Fix Your Retail Site to Curb Abandoned Cart Syndrome

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Picture this: You walk into your favorite store and the aisles are clogged with half-full carts. Miscellaneous items clutter the shelves. There are a handful of shoppers, far fewer than you would expect in this mess. They mosey through linens, picking up then replacing every throw pillow that sparkles, debating the merits of each sequined atrocity but never reaching checkout. This scene begs the question -- are the owners selling anything?

This is the scene that many online retailers face. Though many elements separate online and in-store shopping experiences, shopping cart abandonment has a particularly large effect on e-retailers. Whereas brick-and-mortar shoppers are unlikely to become distracted and leave the store, online shoppers can and do switch stores with just a couple clicks. Comparison tools make e-shopping around even more tempting to consumers.

Online retailers depend on shopper-to-buyer conversions, yet 97 percent of website visits don't end with a purchase. What can e-retailers do to stop the bleed?

1. Keep it Simple

Since sales define a for-profit organization, one would assume that a business would design its web platform for ease of purchase. This is undoubtedly the goal, and many sites are tested extensively to ensure that users can easily purchase. But ease of purchase is still a long way off for how many e-commerce sites.

An example of design done right: Uber is a ridesharing app that connects taxi drivers with those in need of a ride and removes physical payment from driver-rider transactions. The app saves the user's credit card number, eliminating the hassle of paying the driver in-person or entering payment information before each ride. Realizing customers cannot simultaneously hold their cellphones and enter credit card data, Uber developed a payment system that is user-friendly and convenient. Two clicks, and I’ve purchased. Why can’t purchasing be this simple on all websites?

Liability seems to be the chief argument made against saving user information -- understandably many retailers figure the convenience to shoppers isn't worth the risk of a breach. They couldn't be further from the truth. Businesses that securely save customers' payment information are currently outselling competitors big time, especially on mobile devices. Storing user data is not a question of if, but when. The sooner your e-commerce site gets on board, the better.

2. Look Trustworthy and Be It, Too

We can't all be Nike, Starbucks or Apple. Even so, trustworthiness is a relevant point for bigger brands. SeeWhy found that 40 percent of people still do not feel comfortable shopping online, period. For mobile shopping that number jumps to 80 percent.

Assuming you're not a global brand, how do you overcome the credibility issue? Demonstrating authority, social proof and/or scarcity can help a smaller e-retailer overcome doubts, get the conversion and in the process build a reputation.

Authority is the ability to leverage independent authority that customers will recognize, which infers credibility on you. For example, if your site has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, then leveraging that onsite helps to increase your credibility. Independent experts and reviews of your product, awards and expert testimonial all help to convey that you should be trusted.

Social proof is a form of authority automatically generated by consumer action, and customers are reassured by the popularity of your brand and products. Its value lies in its irrefutability -- if an individual downloads your e-book, or reviews your product, one person found your product worth buying. But interestingly the number of reviews is much more influential than the overall review score: consumers are convinced more by the popularity of the product because they know that some customers will always dislike some attributes of any product. In fact, negative reviews can often be really helpful in driving conversions, as long as the overall sentiment is positive.

Facebook "likes" operate in a similar manner -- "likers" publicly declare the content engaging. Consumer confidence grows with sales and "likes." Highlighting sales and social media helps lesser-known companies reassure wary customers.

Scarcity is another opportunity to establish trust. It's a basic tenet of human nature to want what we can't have. Nowhere is this desire for the unattainable more evident than the retail space. While low inventory slows sales, it can also drive up consumer trust. You may not need a new pair of athletic shoes, but when you see that a retailer has one pair of Air Jordans left in size 11, things change. If other people trusted the site enough to shop there, clearly you should snag the kicks now before someone else does. Scarcity is the inverse of social proof -- it suggests trustworthiness by implying purchases have occurred, however, it functions in the same way.

3. Make the Journey Easy

Mobile represents 20 percent of transactions, but transactions comprise less than 3 percent of visits. We've explored a host of reasons shoppers leave their carts on the assumption that abandonment always translates to a missed sale. But sometimes a lonely cart isn't the end of the story. The number one reason a consumer leaves a site is because they are not ready to purchase … yet.

We like to think of online shopping as a journey, a series of sessions and touches in which the shopper might see an ad, visit a site and talk to a friend before making a decision. We've found that, on average, it takes five touches across 2.5 channels to secure a conversion. A nudge between the first and second visit makes conversion nine times more likely if the customer returns.

In a world where people are using 2.6 devices on average and 72 percent of e-commerce opportunities are gone in twelve hours, it's important that consumers can shop seamlessly over several devices. Fortunately, email remarketing technology glues together the experience, enabling shoppers to move seamlessly between phones, tablets and computers by reconstructing their shopping carts. This technology, which allows consumers to pick up where they left off in a previous session on a different device, is a game-changer for companies trying to create a seamless experience.

That experience is the key to increasing conversions. The most effective e-retailers prioritize simplicity, credibility and convenience on their web platforms. A renewed focus on customer experience can drive sales by making checkout quick, easy and distraction-free. Just imagine how clearing our imaginary store of abandoned shopping carts could impact the company's bottom line.

Title by Gabriel Radic (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license