Cart Abandonment: The Case for Christmas Cookies

It’s Black Friday and the 2009 holiday season is “officially” underway. Retailers are hoping for higher online sales, but paradoxically, will most likely see higher-than-average rates of cart abandonment. SeeWhy, a company that tracks shopping cart abandonment rates, reports the average across industries in October 2009 was 71%).

But if your abandonment rate is 71%, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost 71% for good.

We know that there’s no one reason a cart is abandoned. Forrester Research surveyed men and women who shop online and ranked the following reasons:

1. Sticker shock (tax and shipping charges revealed in cart too high)
2. Customer not ready to purchase
3. Comparison shopping
4. Second thoughts on price
5. Just wanted to save for later

forrester cart abandonment research

(If you’re an email subscriber with images off, please turn them on to see the survey graph).

Whether the customer is comparison shopping, “sleeping on” the decision or using you cart as a lazy man’s (or woman’s) wish list (and who can blame them when most wish lists require account registration), it pays to hold the cart contents. An abandoned cart does not mean a lost sale. A ScanAlert study found 28% of shoppers took longer than a day to convert, and 14% longer than a week. Granted, the study is 5 years old, but decision making doesn’t necessarily change because ecommerce websites have advanced. The point is many conversions happen after 2 or more days or visits. And to complicate matters, many convert in a subsequent reporting period – a November visit converts in December, but is not accounted for in the November conversion report.

Support multi-session shoppers

Make sure you’re leaving persistent cookies for Santa customers that hold contents in the cart, and you’ll want to set these cookies to hang around for at least 30 days. You’ll have a better chance of converting customers who take longer to make their decision and who expect to find their carts in tact when they return to your site.

Holding a cart’s contents across sessions – sounds like a no-brainer, right? In 2007, the E-tailing Group found that 29% of top online retailers did not use persistent shopping carts. Has that number improved in 2 short years? I did a quick test on 50 of the Internet Retailer Hot 100 and 7 did not hold my cart overnight, or 14%. Still, that’s 14% too many!

One feature that I really appreciated as a customer was seeing the quantity or dollar amount of items in the cart, clearly. When returning to the site, I want to know without digging that my cart was saved.

Track your visits to purchase and days to purchase

Google Analytics’ Avinash Kaushik explains how you can and why you should measure days to purchase and visits to purchase in your Web analytics tool. (Too bad Google Analytics’ Benchmarks feature, which if you opt in can give you benchmarks for sites in your category/industry doesn’t track those metrics though it will show you benchmarks for visits, bounce rates, page views, average time on site, page views per visit and percent new visits). Santa Avinash, benchmarked days and visits to purchase are on our Christmas 2010 Google Analytics wish list.

Measure customer behavior across time periods

Another tip is to measure your customer behavior including repeat visits and conversions across reporting periods. Longer cookie durations help you track that accurately. MineThatData’s Kevin Hillstrom shares his tips on how to measure conversion rates across time on his blog.

The takeaway

To get the best picture of what your true holiday performance is, you need to factor in customer behavior, provide the usability to support multi-session shoppers (persistent cookies) and understand what metrics to track and how to track them.

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6 Responses to “Cart Abandonment: The Case for Christmas Cookies”

  1. Hej Linda, great to see that you shed some light on the “conversion rate over time” dilemma. It obviously have a big influence on the actual conversion rate vs measured conversion rate, but it is not really focused upon that often, guess it’s because it isn’t a standard feature in Analytics.

  2. Linda,

    Request duly noted. : )



  3. Claudiu says:

    Great post Linda, Thank you.
    I like your advices a lot but they are not so easy (if not impossible) to implement when dealing with third party cart systems… unless one would place a cookie that is independent from the website one.

    Hmm, you just gave me food for thought.

    Hope Santa (Avinash) will consider how good you’ve been this last year :)

  4. Dan Piche says:

    Claudiu, There are personalization vendors out there that could easily implement this feature, along with countless other personalization strategies that help increase conversion and the loyalty of the visitor not only in this session, the next session, but across the lifetime. The important thing is to have a continuous dialogue that is relevant to their interests.

  5. Stephen says:

    If you have a high volume store that use PPC or other forms of paid advertising then “#3 Segment your traffic sources.” is vital. Just a Linda describes you can walk around thinking you site is converting well, but in fact you are pouring money out the drain on underperforming ads. Talked with a site owner no more than 2 weeks ago for a relatively large local web store (that shall remain anonymous); that haven’t bothered to look at the performance of each of his ad groups. Some were doing very well, but 3 of them, with a budget of $7.000/mo., were almost non-converting. Takeaway, spend a day on setting up segmentation of your traffic sources, and then spend 1 hour each week evaluating the performance of your segments.

  6. Great post as always, thanks!

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