Cart Abandonment: What Makes Potential Customers Jump Ship?

Sam Rose - Head of Content

Sam Rose

29th May 2015

Whether you are an online clothes retailer, a travel agency or a psychology expert trying to sell your first eBook, the purpose of your website will ultimately be to turn visitors into customers. For many businesses this means customers complete an online transaction - adding a product to their basket, proceeding to your checkout page and paying for the item. But some users don’t quite make it that far – leaving their basket, and your product, abandoned at sea.

Cart abandonment refers to instances when users have added an item to their basket and then left the website without completing the purchase. This could be at any time between selecting the product and submitting payment details to complete the purchase. Let’s take a look at what makes customers abandon shop, and how to get them back on board.

Why Don’t Customers Complete Their Purchases?

Problem: Technical Issues

There are a lot of things that can make your customers change their mind about buying from you. Don’t get in your own way by adding technical problems to that list. Just as road works, a traffic accident or a herd of sheep in the road would make a driver turn their car around and drive  a different route to their destination, any technical problems with your website will interfere with your customers’ journey. But unlike driving, when you can turn around and try a different route, there is often no alternative for getting your customers through the checkout. There is only one way to get through your checkout process, and if that way is blocked people will have to shop elsewhere. Maybe if they really want to shop with you they will call you or try again later, but if they’ve never shopped with you before, they’ll probably just go somewhere else and label you in their mind as The Site With The Broken Checkout.

How To Find Out If This Is A Problem: Check Google Analytics to see if there is a point during your checkout process where people suddenly drop off the site. Perhaps there are many page visits for the billing address page, but numbers dramatically decrease for the next part of the payment process. That where your problem could be.

Fix It: Do some thorough testing to make sure your checkout process is in ship shape from beginning to end. Test it in all popular web browsers and for multiple products and scenarios. Fix any problems you run into.

Problem: Difficult Navigation & Usability

If your customers can’t find the checkout or are unsure of how to complete their purchase, this can be just as damaging as the website not working at all. Pages with no instructions or calls to action, buttons or links that don’t lead where users would expect, and cluttered, difficult to understand pages can all make the user feel confused and out of control.

How To Find Out If This Is A Problem: Use Analytics to look for pages where many users drop off, as well as pages users spend a longer time on than they should need to – they may be spending a long time there because they are unsure of how to proceed. Another way to find it is to ask friends and family unfamiliar to the website to try and buy something (promising to refund them of course!). Seeing where someone unfamiliar with the website struggles can really be a lifeline.

Fix It: Ensure each page makes it clear what the user must do next and how to do it, with clearly labelled buttons that accurately describe the pages they lead to. You may even need to change the layout, content or design of your page to make it easier to understand. If you are unsure, get some (different) people who are not familiar with your website to make a test purchase and give you their opinion of your checkout process.

Problem: Unexpected Charges

Customers don’t like nasty surprises. If they get as far as being asked for their billing details before being told about any additional charges, or if the postage costs are much higher than they expected, they may abandon their purchase. It simply wasn’t what they were expecting. Best case scenario, they will want the product enough to go ahead with the purchase anyway, but feel a little miffed that it is costing them more than they had first thought. Worst case scenario, they think you weren’t being transparent enough in your product description pages, feel deceived and decide not to return.

How To Find Out If This Is A Problem: Check your product descriptions or other appropriate pages for inaccurate or missing information. Even a small notice of additional charges or shipping costs can help manage customer expectations.

Fix It: Ensure customers are made aware of the postage costs and any additional charges before they get to the checkout. If you’re clear about costs and what customers expect, they will be less likely to abandon their cart.

Problem: Trust Issues

People can be a little jumpy if they have never purchased from a particular website before. How do they know whether you’re a reputable company or if you’re going to take their money without ever sending them the product?

How To Find Out If This Is A Problem: There are many aspects of a website that suggest whether or not it can be trusted, and gaining customer trust is a whole other blog post entirely. However, some things you could think about include whether or not the checkout process has a secure SSL connection, if the website design and copy looks and sounds professional, or if there are any positive or negative reviews of the company elsewhere on the internet. Additionally, if you belong to any professional bodies or are similarly certified by trusted companies, let you customers know!

Fix It: Ensure your website looks professional and your copy lets people know about the great service you offer and why they should trust you. The checkout process should be secure and everything should work correctly. Customer testimonials also work wonders at building trust.

Problem: Long Forms or Signup Process

Customers don’t always want to sign up with your website to make a purchase. They may only be planning to make this single purchase with you, so why should they have to spend time filling out their date of birth, gender and secret question just to buy a teddy bear for their niece? A shopkeeper on the high street wouldn’t ask all these questions, and it wouldn’t take as long, either.

How To Find Out If This Is A Problem: If your form asks more questions than you should need to ask for taking a payment and send out the product, then this could be a problem. Ask yourself, if this was you, would you give this extra information to a stranger without being told why?

Fix It: Do users really need to create an account to make a purchase with you? Can’t they just give you their address and card details and be done with it? Give them the option, and make the forms only as long as they need to be. You could also show customers how far along the checkout process they are, so that they know they only have a page or two left to complete.

Choice of Courier

There are other reasons why people might decide not to make a purchase. Perhaps they don’t like the delivery method you use. A certain courier company springs to mind who I tend to avoid where possible. They will remain nameless, but let's just say throwing packages over fences or leaving expensive electrical items in plain sight between two wheelie bins does not constitute proper delivery as far as I’m concerned, so I avoid retailers who use this particular delivery company wherever possible. Of course you can’t satisfy everyone, but when a company has had many, many bad reviews and complaints, you may want to rethink your postage options.

Undecided Customers

Of course there is one other thing we haven’t talked about that you just can’t control – people simply may not have made a purchasing decision yet. You could write a brilliant product description with detailed images and have a well-established website with a great design but you will probably still get a certain amount of cart abandonment. Sometimes people simply put the product in their basket before they’ve fully made up their minds, or they’ll get distracted by something else, or have to cut their visit short. The majority of people who abandon their carts do actually return to the website (as shown in this handy infographic from

Bringing Customers Back To Your Website

Abandoned Cart Emails

The trick is to bring people back to the website once they’ve left. You could do this by sending out an email to the customer, reminding them that the product is in their basket and letting them know where they can get more help or information if they need it.

You could also give the customer a gentle push by mentioning that the product may go out of stock if they don’t order soon, or entice them with a discount or free shipping.

Finally, asking customers to fill out a short survey about why they didn’t purchase the product could help you to understand why people aren’t making a purchase straight away. This also shows customers that you are willing to listen to their opinions and make changes to your products or business to suit your customers.

Of course, you will need your customer’s email address to do all this, which you may not have available, depending how far they got before leaving the checkout process.


A remarketing campaign is another alternative to bringing customers back to your website. Remarketing adverts appear on websites your users are browsing, reminding them of you and the products they were looking at, and giving them an opportunity to click through and visit again.

If you would like some inspiration for enticing customers back to your website, here are some great examples of abandoned cart emails.

As always, any of the issues above could seem insignificant at first glance, but they're likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Spending a little time working out whether you need to change course now can save you from titanic mistakes in the future – and we're here to help.

For help with any conversion rate optimisation issues, contact Neil to find out how SilverDisc can help you navigate the rough seas of web design.

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