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The Science of Abandoned Carts with Beka Rice

This last week I had the pleasure of attending WooConf, the much anticipated, 3rd annual WooCommerce conference. While there, I had the chance to snag some time with one of my favorite eCommerce peeps, Beka Rice.

This is Beka’s third appearance on our podcast, and it’s always an information-packed episode. As Head of Product at SkyVerge, the company that also runs Jilt, Beka is recognized as an expert in cart abandonment and I thought there was no one better than Beka to give us some insights into the how, what, why and when of it. As online shop owners this is one of the largest challenges we face. Listen in as Beka not only gives us some great tips and concepts behind cart abandonment, but also tells us what we can do to make the best of those times when our customer bails on us.

We chatted about:

  • Why carts are abandoned
  • How checkout, payment and security can contribute to abandoned carts
  • Return policies and how they affect that after-purchase experience
  • Tips on the recovery of those abandoned carts

Thanks to Our Podcast Sponsor: Jilt


Bob Dunn: Hey. everybody. Bob here. We are at WooConf Seattle 2017 and I’m lucky to have Beka Rice here from Jilt. She’s going to be talking about cart abandonment. How are you doing?

Beka Rice: I’m doing great, Bob. It’s a little rainy here in Seattle, but thanks so much for having me on this.

Bob: Alrighty, well, we’re going to dive right into this, and it’s a topic I think anybody with an eCommerce site will want to know more about. Why in the world do people abandon their carts?

Why do people abandon their carts?

Beka: That’s an excellent question, and one I think many merchants find themselves asking. We track abandonment at Jilt, but instead of talking about what we can do about that, to start, we need to talk about how we can prevent it. Many of us has seen the Baymard Institute statistic that says almost 70 percent of carts are abandoned and in stats, we find that to be pretty consistent, pretty accurate. When you consider the fact that the average order value for e-commerce shops is over $54, that’s a huge amount of money. In fact, at Jilt we find that the average order value of the carts that we recover is over $100. That’s a tremendous amount of money that merchants are losing to sales that customers just leave on the table. We’ve done a lot of digging into how can prevent this and how merchants can stop these sales from ever being lost, so there’s a ton of great research around this on the web.

We found some good research from Statista, that we can link to in the show notes, that talks about the primary reason for people abandoning carts being unexpected costs, and especially typically related to shipping. That’s the first thing we usually try to tell merchants to focus on, when they’re trying to reduce abandonment and take that number from, you know, 70% of carts into something lower, maybe try to get that down to 60%, and you’re already beating the curve there. There are a couple interesting stats about that.

Forester has a great research study that shows that 59% of consumers factor shipping costs into their purchasing decisions. Six out of every ten shoppers in your store is trying to figure out how much they’re going to pay for the order to get to them. If you’re thinking about this in terms of your store, six out of ten people are going to find this important and many stores don’t have this published on the site in a way that’s easy for the customers to see. In fact, fast and free shipping is the number one motivator for an online purchase. If free shipping is available, 88% of customers say that that’s their number one reason to purchase from a store, but a lot of people bury the shipping costs and hide them on their site.

So if you want to reduce abandonment, the number one thing you can do is make sure that customers know what shipping you offer, exactly how much money they’re going to pay for it, and make sure they see that everywhere so that it’s not unexpected to them when they get to the checkout page and they say “Whoa, this is $4 for shipping, I wasn’t expecting this.” There are a lot of ways you can do that, with WooCommerce especially. Jilt is built by SkyVerge so SkyVerge has a lot of extensions for WooCommerce, one of which is cart notices. It can let you inform customers of what shipping costs are. Use something that shows people what the shipping costs are going to be so you can do things like announcement bars.

There are a couple of free plugins that let you put an announcement bar at the top of your website. Use something like that just to tell people “Hey, shipping is this much money” or “Hey, if you spend this much money you’re going to get free shipping.” And not only is that going to help you drive higher average order values but it’s going to make sure that the number one reason people leave your store, which is shipping costs, and especially unexpected shipping costs, is mitigated by the time that they get to your store, they’re not going to come to the cart page and be surprised by that.

Bob: Okay, we’re at the point where we understand a little bit what the problem is. I actually asked several people at a WordCamp recently, “What’s the most frustrating process in online shopping?” Most of the times it was checkout. Let’s talk a little bit about how that plays into this whole abandonment cart thing.

Beka: Excellent point. Shipping naturally brings up checkout. The number two reason why people abandon carts, is that they find that there is something blocking them in the checkout process, either account creation or a long and confusing checkout. When you look at the average number of steps in the checkout process on an e-commerce site, about 50% of sites ask for repeat information during checkout, or information they may already have about the user.

If you have an account, for example, asking you for information that could be pulled from the account wastes time and puts more hurdles in front of the checkout process. Your solution would be to offer guest checkout, first of all, to make sure that people aren’t going to your checkout page and saying, “No, I don’t want to create an account here. I’m not going to do that.” So make sure they check can out as guests. And then make sure you reduce the steps in your checkout as much as you can. If you’re already using WooCommerce, this is great, because the checkout process is pretty short. It’s not broken up into multiple pages and different steps.

But you can do even better. There’s a great plugin called One Page Checkout that can let you even simplify your checkout even more and even put it on a product page so you can cut out the cart process entirely. Then you want to audit the information here that you’re asking customers for. With WooCommerce, there’s definitely the basic fields that every store needs—billing fields and shipping fields— because they need to offer that. But let’s say, for example, you sell digital goods. You can cut out the address field. And maybe you only need post code for your credit card: fraud tools or validation. Cut out the fields you don’t need and try to keep it to a minimum so that you’re not asking people for extra information. There are a ton of plugins that do this as well. One that can help you do this is Checkout Field Editor for WooCommerce. Cutting out those steps and making sure that you remove hurdles in your checkout process is going to be the biggest thing.

Bob: Okay, now we’re in checkout and there are the different payment methods, there’s security, there’s a lot of other stuff. How does all that play into it?

How do the other checkout issues—payment, security, etc.—play into the picture?

Beka: Right. So once you cross the shipping hurdle and once you cross the account hurdle, now you have the payment hurdle. The Click-N-Buy survey found that more than 50% of shoppers won’t complete a purchase if their preferred payment method isn’t available. Over two thirds of online shoppers think that checkouts on the sites they’re shopping on are insecure. That’s the final hurdle for us when we’re at checkout. We’ve overcome objections about shipping, we’ve overcome objections about creating an account, we’ve tried to remove as many hurdles as possible, and now the last thing you’re trying to do is tell customers to give you money. When they get to this point, you want to make sure they trust you and that they can pay the way they want to pay. The first thing you can do is add trust badges to your store.

There’s an article I’ve written a while back at SellWithWP about this that we can link to as well, about how you can add trust badges on your checkout page or your footer of your site. iI you’re using Amazon Payments,  “Hey, we’re trusted, we’re Amazon-secure.” Payment gateways often have a security logo that you can use. Adding trust badges can help increase conversions because you want customers to know that your site and checkout page secure, so it’ll be something they want to give their payment information to. Also, make sure that you’re offering as many payment options as you’re comfortable offering.

As a seller, I often prefer Stripe as a payment gateway. A lot of people do. But not everybody wants to pay with a credit card. In fact, if you’re selling to different countries, that may not be your best option. A lot of people want to use a debit card, or want to use PayPal, or 2checkout, or something else, right? You have to make sure that your audience has the payment methods that they expect and want to use. You should test adding those payment options, adding PayPal, adding Amazon Pay, adding Apple Pay if you use Stripe, for example, or another gateway that offers Apple Pay. Try to make sure that your customers have the payment methods that they want to see at checkout so that they don’t get there and feel nervous about the purchase, or feel like any discomfort at all once they get to the payment section, because that’s the last hurdle to cross before someone bails on a purchase and leaves your site.

Bob: That’s an interesting point because, at one point, I actually decided to jump on the Stripe bandwagon when I was selling, and I put it on and I thought “Okay, I’m going to take PayPal off just to see what happens.” Within an hour I had two emails. Somebody said “Why did you take your PayPal button off, Bob?” I was like, “Whoa.” Giving options is really huge. Now we go to the after-purchase and we’re talking about return policies and all that good stuff. Again, as we move down the road here, how does that play into it?

Okay. Now we are at after-purchase. Any advice about things like return policies?

Beka: Absolutely. Customers definitely are thinking about this. When they’re on your site and they’re trying to shop, they’re not just thinking about getting through the purchase. They’re thinking about what happens after the purchase. They’re thinking about, “What if I have issues with this? How long is it going to take to get to me? Am I going to be able to return this if I don’t like it, if it doesn’t fit properly, or it doesn’t look the way I expect it to look?” Not only considering all of the things that lead up to purchase, but the things that happen after purchase, is really important in reducing abandonment because your customers are thinking about these exact questions.

67% of shoppers say they check the return’s policy page before they get to checkout, and they expect to find something that’s favorable to them. They expect something that has a no-questions-asked return policy or something that they at least feel is fair for the amount of time they need to know if the product is the right fit for them. If you sell clothing, this is making sure they have time to try it on and figure if they like the fit. If you are selling something that is a digital good, you know, maybe they expect to be able to use it a little bit to make sure it solves their problem. So, they expect to see a customer-friendly return policy there, they also expect to see things about shipping policy. How long is this going to take to get to me?

We live in a post-Zappos world, where online shoppers expect that kind of really, really friendly return policy, where it’s no questions asked, “We want to make you happy.” They expect returns to be easy and hassle free. Making sure that they have that information that’s going to help them after the purchase, before they even make the purchase is also one of the major ways you can reduce abandonment, because you’re overcoming objections. You’re saying, “Yes, everything about this purchase is great. You know how much it’s going to cost to get to you. You’re not going to see any unexpected fees. You’re not going to have to create an account if you don’t want to, you’re going to have your preferred payment method, and you’re going to be really confident in your purchase, and by the way, even if you’re not happy with that purchase, we’ve got you covered.”

These are all the things that assuage any reservations the customers will have about the purchase. By the time they get to the checkout page, they’re excited to place the order, and they have no reason not to do so.

Bob: All right. Reducing cart abandonment. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Now, the big question, recovering. I mean, you want to reduce it, but you’re going to have to recover some of it. That’s why I think you’re here talking to us. I’m going to let you run with this last part of it, and just give us some great information on the recovery end of things.

Give us some advice on the recovery end of things.

Beka: Right, and so, if we could all stop abandonment completely that’d be amazing, right? But it’s not feasible. You’re still going to have people with have objections. Maybe they encountered issues with the checkout process. Maybe they didn’t find the return policy and they were looking for it. While we can try to do everything we can to overcome these buyer objections and make sure that they have the information they need, the fact of the matter is, that not all those people filling their cart are going to end up purchasing. There are still going to be people who abandon the purchase, even if you’re doing a great job.

The thing that we find at Jilt, is that you can save those sales. You don’t have to wait and hope and pray, “Well I hope they saw the return policy. I hope they have the information they needed.” You can reach out to the customer proactively and try and say, “Hey, I noticed that you left things in your cart, I was worried that you might have questions, or you might have concerns. Can I help out with any of those things?” That’s where things like recovery emails come into play, and anytime a customer hits your checkout page and they provide an email address, even if they haven’t submitted that form, you can have that email address available to use in abandonment recovery emails. That’s what we’ve primarily done at Jilt.

We’re focusing now on automating more life-cycle emails than abandonment emails, but that’s where we got our start, because this is such a huge problem for e-commerce merchants. We did a lot of analysis on this and what we can can do to save those sales, and we found much of what saves sales can be tied back to things that would prevent abandoned sales in the first place. We found that merchants have the best success in recovering carts when they send a campaign of three emails.

In the first email, you want to make sure that you’ve addressed any customer concerns. This is a great place to ask about checkout issues, to reinforce security, and to reinforce policies. We encourage merchants to write an email that says, “Hey, you left these items in your cart.” That’s part one. Part two, “Did you have any issues? Is there anything we can do to help you?” A lot of the time customers will reply and say, “Yes. This is what I was looking for and I didn’t find.” The third component of that email is to iterate your policies and security. “If you’re concerned about shipping, we offer fast shipping, and easy returns. You’re going to have your item within seven days, and if it’s not great, please send it back. By the way, we have secure, easy, fast checkout. You can get your order processed in no time.”

That first email should really be geared to all the things you should already be doing to reduce abandonment, and iterating them in case customers didn’t see them, or in case they didn’t really notice the policies there, or things that could have stopped them from abandoning the purchase.

Then in the second email you try to address those things more directly. So, if you’re a merchant for example, that sells physical goods that are going to be shipped to customers … Let’s say you would typically offer free shipping for an order over $60. Well, if you’re trying to save sales, maybe you grant a free shipping coupon instead. So, if somebody might not have met that, and they say, “Hey, you know, I just was really looking for free shipping or something.” Try to address those things in your second email, potentially generating a free shipping discount code where you include a one-time use coupon. Say, “Hey, you might be concerned about shipping, we want to make sure you’re happy with this product, we’ll get it to you really soon, and we’re going to cover the shipping, if you complete your order, let’s say in the next three days or something.” You can send that in your second email.

The third email you should stretch out a little bit further. The life cycle of these emails depends on what you sell. If you’re a digital goods seller, you probably have a longer life cycle to your product, you know, people aren’t going to abandon a cart then come back six hours later. You might want to wait a day to send an email. But if you’re a clothing store you can probably send these emails sooner because people are making these purchasing decisions more rapidly, right? So the third email basically you kind of want to space out. If you’ve sent your first emails at six hours, and a day, maybe you wait three days for this email. If you sent your emails at one day, two days, maybe you wait seven days, right? It depends on your product life cycle, which is a separate discussion for a different time.

You want to send that third email at a later time and iterate if you’ve offered any discount codes . If or if you haven’t offered one, maybe this is the time you consider it. Instead of free shipping, maybe you offer 5% off, or free shipping and 5% off. Maybe you offer an extended return policy, if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in.You can play with these policies.  Maybe you would have done this anyway, but it’s not published on your site, so just send an email, “Hey, our return policy is 30 days, but we want to make you love this, so if you complete your order now, we’ll extend this to 60 days.” That might have been something that you were already willing to do, but it’s just an extra point for you. Or you can take the strategy of time limiting things, “Hey, we saved this cart for you, but these items are now low in stock, so if you’re going to complete your purchase you want to do it before stock runs out on these items.” You can use the third email to create a sense of urgency, and that usually depends on what kind of product you’re selling and what your industry is.

Once you’ve got to that point you’ve done a lot to try to stop abandonment. You try to address those same things in a first recovery email, and what we’ve seen is that if merchants send this single campaign, or some variation of this kind of campaign, we’ve seen a 15% recovery rate of all merchants. If we do the math here, let’s say that you have 100 orders in a month and each of those orders is worth $50, right? 100 orders, $50, you’ve made $5,000, right? The thing is, if you had 100 orders placed, you had about 200 that were abandoned, right? If you can recover 15% of those, that’s 30 orders, time $50 per order, that’s $1,500 you’re adding to your store revenue, just by sending these emails.

We’ve found about a 15% recovery rate, higher average order values than $50, that are going to make this an instant revenue driver for your store just because you’re addressing causes of abandonment, and trying to prevent and trying to reduce them, and trying to make sure the customers can ask questions to you when they’ve gotten to that point where they’re trying to give you their money. You want to make sure you assuage any concerns or reservations they have there.

Bob: Wow. Well, all I can say is that people gotta pay attention to this stuff and like I said, we’re at WooConf, the annual WooCommerce conference, and Beka’s been hanging at the Jilt booth. I’m going to have her tell a little more about where you can find her in Jilt. I just want to say, every time I walk by all these booths, there are always a lot of people at Jilt. I think there’s an obvious—I don’t want to say problem— but something that needs to be resolved for a lot of people, and a lot of people are interested in this. It’s very cool to see. Where can people find you around the web?

Where can we find Beka on the web?

Beka: Sure thing. I’m in some different places these days. I’ve worked at SkyVerge for four and half years, which is the parent company that owns Jilt, so you can find me at or and then for a long time, I’ve also written with, which is a site with tutorials, reviews, a lot of actionable content. Then the last place you can find me is on Twitter, @Beka_Rice, which is where I’m posting all the weird and crazy information I find, on the web, that I think will help merchants drive more sales and improve their stores.

Bob: Very cool. I just want to reinforce, go visit those sites. Lot of good stuff. I’ve used a lot of the extensions, I read all of Beka’s posts, excellent information. It’s been a long day, we have a second day tomorrow. I know Beka’s wearing down for the day. Me too, but later I’m putting together a get-together, which I’m going to be going to the SkyVerge and Prospress events. So we’ve gotta get a second or third wind here coming soon. Thanks again for taking the time.

Beka: Thank you so much, Bob. I’m looking forward to it and I really appreciate you having the time to chat with me today about this.

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