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Jul 27, 2004
Case Study

How Lowered Its Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate Dramatically

SUMMARY: If you work for an ecommerce site, this Case Study is a must-read. Learn how redesigned their shopping cart checkout process to lower shopper abandonment rates from 25-30% to just 15%. Every tactic they used is probably something you can steal to improve your own cart. Yes, includes before-and-after cart screenshots for you.

Although more than a million companies and brands from Dilbert to the ASPCA run their own stores online to offer everything from branded t-shirts to posters, the old 80/20 rule is in effect.

Just 20% of the stores make the lions' share of sales. This is always a problem when you rely on partners to do the marketing work. Some are fabulous, and others never quite get past the starting point.

Last fall, VP Sales & Marketing Maheesh Jain considered what he could do to make upcoming holiday season sales rock. Pushing, prodding, and encouraging store owners would only go so far.

Why not see if he could tweak one key area of's shops where he had control: the checkout process?

He reviewed his metrics reports to discover 25-30% of shoppers, who placed items in their carts and actively began the checkout process, never made it all the way through.

A 25% checkout abandonment rate is actually not all that shocking or bad. Most eretailers we've spoken to have reported similar figures anecdotally. However, Jain figured with a little focus he could do better.

Even an increase of a percentage point or two would make a significant difference to the bottom line for everyone.


First Jain ran a quick test on a store element that had been bugging him for awhile. The little button next to each item in stores said, "Add to Cart."

What if he changed that wording to "buy now" to add urgency and excitement? Perhaps it would propel folks into the cart sooner and wind up generating more sales.

He asked his Web team to run an a/b traffic split to test the wording change. Then he went with the winner for all stores.

Next, with help from an online conversion consultancy, Jain very carefully began the process of redesigning the checkout. The process had five stages:

Stage 1. Build mock-ups for evaluation within the redesign team

Stage 2. Program the new pages and carry out formal testing for functionality internally

Stage 3. Post working samples of the redesign online and ask store owners to pound on them looking for any bugs the internal team didn't catch.

Stage 4. Launch the new checkout process live to the general public, with a large yellow note on the first page letting people know the system had changed, and asking for feedback.

"We know everybody's got different configurations, we know it was going to be a pretty complicated piece of code. So we were providing an outlet for customers to tell us, 'Hey! This is not working on my system'."

Stage 5. After 30 days, reduce the feedback request in size, but still leave it live.

In total, Jain and his team made five major design changes to the checkout process (link to before-and-after screenshots below):

Change #1. Don't require registration for check out

Shoppers are no longer obligated to create an account or login to progress with the order; they can place the order as a guest (though they have the opportunity to set up an account later.)

Jain explains, "If you do a survey and ask, 'Does it matter if you have to register or not?', they'll say 'no.' But when they're buying, their actions are very different. A lot of people just do not want to commit to registering up front when they haven't completed the transaction yet."

He continues, "Let them get into the cart as a guest, let them get through the transaction and at that point ask them to become a member. We're just integrating the registration into the process of buying so that while you're buying you're actually at the same time registering."

Change #2. Streamline the checkout process

Every time you make someone click to move to another page so they can complete a process, you're going to lose a percent of the audience. Jain says, "The more steps they have to go through gives them another chance to leave and...another chance to get confused."

Plus, the longer a form, the higher the intimidation, "this looks like work", factor.

So Jain and his team boiled down the three separate pages the old cart used respectively for shipping address, shipping method/gift message, and billing details, into a single, sleek, java-driven page.

For example, if users check the box in the new cart saying their shipping address is different from billing, then (and only then) are they presented with a shipping address form to fill out. Otherwise, they move smoothly along to the next question.

Similarly, the gift message field appears dynamically only when the customer ticks a "check if this is a gift order" box.

Change #3. Offer the telephone option throughout

Offering an order-by-phone option is nothing new, of course. But stress this option throughout the checkout process. If a customer becomes uncomfortable with the online process -- at any time in this process -- they can abandon the cart but still complete the order.

However, with over four million SKUs available, many customers were unable to adequately describe what it was they were trying to buy, especially if they had to go offline to make the phone call in the first place. If the customer wasn't savvy enough to write down product numbers, it was, says Jain, "a nightmare."

So now assigns a unique identifier number to each cart, which is highlighted next to the phone ordering information...

"Rather order by phone? Call toll-free in US 1-877-809-1659, 8am-5pm PST and reference Cart Number 2054805."

This number gives the operator immediate access to the customer's cart contents.

#4. Move reassurances nearer the spot that causes worry

To make shoppers feel safe, the old checkout had a box at the side of the checkout form with info about privacy, security, shipping, etc.

But, Jain's team thought, why not split up the content in the box, and really integrate it into the form so that the reassuring copy and links appear right next to the part of the checkout process they specifically apply to?

Example: The "Secure Shopping Guarantee" is placed next to the part of the form where the customer enters credit card details.

Example: A "We value your privacy" link is placed directly under the email address field.

#5. Test a viral element at the end

Inspired by Amazon's "Share the Love" viral marketing offer on the post-checkout page, Jain decided to test something similar.

In this case, his order receipt page invited customers to send up to five friends a $5 coupon via email. Plus, the customer him/herself would also get a $5 coupon. (Link to samples of the emailed coupons below.)

The coupons included purchasing suggestions which Jain decided to swap out once a month. He chose the items to promote based on what was the most popular, and also what was the most unusual. That way he could get easy sales from bestsellers while showcasing's incredible inventory diversity.

Naturally in compliance with CAN-SPAM, Jain arranged for the system to automatically suppress the coupons that would have been sent to anyone on's Do Not Email opt-out file.


Good news and bad news. The first test, changing "add to cart" to "buy now" failed so dramatically that Jain cut the test short quickly after only half a day. Now he sticks with "add to cart".

However he was delighted find the revamped checkout process resulted in a stunning 10-point lift. This figure jumped to 85% with the redesign. "It's been really successful - we've been very happy," says Jain.

Phone orders have held steady at roughly 10-15% of total orders (Jain notes, this slice of the pie stays the same no matter how much the total pie itself grows.) About 85% of the people who call in have their unique cart identifier on hand either because they're looking at it on their screen or they've written it down prior to cutting their dial-up connection.

The yellow request for feedback promoted a spate of notes, but very few were about bugs in the cart. Jain says these days he gets a handful of feedback notes a week, and all are about things other than cart functionality. (Generally they are product questions.)

The viral program is also a winner. Jain notes, "It works out really well - we get a fair conversion of new people trying out our service."

Now Jain's focusing on what he sees as the next big challenge -- how to get more shoppers who've started carts to enter the check-out process. He's testing ideas now to reduce the pre-checkout cart abandonment rate.

Useful links related to this article:

Before-and-after screenshots of the checkout

Future Now Inc - the online conversion consultants CafePress relied on for this project:

Note: is a member of, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons-learned, new perspectives, insights and intelligence. More info at

See Also:

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