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It’s a Shopping Cart, Not a Virtual U-Store-It

Posted on 8.10.2016

:: Ten ways to avoid Shopping Cart U-Store-It Syndrome and move your wish-listers down the funnel to purchase. ::


By Michal Harel, Clicktale


“It’s got a sauna, top-of-the-line weight machines, treadmills with Bluetooth and HD cable, really cute instructors...” my friend was gushing about her new gym. “And every month, they’re so sweet when they call me to remind me that I should really start exercising.”

“Wait a minute,” I counter, in shock. “You have a gym membership but never go?”

“It’s a wish membership,” she shoots back, puzzled at my reaction. “It’s there, and I can use it if I want to. Why?”

As a veteran in the e-commerce trenches, I shouldn’t be surprised. I had just discovered that my friend was a real-world wish-lister. I see the virtual version all the time. They shop, add carefully-chosen items to their carts, yet only rarely pull the trigger on a purchase. For the wish-lister, having the option to go to the gym (or buy an item that’s in her shopping cart) any time she wants is almost satisfying enough. Almost.

‘Add to Cart’ Doesn’t Pay the Rent

The patient folks at the gym have it right. They know that an unused membership, even though it provides them with income, is a recipe for long-term member dropoff. They’re not calling just my friend out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re doing it for the long-term benefit to their business. 

The e-commerce realm is not all that different. I spend a lot of time convincing clients that “items added to cart” is not the metric that counts. Even though much of marketing is aimed at driving traffic and much of user experience optimization is aimed at that elusive click on the ‘Add to Cart’ button - the fact is that ‘Add to Cart’ doesn’t pay the rent. The true challenge, I remind my clients almost daily, is how to move the wish-listers to purchase.

Avoiding Shopping Cart U-Store-It Syndrome

Internal research confirmed what online retailers already knew: only 40-50 percent of shoppers that add items to their carts actually purchase them. I call this the "Shopping Cart U-Store-It Syndrome." My colleague Dr. Liraz Margalit explains it like this:

“...an online cart promotes feelings of ownership because the user can add and remove items at any time, and those items will remain in the cart even if the visitor leaves the site. She can open the cart any time she wishes and view her virtual property. By having all these desired items in her own personal cart, waiting for her each time she enters the website, she almost feels like she owns them.”

Almost. This is the key word, here. We know, and wish-listers know deep-down, that an actual purchase is more satisfying than a virtual U-Store-It. Often, avoiding U-Store-It Syndrome, and moving our wish-listers to become purchasers is quite simple. Even little funnel or cart tweaks can measurably impact sales. Need some ideas on how to start? Here are 10:

1. Surprise Discounts

Discount one or more of your wish-listers’ items in-between visits, and then greet their return to your site with a pop-up window announcing, “It’s your lucky day! Your selected item is on sale.” This kind of unexpected personal discount helps to enforce the wishful thinking bias — the notion that what we want to be true affects what we believe to be true. It gives the customer the sense that “the Universe is giving me a sign that I should buy this product.”

2. Sense of Urgency

Apply the concepts used regularly by travel sites – “only six tickets left at this price!” – to create a greater sense of urgency. Let customers who added a given item to their cart know proactively (via email if necessary) when stock is low, supply is limited, or if any other time-sensitive parameter arises that can create a sense of urgency around the purchase. And if actual nothing arises – make something up.

3. In-Cart Incentivizing

Wish-listers and other shoppers get sticker shock when they see the total cost of items added to their carts. Watch on-page behavior metrics closely and offer incentives to purchase if the lag between arrival on the cart page and clicking the checkout button is significant. Offer the same (or better) incentives to customers attempting to leave the site from the cart page. 

4. Keep Them in the Funnel

Customers need to feel in control, and should be able to change everything without leaving the funnel. Don’t send them back to the product page to change colors, sizes, or quantities because over half of the time they won’t come back. Instead, give them an in-cart ‘edit order’ option. If you can’t do it technically in-page, at least do it in a popup. 

5. Clear Impact of Change

Make it easy for customers to remove items from their cart, or change quantities ordered. And if a customer does remove an item or changes ordered quantities, clearly show the impact of that change on the bottom line, immediately – including shipping and taxes.

6. Mistaken Removal

What happens if a customer removes an item by mistake, but actually still wants to purchase it? Does he/she need to navigate away from the cart to reorder, thus increasing the chances of desertion? Why not create a two-step item removal process, and allow shoppers to confirm that they actually intended to remove a given item? 

7. Share What You Know

Does the total price include shipping? If not, how much will it cost? Not sure? Add an approximation based on IP address location or customer account address, and prompt for more info to provide more exact numbers (in-cart, of course). What about taxes? Same answer. You customers care about what comes out their wallets, total – and less about the breakdown. Help them get to the bottom line faster, and you increase chances of conversion.

8. When Will it Arrive?

If you can approximate shipping costs and taxes, you can approximate shipping time. Provide an initial estimate based on what you know about the customer, and offer the option to edit details (in-cart, of course) for a more exact picture.

9. Where Am I in the Funnel?

Think about your average line in a supermarket. You can see where you’re headed, and how long it will take you get there. The online funnel dropoff should be similarly predictable. Let shoppers know where they are and where they’re going. How many more steps until they actually need to commit? Tell them!

10. The Benefits of Bundling

Retail sites spend tremendous resources on cross-selling, up-selling, and bundling - but returns are notoriously low. Encourage add-on purchases by making the benefits crystal-clear. Need an example? See Amazon’s free shipping threshold system (“Ten more dollars and you’re eligible for free shipping”).

The Bottom Line

Learn from the gym people. Identify your wish-listers and use the above ideas as a starting point toward aggressively targeting them. Remember, these are people who know your brand, have already spent time on your site, and like your products. Find the right way to push your wish-listers a few steps further down the funnel, and the U-Store-It Syndrome can be a thing of the past. 


About the Author

Michal Harel is vice president of consulting services at Clicktale, where she leads a group of customer experience analysts and consultants who help Fortune 500 companies optimize their digital interactive strategies and gain unique insights across various digital channels. Harel and her team help clients use these insights to drive better ROI.

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