Online shopping with credit card and smartphone.
By Melissa Boyle

Improve e-commerce conversion in 2023, by following guidelines from 2006

February 1st, 2023
7 min read

“Our basket checkout abandonment is still too high…” How can we fix it?” A common question that regularly comes from those in charge of online retail performance. It’s often asked more, and with more weight in importance at key periods of the year dependent on sector; for retail e-commerce, the Christmas and New Year period is often one of those key times.

One of the most simple and instinctive things that e-commerce managers or others involved in the challenge of reducing basket abandonment might ask themselves as a result is; How can we improve the performance of the shopping basket and checkout pages?

You would think that this is and should be the first question to ask, and as a result, a logical course of action might be to analyse the basket and checkout experiences data and look for clues from user behaviour as to what the problem(s) may be, and then subsequently to plot some remedial design solutions. In other words – treat the symptoms.

BUT… The big thing that many e-commerce managers may fail to realise is that studies have consistently shown that circa 60% of the reasons for basket and checkout abandonment are reasons that are nothing to do with the basket or checkout. The reasons are typically to do with the customer’s experience at 4 key stages before the checkout and fulfil stages, namely:

  1. Find – Can the customer move confidently to the area of the site of most relevance?

  2. Select -Can the customer use information provided to select relevant options?

  3. Compare – Can the customer determine which product is best within this and competing product sets?

  4. Decide – Can the customer commit to buying a product and enter the cart and buying process?

These stages were defined by online consultants and brothers, Jeffrey and Brian Eisenberg, in the mid-noughties and was made famous in their 2006 publication; “Waiting for your cat to bark”. This book also cited that 60% of typical basket abandonment rates, happen during these four stages preceding the basket. Sixteen years later, the stages in an e-commerce journey online are still the same and it remains that most customers’ resistance to buying are due to a lack of adequate service / experience by the website before the basket or checkout stage. E-commerce websites must work harder than ever, before customers reach the shopping basket in order to then subsequently decrease abandonment at this or the fulfilment stage. With this in mind, here are some key things to consider optimising and the best methods for UX testing, as part of enhancing overall customer experience, and increasing conversion.

1. Find

When customers are on your site, finding the right products is critical. This is where effective search, taxonomy and navigation are key. If you don’t name products using the same vocabulary as your users, and products are in categories that are unrecognisable or confusing, you run a high risk of losing customers at that first hurdle. There are some tried and tested ways to understand, test and validate design decisions here:

Analytics review: To understand what people are searching for and how many users continue and drop out at this stage
Card Sorting: Users can label and arrange content based in their mental model, allowing you to match information architecture and navigation
Usability Testing: Through this method we can observe and see how users try and find key products and categories and interact with the navigation and search to add validity to changes or suggest further ways to optimise.

2. Select

When customers are selecting products there are a number of ways that many e-commerce sites don’t make this easy. These typically are weak or inaccessible calls to action. Also there can be accessibility issues with text visibility, understanding and contrast of text on images which can make things difficult to read or interpret. Poor images that don’t show essential product detail, features or make the product attractive can also inhibit product selection. Ways to help overcome these potential pitfalls are:

UX writing: Invest in UX writing to persuade and build confidence in product selection
Accessibility testing: Test the pages against WCAG guidelines on multiple devices
Image optimisation: Invest in good photography and ensure images are legible and focus on the detail that matters to customers
Tree testing: Run a tree test to ensure that customers can appropriately find a product by name and category based on a task in mind.

3. Compare

When customers are comparing products they will be interested in the detail. If the site can’t match this detail there is a huge risk of drop off and site abandonment. This is where a detailed look at user behaviour matched with variations is key to the UX optimisation at this stage. The two main ways to help improve performance at this stage for users are:

Usability Testing: See how users compare products and get their feedback on the content and detail contained within the product is a crucial UX method used to understand performance at this stage
A/B Testing: Often the small things matter at this critical stage, from the style of image, to the label on a call to action. A/B testing allows to you scientifically stick with the best performing variant and done continually over time, gain consistently improving results.

4. Decide

Getting customers to select that all important add to basket button is what this stage is all about. This is where it’s often about removing barriers, and any final sales objections and promoting the key action you wish them to take, giving users confidence in their decision. This is often based achieved by providing clarity on pricing, organisational trust, social proofing and shipping and payment. UX methods to help optimise this step include:

Usability Testing: See what causes trust or confidence or vice-versa at the product page level and get customer feedback on the content and detail contained within the product is a crucial UX research method used to understand performance and diagnose issues at this stage
A/B Testing: Like with the compare phase, from the style of image, to the label on a call to action, to how reviews are presented. A/B testing allows to you scientifically stick with the best performing variant and done continually over time, gain consistently improving results.
Principles of scarcity and urgency: This popular technique to encourage a lack of procrastination and promote action, presents limited product quantities to make users have a FOMO effect. Scarcity and urgency can also be represented by time bound pricing / sales.

The basket and beyond

Of course these stages can be optimised, but today, the majority of e-commerce solutions follow tried and tested ways to support conversion on these screens, from optimum form design, including auto-fill to easy ways to edit the basket that builds trust. This is the key reason why the real difference to conversion success is made further up the funnel, where users have personal and unique expectations based on the product, their previous and similar online experiences and their mental model around shopping online; Attributes that require us to use UX research to fully understand the customer in depth.

Learn from the past to improve the future

Since the early mid-noughties work of the Eisenberg brothers on this matter, the web and its sophistication has come a long way. What hasn’t changed though is that the key to reducing basket abandonment, is to not focus on treating the symptoms but treating the root cause, which often lies in optimising the consistent four key stages of e-commerce before the shopping basket.

Melissa Boyle.
Melissa Boyle

UX Director

With over a decade in digital agency work, I've served multinational brands, government entities, SMEs, and charities, enhancing their digital presence to boost business growth and enhance user experiences.