12 min read

Digital shopping cart abandoned: What is it and why is it an issue?

Ve Global
Ve Global
Digital Revenue Optimisation
Digital shopping cart abandoned: What is it and why is it an issue?
Why do customers abandone their digital shopping carts?

If you run an ecommerce store, you will have had potential customers visit your website, add items to their cart and then leave without making a purchase. These types of site visitors are called cart abandoners. They fill up their carts, only to leave them abandoned rather than completing the checkout process.

Shopping cart abandonment affects all online retailers. That’s why it’s a complex issue—and why we’re going to explore it in-depth along the lines of these topics.

What is shopping cart abandonment?

Shopping cart abandonment is an issue affecting ecommerce businesses worldwide from the smallest startup to online giants like Amazon. While UK and Europe-based ecommerce shops have a lower average abandonment rate, that rate still exceeds 70%. That’s over two-thirds of all carts.

Two thirds of all carts get abandoned. It bears repeating, and is why the issue of shoppers filling their digital baskets only to leave without making a purchase is worth looking at more closely.

Different types of abandonment

When it comes to ecommerce shopping, the type of cart abandonment described above is the most familiar. Onlineretailers, though, sell all manner of things, from vacations to shoes to painting classes.

Of course, this means that there are also different types of abandonment. The three most common ones are booking, browse, and form abandonment.

Booking abandonment

The travel industry has the third-highest abandonment rate of all industries, at just over 80%. Given that many travel transactions are based on booking trips and holidays, booking abandonment affects this industry perhaps more than any other (save maybe events).

Customers who engage in booking abandonment will often have selected the dates for their trip. Sometimes, they get as far as choosing a flight and hotel package by the time they abandon carts.

The trouble with bookings is that they depend on more external (customer-related) factors than any physical product.

For example, let’s say you’re a customer looking to book a five-day vacation for yourself, your spouse, and your two children. You’d have to plan around school holidays, your and your partners’ jobs, everybody’s preferences, and the jet lag that would come with entering a new time zone—to say nothing of hotel room availability and good flight connections.

A sudden change in even one of those factors could make you abandon a booking at a moment’s notice. Maybe you can no longer take those days off; maybe one of your children wants to stay home to study; maybe the flight you wanted has filled up and the only other option involves a long layover.

All of those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to booking abandonment reasons.

Browse abandonment

Some of the people that leave abandoned carts in their wake never actually intended to make a purchase. They were just browsing and building a wishlist—which is why the specific abandonment they contribute to is called browse abandonment.

The thing to keep in mind about these people is that they’re more than just site visitors. Each one of them was interested enough in your product(s) that they spent time browsing your page.

That makes all of them potential customers; they’re already interested in what you have to offer. All you need to do is work on your conversion rate optimisation, and before you know it, your browse abandoners will actually come to represent promising leads.

Form abandonment

Have you ever tried to fill out any kind of insurance form online? They tend to be long, tedious, and time-consuming, which is exactly why form abandonment is another common type of abandonment.

Of course, not every form is connected with insurance, nor are all forms hundreds of pages long. Still, length is incredibly important when it comes to avoiding form abandonment. Removing a single form field can boost your conversions rates by 26% for example.

How to calculate the impact of shopping cart abandonment

We’ve seen that shopping carts are often abandoned, and we’ve looked at some common types of abandonment. Next, we’re going to delve into how you can easily determine your business’ shopping cart abandonment rate.

As it turns out, this is quite easy to do, provided you have the numbers ready. All you need to do is plug your total number of orders completed and number of checkouts initiated into the formula below:

1 - # of orders completed divided by # of checkouts initiated x 100

The result will be a percentage that shows you how many of the site visitors that made it to your checkout page actually completed their order.

This percentage shows you how many sales you could have made, which goes a long way to indicating the impact of abandoned shopping carts. All of those lost sales represent lost leads as well, though, meaning that if they had made their purchase, they might have become two-time customers or even loyalists.

It’s difficult to calculate the exact impact of abandoned carts—it’s always bigger than it looks.

Is a high shopping cart abandonment rate a problem?

The short answer is simply “yes”.

While shopping cart abandonment on its own is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the online retail experience you offer, a high abandonment rate is still problematic for a few reasons.

Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, each abandoned cart represents lost revenue.

While UK-based online shoppers are less prone to abandoning carts than US-based ones, since non-US customers are typically more responsive to cart abandonment emails and personalisation strategies, it’s still fair to say that a loss of $18 billion in USD would at least translate to £10 billion in lost revenue. That’s 10 billion pounds that are being missed out on.

Aside from lost sales, abandoned carts are also a problem for marketers. They represent marketing strategies that almost succeeded, but failed at the critical tipping point. In other words, they indicate that your marketing team’s current plan isn’t working as intended.

Speaking pessimistically, a high abandonment rate could also hint that your store isn’t appealing enough to online shoppers. That means more work is necessary to make it more attractive.

Top six reasons shopping carts are abandoned

Researching but not yet ready to buy

Did you know that according to Statista 68% of online shoppers will research a product on Google before buying it? These kinds of potential customers are likely to fill up shopping carts across competitor websites to help them compare your products with your competitors’.

Until they see that your products are clearly superior (wink, wink), they won’t be ready to make a final purchase.

If your products impress these researchers at this stage, they’ll be more likely to come back to you once they’ve made up their minds about purchasing.

Unexpected shipping costs and complicated delivery

This is one of the most common reasons behind cart abandonment, in addition to being perhaps the most multifaceted one. Sometimes, customers will turn away from products they do really want purely because of high shipping costs.

However, it’s also true that high delivery costs are more acceptable when they’re provided upfront.

Hidden costs that get tacked on late in the checkout process make it hard to calculate the total price a customer will be paying for their product(s), which discourages them from making a purchase.

One thing any online store has to reckon with is product delivery. If the delivery times you offer are too slow, customers are more likely to take their business elsewhere. The graphic above shows that nearly half of all customers would abandon an online shopping cart if delivery times took too long.

Lack of payment options

There is no one type of payment that suits every customer. The more payment methods you offer, the more likely you are to include a given shopper’s preferred option.

While card payments were the most popular payment option in 2019, this option only accounted for just over half of all payments made to ecommerce businesses that year. That means that any business that didn’t offer any other payment options would’ve missed out on almost half of their potential sales.

It follows, then, that ecommerce stores offering fewer payment options are going to see more abandoned shopping carts.

For example, let’s say you want to buy something online, and you’ve already narrowed things down to two retailers. You’d like to make the purchase using PayPal or to pay with instalments with Klarna. Only one of the retailers offers that option. In that situation, you’d buy from the retailer that has your preferred payment option available, while leaving the other shopping cart abandoned.

Poor website performance

Imagine you’re a customer who’s set on making a purchase, but who’s also in a rush. You open your chosen web store and are met with a loading screen that keeps you waiting for a full minute, then another.

You’re still in a rush, and you haven’t even had a chance to click on your chosen product yet. Would you sit and wait some more, knowing you have other places to be, or close the tab in frustration?

As you can imagine, long load times are not very conducive to securing purchases. They’re associated with poor website performance, and they have a consistently negative impact on the user experience.

Confusing checkout process

The last thing an ecommerce site should have is a complicated checkout. The more confusing or complicated your checkout process is, the worse the checkout experience will be for your customers which leads to them not wanting to be your customers.

Checking out should be quick and easy. When you add extra (unnecessary) steps, you’ll only frustrate your site visitors.

Consider it this way: No potential customer heads into the checkout process because they love checking out. What they want is to get through the process quickly and move straight into owning your products.

The more you stick to the basics and avoid overcomplicating things, the faster your site visitors can become customers. If they’re having to waste time being confused, they might become too frustrated to complete the checkout process—which leads to more abandoned carts.

Poor customer support

It’s no secret that no one likes to receive poor support. Companies that don’t support their customers adequately make it easier for the competition to snatch those customers away. Likewise, page viewers that can’t get their questions answered will want to look for competitors that can meet their needs.

But there’s more to it than even that. Providing good customer support can do more than just retain customers and draw in leads. It can, and almost always does, increase revenue.

The opposite is also true. Poor customer service decreases revenue. This is true in no small part due to the fact that it directly leads to an increase in the number of abandoned carts.

11 ways to avoid abandoned digital shopping carts

Be transparent about costs

Unexpected extra costs (especially ones related to shipping) are a factor in driving shopping cart abandonment, as we’ve discussed previously. The best way to avoid surprising your customers with those extra costs is to be upfront about them.

Sometimes, additional charges do need to be tacked on to the total price of a product and its shipment costs. It’s unavoidable. What you can do is tell your customers clearly which charges are going to be added, and why.

Better yet, you can offer a breakdown of the pricing on your product pages. That way, customers know what they’re getting into and you get to boast total transparency.

Simple shipping options

There’s a reason why high shipping costs are a leading cause behind abandoned carts.

Consumers in today’s world are conditioned to free shipping. Expensive shipping costs are the antithesis of free shipping.

The best thing you can do is offer free shipping. If that’s not feasible for all orders, you can provide the option for free shipping only on orders that exceed a certain value.

In case you can’t offer any free shipping, you should still make an effort to provide clear and simple shipping choices. Giving your customers a standard and an express option, for example, keeps things simple while still catering to different needs (cheap prices versus speed).

Personalise the shopping experience

When you make the shopping experience feel unique to each user, they’ll be more likely to complete their purchases with you. That’s because personalisation is a tactic that helps individual customers feel valued and seen.

Personalisation means treating customers as individuals rather than as faceless entities. This is important to the vast majority of online shoppers, as shown by the fact that they’re willing to share their personal data in exchange for a more personalised experience.

A great way to provide that unique, personalised experience to your customers is to employ a Digital Assistant, like Ve’s. These tools are designed to function as a personal shopping assistant for anyone visiting your website.

In other words, by using an assistant like Ve, you can offer personalised support to all of your site visitors. That means boosting your sales while ensuring that all your customers feel valued.

Offer diverse payment options

We’ve seen that providing too few payment options can drive customers away and make them turn to competitors. The simplest way to counteract this is to offer as many diverse payment options as you can.

Your goal is to target the maximum number of potential customers. If there’s even a small chance that someone out there can only pay you via Apple Pay, for example, you don’t want to leave that customer feeling excluded, or force them to take an extra risk by using a payment method they’re not comfortable with.

When it comes to payment options, it can also be a good idea to offer to remember customers’ details. That way, they won’t have to have their debit or credit cards to hand the next time they shop with you.

Have a great return policy

You’d hope that your product is so fantastic that no one ever wants to return it, but unfortunately that isn’t a realistic wish. Customers might return items for all kinds of reasons

Have a great return policy

You’d hope that your product is so fantastic that no one ever wants to return it, but unfortunately that isn’t a realistic wish. Customers might return items for all kinds of reasons. You’ve got to make sure your return policy is flexible, fair, and lenient.

Flexibility means you’ll cater to a wide range of customers. The longer your return period, the more people will feel comfortable ordering your items. After all, if they’re unsuitable for any reason, they can still return them for ages after making the purchase.

Fair policies don’t put arbitrary restrictions on what customers can and can’t return. If you only accept broken or damaged goods for returns, you’ll force customers who aren’t satisfied with your products to keep them around or discard them. That’s no way to make a good impression.

Leniency means you’re going to favour the needs of the customer. Maybe someone couldn’t return an item within the usual window because they ordered it, then went on vacation before it arrived. A lenient policy would see you still accepting that return.

All of these essentially revolve around making the return policy as attractive to customers as possible, which reduces the risk customers take when they purchase your products.

Improve checkout process

Having too many steps in your checkout process can discourage people from becoming your customers and disrupt your checkout flow, as we’ve seen already. However, there’s more to the checkout story than that.

For example, did you know that over one-third of customers in a recent survey said that having no access to a guest checkout option made them abandon their cart?

By not providing the option for a guest checkout, you’re alienating all of these customers.

Not everyone wants to have to create an account right away when they go to purchase a new item. Being forced to do so can make them feel pressured to commit to your company in ways they don’t want to. That’s risky—you don’t want to come across like a business that pressures its customers.

You can avoid all of this (and improve your checkout flow) by adding a guest checkout option. If you impress your customers, they may come back and become loyalists on their own.

Optimise website performance

You want your website to run smoothly all the time, across all devices. The more you focus on website optimisation, the better any given customer’s experience navigating it will be.

Some of the ways in which you can improve the way your website runs include removing distracting pop-ups, checking to make sure it loads quickly even with a poor internet connection, and ensuring it works well on many different kinds of devices.

You should also consider how people are finding your website. If you’re running digital ads, connected media can make it easy for viewers of those ads on social media platforms or elsewhere to become customers on your site.

Another important aspect of your website performance that’s worth working on is SEO (search engine optimisation). This refers to how highly your web pages rank when people look up relevant search terms.

For example, if you’ve got a page about guided selling, you’d want that page to show up when people search for “ecommerce selling”, “guided selling”, “guided sales assistant”, and so forth.

Enhance mobile experience

Many websites are designed to be accessed using a laptop or desktop computer. That’s great when your site visitors are using those devices and not so great when they’re trying to view your page from their phones.

If your website is designed to be just as easy to use on a mobile device as on a laptop, you’re going to make it easier for a lot of customers to shop with you. Mobile optimisation could mean anything from building a dedicated mobile site to performing some A/B testing to check how different site elements work on various devices.

However you do it, make sure mobile users are well catered for. They’ll be able to place orders on the go, and also won’t have to get a secondary device to complete a purchase. Something which inevitably leads to fewer abandoned carts.

Include product snippets

Some customers will be looking to buy lots of things at once, which is a wonderful thing, of course! Enough of these customers will push your AOV (average order value) up, as well as positively impacting your performance with regards to other metrics.

However, when customers have shopping carts piled high with lots of different goods, they’ll have an easier time losing track of what each individual product is.

That’s where product snippets come in.

By including a little snippet detailing what each item is, you can remind customers exactly why they chose those items to begin with. That means they’ll be less tempted to abandon a full cart.

If they need to add or remove specific items, product snippets will also help them find those more easily.

Include progress indicator

It can be stressful to start a process (especially checkouts or forms) and have no clue how long it’s going to take. That adds uncertainty into the process, which means raising the potential for customers to consider it a risk.

To avoid all of that, you can include a progress indicator in the shopping process.

The clearer you can make it how far a customer has made it through the process (and how many steps are left before the items they want are theirs), the less risky or onerous that process seems.

Build trust in transactions

One hurdle that all ecommerce shops face is the fact that customers have to take a risk and  trust them with personal details. Whether that’s in the form of their home address, credit card information, both, or more besides—customers need to know they can trust your company with these details.

Perhaps the most important trust-related area is that of transactions. If a customer feels your website is unreliable in any way, they will not be keen to hand over their payment details.

To counteract this, you’ve got to build trust in the transaction process.

For example, you might include a bank verification step in your payment process. That way, customers know their bank has approved any transactions between them and your business.

Including social proof, such as customer testimonials, can also help when it comes to building trust. When it’s clear to see that other people have had positive interactions with your website, customers will have an easier time trusting you with their details.

Tips to recover abandoned shopping carts

Keeping customers from abandoning carts is only half of the battle. There are times when nothing can stop customers from leaving their carts behind, but that doesn’t mean their journey with your business has to end there.

You can incorporate cart recovery into your sales strategy to give your sales a boost. Let’s look at some of the best ways you can set about recovering abandoned shopping carts.

Reactive site engagement tools like Digital Assistant

Digital Assistant helps keep carts from getting abandoned. It’s fantastic at recovering those carts, because it can flexibly tailor the help it provides to the needs of any individual customer.

To understand how helpful a Digital Assistant can be, let’s take a look at what online shoppers did after abandoning their carts, and how Digital Assistant tools can address those actions.

Reactive site engagement tools like Digital Assistant

Digital Assistant helps keep carts from getting abandoned. It’s fantastic at recovering those carts, because it can flexibly tailor the help it provides to the needs of any individual customer.

To understand how helpful a Digital Assistant can be, let’s take a look at what online shoppers did after abandoning their carts, and how Digital Assistant tools can address those actions.

Coming back to make a purchase from the same online retailer often means that customers were either still doing research, or that they had unanswered questions about the product(s). Reactive Digital Assistants can help get that research done right away, as well as providing helpful resources to answer any questions.

That eliminates the problem of customers not being ready to buy right away.

When it comes to consumers who turned to competitors for the same products, Digital Assistants are a great tool as well. That’s because they can personalise the customer experience, ensuring that individuals feel valued and are inclined to remain with your brand.

As an added bonus, this element of personalisation makes your ecommerce store far more attractive than any physical shop. That means the (already small) percentage of people that opted for in-person retail no longer have a reason to do so.

Digital Assistant tools can’t force customers to buy items they were never going to spend money on. They can, however, feed this kind of information back to your company. That way, you’ll know that those site visitors aren’t leads, but just that: Visitors.

Send cart abandonment emails

One of the most effective ways to encourage customers to come back to a cart they’ve left behind is to send them cart abandonment emails.

These emails remind customers of what they’re passing up on. They can be very simple; all you need to include in them is a list of the items that were in the cart, and a quick message. Something along the lines of “don’t miss this deal/these items” will usually suffice.

As it turns out, over 40% of all abandoned cart emails that are sent out, wind up being opened.

In other words, you have a roughly 40% chance that your would-be customers are going to see your abandoned cart emails. If even half of those emails lead to recovered carts, then you’re giving yourself a considerable boost in sales just by reaching out in this way.

SMS reminders or callbacks

Reminding your cart abandoners of the things they could have purchased works, as we’ve seen, when it comes to sending emails. So why not try it through other avenues as well?

SMS is a particularly valuable choice, since 48% of customers prefer to hear from companies via SMS, compared to less than half as many who prefer emails.

Callbacks can also be a useful way to ensure more carts are recovered.

A key advantage that comes with callbacks is the fact that they involve instant responses. If a customer wants to resolve any queries, they can do so right away, without having to wait and see whether anyone will get back to them.

As an added bonus, SMS reminders and callbacks can only happen with the customer’s consent. No customer would leave their phone number unless they were happy to be contacted via that number. That means your agents will likely see fewer rejections, and more of your carts will get picked back up.

Use in-app notification

The graphic above shows that 20% of customers wanted to be contacted via in-app notifications. We’ve also established already that more people access websites using mobile devices than any other types of technology.

What this tells us is that in-app notifications have the power to reach—and sway—a lot of people.

You might program your app to send notifications about items left in a cart for a long time. Another option is to ensure the app stores shopping carts that would otherwise have been abandoned, so that users can access (and recover) them anytime they return to the app. A notification can be sent to remind them of that cart anytime they reopen the app.

Use power of retargeting ads

If you’ve never heard of retargeting ads, you’ve been missing out on the chance to recover lots of abandoned shopping carts that might otherwise have been lost forever.

“Retargeting” is the term used for showing your ads to visitors who have clicked away from your website. For example, if they were on your site and are now on Facebook, they’d find themselves scrolling past one of your ads in their feed.

This strategy has massive potential to draw consumers back towards you, and, as an added bonus, it tends to go over well with customers as well.

When you use retargeting ads, you’re guaranteeing that your brand will stay in a potential customer’s mind.

To show you how effective retargeting can be, let’s look at an example. Say you sell stationary in your online store, and someone’s been visiting your site to look at your notebooks. They’ve added your items to a shopping cart, and maybe they’ve even gotten as far as starting the checkout process but they ended up abandoning their cart.

You sent them a follow-up email, but unfortunately they didn’t open it. Before they left, they only gave you their email address—no phone number, meaning you can’t call or SMS them.

Now what?

It might be tempting to say that, alas, that’s a sale you won’t be making. That would not necessarily be correct, and it would be a bad attitude besides. Instead, you can use zero-party data on browsing activity to go down the retargeting route.

Now, whenever that person goes on Instagram to procrastinate, they’ll come across your beautiful notebooks. Keep in mind that they’ve already come this close to buying those notebooks in the past—how long can they continue to resist the siren song of lovely stationery?

Every time they see your ads, they’ll think of those notebooks they nearly bought. And each time that happens, they come that little bit closer to saying yes instead of no.


Once you understand why consumers abandon their shopping carts, it becomes much easier to plan accordingly. That plan should come in three parts.

First, there’s the research. What’s stopping your site visitors from becoming paying customers?

In this first stage, the goal should be to learn as much as you can about customers’ behaviour while they’re on your ecommerce website. It’s easy to gather this information when you’re using a personal shopping assistant that can both help your customers, and give you insight into the patterns that they adopt.

The next step is to prevent as many cases of cart abandonment as you can. This usually takes the form of translating the data you gathered in the first stage into workable actions.

For example, if your customers keep leaving your website because it won’t load, you can use that knowledge to prioritise website redesign. By addressing each factor driving customers to abandon their shopping carts, you get to boost your sales and reduce abandonment rates.

Finally, you’ve got to address the carts that do get abandoned.

Each abandoned cart represents lost capital, and should be treated accordingly. You’ll want to send reminders to customers letting them know you’ve still got their items in the cart, ready for whenever they want to come back and make their purchase. Retargeting ads is another powerful tactic for recovering abandoned carts.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is an abandoned shopping cart?

Online shopping usually involves adding your desired items to a virtual shopping cart, then taking that cart through the checkout process. Abandoned shopping carts are digital carts that are left full of items, without ever seeing the other end of the checkout process.

Why does shopping cart abandonment matter?

Any shopping cart that’s left abandoned isn’t contributing to your revenue.

In fact, it isn’t contributing to anything. All it’s doing is sitting there, unpurchased, taken off the shelf, but not to the cashier (or digital equivalent).

From a business standpoint, abandoned carts represent missed opportunities. Items that are put into a cart, but never bought, aren’t selling successfully. Customers who abandon shopping carts were, for whatever reason, not quite convinced by your product(s).

A high shopping cart abandonment rate means you’ve got to put in extra work to drive potential customers to purchase your items.

Why are shopping carts abandoned?

Cart abandonment happens for many different reasons. Sometimes, customers need more time to research items before making a final purchase, for example.

Other times, customers came to your store intending to browse, not to actually make a purchase. That’s why they won’t carry out the actual purchase, although they may still put together a hypothetical shopping cart.

It’s also possible that the driving force behind the cart abandonment is frustration. For example, customers trying to navigate websites on their phones that aren’t designed to be accessed from a mobile device might quit before purchasing because they’re getting fed up.

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