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Abandonment issues: why shopping carts get left behind (and what to do about it)

From hidden shipping costs to an overly complicated checkout process, there are many reasons online shoppers ditch their carts without completing a purchase.

While abandoned shopping carts are common for many ecommerce brands, they don't have to be. By understanding why people abandon their carts, you can address these common cart abandonment reasons in advance, enabling you to optimize your ecommerce site, win happy customers, and make more sales.


Last updated

21 Feb 2023

This article covers the top cart abandonment reasons that could be driving potential buyers away, how to identify whether they’re affecting your online store, and what you can do about them.

Help abandoned carts find their way home

Want to understand why, when, and where customers abandon their carts? Sign up for a free Hotjar account to get user insights that will help you improve conversions.

What is cart abandonment and why is it a problem?

‘Cart abandonment’ is a term used to describe any online purchase that is started but left incomplete (or abandoned) before the customer checks out. It happens when someone adds items to their online shopping cart, but doesn’t complete the purchase—and the cart gets left behind.

If it sounds sad, that’s because it is. 

While cart abandonment is a natural part of online shopping, a high cart abandonment rate can be particularly frustrating for ecommerce businesses, especially when you’ve invested heavily in getting those people to your site in the first place. 

A high cart abandonment rate can cause problems for ecommerce businesses because, simply put, it represents potential customers who chose not to become customers. Abandoned carts are lost sales—and lost sales equals lost revenue.

But abandoned carts can also be a symptom of a bigger issue. A high abandoned cart rate may indicate there’s something wrong with:

  • Your product

  • The perception of your brand

  • The customer experience you’re providing

  • The user experience of your site or app

  • How you stack up against competitors

  • Your ecommerce funnel

Whatever the cause, if left unexamined—and untreated—the issues behind abandoned carts can compound, leading to lower profits, more budget spent trying to regain customers’ attention with retargeting, and frustrated customers who may turn to competitors.

How to calculate your cart abandonment rate

To understand your cart abandonment rate, you need to first understand your cart conversion rate.

Your cart conversion rate is the number of completed purchases divided by the number of carts opened, multiplied by 100 to get the percentage.

Your cart abandonment rate is the inverse of that. That is, if you have a 15% cart conversion rate, that means that 85% of carts did not result in a purchase. In this case, your cart abandonment rate is 85%.

When we dug into cart abandonment statistics, we found research from the Baymard Institute that shows the average cart abandonment rate is almost 70%. But if yours is higher than this, don’t panic just yet. Keep in mind that cart abandonment rates can vary due to factors such as industry, product type, and even the devices used to browse, so you may want to do some extra research to make sure you’re using the right benchmarks for your business.

5 common cart abandonment reasons

There are many cart abandonment reasons that could be behind those left-behind carts, but without knowing which ones are at play, it’s almost impossible to fix them.

Luckily there are a few good places to start. Here are five common cart abandonment reasons—and what to do about them.

1. Extra costs, such as shipping and taxes

According to Baymard’s research, ‘extra costs too high’ (think: shipping costs, tax, and fees) is the biggest cart abandonment reason, and was responsible for 48% of abandoned carts in 2022.

It makes sense: getting to the end of a checkout flow only to find that the total amount is more than you expected can be a nasty surprise, so try to ensure customers have all the information they need before they reach that ‘Pay now’ button.

#British luxury department store Liberty uses a banner to reassure people that duties are already included in the price, which is especially important to note post-Brexit.
British luxury department store Liberty uses a banner to reassure people that duties are already included in the price, which is especially important to note post-Brexit.

Is your cart at risk?

Is information about shipping costs, taxes, and other fees (such as customs and duties) easy to find, or do people have to add items to their cart and start the checkout process to see how much their order is really going to cost?

What to do

Make things clear with easy-to-find information

Provide shipping rates and any additional costs upfront, if possible. To make it super clear for customers, consider mentioning (or linking to) your shipping and customs information on every product page.

Combine clarity with incentives

Offering free delivery over a certain purchase amount can be a good way to increase the average cart value, while also giving potential buyers visibility over how much shipping will cost.

Flag duties and customs before they buy

You can’t control duties and customs, but you can let customers know whether to expect them. These fees can be especially frustrating for customers (and can lead to a lot of extra hassle for your business if they go unpaid), so it’s worth being as transparent as possible.

 2. Forcing buyers to create an account

Needing to create an account to complete a purchase can be off-putting. Whether it’s because creating an account is a multistep process that’s overly complicated, the customers don’t have time right now, or you simply haven’t earned their trust yet, the Baymard Institute’s research suggests almost a quarter (24%) of abandoned carts happen because the site wanted customers to create an account.

#LEGO offers multiple checkout options so shoppers can create an account or continue as a guest.
LEGO offers multiple checkout options so shoppers can create an account or continue as a guest.

Is your cart at risk?

Do people need to create an account to check out? And if so, how long is that process? Are customers exiting the checkout page instead of entering their payment details?

What to do

Offer an alternative to creating an account

Offer a ‘guest checkout’ option to speed up the process, so customers can skip creating an account. You can always let them create an account later, when it’s more convenient for them.

Analyze your account creation process

Use session recordings to quickly identify where users are hesitating or bouncing. Are you asking for too much information? Are there too many steps? Do people pull a u-turn when they see the signup? All of these signals can help improve your signup flow.

Ask why they’re leaving with an exit-intent survey

Use an exit-intent survey to find out why people exit the checkout page. By providing a few common options and giving them an opportunity to provide feedback, you can better understand why customers are leaving—and make changes that encourage them to stay.

3. Lack of trust

Customers will only give you their credit card details after you've earned their trust. For 18% of respondents in the Baymard Institute’s survey, not trusting the site with their financial information was enough for people to abandon their carts. 

But how can you build trust? Customers are looking for signals like a consistent brand, SSL certificates, multiple payment methods, clear and accessible security information, and upfront information about returns policies. Research has also shown that incorporating social proof throughout your ecommerce store—with customer testimonials, ratings and reviews, and user-generated content—is incredibly impactful, potentially increasing the conversion rate by up to 380%.

#Clothing brand Lucy and Yak incorporates social proof on every product page in the form of an aggregated rating calculated from a clear number of customer reviews.
Clothing brand Lucy and Yak incorporates social proof on every product page in the form of an aggregated rating calculated from a clear number of customer reviews.

Is your cart at risk?

Are your policies clearly stated and easy to find? Do you accept multiple payment methods? Do you have authentic customer reviews and ratings?

What to do

Put social proof front and center

Add customer reviews or ratings to product pages so people can see other buyers’ first-hand experiences with both the product and your company. Not only does this help reassure potential buyers that other customers had successful experiences, but it also shows transparency, which encourages even more confidence.

Use heatmaps to see what’s working

Pinpoint the most effective spots to place key trust signifiers—like your social proof, returns policy, and payment information—by using heatmaps to understand how they affect users. For example, if your social proof is at the bottom of your page but users aren’t scrolling that far, you might want to consider moving it closer to the top to see if that improves conversion rates.

Watch how users engage with your website

Use session recordings to see how users engage with your page and get fresh insights into where you can make improvements. Try filtering session recordings by specific events to get more granular: for example, watch screen recordings of users who read reviews or viewed the returns policy, and see if that segment was more likely to complete their purchase.

4. Poor user experience or technical errors

There are many factors that contribute to a poor shopping cart user experience. Maybe it’s an overly long or complicated checkout process, which Baymard’s research lists as the fifth most common cart abandonment reason. Or maybe it’s too many pop-ups, long load times, missing content, photos or descriptions that don’t load correctly…the list can—unfortunately—be endless.  

And then there are website bugs and glitches.

According to Baymard, errors and crashes are responsible for 13% of cart abandonments during checkout. But technical errors don’t just cause a poor user experience and lose a sale in the moment; they can erode trust and put people off trying again later. Luckily, a few small tweaks to your site can help you get back on track.

#Healthy food company Wyldsson used Hotjar’s Heatmaps and Recordings to understand where users were having issues, allowing them to quickly fix them and increase sales by 30%.
Healthy food company Wyldsson used Hotjar’s Heatmaps and Recordings to understand where users were having issues, allowing them to quickly fix them and increase sales by 30%.

Is your cart at risk?

Is the user experience consistent across both desktop and mobile? When was the last time you did a full technical check on your site—particularly the journey from product page to checkout?

What to do

Ensure consistency across desktop and mobile

Cart abandonment can vary significantly based on how people shop—that is, whether they use a desktop or mobile device. Use heatmaps to understand how user behavior changes and varies by device, so you can quickly spot opportunities to optimize the user experience on every platform.

See the user experience from their point of view

Try filtering session recordings to surface those with errors, so you can quickly identify and troubleshoot problems. You can also use heatmaps to help you catch things that may have slipped past even the most dedicated QA teams, such as unclickable buttons, that may prevent users from completing checkout.

Create an open feedback channel

Use Feedback to create an in-the-moment way for customers to flag issues with you directly. Feedback gives you clearer context on customer problems and blockers, and extra insight into the customer's experience (in their own words). This ensures you’re always providing a way for them to be heard—and identifying new ways to improve.

5. They’re just browsing

Sometimes, a browse is just a browse, and a full shopping cart can be more of a daydream than an actual commitment.

It’s a natural part of the equation for online retailers, and many customers abandon their carts before they even make it to the checkout flow. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn at least some of these window (or browser) shoppers into repeat customers with a few clever tactics.

#Accessories retailer Chunks sends a cart recovery email highlighting their playful brand while making it easy to return to your cart and complete your purchase.
Accessories retailer Chunks sends a cart recovery email highlighting their playful brand while making it easy to return to your cart and complete your purchase.

Is your cart at risk?

Yes! Every cart is. Sorry—but it’s not all bad news. This presents an opportunity for you to do some customer analytics, turn your insights into action, and boost your conversion rate optimization.

What to do

Send an abandoned cart email

Use cart abandonment emails and cart recovery to lure potential buyers back. Adding a coupon code can help to sweeten the deal and encourage people to buy from you, rather than from a competitor.

Set up wish lists

Sometimes people add items to their cart so they don’t lose track of them for later. A wish list or ‘save for later’ option can help prevent people from adding items to their cart when they’re just browsing, so you can reduce your cart abandonment rate while still letting users bookmark items they like.

Do more customer research

Run surveys to understand what might be blocking people from buying. Are they just researching the product for now? Comparing brands? Planning to buy from a competitor or an in-person retailer? These insights can help you identify ways to optimize the browsing experience and bridge any gaps.

Why teams can’t rely on guesswork

The easiest and most effective way to address common cart abandonment reasons is to understand your users and their behavior.

Sometimes people can tell you why they abandoned their shopping cart—The delivery times were too long! The shipping costs were too high!—but at other times, it’s only through observing their behavior and asking the right questions that you can get to the root cause of your shopping cart abandonment rate.

For web design agency NerdCow, one simple question helped them almost triple conversions for one of their clients in just two weeks:

After spotting in session recordings that people were adding items to their cart but not checking out, agency owner Tomasz Lisiecki ran a survey to ask users what stopped them from buying. 

The surprising answer he didn’t even consider? They simply forgot.

With this insight, Tomasz and team quickly addressed the problem by setting up an abandoned cart sequence to email people who didn’t finish checking out, and they added a reminder to the website so returning visitors would get a notification that they still had items in their cart waiting for them. This tailored solution helped nudge people in the right direction, leading to almost three times as many sales.

Understanding cart abandonment reasons is the first step to fixing them

Your customers’ actions speak just as loudly as words, so if they’re bouncing before completing a purchase, it’s probably a sign that there’s room for improvement somewhere along the buyer's journey.

Knowing why people are leaving their carts behind is crucial to reducing your cart abandonment rate and boosting sales. By identifying the top reasons behind abandoned carts and optimizing your UX to address them, you can delight your customers all the way to checkout—again and again.

Turn abandoned carts into sales

Sign up for a free Hotjar account to get user insights that can help you improve your ecommerce site and reduce cart abandonment rates.

FAQs about cart abandonment reasons