Persistent Shopping Carts vs. Perpetual Shopping Carts

What’s the difference between “persistent” and “perpetual” shopping carts?

Persistent Shopping Carts

Persistent shopping carts save a customer’s cart contents across sessions through “persistent cookies.” A cookie is a small text file stored on a user’s computer. The cookie can be set to expire after a few minutes, a number of days or even years unless they are wiped out by the user’s browser or anti-spyware programs, or the user does not accept cookies.

For example, if the customer bookmarks a product on Monday by saving it to cart, and returns on Sunday to purchase, she doesn’t have to locate the product again. This is a nice customer service feature that can save sales. Some users, based on experiences with other sites, might assume your site uses persistent shopping carts, and upon returning to an empty cart, be too frustrated to even bother re-locating the products.

Amazon even reminds you when you added an item:

Amazon has caught me off guard before when I didn’t realize I had old stuff in my cart. I added a bunch of items in one session, didn’t review my order carefully and ended up receiving (and paying for) an extra wireless mouse! Lesson learned.

The decision to set a cookie that will contain information about what a customer has added to cart is made by the retailer – not all retailers use persistent shopping carts.

Perpetual Shopping Carts

Perpetual shopping carts display the number of items in the cart and sub-total as a shopper navigates the site. Marketing Sherpa recently reported that 64% of retailers believe perpetual shopping carts are “very effective” at improving conversion.

Some sites like Altrec use both persistent and shopping carts, which I recommend.

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20 Responses to “Persistent Shopping Carts vs. Perpetual Shopping Carts”

  1. I’m confused… you don’t really explain what a perpetual shopping cart is? Nor the differences between perpetual and persistent shopping carts. Can you make it a bit more obvious for us thickies please?

  2. PerryLi says:

    eh….I still can not say the difference between Pertutual shopping cart and Permanent shopping cart? Linda, Could you say more about the difference?

  3. PetsRight says:

    I think most modern carts are a cross between the two. The one I’m using for my store is.

  4. For those saying they still can’t see the difference between the two, maybe this will help:

    The persistent cart is more about time. The retailer determines the length of time the shopper’s items are allowed to persist in the cart. In this way, the shopper can return to the store and find everything he or she added to the cart previously.
    The perpetual cart is more about clarity during the shopping visit. It’s a visual feature that perpetually shows the contents of the cart while the user is shopping.

    As Linda points out, these are not either/or features; plenty of sites out there use both features together.

    On a side note, I wonder why I like persistent carts so much as an online shopper, when in the offline world I recognize that a feature like that would cause me to buy things I’d previously determined I didn’t need. And that’s probably exactly what it does online, but it’s just so darn much fun. :)

    Thanks Linda!

  5. Hi everyone,

    I’m sorry that the definitions didn’t come through clearly. Kate is right, it’s an either/or, it’s one of those things like cross-sell/upsell that sounds so similar. Persistent and perpetual are quite close in meaning to begin with. Kate’s explanation is spot on.


  6. Having a perpetual shopping cart is very helpful. It brings you much close to the in store experience, seeing your cart fill up, and lets you know when you’re done shopping. Persistent shopping carts are very useful too, if I want to full up a cart, and then sleep on it, before buying. On a site like Amazon it works well. Though I’m not sure it remembers the price of the item when you added it. But for many sites, where they change what they carry often, or have limited inventory, it is less helpful.

  7. And btw, Linda, I think you mean it’s NOT an either/or proposition. I guess it’s a little confusing to say “VS” when both can easily co-exist. This is a situation where it would be really handy to be able to comment on specific comments. :)

  8. @Dan, yes, not either/or…sorry, Monday morning.

  9. More and more consumers are comparison shopping. Persistent shopping moved out of the shopping cart….into a new technology would solve a lot of problems for both consumers and retailers. Abandoned shopping carts are a misnomer because of this persistent concept and current consumer behavior of comparison shopping via the cart! IMHO there needs to be a better way to facilitate persistent shopping + provide useful comparison tools. This would also enable the retailer to better understand the shopping cart checkout dynamic and actual sell through dyanmics.

  10. @Dan – Amazon’s cart does retain the price that was associated with the item when it was added to the cart. IMO, that’s one of the most powerful features about Amazon’s ever-persistent cart. I’ve saved over 100 items in it and I log in to watch price changes on a daily basis. When something I’ve been watching drops in price, it’s an enticement to buy.

    If only all our e-commerce sites had such committed customers. :)

    Here’s an example of a message copied from my Amazon cart:

    Please note that the price of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High has increased from $10.79 to $11.53 since you placed it in your Shopping Cart. Items in your cart will always reflect the most recent price displayed on their product detail pages.

  11. sorry for that, may be good

  12. Garcia says:

    Persistent shopping cart for users, which are not so savy, can be very disturbing. I am not surprised that perpetual shopping carts are more effective.

  13. Steven says:

    Didn’t you guys do a post on why having a perpetual shopping cart leads to decreased sales?

  14. @Steven, actually the perpetual cart runs on the web site as you browse but doesn’t necessarily run through the checkout process, as observed in the checkout report. As per the report, conversion was lower when the total appeared through the checkout process, which many retailers will strip out the navigation links to get the customer through without distraction. Perhaps showing the cart total throughout was another distraction.

  15. [...] you have viewed or purchased previously, and merchandises the site accordingly. It also uses a persistent shopping cart, keeping contents in your cart indefinitely until you [...]

  16. [...] Essentially Brian asks what is the best way to save the contents of a shopping cart so if a customer leaves the site, the customer can pick up where he/she left off without requiring registration to add products or access the cart (otherwise known as a “persistent shopping cart.”) [...]

  17. [...] sure you’re leaving persistent cookies for Santa customers that hold contents in the cart, and you’ll want to set these cookies to [...]

  18. Ted says:

    I like some level of persistence, but not “forever.” It makes sense to keep items in my cart for a week or two or maybe three, while I am researching options and may be back shortly to complete my order. Any longer than that, and the customer is really using the cart as a wish list (which should be a separate feature), or has forgotten about it and moved on. I like sites (I believe Ann Taylor is one) that keep items in your cart for a limited time, then empty it so you don’t accidentally order stuff you didn’t intend to, months later.

    • Yes I agree about customers using the cart as a wishlist – but I can’t blame them when the wishlist requires registration before hand. I never use wishlists except on Amazon who keeps me logged in indefinitely.

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