Ten reasons for shopping cart abandonment

Imagine a user adds thousands of dollars worth of items in their shopping cart at Walmart. Just before this person goes to the cash registry he decides to leave and go home. You could imagine the frustration felt by the shop manager as this has an immediate effect on their revenue. He or she wondered why the customer left the transaction and would like to prevent that in the future. A simple question for the customer the next time he returns can help find the reason why the shopping cart abandonment occurred.

This same event can happen easily in your online store without even noticing it. It’s important to find the biggest frustrations that your users have in the shopping cart to prevent them all together because it can increase the user experience and your revenue.

This article describes some of the biggest reasons why users leave the shopping cart. This can be used to research your users and find out if they might be having the same problems on your website. All the described reasons are obtained from renowned scientific research.

Reason #1: Using the cart for entertainment purposes

One of the main reasons that users leave the shopping cart is because they are using it for entertainment purposes.

A study by Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010) showed that the more users are adding items for entertainment purposes, the greater the chance of cart abandonment occurring. Examples of entertainment purposes can be adding products for later research or as a wishlist for the future. 

These users are likely to return at a later time to finish their purchase or will buy it somewhere else. An example could be using it as a shopping list when going to a physical store.

The same study Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010) also showed that the greater the cart is used for entertainment purposes it also increases the use for research and organization. According to this study research and organization use are also a factor of users abandoning their shopping cart.

This research Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010) also showed that users who use the cart for research are more likely to wait for a product price to drop before buying it. These researching shoppers are probably more price-conscious.

This means that designing a shopping cart for entertainment purposes is a big fat no and should be avoided at all costs. Try to focus on getting your user to the next step as fast as possible.

Reason #2: People are worried about the total costs

Users that are concerned about the total cost of the order are more likely to use the shopping cart for organization purposes or as a research tool.

The research Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010) showed this to be true. Furthermore, it showed that these users are more likely to wait for a price drop. This in turn increases the likelihood of them leaving the shopping cart.

This information learns us that the shopping cart should not be centered around the total costs of all the products but rather focus on getting the user to the next step despite these costs.

Reason #3: People are using it as a shopping list

Users that use the shopping cart as a research or organization tool are more likely to go to the physical store to buy the product. 

This is confirmed in the study by Kumar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010). Similar to using the cart for entertainment purposes you don’t want to design your shopping cart to be a useful shopping list if you don’t have a physical store to match your online store. These users will then go to your competitors with your shopping list. 

Additionally, the more likely a user is to wait for a lower sale price the higher the chance of them buying from a traditional physical store.

The study also describes that privacy and security are a factor of the likeliness that users go to physical stores.

Try to use this knowledge to prevent users from having to go to physical stores to buy their products.

Reason #4: Perceived ownership

You need to make the user feel like they own the product or service before they finished the transaction.

A study by Egeln, L. S., & Joseph, J. A. (2012) showed that an increase in perceived ownership has been found to increase the perceived value of a product or service. This means that the website should focus on increasing the perceived ownership to decrease cart abandonment.

An example of this could be reinforcing this feeling with a proper copy text when users add products to the shopping cart. Imagine a user adding a product and seeing the text “The product has been reserved for you!”. 

This way the user might already get an increased feeling of ownership. The way that this concept is implemented is different for every website and should be tested for its effectiveness. I believe that you can come up with a lot of different tests for your website.

Another example would be on an existing dutch website called Coolblue. When adding a product to the shopping cart they emphasize that the product is “almost yours”. This would imply that the user is a step closer to the ownership of the product and therefore increasing the perceived ownership.

Reason# 5: Emotional ambivalence

When users are experiencing conflicting thoughts they are less likely to finish the transaction on your website. Which decreases the overall revenue of your website.

A study by Huang, G. H., Korfiatis, N., & Chang, C. T. (2018) showed that the occurrence of emotional ambivalence on mobile shopping carts increases a user’s hesitation. Which in turn increases the cart abandonment rate.

Emotional ambivalence can be described as mixed feelings towards a process caused by cognitive conflicts. 

An example of this occurring with users would be when he or she feels a positive and negative feeling towards the shopping cart process. A positive feeling of the process could be the convenience of being able to place an order on a mobile device while sitting on the couch. A negative feeling would be the cost of using a credit card to finish the transaction.

When the user experiences these feelings at the same time we can speak of emotional ambivalence. This causes hesitation and uncomfortable tension within the user. When the user experiences this the study Huang, G. H., Korfiatis, N., & Chang, C. T. (2018) shows that the cart abandonment increases and revenue drops.

Another example of emotional ambivalence would be the conflicting feelings, the convenience of mobile shopping, and the privacy and security risks that go along with that. The convenience is the positive and the security risks the negative. 

You can use this information by analyzing the different feelings that users experience in the shopping cart and trying to prevent or get rid of negative emotions. This would get rid of the conflicting emotions. When you need to present a user with negative emotions you should not try to make them feel better by adding positive emotions in the mix because this causes cart abandonment. You don’t want to sprinkle a shit message with fairy dust. Just get to the point!

Reason# 6: Transaction inconvenience 

Users find the payment methods of your website inconvenient and therefore abandon the shopping cart.

A study by Erdil, M. (2018) showed that there is a significant relationship between transaction inconvenience and shopping cart abandonment.

An example of transaction inconvenience would be complex shopping procedures. Imagine someone having to pick out every single element of a car to finish the transaction.

Another example would be having to fill out long transaction forms. When a user starts the checkout process and sees a 25 step form they have to fill in they might be more inclined to just go to a physical store or competitor.

Furthermore, a user doesn’t like it when shipping and transaction costs are shown at a later stage of the checkout process. Especially when they think they have already seen the total price and decided they are okay with paying that. If they suddenly see a transaction fee then you might chase the user away.

You need to make sure that when a user is ordering a bunch of products the expected delivery date is correct. Imagine a user finding out that the product is not even in stock after adding it to the shopping cart. I would immediately bolt to a different website.

A final example would be the lack of alternative payment methods. Depending on the user the ways he or she could pay will be different. Not being able to choose the preferred way of paying can increase shopping cart abandonment as it increases the transaction inconvenience. 

I could go on forever with examples but the main idea is that anything that would “inconvenience” the user probably affects the shopping cart abandonment rate. It’s your responsibility to measure what inconsistencies need to be removed by doing research.

Reason# 7: Sellers uncertainty

An increase in shopping cart abandonment happens when a seller of a product or service is unwilling to disclose exactly who they are.

A study by Tang, H., & Lin, X. (2018) shows that seller uncertainty is defined as the inability of the buyer to evaluate the seller’s true characteristics. This in turn leads to a higher shopping cart abandonment because the buyer experiences this as a moral hazard.

An example of this concept would be when a user lands on a website that he or she experiences as dodgy. The actual location of the seller is never disclosed on the website. This gives the user the feeling of “sellers uncertainty”. In turn, the user gets doubts about the honesty of the information given about the product.

What if the seller is just giving false information to have their product sell faster? Another doubt would be if the seller is even going to send the product when they have paid. If they don’t even share a physical address then what is stopping them from scamming a user out of their hard-earned cash?

This study tested the following hypothesis:

Consumers’ perceived seller uncertainty negatively affects their intention to checkout.

It showed that seller uncertainty had a negative effect on the probability of the user checking out. This in turn increased shopping cart abandonment.

Reason# 8: Description uncertainty

When products or services are not described properly they tend to increase shopping cart abandonment.

A study by Tang, H., & Lin, X. (2018) shows that description uncertainty has a negative effect on the likelihood of users finishing a checkout transaction. This study showed that when the user is faced with inaccurate or insufficient information about the product or service the likeliness of shopping cart abandonment occurring is higher.

An example description of uncertainty would be when you are looking at frisbee on a frisbee selling website. The seller did not include any information about the weight and diameter of the product which causes description uncertainty in the user.

You can use this fact to find out what information users find important for different products or services and decrease shopping cart abandonment by supplying this information at the right time of the customer journey.

Reason# 9: Performance uncertainty

When a buyer cannot decide if a product performance is adequate it can increase shopping cart abandonment.

A study by Tang, H., & Lin, X. (2018) shows that performance uncertainty has a positive effect on shopping cart abandonment. This means that the user needs some form of validation of the quality of the product.

An example of performance uncertainty would be buying a raincoat on a website. Imagine seeing an unknown brand that sells a really good looking raincoat. Performance uncertainty can then occur when no proof is shown that the raincoat is waterproof. 

The brand Rains does this well by showing additional information about the quality of raincoats in question.

As you can see they show 4 key characteristics of the jacket showing its performance. This might take away some of the performance uncertainty of the users because it shows what the jacket quality is. A potential improvement here would be testing if the words used for describing the quality are understandable for the customer because not understanding these words would also cause performance uncertainty.

Reason #10: Current purchase intent 

When a user intends to buy a product the shopping cart abandonment is simply lower.

A study by Scheinbaum, A. C., Kukar-Kinney, M., & Benusa, K. (2012) shows that the more the consumer intends to purchase the current internet session, the lower the proposed shopping cart abandonment likelihood.

This might seem obvious to most people but still a very important reason when analyzing your shopping cart abandonment rates because it has a strong effect on the results.

An example of this difference would be when using different channels for getting customers on your website. An email channel might simply have a higher intention to buy rate. Increasing the use of the channel for getting users to your website would decrease shopping cart abandonment without actually changing anything about the user experience.

When tracking the shopping cart abandonment as a KPI it’s important to measure the effect of changes in channel use and adjust your KPI’s accordingly. 


I hope these then reasons have given you a better understanding of the reasons for shopping cart abandonment. If you have a question or comment you can leave it down in the comments below. Good luck with optimizing your checkout process! Want to learn how how to start a b testing with this knowledge? Then check out my Google Optimize beginner guide.


Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010). The determinants of consumers’ online shopping cart abandonment. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 38(2), 240-250. 

Egeln, L. S., & Joseph, J. A. (2012). Shopping cart abandonment in online shopping. Atlantic Marketing Journal, 1(1), 1. 

Huang, G. H., Korfiatis, N., & Chang, C. T. (2018). Mobile shopping cart abandonment: The roles of conflicts, ambivalence, and hesitation. Journal of Business Research, 85, 165-174. 

Erdil, M. (2018). Factors affecting shopping cart abandonment: pre-decisional conflict as a mediator. Journal of Management Marketing and Logistics, 5(2), 140-152. 

Tang, H., & Lin, X. (2018). Curbing shopping cart abandonment in C2C markets—an uncertainty reduction approach.