Reducing Online Abandonment

by Tunde Cockshott, Creative Consultant,

E-commerce has been part of our lives for a long time. Amazon was launched in 1995, there are millions of e-commerce sites, and the online retail and travel industry in Western Europe is expected to be worth 164 billion Euros. So, by now, we should know how to do this well. Despite this, cart abandonment is still a big issue and one often comes across a site where fundamental issues hinder the user and make abandonment more likely.

When addressing abandonment we must think of the process from the customer’s perspective. They want to be sure they are making the right choice, they want to know they can trust the retailer, they want to know about all the costs, they want to know about delivery options and they want to enter as little data as possible. The customer’s concerns may be at odds with those of the retailer but the more the retailer pushes its needs, the less likely the customer will feel comfortable.

Even before they get to the checkout ensure a customer can make an informed choice about the products on offer. You do not want them to enter the checkout process feeling doubt or uncertainty about their choice or about the potential for regret of not making another selection. But assuming the sales environment is conducive to making the customer feel informed and assured then we have to address the checkout process.

I see two stages to optimising the checkout process to reduce abandonment.

Get The Usability Right

First the brilliant basics:

  • Streamline the checkout process and eliminate unnecessary steps
  • Indicate how many steps are involved and signpost where the user is in the process
  • Simplify forms to collect only the minimal data required
  • Use automatic postcode look up to reduce the consumer’s workload
  • Follow best practice in form design in terms of visual layout
  • Use simple understandable labels and questions – if a user has difficulty understanding what is asked from them they will find it hard to answer – at all times reduce customer burden
  • Do not hide costs, do not give the customer an unexpected nasty surprise at any stage of the process. (For examples of this type of bad practice one only has to book a flight with Ryanair
  • Clearly state delivery costs
  • Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you and show a real world address and alternative methods for contacting you
  • Finally look to Amazon to see how to do it right.

Consumer Concerns And Influence

Then go deeper into how to address consumer concerns and influence their motivation to complete the purchase:

  • Allow users to carry the item with them through the checkout process. If you watch real customers in retail stores they often re-asses their purchase decision right up to the point of payment
  • Even if they do not change their mind the ability to re-assure themselves that they have made the right decision is important. Let them see what it is they have chosen. Most likely they invested some time deciding on which item from a range of options to select, therefore keep the item in full view to help reduce doubt
  • Use techniques to create a sense of urgency and the need for immediate action. The classic “limited stock” or “only 2 left” increases the fear of potential loss if they do not act now. A similar effect is achieved by giving a time window within which to order to ensure a speedy, free or next day delivery
  • Employ persistence – let customers keep things in their basket. So even if they abandon today they can come back later and pick up where they left off
  • Make it easy to create an account and save items and personal details
  • Offer forms of social validation and customer ratings. This may not apply in all cases but it can help customers build trust in the brand, the sales process and in their selection. It helps to reduce doubt and insecurity as a potential reason to abandon
  • See if you can implement a one-click purchase process, or at least a super streamlined process. This only works well for sites where customers are making regular or habitual purchases, but it again reduces customer burden.

Be Realistic

At the end of the day be realistic. People abandon for many reasons. Getting the basic usability right and using motivators and reassurance measures will reduce the likelihood of abandonment but it will not eliminate it.

In a study by Amaze and Glasgow University into Amazon shoppers, presented at the IEEE Conference on Commerce and Enterprise Computing event in 2009, we found that you can categorise customers into three types:

  • Vague (42.6 per cent), who had the highest intention to purchase and lowest abandonment rates, but when they did abandon it was because they either sought external reassurance from a friend, or wanted longer to think about the purchase, or just changed their mind
  • Cost conscious (41.7 per cent), would cite reasons such as postage costs being too high or a cheaper alternative found elsewhere
  • Finally, window shoppers (15.7 per cent), who had the weakest intention to purchase and would most frequently abandon. They are the not likely to purchase even if an item is placed in the shopping basket.

Even the most exemplary e-commerce sites that employ all the usability best practice, the trust inducement techniques and constantly test and refine their process see levels of abandonment, which is an important point to recognise – you can’t eliminate it completely.

Do your best, and do not let usability issues that can easily be resolved be the reasons for abandonment. At the same time accept that approximately 15% of your abandonment may simply be down to ‘window shopper’ behaviour. Focus on addressing the abandonment issues of the ‘vague’ shoppers and if you can compete on cost and delivery charges then assure the concerns of the ‘cost conscious’ shoppers.