Shopping Cart Abandonment Guide

Shopping Cart Abandonment Guide

Shopping cart abandonment is one of the most important metrics for big retailers, and I am always surprised to see how few retailers keep an active eye on it. Improving this metric will  lift site revenue and the efficacy of all incoming marketing programs. It is as important a KPI as traffic, revenue, or site conversion rate. In this guide we’ll look at what cart abandonment is, how to measure it, and how to improve it.

The Overview

There are two different ways to look at shopping cart abandon rates (or the reverse, cart conversion rates,) and it is important to make a distinction and always measure apples to apples. At different points in a campaign, one methodology will fit better than the other. Note that I’ve completely made up the names for these methodologies below… but maybe they’ll catch on and I’ll be famous.

Pure cart methodology. In “pure cart,” abandonment is measured as the % of shopping carts initiated that do not result in an order. A cart is typically initiated when a user adds a product to the cart.


  1. Gives an optimistic view of opportunity
  2. Allows you to track interaction with the “checkout now” button
  3. Can expose more users to testing, driving more revenue


  1. Doesn’t necessarily represent actual revenue opportunity
  2. Some users are just shoppers, not buyers
  3. Can pull focus from true detractors of conversion

True checkout methodology. In “true checkout,” abandonment is measured as the % of users that click through the shopping cart (via a checkout now button, place order link, etc.) and that do not complete an order.


  1. Gives a conservative view of revenue opportunity
  2. Forces attention on forms and high value elements
  3. Drives an understanding of users that want become buyers


  1. Can cause shopping cart usability issues to be ignored
  2. Discounts potential revenue opportunity higher in the funnel
  3. Ignores all actions before the checkout click

I mentioned that each methodology is more or less appropriate given the situation, and this takes a little bit of feel. Look at the your objective, and apply both methodologies. Document what you gain and lose from each one, and choose the best option. Or, if you can manage it, measure both pure cart and true checkout abandonment.

Measuring Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate

The major analytics providers support this metric to varying degrees; from out of the box to requiring significant configuration changes. The best thing to do is to consult the documentation or your account manager to ensure that you are properly set up to measure abandonment. See “Appendix A” for further notes on specific analytics providers.

Regardless of the analytics platform used, you must take care to ensure you are set up for success. In the analytics world, this means make sure that you are tracking user activity properly and accurately.

Abandonment tracking tips:

  1. Ensure each step in checkout is tagged and tracked separately through a unique page or event name.
  2. QA your data before beginning a project. If you setup your funnel and see more visitors in Step 2 than Step 1, you have a problem.
  3. Ideally you should track every state change, including error handling, and be able to report back on changes on even the most granular of activities.
  4. Any time there is a change to any element in your checkout, re-confirm that your tracking is accurate.

After you confirm that you are setup to track users and report back on their activity accurately, create a baseline for shopping cart abandonment. Throw away any historical numbers your business has. Educate your peers and any relevant stakeholders on the current running abandonment rate and make sure that once the metric is tracked correctly, it stays correct.

As a final note on tracking: be smart when comparing cart abandonment rate over time frames. This is a dynamic metric and subject to many outside influences. Seasonality, marketing programs, sales, promotions, and economic conditions can all have drastic effects on the metric. When testing and optimizing your shopping cart to reduce abandonment, ensure that you are running inline A/B tests and comparing apples to apples.

Reduce Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate

Before we jump into tips, ideas, and concepts for reducing abandonment rate, I want to be very clear; there are no silver bullets. Best practices are a great starting point but you should always hypothesize, test out, prove, and document optimizations to the shopping cart if it is an option. This is especially important in large organizations, where often you have to start small to prove your case. When you feel confident you are ready to get started, brainstorm with the questions below.

  • Do we have too many steps?
  • Are we being clear about costs like shipping and tax?
  • Do users have good reason to feel secure?
  • Are we asking only for relevant information?
  • Do our forms follow good usability practices?
  • Are we communicating to our users with step-guides and helpful tips?
  • Do we display supporters to conversion, like guarantees?
  • Are we focusing user attention where it needs to be?
  • When an error occurs, is it clear where it is and how to fix it?
  • Are coupons positively or negatively affecting our business?
  • Can we follow up with users to drive more conversions?
  • If a user exists to browse, is the path back to the cart clear?

As you dig deeper into your own rates and performance, you will be able to expose the bottlenecks specific to your business. Brainstorming on these bottlenecks will expose more questions and lead to more actionable insights. Just work the process! Analyze, hypothesize, test, confirm, repeat.

Hopefully this guide has given you a good overview of cart abandonment, how to track it, and you have found value in the tips and suggestions presented. If you have any questions or further thoughts on cart abandon rates, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to update the guide above.

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