Cart Abandonment

A User-Centered Look at Cart Abandonment

One of the things we like to do at Skava is to take a common ecommerce problem and put it under the light of user-centered design to see what solutions can be found.

Today, I’d like to explore cart abandonment and propose that it may not be the problem we assume it to be, and that on one level it may simply be a byproduct of an emerging consumer behavior. And maybe solving cart abandonment isn’t simply about optimizing your checkout flow, but about taking a closer look at your customer experience.

First, let’s take a step back and look at the cart itself, how people use it, and what makes it so easy to abandon. The digital “cart” (shopping bag, basket, trolley, carrito, etc.) is a metaphor taken from way back in ye olden shopping days. Imagine back then at the village marketplace, you’d put a ham hock in your basket and at that point you really only have two lawful choices: pay for the ham hock or take the ham hock out. Limited interactions: A or B. Buy or don’t buy. It’s a blunt instrument, right? Yet somehow we’ve hung onto this age-old cart metaphor and made it a staple of our modern digital stores, even though today’s shopper is a far cry from the medieval ham hock buyer.

It’s possible that shopping today has almost become secondary to browsing as a leisure activity. Browsing, in fact, has become a hobby or form of entertainment for many and, luckily for retailers, our browsing still allows us to discover products. We see things we like. We take note of them, we bookmark them, we pin them, we take screenshots of them. We save them in whatever way we can.

We also like to mull things over— the dark ages equivalent of putting the ham hock in the basket and then strolling around the marketplace for several days before buying it. We might see a product we’re in love with and then wait a couple weeks before buying it. That’s just the way we do things now. We like to look and we like to ponder, wait for sales, the next paycheck, or some other motivation. The important thing is that, given time and the ability to do so, we’ll eventually buy.

The problem is that it’s hard to do all that stuff when our shopping tools are blunt and binary: buy or don’t buy. Purchase or abandon. (Don’t even get me started on carts that empty themselves after you leave the site!)

So, let’s rethink the digital shopping cart metaphor in a way that supports the act of browsing. Instead of a “Shopping Cart/Bag/Basket” maybe we need something more nuanced. And of course, this new cart idea will come at the tail end of a larger new shopping idea.

To get our metaphor, let’s go to the brick and mortar world and envision the kind of store that will spawn the right kind of cart experience.

Wouldn’t it be great if your favorite store was always located right at the corner where you depart the bus on your way home from work? You could pop in and a friendly store associate could show you all the stuff they know you’re into and surprise you with some things you didn’t even know you’d be into. That’s my kind of store— convenient and personalized.

After they show you all the items you really want and that it will cost you more than you’re prepared for, the store associate seems to understand and even expect that you won’t be able to buy everything all right at this minute. They’re actually totally cool with that. In fact, they’re just happy they got to show it to you, so you know it’s there.

The store associate is so prepared for this eventuality that they offer to put your items in a small rack with your name on it, so it’s waiting for you until the next time you stroll back into the store.

We have a metaphor! The rack. This is not just a thing to toss stuff in and abandon at the drop of a hat. You would not ram your rack into a stack of canned goods by aisle D and just walk out the door. There will be no rack abandonment, only intervals between rack management.

And maybe the next day you’re still not ready to buy it all, but you’ve been thinking about it a lot and, well, you gotta have that jacket. No problem. Take the jacket from your rack and buy it. The rest will stay there as long as you want. And you’ll get little notes on your rack like, “Hey, these socks you put in here three months ago are on sale…just sayin’.” And every time you pop back in to get something from your rack, your friendly store helper shows you something else that is just so awesome, you can’t bear to put it back on the shelf even if you can’t bear to buy it now. And that’s what your rack is for.

Now that I have my own digital rack, I am no longer faced with the binary decision making of a cart— BUY or DON’T BUY. I think about it for a while. I’m deciding what I’ll buy now and what I’ll come back for after. This is how I shop.

Amazon is a pioneer supporter of this shopping behavior when they created the Save For Later feature in their shopping cart. Now, it’s time to go further and embrace the new leisure browsing shopper. So, what does this mean?

Well, I’m already getting notifications about the items in my rack changing prices. Maybe I could get recommendations based on things I’ve saved. Maybe some things automatically update as new models come out. Maybe good reviews of those items pop up on my rack. Maybe we take the browsing as entertainment idea further and create a news feed of products based on items you’ve saved.

Maybe my rack is my store and I rarely need to venture outside it. And that leaves the onus on the retailer to always feed that rack, to look for new input channels, and to innovate with that in mind. Because now, hopefully, we’re not worried about rack abandonment. We expect it. And we know the rack is merely awaiting its owner’s inevitable return.

Of course, this is not a call for everyone to turn their bag icons into racks. It’s a suggestion that we keep the user at the heart of our design strategies, start thinking of the cart more like a holding space, and start building experiences that engage and embrace the modern consumers’ shopping behaviors.

Dan Kowta is the Associate VP of Design at Skava