"Digital window shopping" and how businesses can reduce increased cart abandonment

Published April 16, 2021

Get your online customers to check out, not drop out

The pandemic has given rise to a new pastime among online consumers: digital window shopping. They’re spending hours browsing e-commerce stores, adding items to their carts, then ... leaving. Shopping cart abandonment isn’t a new issue. Almost 70 percent of online shoppers weren’t following through with their purchases even before COVID-19 hit, so businesses need to know how to take advantage of increased traffic—because more time spent online should mean more sales.

Window shopping in the traditional sense has been around forever, but it’s impossible to read the minds of customers that physically walk into a store—whether they’re there to buy or browse. In e-commerce, when a visitor adds items to their cart, it’s a reasonable indication that they have at least some plan to buy those products. When carts are left abandoned, this can skew business performance data and leave online merchants scratching their heads as to what customer intention actually is.

As more people shop online, shopping cart abandonment poses a huge challenge for e-commerce businesses. To make sure you’re getting customers to buy instead of just window shop, learn what the reasons are behind cart abandonment and the right strategies for motivating them to complete their purchases.

The lowdown on shopping cart abandonment and why it happens

Shopping cart abandonment is when a visitor to your online store adds items to their cart then leaves without making a purchase. There are several factors that influence cart abandonment, and all of them should be top of mind for e-commerce merchants looking to maximize sales. 

Cart abandonment has been a challenge that e-commerce merchants and analysts have been trying to mitigate since e-commerce first began in the ’90s. The most concrete data, though, shows us that from the mid-to-late 2000s until around 2019, the shopping cart abandonment rate has averaged 69.57 percent, according to research by Baymard Institute.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has seen an upward trend. As Jordan Elkind, VP of retail insights for customer data and identity platform Amperity, tells TODAY Style, “Data from the onset of COVID this year show a 94.4 percent abandonment rate [....] This equates to billions of dollars in forgone e-commerce revenue.”

Baymard Institute segmented the reasons for cart abandonment into very specific groups.

E-commerce brands need to understand what leads to shopping cart abandonment and work to address those issues to increase conversion. Here are three main reasons why customers are making a habit of shopping cart abandonment:


Customers are just browsing

This is where the term “digital window shopping” comes from: customers who are clicking through products and catalog pages just to pass the time. This is actually the most significant reason for shopping cart abandonment—in the U.S., at least. The same study from Baymard Institute indicates “58.6 percent of U.S. online shoppers have abandoned a cart within the past three months because ‘I was just browsing/not ready to buy.’”

But boredom isn’t the only reason why shopping cart abandonment has been on the rise during the pandemic. As one could safely assume, lack of work for many people has led to tighter budgets, i.e., less disposable income. Digital window shopping is a form of escapism—hence the need for retail therapy and extra time spent “just browsing”—but the reality is many customers simply aren’t in a position to make unnecessary purchases right now. 

Another reason is to compare brands, stores, marketplaces or even online and in-store prices. It’s easier to load up a cache of products in the cart for quick comparison rather than exhaustively click through every product page on every site visited. 

Related: Future, interrupted: The new store of tomorrow and how retailers can adapt


Extra costs lead to a lack of trust

More than half of online shoppers say extra or “hidden” costs are the number one reason why they abandon their shopping carts. Even if the costs aren’t intentionally hidden, consumers can feel misled when they finally go to check out, and extra charges suddenly appear.

55% of surveyed consumers abandoned carts due to extra fees, according to research by Baymard Institute.

The prime example of extra charges is shipping—and “consumers hate paying for shipping more than just about anything.”

This is especially true with cross-border commerce, where a certain shipping rate might be advertised for the country of origin but increases when delivered to a different region. Some customers might assume the change in shipping cost means the business is trying to take advantage of them in some way. It builds hesitation, and that lack of trust discourages the potential customer from following through.

The checkout process is too complicated

Here’s a paradox: customers having more time on their hands has led to prolonged digital window shopping sessions, yet they’ve always wanted simplified checkout processes to—guess what—save time. This is simply human nature—browsing exciting products for hours on end provides a continuous reward signal to the brain, but moving out of that dream-like shopping state suddenly triggers the desire for instant gratification

A simplified checkout process is what they want. A single form where they fill out their name, address and payment method is sufficient, as opposed to several pages of in-depth personal information. As Cloudways puts it, “A comprehensive checkout process also saves customers time, which ultimately results in higher conversions.”

Account creation and long checkout take the number 2 and 3 spots for shopping cart abandonment.

The other problematic checkout practice that leads to shopping cart abandonment is requiring users to log in to make a purchase. Having a loyal database of users subscribed to your business is invaluable for marketing and retention, but forcing them to sign up to buy from you will leave a bitter taste in their mouths (more on how to address this later).

Related: The best retail loyalty programs turn customer activity data into powerful personalization

Best practices for getting customers to follow through on purchases

In a perfect e-commerce world, 100 percent conversion would be possible. While that’s a lofty goal, there are some best practices you can use to give customers that final little push they need to follow through with their purchases.

Try different promotions to win the “just-browsers”

When customers are initiating the cart process but not actually buying, they likely just need that extra incentive to push them over the line. To fix this, you should get experimental with promotions. We all love a good discount, so starting with these promotions will get your customers to go from browsing to buying:

  • Entice customers with promotions that have an added sense of urgency. This contributes to the “fear of missing out (FOMO)” and can be the tipping point between abandonment and purchase. The best way to do this is by highlighting when the promotion will expire and displaying a countdown indicating the remaining time or inventory.
  • “Buy one, get one” deals or add-ons of other products are a great way to stir up those gratifying feelings once again. Customers love getting free stuff, and this is the way to further reward them for making a purchase from your store.
  • Loyalty rewards for subscribers and members give customers a sense of prestige and are a great way to increase average order value and drive repeat purchases.
  • Percentage discounts, free shipping and quantity discounts have and always will be safe bets as well.

A countdown timer urges the user to act—FOMO for the win.

There’s also the possibility that those “just-browsers” loaded their shopping cart with the intention of returning and buying later on. Make sure your site automatically saves items in your shopping cart system so they’re still there when the customer comes back.

Imagine your customer was browsing your store in the morning, then left for a coffee date with a friend in the early afternoon. They take out their smartphone to show their friend the products they were interested in and get a second opinion, only to discover their cart is now empty. You can most likely kiss that sale goodbye.

Build trust every step of the way with clear policies and user-friendliness

Customers’ money is on the line, so any hiccups or perceived lack of transparency will send them running. It’s your job to make sure they feel at ease from the moment they load your homepage to when they’re going through the final stages of checkout. You can do this by:

You should have dedicated pages that outline all relevant policies to your customers for transparency. Fees should be calculated as soon as the items are added to the cart in relation to region and shipping methods—modern e-commerce platforms should have this feature built-in. These both deliver peace of mind and reduce shopping cart abandonment.

As for user-friendliness, make sure your site is easy to navigate. Where to go isn’t always obvious to someone who’s new to your site, so use clear “calls to action” to draw attention to where the customer should be heading. 

Also, focus on page speed. “E-commerce shopping cart conversion rates drop seven percent for every one-second delay in your page loading,” so lightning-fast loading times will go a long way to reducing cart abandonment.

Make checkout seamless with payment options and guest checkout

Last but certainly not least, optimize the checkout process to save customers’ time and avoid frustration. Do this by offering flexible payment options and guest checkout.

First, letting customers choose how they pay goes a long way in influencing their decision to buy. Make sure you’re capable of accepting all major credit cards (big names like Visa and Mastercard displayed at checkout also contribute to trust), online payment services like PayPal and, possibly, cryptocurrencies as they become more mainstream. You should even consider offering “shop now, buy later” options.

Next, don’t force customers to create an account or sign up with their email to make a purchase. Email marketing gets a bad rap as “spam,” and people can perceive account creation as a time suck. 

Guest checkout options circumvent the above point and make the checkout process faster and more intuitive. This is imperative if you’re looking to reduce shopping cart abandonment, as around “14 percent of online shoppers indicated that forcing them to log in to complete a purchase was sufficient reason for them to abandon the process.

More time spent online should translate to more sales

Increased traffic and retail therapy should absolutely mean an increase in sales for your e-commerce business. It can’t be said any more bluntly: “More time on a page translates into sales.” You’ve got the opportunity—now it’s all about understanding shopping cart abandonment and taking action to win those sales.

Don’t let the habitual browsers become bored: offer them fresh and exciting discounts. Don’t make them feel like they’re wasting their time with convoluted checkout processes. And most importantly, make sure they trust you, and you’ll be well on your way to turning the digital window shopping pastime into more purchases. Happy selling!

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