Shopping Cart Abandonment: 5 Myths That Are Holding Your Business Back

Blog | 7 mins

The average shopping cart abandonment rate hovers right around 70%.

This means that for every 10 customers who visit your retail site and are engaged enough to add items to their cart, only three of them are actually going through and completing their purchases.

A lot of money is being left on the table, and that’s why shopping cart abandonment is such a pain point in the ecommerce industry.

But why do shoppers leave their carts? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?

There’s plenty of oft-repeated and well-intentioned advice out there—but much of it is based on assumption rather than fact. In this post, we’re debunking some common rumors about cart abandonment and digging into the facts, statistics, and strategies retailers can use to complete more checkouts and improve their bottom lines.

Shopping Cart Myth #1: Customers abandon their carts because they forgot about them

Your customer filled their cart with items they intended to purchase, but then they were sidetracked. Their phone rang. Their child needed something. Their boss walked by.

They quickly exited their cart, fully intending to complete the checkout at a more convenient time. You’re convinced that all it will take is a friendly nudge to remind them that their purchase isn’t finished.

Sound familiar? It’s a common misconception that shopping carts are left incomplete because of sheer forgetfulness. But the data tells a different story.

Research shows that forgetfulness is not only an uncommon reason for customers to abandon their carts; in fact, it doesn’t even rank. Instead, things like unexpected costs and complex checkout processes are sending your shoppers to the door—things that you can control.

Image via Baymard Institute

A prompt reminder email simply returns shoppers to the same roadblocks. That explains why 45% of cart abandonment emails are opened, but only 10.7% actually lead to a completed purchase.

Retailers need to do more than encourage users to make it through checkout. They need to address the challenges shoppers are facing:

  • Be upfront and transparent about fees and total order cost.
  • Streamline their checkout processes.
  • Incentivize purchases through a discount, financing, or free shipping.

Forgetfulness doesn’t cause cart abandonment, so use these tactics to resolve the cause of the problem and yield far better results than a friendly reminder.

Shopping Cart Myth #2: A discount is the only way to incentivize shoppers to purchase

Sweetening the pot with an incentive effectively gets shoppers across the checkout finish line. But what sort of incentive?

A discount is the obvious choice. However, it’s not the only way to encourage customers to complete their purchases. Offering financing or free shipping are also popular and successful options.

Alternative financing increases customer purchase power and helps retailers recover sales—especially on higher-priced items that inspire more reluctance to purchase.

47.59% of Baby Boomers report that they wouldn’t even have made a purchase online if financing hadn’t been available. 22.13% of Gen Zs, 25% of Millennials, and 33.9% of Gen Xs report the same. These numbers prove that offering financing can be the boost your customers need to make it through checkout.

Retailers can make alternative financing even more effective by including financing offers in their cart abandonment emails. Bread customer The RTA Store did this and saw a 38% lift in click-through rates and a 3X improvement in their conversion rate.

Free shipping is another attractive perk to win back cart abandoners—especially since unexpected costs (like shipping) are the most commonly-cited reason for cart abandonment.

Offering free shipping accomplishes a couple of things for retailers:

  • It leads to more completed purchases. 93% of consumers are more likely to complete a purchase when offered free shipping.
  • It can also improve average order value (AOV). A reported 58% of shoppers add more items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.

Without a doubt, discounts can be effective too. But retailers shouldn’t box themselves in by thinking they’re the only way to win back shoppers.

Shopping Cart Myth #3: Cart abandonment emails will annoy your shoppers

It’s no secret that we’re all buried in emails. The average person receives about 90 emails per day, which makes retailers believe that dropping yet another message into their customers’ inboxes will only serve as an annoyance to already-discouraged shoppers.

Yes, some customers may be irritated by yet another email, but there’s no denying that these cart abandonment messages are still effective.

One study shows that even if customers were slightly annoyed by a message, 69% of them said that cart abandonment emails were still helpful or influenced their purchase decision. Beyond that, 7% of respondents said that they always go back and complete the purchase if the email includes a promotion or discount code.

Additionally, it might not be the cart abandonment email itself that’s annoying—it could be the way it’s being presented. Ecommerce retailers can do a few things to reduce customer annoyance and boost the performance of these emails:

  1. Consider timing carefully. The message should arrive in a shopper’s inbox early enough so that their cart is still fresh in their mind but not so early that you’re jumping on them as soon as they exit your site. Studies show that sending that first cart abandonment email within three hours is the ideal time. If you think a second follow-up is necessary, you should wait at least another 24 hours before showing up in their inbox again.
  2. Include some personalization, like mentioning the shopper’s name in the subject or greeting line. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, and personalized emails deliver 60% higher transaction rates.
  3. Clearly list the items that remain in the shopper’s cart and include a call to action to complete their purchase. As mentioned previously, this is also a good place to promote any special offers or financing options.

It’s all part of a well-rounded email marketing strategy.

Shopping Cart Myth #4: Cart abandonment emails are the only way to win back customers

Cart abandonment emails are impactful and worthwhile, which means they generate a lot of buzz among ecommerce retailers. However, too many retailers get tunnel vision with this strategy. There are other ways to win back customers outside of their inboxes that can serve as a complement to your email strategy.

The first is exit-intent popups, which can help you catch shoppers before they even have the chance to leave your site. It’s much easier to motivate customers to stay than to win them back later, and an estimated 35% of customers can be caught before leaving with these popups. They’re particularly compelling if you personalize them or offer some sort of promotion or perk.

Retargeting is another effective, non-email strategy that retailers should employ. Research shows that, without retargeting, only 8% of abandoners will return to complete the checkout process. With retargeting, that number jumps to 26%.

Additionally, retargeting has also been shown to increase AOV. 55% of abandoners will actually spend more after they’re retargeted.

While cart abandonment emails are worth the investment in time and energy, your campaigns to win back customers should be omnichannel. Don’t forget to think outside the inbox.

Shopping Cart Myth #5: Customers abandon carts to intentionally trick retailers

Today’s consumers are savvy, and they have endless options at their fingertips. Many retailers operate under the assumption that shoppers are intentionally abandoning their carts as a sly negotiation tactic. They fully intend to complete their purchases—but they want to see if they can receive a discount or promotional offer before doing so.

This isn’t completely a myth, as it does happen. But it’s such a small percentage of shoppers that it shouldn’t make retailers wary of using strategies to win these customers back. It’s estimated that only 15% of carts are deliberately abandoned, so 85% of shoppers are running into other barriers to purchase. That’s a large percentage of genuine customers who can still be recovered.

As for the 15% with dishonest intentions, it can feel counterintuitive to reward that behavior. But you’ll still come out ahead. Winning those customers back with a reasonable promotion means you’ll still close the sale—which is better than missing out altogether.

Additionally, remember that you don’t necessarily have to offer a discount. There are other ways to incentivize their purchase and instill a greater sense of customer loyalty for your brand.

Facts over fiction: The truth behind shopping cart abandonment

When retailers could be missing out on up to 70% of their sales, cart abandonment is understandably one of the biggest pain points in the ecommerce industry. And naturally, rumors about why it exists or how to overcome it run rampant.

It’s not an easy challenge to address, but as this post proves, you’re far better-equipped to do so if you’re informed. Ecommerce retailers should avoid these common myths and rely on the facts to appropriately address cart abandonment, complete more sales, and improve their bottom lines.