The Shopping Cart Blues: Reckless Abandonment?

In those halcyon, early days of e-commerce, it was all about eyeballs. But would they buy?

Who knows? Who cares?

The market answered those questions. Clearly, “eyeballs” joined the “Macarena,” grunge music, those Industry Standard rooftop parties and Dennis Rodman's tie-dyed hair as quaint memories of the roaring '90s. Today, sophisticated marketing technologies that marry targeting, contextual offers and search engines are ensuring that the right customers get to your Web site.

Getting shoppers through the cash register. Once you have targeted the right offers to customers, and even gotten them to place items into their shopping cart, what if they just don't buy? It's the equivalent of a customer with a cart full of groceries getting into the express lane at Safeway, then inexplicably dropping everything and sprinting from the store. Is he going across the street to Albertson's? Coming back in 12 hours to pick up his items from the floor? Going home?

In the online realm, shopping cart abandonment continues to plague the industry. A recent Forrester Research survey indicated that though conversion rates are rising for Web-based retailers, 49 percent of shopping carts were abandoned before the purchase was completed, a figure that continues to rise year-over-year. And while “usability” long has been considered the key deal breaker, recent surveys have downplayed its importance: one recent study pegged it as causing only 10 percent of abandoned sales.

Understanding why prospects abandon shopping carts is critical so that marketers can address prospects' concerns, increase conversion rates and improve sales. There are steps companies can take to minimize abandonment or determine its cause:

· If they leave, ask why. Online shopping cart abandonment surveys are easier to implement than many marketers think. The best time to learn why a shopping cart has been abandoned is when a visitor leaves the purchase page without pressing the “Purchase Now” or “Submit” buttons. Offering a short pop-up survey is a quick way to get valuable feedback at the “point of abandonment.”

· Use Web analytics to fine-tune the shopping process. Predictive Web analytics, which combine data mining with sophisticated Web analytics, let companies segment online shoppers by behavior patterns to better identify, understand and target those with a propensity to buy — essentially turning visitors into dollars.

Unlike the simple Web metrics many organizations use, such as page counts and unique visitors, predictive Web analytics distinguish characteristics between browsers and buyers, letting businesses more efficiently develop and deliver tailored e-commerce programs as well as marketing and e-mail campaigns.

· Reduce the number of steps required to make a purchase. Complexity is the bane of e-commerce, particularly for impulse buys. If a shopper needs to log in, get a new password or complete required fields for seemingly irrelevant personal data, or if there are limited instructions, help features or telephone numbers to guide the customer, then the customer is lost, either to confusion or to thoughts as to whether he really needs a particular item. Acquiring new customers is much harder than selling to loyal ones. Don't make site registration an obstacle.

· Provide shipping timeframes and costs early in the process — during the browsing phase, not the checkout phase. Many studies peg frustrations with shipping (costs and times) as a leading reason for cart abandonment. One Jupiter survey showed that as many as 63 percent of U.S. online shoppers failed to complete transactions as a result of their distrust of shipping and handling charges.

· Don't make usability the deterrent. Online shopping, on the whole, has been fine-tuned over the past half-decade to where this should be obvious. Don't make users scroll to find an “update” key in the cart. Have all requisite product information at their fingertips. Give users the ability to access their cart from anywhere on the site.

The wheat has been separated from the online commerce chaff: pet food and furniture aren't going to be profitable on the Web, no matter what. However, the potential remains huge, and growing — upward of $95 billion in 2003. Common sense, excellence in customer service and intelligent mining of the data that marketers have already compiled are keys to reaping these benefits.

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