Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

How Cart Abandonment Differs from Checkout Abandonment — and How to Prevent Both

Wilson Lau

Sr. SEO Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

Topics Covered:

Imagine you're shop owner, and you found an abandoned shopping cart in a store aisle. You have no idea who left it there or why — you’d be stuck simply restocking those products and hoping for better luck next time with a future shopper. 

E-commerce, however, gives retailers much more insight into the customer who filled that basket and what should happen next. That means the opportunity to sell, and to make things right, lives on. But it also means customer expectations are much higher — your brand has to deliver or they’ll move on to the next digital storefront.

No brand makes 100% of its online sales all the time. Not even Amazon. But what distinguishes savvy brands from the not-so-savvy is how they respond when customers walk away from their digital carts. Here’s a closer look at precisely how to respond when a potential customer abandons their online shopping cart versus when they leave at some point in the checkout process.

Cart Abandonment vs. Checkout Abandonment

While they sound alike, there's an important distinction.

As the name implies, cart abandonment is a phenomenon on e-commerce sites when shoppers add items to their carts, but leave before checking out. Checkout abandonment, on the other hand, occurs when a customer initiates the checkout process for in-cart items, but doesn’t complete it.

If we were to zoom in on the later stages of the purchase funnel, we’d see the cart stage precedes the checkout stage, which means brands will naturally encounter more cart abandonment than checkout abandonment simply because there are fewer customers in each stage as they move closer to conversion.

The good news in both cases is the retailer in question can win back these customers and recover potentially lost sales. Tactics, however, will differ depending on consumer behavior.

Preventing Cart Abandonment

If you want to point fingers, you can probably blame Amazon in large part for consumers’ expectations today. The notoriously customer-obsessed company has set a very high bar for both prices and product availability, as well as one-click orders and two-day shipping.

That means in order to compete, you have to elevate your e-commerce experience as well. In fact, the most common causes of cart abandonment include “un-Amazon-like” experiences such as:

  • Unexpected fees, like add-ons for shipping and handling — remember Amazon has baked this particular cost in to Prime membership for 150 million customers worldwide, who more or less forget they have paid for shipping already when they place their orders;
  • Limited shipping options — including orders that will not arrive within a desired window;
  • Inadequate site security — including popups warning shoppers their transactions might not be secure and their financial information could be in jeopardy;
  • And performance issues, such as slow load times and site crashes.

And, of course, sometimes customers add items to their carts while they’re still in the research phase and are simply not ready to buy yet. Email reminders and retargeting are ideal tactics to win back these customers when they are ready.

Fortunately, the rest of these user experience issues can be remedied through a combination of transparency and site optimization. Think of it as the Golden Rule of E-commerce: Do unto shoppers as you would have them do unto you when you’re shopping.

This should really start with addressing any performance or security issues on your website. Customers have a lot of alternatives today in online commerce — they simply will not put up with slow and/or insecure websites. In addition, you can further prevent cart abandonment by displaying the total cost of an item from the very start — as well as tiers for free shipping or other offers. This helps avoid unpleasant surprises in the checkout stage, but it can also encourage them to keep shopping until they reach a particular threshold. It’s also a good idea to give customers a range of fulfillment options — and to make access to your customer service department easy in case shoppers have questions.

Don't miss this ready-made cart abandonment recipe to help drive visitors with products in their carts back to your website and over the finish line to complete a purchase.

Preventing Checkout Abandonment

The problems above can also influence checkout abandonment. However, customers who leave a site or app after beginning the purchase process may also be impacted by the following:

  • A cumbersome checkout process with too many steps that may ask for too much information;
  • A checkout process that forces shoppers to create accounts instead of offering the ability to purchase as a guest;
  • Missing payment options or security badges;
  • A declined payment;
  • Or a site that is not optimized for mobile.

A particularly high rate of checkout abandonment is a clear sign of friction in your checkout process. If that’s what you’re seeing, you’ll want to go back and review the experience to see how you could better offer shoppers a secure, optimized checkout, and adjust the process accordingly.

To further prevent checkout abandonment, you’ll want to streamline the process as much as possible. It’s a good idea to include a progress bar so users have a sense of how much longer they have to go. It’s the same concept behind countdown clocks in the subway, which tell riders how long they’ll have to wait for the next train — and which results in a better passenger experience.

It’s also a good idea to not get greedy asking for customer data at a delicate point like checkout — it could easily backfire and result in a lost sale. Instead, think of an impending sale as the foundation of a relationship you can build on with plenty of future opportunities for data acquisition.

And, once again, emails and retargeting are your best strategy for reaching out to customers who abandoned their carts during checkout in order to win them back and complete the sale.

Here’s Where AdRoll Comes In

Fortunately, AdRoll offers a comprehensive abandonment solution that includes email and digital advertising to help clients maximize revenue in these situations. Some of our competitors only offer capabilities for checkout abandonment — and that’s only for consumers who are logged in to your site or who have shared their emails.

With AdRoll, however, you can reach virtually every customer. And, with our AI-powered product recommendation engine, you’ll be able to easily offer personalized messaging based on their actual behavior. Our abandoned cart revenue solution reaches consumers across channels like the web, social, and email, ensuring your recovery message lands in front of the right customer on the right device at the right moment. This includes: 

  • Cart abandonment and browse abandonment email campaigns reflecting the recipient’s on-site behavior to encourage customers to return and finalize their orders;
  • Display ads with dynamic content to re-engage cart abandoners with personalized offers featuring their previously viewed products;
  • And personalized site recommendations, including your most popular, most viewed or previously viewed products in a seamlessly integrated carousel on your site to help boost conversion rates.

 What’s more, research shows brands who use our email and retargeting products together see customers who are twice as likely to convert — and they convert twice as fast as consumers who see only ads.

The Golden Rule of E-Commerce

Here’s the glass-is-half-empty truth: even with an A+ site and checkout experience, most brands are going to have cart and checkout abandonment sometimes. 

But here’s the glass-is-half-full version: you still know a lot about those customers and can find them again. Plus, with a little help from a partner like AdRoll, you can easily figure out what to say — and where and when to say it — to win them over. When you’re ready to start winning back more cart abandoners, reach out to AdRoll today.


Explore Next

Topics Covered: