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Tips & Tricks for Building Your Experimentation Program

It’s a good time to be working in eCommerce.  2014 saw web sales grow by more than 15% from the previous year, yielding more than $300 billion in sales for the first time ever.  That is a lot of conversions.  However, while revenues continue to climb for most e-tailers, a frustrating trend has been lurking in the background: shopping cart abandonment rates have have actually been increasing over the past few years, resulting in billions of dollars being left on the table.

Perhaps even more frustrating is that shopping cart abandonment is so common and expected that it’s almost a cliche.  With nearly 70% of shoppers abandoning their online carts, many sites settle for this industry average and only incorporate a few best practices, skip testing all together, and hope for the best.  While that can stop the bleeding, it will not reduce your abandonment rate and certainly doesn’t maximize optimization potential.

The goal of this post is to expose you to 7 actionable tips that will help you keep and convert more shoppers so that you can start taking home a bigger piece of the pie.  However, before we get to the actual list, I want to emphasize the importance of testing.  Simply changing 7 things in your checkout is not going to work, you should take the time to change 1, measure the results, and then recalibrate or move onto the next.  After you know it, your first test will get you on your way to establishing a program that helps you constantly find conversion lifts that keep your shoppers buying.

1.  Track Their Exit

Out of all the articles I have read on this topic, tracking your shoppers’ exit is rarely mentioned.  Google Analytics offers you the ability to set up a conversion funnel, allowing you to track the journey of your shoppers through your site and see what happens when they exit the funnel.  While you won’t be able to see where they go if they leave entirely, you will be able to see the pages they visit on your site, allowing you to optimize those in order to encourage them to return to the cart.


conversion funnel


For example, this image shows that 1,244 users abandoned the shopping cart.  While the majority of them (679) exited the site entirely, nearly 100 went other places on the site.  A good idea would be to display a reminder to those users about their abandoned cart and attempt to bring them back into the funnel.

2.  Send Enticing Reminder Emails

I did an experiment a little while ago where I abandoned my cart on 20 leading eCommerce sites to see how they would respond.  I was more than surprised when only 8 of those 20 sites sent me a reminder email, despite all of them having my email address.  

Do not follow their lead.  If you are lucky enough to have their email, then you absolutely need to be sending them reminder messages about their abandoned cart.  Take a look at this one I received from Crate & Barrel:


crate barrel email


This email does a few things right:

  • It’s personalized by showing one of the items I left in the cart.  Personalized emails are 22% more likely to be opened so try to include either the user’s name or the abandoned products in the subject line.
  • It provides clear information on customer service and return policy, two big contributing factors to abandonment.

3.  Clearly State Shipping and Return Policies

According to Statista, unexpected costs like shipping and return fees are consistently the leading cause of abandonment.  If you charge for shipping or returning a product, you need to clearly state the fees associated with each on your checkout page.  Even better is to also list them on your product page.

Zappos does a great job of this by putting their policies in the header and sidebar: Shopping Cart

4.  Allow Guest Checkouts

This is a big one for me and I have abandoned more than a few carts when unable to checkout as a guest.  While this is not the ideal choice for retailers, it has progressed from optional to must-have as 23% of users say they will abandon their carts if forced to create an account.


target guest


Target does a great job of keeping this process easy, guest checkout is clearly marked and shares a page with the normal login.   

5.  Remove Unnecessary Navigation

Once a shopper has started the checkout process they are in the final stages of the conversion funnel.  It is in your best interest to remove all distractions to help them focus on completing their checkout without abandoning the cart.  

Staples is one of the best at this because once you start their checkout process, they remove almost every link that can divert your attention.  By doing this, they are able to guide you through the process by creating a clear path to follow.


staples checkout


If you’re not ready to remove navigation entirely, consider adding a “Keep Shopping” button instead of a full menu to allow customers to return to the main part of your site.

6.  Provide Reassurances

Despite the prevalence of online shopping, there are still users out there that find it intimidating or confusing.  It could be that they don’t fully understand the process and have fears, but adding a few minor things to your site can help reassure even the most hesitant user.

  • Trust Seals – The data is mixed on this, because it affects audiences differently, so it’s worth testing.  Consider adding badges like BBB or Verisign to your checkout process to show you’re committed to security.


Trustmark security


I really like the location of GNC’s Norton badge, it’s obvious enough to be noticed without being distracting.

  • Obvious Customer Service – Offering a live chat and prominently displaying a phone number are great ways to help users with issues and show that you are reachable should they have any questions.


better baseball cart


Sports retailer Better Baseball does both of these extremely well and has them displayed on every page.

7.  Solicit Qualitative & Quantitative Feedback

While more time-intensive than the rest of this list as it involves consulting with a third party, asking for feedback on your cart and checkout process can help identify overlooked issues.  Recruiting fresh eyes to look at your site is a great way to see if you have missed something that may be affecting conversion and abandonment rates.

There are two main ways to do this:

  • Hire a company like UserTesting that provides testers to go through and review aspects of your site and give feedback.
  • Ask current customers for their feedback, ideally a short time after they complete an order. Use a survey form with an incentive to complete.

Of course, there’s also the quantitative feedback gathered from A/B testing. If you’re already testing, make sure to look at your previous results to help guide you to important elements or areas that have shown to make an impact. Ensure that you’re collecting these results through time so that you have a record that could give you further ideas for tests.

Wrapping Up

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be that not even the biggest and most successful eCommerce companies do everything right.  When only 4 out of 10 sites send reminder emails and the average abandonment rate is 70%, there is clearly room for improvement.  Even implementing just one of these tips can give you a leg up on the competition – start small, test often, and adjust as needed.

Got some more tips you’d like to share?  Let us know in the comments!

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