The Sales You Could Have Had: How Retailers Can Reduce Abandoned Carts

E-commerce opportunity is booming, with total sales set to hit €230.6bn (£202bn) this year in Western Europe. However, as Adrian Newby (pictured below), CTO, Crownpeak, tells RetailTechNews, acquiring a slice of this vast spend isn’t necessarily easy.

To outpace the competition, retailers must offer a consistent and compelling experience that keeps potential shoppers inspired. But, all too frequently, weak links in the digital consumer journey mean shopping carts are abandoned. In fact, a recent Barclays study has shown failure to complete purchases costs UK retailers £3.5bn annually.

Evidently, this is a problem that needs resolving, fast. But how can retailers do so? The answer lies in exploring key causes of shopping cart abandonment and how they can be addressed.

Consumers want a seamless experience

Current issues with unfinished purchases don’t spring from lack of interest. Indeed, the Barclays study discovered that, on average, UK shoppers spend almost 90 minutes per week browsing online and 89% save items in their wish lists and baskets. Rather, what dissuades consumers from opening their wallets is a poor-quality experience. And one of the biggest drivers of bad experiences is disjointed interaction.

As most retailers know, today’s shoppers frequently switch between multiple devices and channels, with general research often beginning on the desktop, but purchases increasingly being completed on mobile. In 2017 alone, online smartphone sales reached £16.4bn; and by 2021, this figure is set to rise to £58.5bn. Consequently, consumers now expect retailers to ensure shopping experiences align with their cross-channel habits. But these expectations aren’t always met. Many retailers are failing to keep up with trends – just 16% plan to make mobile shopping a top priority – and this means marketing messages can function poorly on the consumer’s screen of choice, or display inconsistently across devices, both of which are strong drivers for abandoned shopping carts.

It is therefore essential for retailers to embrace technologies capable of unifying digital communications. And, fortunately, advanced content-management systems (CMS) are emerging that can do just that. By consolidating management of online messaging, the new breed of CMS allows retail marketers to deliver consistent interactions throughout individual journeys and optimise experiences at every touchpoint.

Complex purchase paths can derail sales

One of the most appealing aspects of online shopping is its convenience, particularly for the attention-limited and technologically savvy millennial generation. Online marketplace studies, for example, have found 53% of consumers aged 25–34 prefer digital browsing to talking to staff in stores. Google has even coined a new term – the ‘Zero Moment of Truth’, or ZMOT – for this new independently focused personal research approach to shopping. But the appeal of convenience is conditional on shopping journeys staying simple and fast. As soon as processes become complex, interest can fade.

Adrian Newby, CTO, Crownpeak

For example, past research investigating the decision-simplicity index – a measure of how easy it is for consumers to assess brands and explore options – shows brands with a strong simplicity score were 89% more likely to win the purchase. Clearly, those who don’t invest in boosting shopping efficiency are missing out on a lucrative chance to fuel sales and increasing the probability of incomplete purchases.

Therefore, retailers need to focus their attention on simplifying the user experience. Take, for example, Amazon’s Dash devices, which reduce the purchasing process to one step and allow consumers to order products at home with the touch of a button. Little wonder Dash is estimated to have taken 160,000 coffee orders so far. While this connected upgrade may not be feasible for every retailer, what is often overlooked is the effectiveness of a basic website clean-up.

By conducting a review of their website using a flexible CMS, retailers can identify the sticking points that hold shoppers up, such as convoluted menus, product details held across several pages, and the absence of prominent ‘click to buy’ options. From here, they can create a user-friendly interface that demands little of consumers and offers the convenience they crave. Almost 30% of the respondents in the Barclays survey said that a more streamlined process would make them more likely to see purchases through to the end.

Slow sites can dampen enthusiasm

In today’s fast-paced world, users also become irritated with slow-loading websites that take up too much of their time. And on mobile, few are prepared to wait for long: 53% of mobile users will leave sites if they take more than three seconds to load.

The core reasons for site latency issues are many and varied, from glitches and technical problems to broken links, most of which can be avoided with regular testing and maintenance, but that can only take you so far. Greater problems are being created by extensive and complex digital supply chains – with vast webs of vendor Javascript tags weighing sites down. The issue is made worse by the fact that nearly 70% of marketers don’t even have a clear understanding of the third-party technologies operating on their sites.

There is an urgent requirement for retailers to review their technology stack. More specifically, they must implement tools that not only have the capacity to identify all tags operating on their site, but also manage them. For example, evaluation may reveal there are currently three analytics tags tracking click-through rates (CTR), thereby highlighting an action the retailer can instantly take to increase speed: dropping two tags.

Moreover, after the recent introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the spotlight is on marketers to ensure they are operating in a compliant manner; and the regulation dictates that businesses will also be held accountable for third-party vendors found to be in breach. This makes it even more crucial for marketers to ensure they have a full overview of their digital supply chain and work to regain control of this, not only for compliance reasons but also to improve website responsiveness.

Browsing the future of retail

While it’s impossible to guarantee every item consumers place in their basket becomes a purchase, optimising the shopping experience can significantly enhance the chances of sales. According to Barclays, UK retailers could generate £10.5bn within the next five years if they refine online purchasing systems. 

Ultimately, the best way retailers can avoid counting the sales they could have had is by following the industry’s guiding principle: always give the customer what they want. Modern shoppers desire a simple, tailored, and fast shopping experience that flows across their preferred channels. As dependence on smart technology increases – thanks in large part to the Internet of Things (IoT) – streamlined shopping will only become more important. So, to retain consumer interest and stay ahead of the rest, the future of digital retail must be joined up and enjoyable.