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Guest Post: ‘Tis the abandon your shopping cart

Posted on 11.15.2009

by Charles Nicholls, Founder, CSO of SeeWhy, Inc.  

While past seasonal trends suggest that ecommerce conversion rates rise in the holiday season, there is some evidence that this year may be different. Will the 2009 holiday season be the biggest abandonment year on record?  SeeWhy tracks shopping cart abandonment rates across a wide variety of ecommerce sites and has watched the rate increase steadily in 2009 as the holiday season gets into full swing. For October 2009, the average shopping cart abandonment rate was at 71 percent, the highest this year so far.
In normal years, click through and conversion rates can be expected to increase as the deadline of Christmas approaches, and customers seek to find presents for loved ones.
But this year we’ve seen significant changes in buyer behavior as customers have searched for better deals. According to Hitwise, searches for promotion codes are up 40 percent year over year. The significantly increased sale volumes driven by the holiday shopping season have the effect of amplifying underlying trends.
The two main underlying changes in behavior seen this year are:

- Increased use of shopping carts as ‘wish lists’ where items are bookmarked by leaving items in the cart
- Buyers looking for a better deal, by comparing prices or searching for free shipping and voucher codes, especially among higher income buyers

This reflects the prevalent consumer behavior in 2009: more window shopping, more cautious and looking for a bargain. In addition, a pre-holiday season survey by the National Retail Federation revealed that customers are expecting to receive holiday promotions and will defer purchases in anticipation of finding a better deal. This doesn’t suggest that Holiday 09 will be a high margin, high converting period for ecommerce.
A recent Forrester survey conducted in Q3 09 highlights the primary current causes of shopping cart abandonment.

It’s worth noting that this study highlights behavioral reasons for abandonment. These are, to a significant extent, out of the marketer’s reach. High shipping costs have long been the single most significant cause of abandonment, and marketers are well aware of this. A recent SeeWhy survey into e-marketer’s promotional plans this Christmas shows that free shipping offers and discount promotion codes, distributed by email and via social media, are the tools of choice.
The Forrester data also highlights how little ecommerce teams can do about shopping cart abandonment: most ecommerce sites are now locked down from changes so the only weapons left in the marketer’s armory are price changes, promotions (especially free shipping) and abandonment remarketing.
So, this holiday it’s going to be fascinating to see whether extensive promotions, distributed by email and increasingly social media, will win out and drive high conversion rates; or whether a new breed of ecommerce-savvy consumer is emerging post recession who will search extensively for the best deal and only buy when incentivized with free shipping and other baubles.
Whatever, it’s clear that remarketing is going to be big in 2010. Customers are expecting it. In fact, they’re waiting for those free shipping offers.
About the author: Charles Nicholls  is founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy and author of “In search of Insight” which has established a new agenda for the analytics industry. As a veteran of the analytics space, he has worked on strategy and projects for some of the world’s leading ecommerce companies, including Amazon, eBay and many other organizations around the globe. Incorporated in 2003, SeeWhy helps companies improve website conversion rates by bringing back up to 50 percent of visitors that abandon sites prematurely.


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