Checkout Optimization: Are You Testing The Wrong Thing?

If your cart abandonment rate is, say, 58% – where do you start to fix the problem?

Many marketers would jump in with optimizing the checkout process by reducing steps, slicing and dicing form fields, changing button colors and adding security badges.

But what if most checkouts were not abandoned because of anything “confusing” or broken in the checkout process?

According to Forrester Research, only 11% of consumers report their last abandoned cart was due to a long or confusing checkout. Only 12% believed the site was asking too much information, only 14% were unwilling to register with a site.*

The most common reasons customers bailed boiled down to “sticker shock” (due to high shipping charges, taxes or other fees, or a high product price), the desire to comparison shop, and simply not being ready to check out at that moment. (Good ol’ FUDs).

No matter how pretty your cart button, how short your checkout process or how clear and usable your form fields, you can’t save these sales. But that doesn’t mean you can’t optimize your site for non-usability factors of shopping cart abandonment.

Let’s take a look at 5 top reasons why customers abandon, and how you can address each Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Shipping costs too high

1. Make free shipping or shipping discount applications very prominent

  • Pre-checkout shipping estimate tool helps the customer judge the shipping charge

I was not ready to purchase the product

1. Create urgency

  • Include value proposition of “owning it today” (this will depend on your product and the purchase context)
  • Highlight any limited time offers/discounts – don’t bury them below the fold or in graphic elements that may suffer from “banner blindness”
  • Highlight financing options like $X/month (when applicable)
  • Show stock availability / mark products with high sellout risk

2. Allow customers to log in to save their carts

  • 30% clear cookies daily, a saved cart safeguards against wipeout
  • Enables registered customers to retrieve their carts across devices
  • Abandoned carts can be remarketed to (triggered email program) when you have an email address

3. Persistent cart

  • To support those who will not choose to save the cart

I wanted to compare prices on other sites

1. Reinforce your unique value proposition

  • Value props are not just for home pages and landing pages – the cart is perhaps the most important place to convince the customer to buy from you and nobody else

2. Suppress your coupon box

  • The presence of a coupon box may send your customer huntin’ for deals from your affiliates, costing your margin and commissions. This is a form of comparison shopping – where can one find the best deal? Handle this issue by hiding the coupon box for customers who have not been referred by an email or affiliate with a discount (using cookies), or auto-apply any discounts these shoppers may receive

Product price was higher than I was willing to pay

1. Financing, if you offer it, could make the price more digestible

2. Boldly highlight (in red, green or orange) any auto-applied savings or sale prices

Just wanted to save products in my cart for later consideration

1. Use a persistent cart and enable saved carts, save-to-wishlist

  • Track % of “save-to-wishlist” actions and deduct from your cart abandonment rate

While these tips won’t take care of your cart abandonment completely, addressing these issues before getting into design and usability will get you further than UX alone. Stay tuned, next post we’ll look at the design/usability things that make a shopping cart page effective.

* Forrester Research has also reported that 23% of customers would abandon carts when asked to register. Because many sites do offer guest checkout, 14% abandonment due to required registration does not mean that customers care less about site registration, rather, less customers encountered them.

Looking for help with A/B and multivariate testing? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at to learn how our conversion optimization services can improve your business results.

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13 Responses to “Checkout Optimization: Are You Testing The Wrong Thing?”

  1. The bit learning from looking at these 5 is that there is relatively little that you can do to boost on site conversions. You’ve covered some good suggestions – but many sites can’t offer Free Shipping even though this is the #1 reason for abandonment.

    What’s interesting about this is that the top 5 reasons are essentially price or timing objections. This is of course why email remarketing programs that follow up on abandoned shopping carts work so well. An email remarketing campaign gives you the opportunity to nudge the customer after they’ve left (addressing the timing) and potentially to change the value proposition after it has been rejected (price objection).

    There’s a useful blog here on how to use promotions in shopping cart recovery emails

    • Hi Charles, absolutely free shipping can’t always be offered. I am suggesting to make free shipping or shipping discounts prominent in the cart, rather than discreetly mentioning them elsewhere in the cart (which I’ve seen even on the largest ecommerce sites), if/when you offer them.

  2. Your suggestions are really interesting and useful to help solve the top 5 reasons why people abandon a shopping cart (according to Forrester).

    But I would like to point out that using surveys is a flawed way to determine this list. When asked directly, people will almost never admit that they didn’t buy something because of the site layout, checkout steps, loading times, etc.

    There are many reasons for that (they are afraid to look “stupid”, price is often a most obvious argument, etc), but mostly it is because they cannot even think in termos of UI and UX problems, since they don’t even know what’s a problem or not. That’s why there are many observation methods that need to be used to support surveys (and vice-versa).

    I’m not saying that this list is useless, but I’m pretty sure that if they used a greater variety methods, the order would be different.

    • Valid point, Viotr. However it can also work the opposite way. Consumers in general have a tendency to complain about website usability. In my experience, customers are more likely to blame a site for not working than to feel they were too incapable to figure it out. For example, when a site will not accept a credit card or will reject a valid address with AVS. Customers expect a site to work properly, and will remember bad experiences (e.g. will never return to the site to try again with a future purchase) and complain about it publicly through Twitter, blogs, in conversation, etc. There would be no shame in anonymous survey to do the same.

      • (Vitor, actually, Viotr was a typo… hehe)

        I agree with you Linda, but I don’t believe we are talking about opposite things. Your examples show cases where the site is clearly broken, in those cases everything you said is true and must be taken into consideration.

        I was talking about cases where the process isn’t broken, but can be vastly improved by optimizations.

        Of course, drawing the line that determines if something is clearly broken or not is difficult, but that’s the beauty of this area of expertise: almost nothing is black and white.

        Congratulations for the blog.

  3. Shopping cart abandonment rates are a huge concern for ecommerce merchants right now. They are trying to find ways not only to optimize the process for people to buy but also implement marketing programs like email nurturing to renew the interest and get the consumer back to the site to complete purchase.

    Here was an interesting article this week on using USPS Flat Rate shipping to offer lower shipping costs to shoppers:

  4. Lucky says:

    Another great post Linda, thanks!

    One minor note – “only 14% were unwilling to register with a site” – 14% is kind of a BIG DEAL in my books considering how far along in their purchasing process they were :) Someone who was ready to purchase a product but got turned off by registration and left should not be assigned the same value as someone else who got turned off by pricing.

    • Hi Lucky,

      Yes 14% is a big deal, but if you read to the end you understand why I use *only* to clarify that other Forrester research has cited 23% – the discrepancy explained that 23% of customers on a site that asks for registration will bail, whereas 14% that encountered the last site did so because of required reg.

  5. Mitch Drew says:

    Longtime reader, first time post. Enjoy the topics and comments.

    One area of opportunity to capture potential abandoned sales is the ‘empty cart’ page. Many sites, once a customers deletes their selection, link back to their home page or worse to a blank page with a continue shopping link.

    I have found by serving a page with the three top selling products at a discount has ‘saved’ sales that would have most likely left to a competitor. I justify the discount vs. the cost of having to acquire a customer on the open market.

    This may not work for many merchants, but showing best selling related products presents the opportunity for the customer to stay engaged vs. an exit to your competitors.

  6. Aaron says:

    As a Canadian merchant who garners over 75% of all my revenue from the US market, seeing that half of all customers who abandon their cart do so because shipping costs are too high is unsettling.

    It’s very tough to compete in the American market when Canada Post charges well over 75% more to get the same product from Canada into the USA as it costs for an American to ship to an American via the USPS.

    I have to wonder what Canadian merchants who primarily sell outside the country can do to recover abandoned carts when we cannot absorb the higher shipping costs. It almost seems like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Don’t get me wrong, I do fine, but I sure would like to have those 44% follow through :D

    Also, with the Canadian dollar being so strong, we take the hit there as well if we sell in USD.

    • CodingSamurai says:


      If you ship that many products to the American market why not find a US based shipping service or use Amazon Fulfillment Services. Even if you only did it for your top 10% of products seems like you could significantly lower your cost of business.

  7. altteam says:

    A very interesting article, I quite agree with the results of research.
    I really think that the listed suggestions are able to reduce some reasons of abandonment rate, but not much. There is still “human factor”. And from my point of you it’s the strongest one and the most unexpected reason…for anything, abandonment rate included.

  8. Ron Thompson says:

    Once again a great overview – That reminds me of an article I read a few weeks ago – that quite a lot of tiny problems are very often the problem regarding checkout optimizations:

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