A Deep Dive into Online Shopping Cart Abandonment and Recovery

During the first quarter of 2021, the average online shopping cart abandonment rate was 88 percent. While this is undoubtedly a problem for eCommerce marketers, don’t give up on those shoppers. An effective abandoned cart recovery strategy can turn browsers into loyal customers.

Once you understand the reasons behind cart abandonment and the research-based methods for recovery, you may find that winning these shoppers is a more practical solution than reducing your cart abandonment rate. Ideally, you would split your focus in both directions, but depending on your resources (e.g., developers, copywriters, budget, etc.), prioritizing recovery first may be more practical.

Why Do Shoppers Abandon Carts?

Before developing an effective abandoned cart recovery strategy, it’s necessary to understand why shoppers abandon carts. To help you do that, we’ve reviewed the latest studies and statistics to give you the information you need to run effective abandoned cart recovery campaigns.

Reasons for cart abandonment fall into two categories. The first category is comprised of internal factors. These reasons are primarily psychological (e.g., how the shopper thinks about online shopping).

External factors make up the second category (e.g., the time it takes to checkout).

External Factors

The external factors that influence shopping cart abandonment are primarily UI-related.

Many of these obstacles were identified by Baymard, an independent research institute, in a study asking shoppers who abandoned carts for the reasons why.

The most common response was “I was just browsing,” but Bamyard didn’t include this response in the final results because their objective was to identify ways to improve abandonment rates. The researchers felt that browsing behavior couldn’t be converted into buying behavior (at least not through UX improvements, which is the focus of their research).

The other reasons were:

  • Additional costs like shipping, tax, fees were too high (49 percent)
  • The website required the shopper to create an account (24 percent)
  • The estimated delivery time was too slow (19 percent)
  • The checkout process was too long or complicated (18 percent)
  • The shopper didn’t trust the site with their credit card information (17 percent)
  • The shopper couldn’t see the total order cost up-front (17 percent)
  • The website had errors or crashed (12 percent)
  • The returns policy wasn’t satisfactory (11 percent)
  • There weren’t enough payment methods (7 percent)
  • The shopper’s credit card was declined (4 percent)

This is useful data but remember: these percentages don’t include the number of people who abandoned a cart because they were just browsing. Not all of those abandonments represent lost sales; some of those shoppers never intended to make a purchase.

(Also, note that the percentages won’t add up to 100 because respondents were allowed to submit all of the reasons they had abandoned a cart over a three-month period.)

These findings are expanded on and partially supported by “The determinants of consumers’ online shopping cart abandonment,”  a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. The study found that using the shopping cart for research and using the cart for entertainment (each of which shoppers the shoppers in the Bamyard study likely considered “just browsing”) were the top factors of shopping cart abandonment, closely followed by cost concerns.

Internal Factors

Research into the factors that lead to cart abandonment has found that internal factors also cause shopping cart abandonment. A comprehensive strategy will need to take these factors into account to reduce shopping cart abandonment.

Faux Shoppers

Many online “shoppers” are just digital window shoppers. The Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science study cited above found that many shoppers aren’t shopping because they want to buy something. Instead, they put items in the cart for entertainment or research purposes.

These faux shoppers would likely have been the “browsers” in Baymard’s study. And, while the results of the Baymard study provide some direction for marketers looking to improve their shopping cart abandonment rates (e.g., offering free shipping), the faux shoppers who never had purchase intent may require a different approach.

Shoppers in the Wrong Mindset

Even when a shopper does intend to make a purchase, there are internal factors at play. A study published in The Journal of Consumer Marketing last year indicated that consumer mindset is another factor that influences whether a shopper ultimately makes a purchase.

The study, “Online shopping cart abandonment: a consumer mindset perspective,” found that shoppers who think about a product in abstract terms are less likely to abandon carts.

To explain the difference between abstract and concrete thinking, the researchers give the example of a consumer shopping for a vacuum.

A consumer in an abstract mindset would think about a vacuum as a good way to keep their carpet clean. In contrast, a consumer in a concrete mindset would consider specific details (e.g., the color of the vacuum cleaner). In other words, abstract thinking focuses on key attributes that are fundamental to the product, while concrete thinking focuses on ancillary characteristics (color, size, weight, etc.).

Why Do Your Shoppers Abandon Carts?

Based on the research above, we’ll provide guidance on how to reduce your cart abandonment rate. But each of these suggestions takes time to implement, and some may not be necessary.

Depending on your industry, current user interface, and other factors, the reasons your shoppers abandon carts may be ranked differently than the average ranking.

Many variables influence a shopper’s decision to abandon the cart, so the best way to prioritize where to focus your efforts is by conducting your own research.

You can do this by conducting a survey and reviewing your analytics data.

Identify Factors of Abandonment with a Survey

To discover what leads your shoppers to abandon the carts, ask them to complete a survey after or as they abandon the cart.

You can survey people whose emails are already in your CRM by using marketing automation. (For example, you could use a HubSpot workflow to email the survey to anyone who puts something in the cart but doesn’t make it to the payment confirmation page.)

But there are two problems with limiting your research to people who are already in your CRM. First, most of these shoppers are probably past customers. Their reasons could be very different than those of people who have yet to purchase from you. Second, it will take longer to gather enough data to be useful.

You can expand your research to include anonymous shoppers by:

1. Using a popup survey when a shopper demonstrates exit intent

This method delivers the survey when the reason behind the shopper’s decision to abandon the cart is still fresh in their mind. But most people don’t like popups, and since they’ve already decided to leave the site, you may not receive as many responses.

This survey could supplement your abandoned cart recovery campaign by offering free shipping or a discount in exchange for completing the survey.

2. Using website visitor identification to email the survey to anonymous shoppers

Website visitor identification collects the name and email address (along with other information) for up to 40 percent of your website visitors so that you can send them an email even if they haven’t provided it.

This option gives you another way to contact the shopper as part of an abandoned cart recovery campaign, and it may increase your response rate. But the shopper may be less likely to remember the reason they left the cart.

You can also use this email survey to supplement your abandoned cart recovery campaign by offering an incentive to entice respondents to come back and make a purchase.

Identify Factors of Abandonment with Analytics

Sometimes elements of the user experience like product descriptions and checkout time affect shoppers without their realizing it. For instance, they may be excited about making a purchase but lose their enthusiasm in the time it takes to checkout.

In that case, if you ask a shopper why they abandoned the cart, they’re more likely to attribute the abandonment to changing their mind rather than the time it took to checkout.

But you can use analytics data to gain insight into how your user interface affects your shopping cart abandonment rate.

This enables you to see:

  • if the time to check out affects conversion rates
  • if certain product descriptions perform better than others
  • if some pages have a higher dropoff rate, or
  • if requiring shoppers to create an account is hurting your conversion rate.

How to Develop an Abandoned Cart Recovery Strategy

So now you know why shoppers abandoned their carts, and knowing is half the battle. But only half! The other half is to take that knowledge and turn it into an actionable abandoned cart recovery strategy.

To do that, you’ll need to determine how to deliver the right message to the right shopper at the right time.

Channels

Depending on your shoppers’ internet habits, any ad platform that allows retargeting is a potential opportunity to increase sales. For example, if your audience has a strong presence on Instagram, Instagram retargeting will be a critical component of your abandoned cart recovery campaign.

You can affordably test multiple channels because you’ll only be delivering ads to people who have abandoned their carts.

Other ad targeting methods have a greater risk of wasted ad spend, but with retargeting, you know that you’re only going to pay to get in front of the right people. If you choose a platform that your audience doesn’t use, the worst that will happen is that your retargeting audience won’t be large enough to serve the ads.

The only limiting factor is the number of platforms you have the time to manage. You probably have a good idea about where your audience spends their time, so a good way to start is to begin advertising there and add retargeting pixels for other platforms you’d like to try.

Then you can see how many of your potential customers use the platform based on the size of the retargeting audience.

One final channel to mention is email. No matter where your audience spends their time online, email marketing is essential to cart recovery because everyone uses email (even Gen Z). So set up an email retargeting campaign to make sure you reach as many of your shoppers as possible.

Adding a website visitor identification tool to your toolkit will further expand your reach by enabling you to email shoppers who abandoned their carts without leaving their email addresses.

Timing

Two studies provide valuable information on how to time the delivery of your campaigns.

The first is “The Double-Edged Effects of E-Commerce Cart Retargeting: Does Retargeting Too Early Backfire?” Most marketers trigger their abandoned cart recovery campaign immediately after a shopper leaves without making a purchase.

The research suggests that this is not the best approach. When a shopper sees retargeting ads too quickly, they find them annoying and are actually less likely to make a purchase. The optimal time is one to three days after abandonment.

The second study is “When Does Retargeting Work? Information Specificity in Online Advertising.” In this study, researchers tested the performance of dynamic display ads (e.g., those Amazon ads that follow you around anytime you look at a product without purchasing to remind you that you looked at it).

They found that static ads outperformed dynamic ads most of the time. Dynamic display advertising only began to beat generic ads later in the buying process.

The researchers attribute this to the fact that a shopper isn’t thinking about specific products or features early in the buying process. When the shopper is thinking about a purchase at a high level, more abstract messaging is more effective.

Then, as the shopper begins to form a more concrete idea about what they’re looking for, dynamic display ads highlighting a specific product and its features will resonate.

But determining how a shopper is thinking about a purchase can be difficult. As we mentioned earlier, some people add items to their carts for entertainment purposes, while others are researching those items.

The safest bet would be to stick with high-level messaging since the study determined that this messaging is usually more effective. But you may still see success with dynamic display if you get the messaging right.

The dynamic display study didn’t test abstract messaging through dynamic retargeting ads. It only tested static ads with abstract messaging against dynamic ads with concrete messaging.

So it’s worth testing high-level ad copy and imagery delivered through dynamic retargeting ads; the key is to focus on abstract qualities of a product line rather than specific products and their feature sets.

The other option is to segment your audience based on their mindset. One way to do this is to segment your audience based on how much time they spend looking at reviews on your site (the study found that this indicates that a shopper is later in the buying process).

Content

“The determinants of consumers’ online shopping cart abandonment” also presents findings that could help determine the content of your abandoned cart recovery ads.

Namely:

  1. Shoppers who are more likely to add items to the cart for entertainment purposes are more likely to abandon the cart.
  2. Shoppers who add items to the cart for entertainment purposes are also more likely to use the cart for research purposes.
  3. Shoppers who are more likely to add items to the cart for research purposes are more likely to wait for a better price.

Since shoppers in the research stage are more likely waiting for a better price, and entertainment shoppers are more likely to use the shopping cart for research purposes, it stands to reason that each group would probably be responsive to an ad promoting a price reduction, sale, or a special offer.

But with all of the variables at play, it’s essential to test multiple ads with different offers to discover what works best for you.

The results from your cart abandonment survey will offer some direction. For example, if most shoppers abandon their carts because of shipping costs, offering free shipping could be more effective than a discount.

Don’t Give Up on Abandoned Carts

The studies we’ve covered here offer valuable insights into the minds of the 88% of shoppers who abandon their carts. By using their findings to inform your abandoned cart recovery efforts, you’ll give yourself a research-based edge on the competition. Then you can shift focus and begin reducing your cart abandonment rate.

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