How To Reduce Shopping Cart Abandonment With User Testing

| June 25, 2013
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Ok, so you’ve looked at your analytics and found that your shopping cart abandonment rate is in the 55-75% range like everyone else’s. You’ve had a good cry and found some consolation in the fact that you’re not alone.

But you’ve heard about success stories like StubHub’s “go button” and Jared Spool’s story about the 300 million dollar button. You’re ready to face this problem head on and create a success story of your own. Let’s get down to business.

The first step is to run some user tests so you can find out why people are leaving; then you can create your improvement plan. But what should you test specifically? What should you be looking for? We’ve got the list for you right here so that you can get great user feedback when you test your checkout process.

Two of the biggest factors in shopping cart success are…

  1. Customer confidence and
  2. Ease of use

…so we’ve organized everything into those two categories.

But first, we need to start with a bonus tip, because this impacts how you’ll run your tests.

Bonus Tip #1: Get Real

Before you test, make sure you remove all roadblocks to getting honest and complete feedback.

  • Use REAL money (yours), or developer accounts. If you recruit a tester to buy, say, a washing machine, and the tester doesn’t actually feel like laying down $1000 during the test (go figure), you could severely limit the amount of feedback she can give you, because she’ll have to stop part-way through checkout. Instead, use solutions such as giving the tester a prepaid Visa card (at UserTesting.com, your account manager can help with this), or setting up a test server so you can fully test things like PayPal checkout without money actually changing hands. Of course, be conscious of the impact that using “fake” money has on the tester’s behavior.
  • Use REAL customers when appropriate. If you’re testing anything related to personalization, account management, or purchase history, you’ll of course want to use existing customers. This is preferable over fake accounts you’ve created; you want the tester to see his own data. You can use intercepts for this, where users are recruited as they shop (if you don’t have a method for that, let one of our enterprise account managers set you up), or conduct a private panel test, where you invite your own users by email or social media.
  • Use some REAL tasks – as defined by the tester. It’s tempting to write every task in detail, but there’s a danger in selecting all of your own tasks (see Task-Selection Bias: A Case for User-Defined Tasks by Richard Cordes). Don’t make the entire test artificial by telling the tester every step to take. Instead, let the user tell you what he wants to do, and watch him try to do it. You might discover an opportunity for improvement that you never would have thought of yourself.

Part 1: Testing Trust and Confidence Factors

Lose customer confidence, lose your sale. Well, let’s state that more positively: you can increase your conversions by maintaining your customer’s trust and confidence throughout the checkout process.

At the simplest level, you can ask testers open-ended questions about how confident they feel about this purchase. But where and when do you ask the questions? Here are several trust / confidence points to check on.

Security of Personal Data

Shoppers want to know whether your site is safe, but also whether their data is safe with you. Ask users what security information is important to them, and whether they can find it. You might find users searching for items such as:

  • Trust symbols to show that your checkout process has been verified by a third party.
  • Privacy policy. Even for those who don’t read it, a clearly visible privacy policy can instill some confidence that you’re concerned about protecting user data.
  • Consistent branding, even on third-party payment systems. Is your PayPal page well branded to keep customers confident that their data is still secure even though they’ve left your site?

Return Policy and Guarantees

Brick-and-mortar shoppers know they can talk with someone if things go awry with their purchase, or if they just change their mind. Online shoppers need a similar safety net. Ask your testers to find your return policy (and perhaps your satisfaction guarantee, price match guarantee, etc.), and ask them whether it’s easy enough to find, and whether they have any concerns or fears that haven’t been addressed.

Zappos - Return Policy

Zappos gains customer confidence by displaying a link to their renowned return policy not only in the shopping cart, but also in the header of every page of their site.

Customer Service Availability

Some shoppers find comfort in the immediate availability of customer support. Not just FAQs and knowledgebases, mind you; but real people, ready to talk or chat. Consider asking your testers whether they know how to get help if they were to need it, and what their preferred support method is. You might find that the addition of a phone number, chat button, and/or 24/7 support icon gives some shoppers the confidence to continue checking out – even if they never actually end up needing support.

Price / Value

Online and brick-and-mortar stores both have to deal with easy price comparison shopping these days, but online stores have the extra challenge of competitors’ stores being just a browser tab away. If the customer has any reason to question the value he’s receiving, there’s nothing stopping him from checking out a competitor. Consider asking testers questions like these to reveal any customer uncertainty about the value you’re offering:

  • Is the total price of your order clear? (If you reserve shipping costs, taxes, and other fees until the last page, you may be losing customer confidence along the way.)
  • Are you getting a good deal? Highlighting any applicable sales prices, shipping discounts, and total savings should help increase confidence in the value the customer is receiving. You might also show some testers a low-price guarantee to see what impact it has on their confidence to buy.
  • Are the shipping prices reasonable? This is technically part of the “good deal” question, but shipping deserves a separate mention here, because it’s a huge factor in a customer’s decision to purchase. A 2011 study by the E-tailing Group found that free shipping was the single most important factor when making a purchase from a website.
  • Ask about the impact of your coupon code field. For usability reasons, you want your coupon code field to be findable; but making it too prominent may make a shopper think she’s not getting a good deal if she doesn’t have a code.
Home Depot Promotion Code Field

Home Depot makes their promotion code field easily findable for those who are looking for it, but downplays it for those who aren’t.

Order Accuracy

Ask your testers, “Is your order correct?,” and watch how long it takes for them to answer that question. Ask them to explain any elements of their order that are unclear. These questions can help you strike a good balance between trying to simplify the interface (which may lead some companies to drop or shrink product images in the cart) and providing enough detail to satisfy shoppers.

Snapfish and Vistaprint Shopping Carts

Snapfish displays a tiny photo mug in the cart, and shows a stock photo rather than the one the customer uploaded, leaving her to wonder whether the order is correct. Vistaprint’s picture is several times larger, and displays the customer’s photo, so she can confidently check out.

Additional questions to gauge customer trust and confidence

  • How confident are you in providing your financial information and contact information to this company?
  • Is there a store/company that you trust more? Why do you trust them more?
  • Was anything about the checkout process unclear or confusing?

Part 2: Testing Ease of Use

The convenience of your checkout process can’t be verified by analytics alone. The customer might get from page 1 to page 3 quickly, but did he accomplish everything he wanted to, and did he hit any confusing points along the way? Qualitative testing is the next logical step after you have your quantitative data.

Here are several points along the checkout process to test for convenience:

The Mobile Experience

More than 1 in 5 visits to your store are coming from smartphones and tablets, according to Monetate’s Q1 2013 eCommerce Quarterly report. And their shopping experiences haven’t been good, according to a recent survey. What’s more, 33% of them will immediately jump to a competitor’s site if they have problems on yours.

It’s definitely worth running some mobile user tests on your checkout process to make sure those customers don’t encounter any problems that make the checkout process difficult or impossible, such as problems with your forms, or elements such as modal dialogs that can be difficult or impossible to interact with on small screens.

You can get more testing ideas from the research paper The Four Mobile Traps: The Most Common Mistakes Made by Mobile Apps and Websites. The results and tips in that study came from observations of thousands of mobile usability tests.

ToysRUs and WalMart mobile shopping carts

Larger touch targets, larger text, and larger images make the checkout experience on Walmart.com feel much easier than the experience on ToysRUs.com.

The New Customer Experience

It’s no secret that offering a guest checkout option improves conversion (a 2008 Forrester report is bluntly titled “Required Registration Lowers Online Conversion Rates“), so you’re probably already postponing the optional account creation process to the end of the transaction like the top retailers do. But it’s still worth watching several new users trying to check out. Do they have any problem finding the guest checkout option? Are you making it as easy as possible for them to create an account with you by the end of the transaction, optimizing your chance to add to your registered customer database? Do testers see any compelling reasons to register?

The Impact of Payment Methods on Convenience

So you’ve gone through the work of accepting 50 different methods of payment. Kudos. Everyone should be happy now, right? Well, maybe. Watch and listen to users trying to decide among the options. Have you violated the “simple trumps complete” rule?

Too many payment options

Are your payment choices making it easier or more difficult for the customer to continue the transaction?

The Impact of Upselling

Remember the day when you first saw a “you might also like” section on a shopping cart? As a store owner, you thought you had died and gone to heaven, right? Now that feature is ubiquitous, although it’s not always used judiciously. When done right, upselling is not only a revenue generator for you, but a convenience factor and positive experience for your customers. Gather tester opinions to find out whether your upselling is contributing to their convenience, or whether it’s just getting in their way.

Upselling Getting in the Way

In this example of a business card purchase, the customer is presented with a large list of optional add-ons in step 2 of the checkout process, and a continue button is nowhere to be found above the fold.

The Experience of International Shoppers

If you have customers from other countries, have you streamlined their experience? Can they easily get prices in their own currency? Does your form validation allow them to enter their addresses and phone numbers, or do they encounter errors? You could try to account for all of the needs through a ton of research (which is still a good idea), but your testers might raise an issue you haven’t thought of. Use analytics to learn where most of your international business is coming from, and recruit testers from those countries (or use your own customers).

The Usefulness and Visibility of Error Messages

Errors are going to happen, and your error handling can either help the shopper get back on track toward completing the purchase, or cause them more confusion and frustration.

While user-defined tasks are helpful and were mentioned earlier, you might not want to wait for a user to encounter an error on their own, so come up with a list of errors you can force, and then lead the user into the error without telling them what’s coming. Watch their reaction and their recovery.

Lenovo error message

The previous page showed this laptop to be in stock, but after clicking Add to Cart, the shopping cart page shows a subtotal of $0, and there’s nothing in the cart. But the message explaining what happened is easy to miss if the buyer’s attention is drawn to the right side of the page where price and the continue button are normally found.

The Gift Giving Experience

The gift giver has unique needs during shipping, such as the ability to add a personalized note, the option to have the gift wrapped, and perhaps the need to ship items from one order to multiple addresses.

Cabela's Gift Options

Cabela’s does a great job of making gift options clear and consolidated (but you still can’t ship different items to different addresses).

The Availability of the Browser Back Button

The browser back button is one of the most commonly used navigation elements, yet some shopping carts fail to support it well. If a user clicks the back button, is any of his information lost? Do odd error messages or browser popups (about resubmitting data) appear that could confuse people?

The Impact of Lock-in

Locking customers into the checkout process, and helping them focus on the task at hand by removing distractions, has its advantages for sure. But make sure such techniques aren’t interfering too much with convenience. Can a customer who decides to go back and shop for one more item find out how to do it? Are there any items you’ve removed from the interface that customers want back, and if so, does customer opinion and convenience outweigh the benefit of lock-in? Test customer behavior with different amounts and types of information on screen to see which mix works best.

Amazon Shopping Cart Lock-in

Amazon aggressively locks buyers into the checkout process, providing virtually no way to get back to the store if a buyer decides to add an item.

Additional Questions to Gauge Customer Convenience:

  • How could we have made this [faster / more convenient / easier] for you?
  • Did anything frustrate you during the checkout process?
  • If you had to make this purchase again, would you use this store, or a different one? If you’d use a different one, why?

Bonus Tip #2: Use Qualitative Testing to Focus Your Retargeting Campaign

You’re probably already using retargeting/remarketing (one of the best deals in advertising today). Stores like Amazon and Overstock are doing a brilliant job of showing customers ads for the exact products (or categories) they abandoned. But be careful to not ignore the reasons the shopper abandoned in the first place; use your qualitative findings to help shape your retargeting strategy. If you find that one of the trust/confidence factors is contributing to cart abandonment, then address that factor in your retargeting ads.

Think of it this way: If you were having a 2-way dialog with one of your testers, and they explained why they were abandoning the cart, what would you tell them? You’d try to explain why they can trust you, why they are getting a good deal, or how this will be a quick and easy checkout, right? Retargeting is your part of the dialog. Don’t be content to just throw up a banner on their screen and say “buy now!” Address their concerns, and see your customers return.

The Anatomy of a Great Shopping Cart

If these testing tips were helpful, you might want to check out the graphic The Anatomy of a Great Shopping Cart, which shows several of the best practices well-executed.