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Shopping Cart Abandonment Rises

New meaning for an old metric

May 29, 2008

When buying online first became mainstream, one of the most watched metrics for online merchants was the shopping cart abandonment rate. Through site security, consumer education and word-of-mouth about positive experiences, online retailers reduced the percentage of consumers who placed items in their carts but did not end up buying them.

In what may be a sign of the times, shopping cart abandonment has inched up. Consumers were slightly more likely to abandon shopping carts in Q1 2008 than they were a year ago, according to recently released data from MarketLive. The company said the percentage of shoppers who clicked off an e-commerce site after viewing just one page rose 18.9% during the same period.

But unlike anxious online buying pioneers, buyers today are not worried about site security or whether their goods will ever ship. Instead, savvy online shoppers are looking for bargains. MarketLive said increased comparison shopping and search engine use caused the rise in cart abandonment.

"It's a reflection of the state of the economy," said Jaye Sullivan, senior Internet strategist at MarketLive, in a statement. Ms. Sullivan said about two-thirds of consumers now start their research at search engines, so many visitors are new to specific e-commerce sites and more likely to click off quickly if they do not find what they want.

"Abandonment follows from that," she said. "More people are doing research and they're price-sensitive, so they're opening up more carts to check out the price."

Average Conversion and Shopping Cart Abandonment Rates for US Online Retail Sites, Q1 2007 & Q1 2008 (% of total visits)

Conversions were actually up 3.96% in Q1 2008 compared with a year earlier.

Online shoppers surveyed by PayPal and comScore were also concerned about costs. High shipping fees were the main reason for online shopping carts to be abandoned by survey respondents. The companies estimated that two-thirds of consumers who put items into shopping carts did not end up buying the items.

"Consumers are quick to walk away from online purchases when merchants don't fully disclose critical information, particularly related to cost," said Arturo Perez-Reyes, professor of e-commerce at the University of California, Berkeley.

In fact, the top three reasons for shopping cart abandonment in the PayPal study were cost-related.

Reasons that US Online Shoppers Abandoned* Shopping Carts at B2C E-Commerce Sites, March-April 2008 (% of respondents)

While consumers use retail e-commerce sites to comparison shop, there are signs that online merchants may fare better than brick-and-mortar stores during the economic slowdown.

Vertis Communications surveyed adult consumers in the US in January and found that 13% of respondents actually planned to buy more goods online as a result of current economic conditions.

Effects of the Current Economic Climate* on Shopping Behavior of US Adult Consumers, 2008 (% of respondents)

Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at eMarketer, expanded on why retail e-commerce will perform better than total retail commerce in a slower economy.

"Some consumers plan to increase online spending to save gas money or find bargains," Mr. Grau said. "Also, affluent shoppers, who form the core of online buyers, tend to ride out economic downturns better than lower- and middle-income consumers."

Read more about how Internet users plan to shop this year. Read eMarketer's new Retail E-Commerce: Slower But Still Steady Growth report.

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