it's because I haven't decided what else I may need, the item is out of stock, or my morning coffee buzz begins to wane. Yet I have every intention of returning to complete the order at some point in the near future.

In my own nonscientific study, three out of four people I spoke with about this trend also admitted to abandoning online shopping carts on a regular basis. (That fourth person admitted to adding items to her cart only when she was certain she was going to make a purchase at that moment. Oh, to be so disciplined.) When I asked why they so readily walked away from a purchase, most responded that they were suddenly subjected to pre-buyer's remorse: The item in their cart was an impulse buy and they lost interest in the purchase because they decided they could not afford to spend the money at that time. The second most popular reason was that they were victims of sheer laziness — they didn't have their credit cards available and could not muster the energy to walk into another room to retrieve their wallets.

Clues for Conversion
So what can retailers do to improve online shopping scenarios such as those mentioned above? Can merchants really improve conversion rates by making incremental changes to their Web sites, as Web analytics companies would have you believe? It depends. NetIQ and other Web analytics services would tell you that by improving your site's navigation based on better knowledge of user traffic patterns you could identify processes or stumbling blocks that prevent customers from making purchases with each visit. And I'd have to agree in most instances.

But I'm not so sure that perfect navigation is a compelling enough reason for me to be motivated to click the "Buy Now" button and not wait until payday because I am low on funds. Nevertheless, there are some things a merchant can do to rouse the interests of shoppers such as me who are hesitant to part with their hard-earned cash.

    Reduce the number of steps in your checkout process. Make the checkout process easy for new visitors. You already know that acquiring new customers is much harder than selling to the loyal ones. Don't make site registration another obstacle to overcome.

    Show product availability on the product page. Don't make shoppers wait until checkout to learn that a product is out of stock. If it is out of stock, provide an estimated restock date or offer to send an e-mail when it is in stock so they don't need to recheck daily, only to become more frustrated.

    Provide shipping timeframes early in the process. If possible, provide an estimated timeframe while visitors browse. Long ship times is a critical concern of lazy shoppers like me who want everything 10 minutes ago. Offers for expedited shipping are a good idea, provided the costs are within reason.

    Show them you're a real entity — especially if you have a small, relatively unknown business. Paranoia about giving out credit card info online generally flares up during the checkout process. Let new customers know you're a real company by giving full contact info during the checkout process. Give them the option to call by providing a dedicated toll-free line for online orders. At the very least, make sure your city, state and telephone are prominently displayed.

    Have a one-day only sale. If it works for Macy's it can work for you, too. One-day-only sales seem to rouse everyone from their slumber in order to get 50 percent off stuff they don't even need.

Don't obsess about abandonment rates. Again, many people use shopping carts as placeholders for item they are considering. If you feel that abandoned carts on your site are due to other factors such as technological issues, or poor navigation, it would be wise to invest in a strong analytics solution to help you identify obstacles in the purchasing process.

Let me know what you tried and how it worked.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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