Why do customers abandon shopping carts? Understanding the psychology behind cart abandonment

June 28, 2023
9 minutes
Why do customers abandon shopping carts? Understanding the psychology behind cart abandonment

Customers visiting physical retailers rarely fill their shopping carts with products only to leave them unpurchased at the till. But when shopping online, the parameters change — and the mounting piles of abandoned carts present a huge profit drain to e-commerce stores across every sector. So, why do people abandon shopping carts?

On average, there is a global cart abandonment rate of around 70% — eating into the bottom line of sales for every digital-first retailer. As consumers continue to shift their purchasing habits online, more and more businesses are succumbing to the unique challenges that e-commerce presents. Lost sales, inventory roadblocks and decreased return on ad spend are just a few of the consequences of cart abandonment, taking a cumulative toll of $18 billion per year.

As a result, it’s become a top priority for e-commerce stores to understand the factors that drive cart abandonment.

But first, we need to first look at shopper psychology — how do your customers feel when they get to your checkout page? At this stage, they’ve committed to browsing, choosing their goods, summing up the total, and heading to checkout — but what’s blocking the critical final steps of their transaction?

Here, we’ll unpack some of the issues expressed by shoppers at checkout — and how this relates to the cart abandonment behaviour that is costing you sales.

abandoned cart

Why do customers abandon online shopping carts?

To figure out why people abandon shopping carts, we need to put ourselves in their shoes. It all starts when a prospective customer visits your website and starts to browse your product listings, then signals their interest by adding an item to their cart. But what happens next?

1. Complicated checkouts delay their gratification

All too often, a store’s checkout page is an insurmountable hurdle in a customer’s purchasing journey. When greeted with an unnecessarily complex or time-consuming checkout process, friction builds — and users start to feel frustrated by having their gratification delayed.

This leads them to postpone until they have more time, exit, or even seek alternative routes to purchase their products for the sheer convenience of it. These are the top checkout obstacles to watch out for:

Lengthy checkout process

During a traditional checkout, first-time customers are expected to fill forms with their contact, billing, and shipping details — often multiple times. In fact, our data shows that the average checkout takes 22 distinct steps, each one adding friction that could halt the sale. As shoppers grow increasingly frustrated by having to provide their personal details, the probability grows that they will terminate the transaction.

All in, this makes for an unappealing experience — and 3 out of 5 shoppers who abandon their carts do so due to a complicated checkout process. When the alternative can be as simple as finding a similar product on Amazon and buying with ‘one click’, it’s plain to see why users take their custom elsewhere. A difficult checkout process translates to lost revenue and damaged customer relationships, discouraging shoppers from ever returning to your store.

Having to set up an account

Another misstep is forcing shoppers to register as a user on your e-commerce site. This provides yet another touchpoint at which users are likely to abandon their carts, unwilling to commit to the tedious process of providing personal details, confirming their account, and more.

Plus, web users are growing increasingly diligent with their personal data — most will be hesitant to provide unnecessary information to yet another online entity hand over fist. In demanding that a user provide contact details, social accounts or passwords to complete their transaction, e-commerce stores may inadvertently undermine the user’s trust and lead them to terminate the transaction.

Lack of payment options

While a simple checkout is vital, customers still want the choice to complete a transaction how they prefer. Nowadays, there are more ways to pay than ever before — from digital wallets and buy now, pay later, all the way to an old-fashioned debit card. But no matter how your customer checks out, they’ll want to see their preferred payment option.

Data shows that consumers are increasingly favouring digital wallets over traditional card transactions, with around 35% of online shoppers citing options like Apple Pay and Google Pay as their preferred means of payment. Similarly, buy now, pay later schemes are growing in popularity, particularly among the younger, up-and-coming generation of consumers. So, if your checkout system lacks the infrastructure to support different transaction types, customers are likely to be put off and abandon their carts.

Poor mobile optimisation

Data shows that almost half of all e-commerce purchases now happen from mobile devices. More channels than ever before are incorporating shopping features into their product offering, whether you’re browsing Instagram, Facebook or TikTok, However, many e-commerce stores are trailing behind their app counterparts and failing to design a mobile-friendly checkout experience.

With so many users using their smartphones for purchases, many won't even consider shopping with a retailer that doesn’t offer an optimised web interface for mobiles. Filling out lengthy checkout forms is tedious at the best of times, but becomes near-impossible to negotiate from a smaller screen.

So, what’s the solution?

With Simpler’s streamlined checkout, your customers can complete their purchase using their preferred payment and shipping option with just one click – without the need to fill out lengthy forms, create a new account or remember yet another username and password. Plus, our mobile-optimised platform collects and stores all their important details so that they can pay how they want every time.


2. Surprise costs violate their expectations

Another common source of frustration is unexpected costs. If your shoppers aren’t privy to their final billing total throughout the checkout process, seeing a higher-than-anticipated figure at the end may cause them to terminate in frustration.

This is because their expectations have been violated by the additional fees, causing more annoyance than if these costs were included in the upfront price. Here are some examples:

High shipping costs

High shipping fees are the achilles heel of an online purchase. By checkout, your prospective buyer has already determined that they’re willing to pay the upfront cost of the good or service that you’re selling, but if they then find an unexpected delivery charge buttoned on, they’re likely to terminate the process and look elsewhere.

This is especially true if you’re charging an excessive premium for next-day or express delivery. Thanks to the fast, free delivery services offered by retail giants, we 21st-century consumers are an impatient bunch. If you aren’t upfront about your shipping costs and expected delivery times, you could run into high cart abandonment rates.

Hidden fees

But it’s not just delivery that can ramp up the total cost at checkout. Other expenses such as merchant surcharges, taxes and special handling fees can make a customer less likely to complete their purchase, particularly if they aren’t included in the upfront cost that users are shown when they begin to check out.

The same applies to any up-selling that is attempted at this stage, for instance, if customers are offered extra promotional items, personalisation or gift-wrapping. When additional costs are only revealed at the end of the transaction, they may build frustration and push users to leave the page — even if they’re entirely optional.

Speedy online shopping on a laptop

3. Website factors undermine their trust

It’s one thing to pay and leave a store with your goods in hand, but it’s another thing altogether to hand over your card details without knowing if your purchase will show up. Fraud and even data leaks can affect the largest of online marketplaces, making savvy consumers wary of smaller sites that don’t garner their immediate trust.

Various internal factors will influence your perceived competence and credibility as a retailer — and ultimately sway whether customers trust your business enough to make a purchase. Once trust is broken, it’s hard to rebuild — fuelling many to abandon their carts. Important trust-building elements to look out for include:

Perceived payment security

If your checkout page looks untrustworthy or outdated, you could see high levels of cart abandonment as shoppers turn to more familiar outlets to complete their purchases. The trustworthiness of your payment page can be influenced by many elements, such as trust seals and an SSL certificate, and if these are missing, customers may worry about their data security and withdraw from the transaction.

Another factor to consider is currency — if prices are listed in a foreign tender to where the shopper is visiting from, they may not trust that you have a legitimate approach to global sales. A checkout page that fails to provide clear, relevant billing information and reputable payment options is one that will fail to convert.

Website performance

Even your website’s performance and layout can affect a buyer’s confidence. For example, if your website is slow or populated with technical issues, it may make users wary of trusting it with any sensitive information. Factors such as page loading speed, responsiveness and uptime can greatly influence whether a user chooses to convert.

Data from Akamai illustrates the importance of having a well-oiled website to sell your wares. In a report on online retail performance, they found that a two-second delay in webpage load time increases bounce rates by an average of 103%, signalling the growing impatience as shoppers’ reward is delayed. If we go even more granular, a delay as small as 100 milliseconds can translate to a 7% loss in conversions. So, it’s paramount that your e-commerce store provides a streamlined experience to stop users from abandoning their carts.

Shopping site on a phone

4. Shopping online removes immediate consequences

Across the e-commerce landscape, shoppers have unparalleled access to retailers, small and large. Without an affinity to your brand in particular, they won't feel committed to fulfilling their purchase, even if they’ve added it to their cart.

This is because there is an absence of immediate consequences when browsing online, unlike in a physical store where customers may feel an obligation to complete their purchase once they’ve picked up their goods. These are the factors that could influence a customer’s commitment:

Price comparisons

Many users will create shopping carts in order to cross-compare prices and work out their total cost once fees like shipping are factored in. Then, they may exit to purchase in-store or shop elsewhere — leaving their cart on a non-selected site abandoned.

Some shoppers are also accustomed to searching for digital discount codes to add to their orders. When comparing sellers, this may lead them to put together a basket of goods, only to terminate when they find a discounted deal elsewhere. Most commonly, this is done through voucher-finding sites and browser extensions. If your shoppers are simply comparing cart prices, they’re unlikely to complete their purchase unless you offer some incentive that another retailer does not, such as a one-off discount or bulk purchasing options.

Limited shipping options

Price isn’t the only variable that shoppers compare when browsing between stores — shipping options that work for the customer are a key determinant of whether they will convert. Consumers want to have their goods delivered by a method that’s convenient to them. For example, some might need their items as soon as possible, while others opt for a designated day to have them delivered at home.

Alternatives to standard home delivery are also rising in popularity as more consumers look to using self-service parcel lockers or pick-up locations to collect their goods. This way, shoppers ensure that they can access their purchases in a timely manner that fits around their schedule. So, if your store fails to offer flexible delivery options, customers may not commit to their purchase.

Inadequate returns policies

When a customer isn’t able to see their purchases in person, there’s a good chance that they might need to return them after the fact. As a result, many users vet the delivery and returns processes of different outlets when they’re deciding where to shop online.

In doing so, customers may add to their cart and then assess what policies are offered by each retailer. Then, much like when price comparing, the outlets that don’t offer the best-fit policies have their carts abandoned by the shopper.

Full cart

Fight cart abandonment with Simpler

We know the tricks of the trade to cut your cart abandonment rate — and we’ve even written a full guide on how it’s done, which you can find here.

But the best tool in your arsenal is Simpler checkout. Our platform removes friction from the checkout process to guide customers towards seamless conversion. We do so by integrating all major payment and shipping options and storing your customers’ preferred billing and delivery details to be auto-filled each time they shop.

We do all this and more in just one mobile-friendly window. With Simpler, new users shop 50% faster than with traditional checkout — and returning users can buy in less than six seconds.

This means fewer forms, less fuss, and more satisfied customers.

To learn more about how you could cut your cart abandonment and boost your e-commerce sales, get to know Simpler today.

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