Should You Show Cart Totals In Checkout?

I recently listened in on a web clinic from Marketing Experiments titled Optimizing Shopping Carts for the Holidays. One of the case studies presented was particularly intriguing. If you read the title of this post you guessed the subject of the test — showing cart totals in checkout.

Cart totals in checkout – best practice?

Back in 2007, Elastic Path conducted an audit of the Internet Retailer Top 100 for our Ecommerce Checkout Report. At that time, only 14% of checkouts displayed cart review boxes in checkout. Conversion rates were 60% higher for the sites that didn’t show cart totals.

What’s changed in the last 5 years? I checked out the current IR50 this week and found a 50/50 split between showing cart contents and not. It’s certainly trendy (perhaps it’s been touted as best practice at conferences like Internet Retailer), with Apple, Walmart and Sears adopting it.

Which test won?

Marketing Experiments’ test site was not disclosed, but web clinic attendees were live-polled which version, showing cart totals or not, resulted in higher conversion. Overwhelmingly, the audience selected the underperforming version.

Gut feel lost. As it so often does.

The winner was the version that didn’t show cart contents in checkout. The relative conversion rate difference between winner and loser was 28.6%, and a full 8 points higher in absolute conversion rate.

This is an isolated test, your mileage may vary. But we learn 3 important lessons from this case.

1. Gut feel fails. Often.

2. “Best practice” fails. Often.

3. Following the leader can fail. If this ecommerce site blindly emulated Apple or Walmart, it would have left big money on the table.

That also goes for blindly following a case study mentioned in a blog post. Test it for yourself. This test is a particularly good one to start with in checkout, as it’s generally believed to help users, but appears to cause distraction or second thoughts in the funnel, despite its popularity in ecommerce design.

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3 Responses to “Should You Show Cart Totals In Checkout?”

  1. Jestep says:

    This is really interesting. I sure wouldn’t have guessed this outcome.

    We tested this about 4 years ago and there was significantly more abandonment when not showing the cart. We do use a single page checkout though where it would seem inappropriate not to give your customer verification of their order since it’s finalized on the same page.

    I would be interested in seeing if there was any correlation in average order value as well. Just speculating, but it seems plausible that you get more abandoned large orders, as the customer needs to leave the checkout process to verify their cart, while smaller order conversion rates increase as it’s less of a commitment for the customer, so they remain in the checkout.

    They also didn’t say, but I’m assuming there is a confirmation page before finalizing the order.

  2. It really is funny how often things are counter-intuitive but can be proved with numbers and evidence.

    It just goes to show that even if it seems really obvious what would work better from a user’s perspective that you still have to test and make your changes based on evidence.

  3. Ed Gadziemski says:

    I would not read too much into this until I learned the difference in order cancellations. While customers might not notice or might not think about the lack of cart totals during checkout, buyer’s remorse may set in when they receive their confirmation email, resulting in cancellations or returns.

    I would think it’s better to filter out queasy-minded shoppers before purchase rather than after, when it’s much more expensive.

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