DevelopmentWhy Shoppers Abandon Their Carts – and What Search Marketers Can Do to Help

Why Shoppers Abandon Their Carts – and What Search Marketers Can Do to Help

Expanding in-site search capabilities is one way search marketers can improve cart abandonment rates.

Most search marketing efforts are focused on merely getting users TO a site, but fail to leverage user behaviors to help KEEP them on a site. And most site managers don’t understand the relationship between search and cart abandonment. While site managers often lament the high percentage of abandoned carts on their sites, most managers fail to understand WHY so many carts go abandoned. If you don’t know why, how can you fix it?

The most common reason is really simple, but largely unknown: Carts aren’t just for shopping.

A shopping cart isn’t just for holding items until checkout. It also holds items shoppers are interested in while they figure out what to buy. The problem with most sites isn’t cart or checkout abandonment; it’s the fact that shoppers have no other way of keeping track of items they are interested in, so they use the only holding bin available, the shopping cart, and then abandon those items when done. They aren’t always abandoning a purchase; they are abandoning their list of unwanted items.

Additionally, shoppers may have a number of items in their cart that they are interested in but aren’t ready to buy, but they have to purge those items in order to buy something else they DO want to buy. This results in shoppers forgetting what else they had in their cart and don’t want to bother looking for, again. This is even worse than an abandoned cart; it’s a potential sale lost.

Shopping Behaviors

Most e-commerce sites are not shopping sites, they are buying sites. These sites are little more than mobile cash registers, and fail to support the average visitor’s most common shopping behaviors, resulting in lower conversions and higher abandons. So, what are these common shopper behaviors?

1. Learn

Rarely do shoppers visit a site and buy something in one session. They begin by broadening their knowledge of what features or options are available in the product domain, as well as the breadth of products available. Most sites rely on the shopper to sift through the tomes of product content to determine what’s right for them. This is the step of the shopping process where an expanded use of search tools can help both shopper and website, alike.

As shoppers look at different products (and sites), they learn about different features and priorities. During this learning phase, shoppers keep track of interesting items by adding them to their carts. This often results in shoppers with carts on multiple sites.

Shoppers often learn about a domain, without even realizing it, by virtue of the filtering choices presented on in-site search tools. Websites should consider a different form of search tools to help users learn about products. One idea is to learn about each shopper and offer tailored filters based on their perceived needs.

2. Narrow

Once shoppers have a better idea of what features they really need (or which ones they don’t want), they begin removing some items from their carts, or abandoning carts on other sites (possibly your site). They then switch between sites (or products) until they get to a point where they can definitively choose just one.

3. Buy

Once a shopper decides to buy something, they tend to merely abandon the carts on the other sites.

Most sites completely ignore those first two key shopping behaviors. By the way, providing product content and attributes does NOT support the Learn and Narrow steps. There is more that your site could do to help the users during these initial steps.

Turn Your Site Into a Shopping Site

Merely adding additional functionality to the shopping cart is not the answer. Try creating a separate Interested Items holding bin. Additionally, provide a means for shoppers to add notes to the products in this list. You might even allow shoppers to add links to other products, not on your site, so they can comparison shop. You might even let them add links to reviews. These notes and links give you valuable insight into what each shopper finds interesting and allows you to suggest other products that meet those interests.

Moreover, creating a single place where shoppers can compare various products that are specific to their needs gives them a good reason to come back to your site. If you do lose the sale, you’ll know why and can use that information to improve your products or offers.

Don’t mistake Amazon’s Wish List feature as a shopping tool. Their Wish List is designed more like a wedding registry than as a shopping aid. This feature is focused on selling, not on shopping. That said, the need for a holding bin is so strong, that shoppers still use it as temporary storage and not as a sharable wish list.


Designing for shopping behaviors instead of buying behaviors not only reduces your cart abandonment, but also increases conversions and return traffic to your site. A more powerful in-site search tool that’s tied to an Interested Items List can greatly expand your abilities to support the shopper. Supporting common shopping behaviors, not just buying behaviors, converts more visitors into shoppers, and it’s easier to convert a shopper into a buyer than it is a visitor into a buyer.


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