[A news anchor reads] “Shopping baskets are being mysteriously abandoned at supermarkets and shops around the country. Store owners are reporting thousands of baskets and trolleys full of items, left dumped in aisles with the culprits nowhere to be seen...”
In the physical world, it would read like start of the zombie apocalypse. But online, it’s a very real threat. Basket abandonment plagues every retailer. A customer who decides not to purchase from an online store, despite placing items in their basket, has at the final hurdle become a lost sale and the opportunity for conversion appears to have disappeared.
And with a greater share of consumer spend shifting to online and mobile shopping, the issue is set to increase. But it’s not the end of the world, far from it, it’s actually an opportunity for shrewd marketers. Basket abandonment is something every e-commerce retailer will experience. However, it also provides valuable insight for retailers and can help secure a sale at a later date.
In a shop, if a customer picks something up and decides not to buy it there’s little the retailer can do, short of chasing them down the street and into their house. But online, if you know the individual and the products they almost bought, or if you see repeated patterns of abandonments at particular points in the buying process, you have some incredibly powerful insightful.
For starters, an abandoned basket tells us exactly what that consumer is interested in and that, even if they’ve decided against it for the time being, they’re seriously considering making a purchase. That allows for brands to re-contact customers to nudge them in the right direction. Email and mobile engagement around abandoned baskets (i.e. sending an email or notification with an offer or incentive to buy) is highly effective. And nowadays programmatic display advertising is becoming ever more sophisticated as a re-targeting tool.
However, that’s only a small part of the story. What abandoned baskets cannot tell you is WHY the consumer didn’t purchase. There are many behavioural reasons an online shopper might not have completed their purchase. They could have run out of time or simply been distracted by a suspicious noise coming from the woodshed.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognise that how we shop has fundamentally changed. In the pre-internet days a customer may have checked out a much-desired item in store a few times before buying it. Now, in this digital world, customers may look at an item on their smart phone, visit it in store, and look it again on a desktop before finally committing to a purchase on a tablet. Each time they visit a site and put an item in their basket, even if they don’t make a purchase, it’s just part of that process.
People like to shop around and often the basket is the only means of actually grouping things together, irrespective of whether there is an immediate intention to purchase. Sometimes the only way to understand the full price to pay, including delivery, card charges or any insurance is to go as far as the point of purchase without actually pressing the buy button. This allows inquisitive consumers to make accurate comparisons between eCommerce providers.
Consequently, abandoned baskets need to be looked at in the context of other functionality on the site. Wish lists or allowing shoppers to compare different options within a site can all help create stickiness to the site and mitigate abandoned baskets.
Abandoned baskets also offer valuable insight into the design of your website. A spate of abandoned baskets could just be a wake-up call that you need to make changes to remove barriers to purchase. Things to consider include:
• How prominent are any additional charges?
• Have you made clear your delivery policy?
• Is your checkout process overly lengthy?
Another relevant question is whether your site is fully mobile optimised. The latest IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report has shown that visits to retail websites via mobile devices have overtaken desktop traffic for the first time. With more and more online shopping taking place on mobile, it’s vital to ensure the checkout process works well regardless of whether your customer is shopping on their phone or tablet. For example, something as simple as a button size on mobile or the ability to read enough information on a smartphone screen can influence a customer’s willingness to complete their purchase.
Finally, security remains essential; shoppers want to feel safe when handing over payment details as they know the dangers that prey on the unwary online. Companies need to develop a strong and trusted brand or work with well-known payment providers so that at the moment of purchase customers have the confidence to press ‘buy’.
Ultimately, basket abandonment is part of the overall task of site optimisation. Customers and technology are not static so you need to constantly monitor how well your site is functioning and understand that what works well today will not necessarily be the best design for tomorrow’s shoppers. It’s also important to think about the wider picture, where user experience, visual design, analytics, strategy and technical delivery come together. Abandoned baskets are a very significant but not exclusive indicator of site performance.
Mercifully, deserted items do not herald the end of days. The trick — and the challenge — is to leverage the insight of abandoned baskets and use them to engage with customers. Intelligence gleaned from this is tremendously powerful, and it’s important we don’t always view basket abandonment as a negative.
Instead they should be recognised as another tool in the marketer’s armoury and a spur or prompt to evolve. Those who survive to the final credits are resourceful, adaptive and pay attention to the warning signs.
Aron Caplan (left) is planning partner and Andy Hawkes (above), technical director at Indicia