13 Abandoned Cart Lessons Learnt from 13 Years of Reviewing and Testing

13 Abandoned Cart Lessons Learnt from 13 Years of Reviewing and Testing

26 February 26 February ~ 7 min read 1238 views
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Claspo Blog 13 Abandoned Cart Lessons Learnt from 13 Years of Reviewing and Testing

It's Monday afternoon in Cape Town, 22nd January. I'm watching a session recording of somebody shopping, finding something they want, adding it to the cart, and then suddenly closing the website. Their abandoning the website makes no sense; everything looked perfect for a straightforward purchase, but something must have happened to stop them.

I've noticed this “something happened” pattern many times over the last 13 years. I've been optimising e-commerce websites in the UK, US, South Africa, and Australia, and it's surprising that a few things consistently come up, irrespective of the country and website.

Why’d They Leave Their Cart?


In the cart, there are four main reasons that we might find that people would abandon.

1. They use the cart as a wishlist

Many people prefer to avoid creating another profile on a website because that's another login, a password they must manage, and the opportunity to get more spam. As a result, they won't save things to a wish list. Understanding how people create wish lists is interesting; some add it to a Pinterest page, some use the site wishlist feature, but many people will use the cart as a wish list. 

To improve performance and cater to these people, you should ensure you have a long cookie. You want people to be able to add things to their cart/wishlist and always be there. 

If you allow your cookies to expire, and they come back to an empty cart, and can't find the products that they had added, you’ve lost a sale. I've also tested, with some success, allowing people to add to the wishlist in the cart. They can ensure that their product is saved to a list, and if their cookies get deleted or they're on a different platform, their wishlist is available.

2. Unclear delivery information

Some people don’t intend to check out when they go to the cart. They want to understand your delivery and returns policy, but in some instances it's only available once they go to the cart (or, even worse, on the checkout).

It would help if you made your delivery and returns abundantly clear much earlier in the customer journey when people are on the product detail page. You can message it effectively upfront and make it clear and attractive. People will know what they're in for, and you won't get people abandoning the cart page when they only want to see the delivery and returns permutations.

Amazon has ruined delivery costs for everyone because they've vectored to zero delivery costs and created an assumption that delivery should always be free. If you have a free delivery tier, message this as boldly as possible if someone has reached it. They can get extra motivation and will be more inclined to progress to checkout, knowing they have free shipping.

3. No guest checkout

Nobody wants to have to fill in and create a new profile. They have the worries: “what is this site going to do? Are they going to spam me? What are they going to do with my privacy?”

Thinking about all of that kind of stuff takes time and effort. If a customer has to think about the repercussions, it's easier not to create a profile. Some sites force signups, and as a result, many people abandon carts.

If you don’t have a guest checkout, create one. It’s also recommended to make your guest checkout the default. I've tested this in the past. Of course, as marketers, we'd prefer to get the contact details, but we also prefer to get the sale rather than force people into a path they don't want.

4. Too much friction, no motivation

There are many opportunities in the cart for reducing friction and adding motivation. You've added products to the cart and evaluated all sorts of options to arrive at “the right product.” It's time to make the all-important purchase decision. 

The problem is, people don’t want to pay; people don’t want to spend money. We want to know that what we're buying is exactly what we want and that there isn't a better other product in the universe.

There are all sorts of commitment challenges that we face when we’re in the cart, where we make the commitment and decide whether we want to progress. We want to reduce friction as much as possible and provide as much motivation as possible.

I've tested a few things over the years which have been very effective for me and will hopefully be similar to you.

5. Make your product image as big as possible

When someone is looking at a big product image, they are excited because they can see all the alluring details of what they're getting. It's what they came here for, so don't make it a small, titchy image. Make it as big, bold, and brash as possible because that has proven to motivate people to check out. 

For an apparel retailer, I ran an inverse test: we removed product images to gauge how important they were. Removing 2 out of 5 product images reduced revenue per visitor by 7%. This is a case for ensuring that you have a good complement of product images.

6. Discounts and other benefits

If there is a discount, free shipping or anything of the sort, make it as bold as possible, give it a separate line in the calculations, and show people how much they're saving. 

Showcase it in different colours, make it bold, and find a way to make the discount pop as much as possible. Don't have anything after the decimal because that extra couple of zeros makes the cost seem bigger ($100.00 seems more than $100). 

7. Singular design focus

Manage the hierarchy between price, images, benefits, and discounts (your designer can play with this, and there are many iterations of testing you can trial here). Images, discounts, and benefits are motivators, so find a way to enhance them. 

Price is friction; find a way to reduce its prominence. You can use a tool like Eyequant to understand where people's eyes will be drawn.

8. Condense the number of fields in the form

The number of fields in your form adds friction. So only ask what's entirely necessary. Look for something other than the mother's maiden name, company, or anything optional. Just prune it down to make it as lean as possible.

9. Use the same format as everybody else is using

Please don't make people think because making people think is difficult for them. And difficulty is a reason not to progress. Patterns used on other sites are easy to understand, visitors have used them many times before, making them easier to process. Overall, it's easier to abandon than to think too hard or think you might be making a mistake.

10. Microcopy

Building on the previous point, sometimes people aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do. Use microcopy to remedy this. A few simple pointers to the checkout and a few lines to help them figure out what info they need to give are usually enough.

11. Use popular payment systems

Payment methods like Apple Pay or PayPal can work at this juncture (or even further up the user journey on the product page) because they reduce friction. They allow people to click through to payment, as they've already signed in. There's no need to fill in their address or any of that kind of stuff. It just blasts you straight through to checkout.

12. Exit pop-ups

Sometimes, if you employ all of these ideas above, you'll still need help with people abandoning your cart. One thing to do is look at creating an exit pop-up to help people with this challenge. I've run several of them over the years, especially on the cart, offering discounts, offering free shipping, and even putting value proposition messages (reviews and testimonials) that can help alleviate friction.

I used a simple exit pop on a puzzle site to offer a discount to abandoning customers. This added double-digit increases to conversion rates as it countered the price objections people had.

13. Testing, testing, testing

Throughout the text, I’m saying I’ve tested many things over the years: that’s because it’s vital for long-term success. A scheme might work one or two times, but is it sustainable? 

That’s where A/B testing comes in handy. We switch up a few things in our current process (the fewer, the more accurate the results) and watch what happens. Did cart abandonment rates drop when we added new payment methods? Did more people start to leave when we moved our checkout button from right to left? The seemingly smallest changes can lead to the biggest impact. 

The most important thing in all of your testing is to ensure that it doesn’t just come from articles like this, but that it’s based on a deep understanding of the struggles your customers are going through. Research, both quantitative and qualitative, will give you a good idea of where you need to direct your testing focus.

When your assumption is not confirmed, do not consider it a failure. Think of it as gaining information about your product. My record is 5 iterations on a test until we got a successful result. However, if you have a good hypothesis, you can learn from each variation on a test and then understand even more.


Cart abandonment is not something that goes away easily. It’s not always your fault; sometimes, it’s just people using your cart for unintended reasons. Instead of trying to discourage this behaviour, lean into it and make it easier for those customers.

And if you want to learn more about optimizing your e-commerce store, you can find me on LinkedIn or brendanmcnulty.com. I’ve been helping major brands like Canon and Nike boost their sales for over 13 years now. Contact me to learn how my expertise can help you grow your business.

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