Psychology Behind Cart Abandonment and Ways to Fix It

by | Apr 1, 2021 | Automation, eCommerce, Retailers

Pretend for a moment that you’re a store manager for a grocery or retail store. As you make your way around the floor, you run into a cart all by itself with just one or two items in it. You walk a little further and find one with five products in the cart. When you turn down one aisle in particular, you find a cluster of shopping carts, all containing the same product. Where are all these abandoned shopping carts coming from?

With an ecommerce site, you’re bound to experience cart abandonment, but they won’t be as obvious as a group of shopperless carts blocking your way in a physical store. You have to dig through the data to find them, and you have to dig even further to try to figure out when and why the cart was abandoned. If you know some of the major reasons why people abandon eCommerce shopping carts, though, you can reduce how many occur and likely increase your sales as well. 

Three elements needed for follow through

BJ Fogg was the first scientist to articulate the concept of “captology,” a word he coined to describe the overlap between persuasion and computers. Since he is one of the foremost experts on the topic of how computers (and the internet) can change people’s thoughts and behaviours, we’re going to apply the Fogg Behavior Model to cart abandonment.

According to this model, whether or not a person follows through with a particular behaviour depends on three key elements: motivation, ability and trigger. When the behaviour you want to encourage (such as a shopper taking their cart all the way through the purchase process) doesn’t happen, it’s likely because at least one of these elements is lacking.

To figure out where the sticking points are for your customers, it is a good strategy to determine which psychological component is dragging down your sales and causing the cart abandonment. Here are three examples:

  • When your customers can’t fully understand how shipping costs are calculated, they lose motivation and wander someplace else.
  • If you have the product listed on your site, but they get an error message saying it is out of stock, their ability to purchase is hindered.
  • You didn’t offer an upsell or a recommended product to pair with items your customer is buying, missing out on an opportunity to convince them to pull the trigger on the sale.

Discovering where your carts are abandoned

Finding out what might be causing your cart abandonment issues include digging through the data, analysing your product pages, considering your checkout process and generally trying to get into the mind of your customers. After all, odds are you’ve bought something online – and odds are you’ve abandoned a cart before. Once you start looking, it might become obvious why carts are abandoned more often on a webpage.

The first place to start of course is your data. What products are being left in carts most often? What pages have the highest bounce rates? Are customers from specific channels not converting at a rate that’s higher than average? Is there a certain point in your checkout process where carts seem to be hitting a brick wall? These are just a few questions to consider when looking at the numbers. Your data may indicate other issues that you’ll have to tease apart.

One frustrating reason why carts are abandoned might not be as easy to spot. If a counter encounters an “Item out of stock” notice for even one thing they considered buying, people may bounce to find it on another site. If you have an item that is out of stock, you may want to hide the page if it’s temporary, or remove the page if you’re never getting it back. You may want to make a recommendation for a similar product, but it should be accurate – no suggesting a purple sweater when the “out of stock” one is fuchsia. One of our partners, MyAlerts, also has a solution to help save the sales in these instances.

Appealing to shoppers with subliminal psychology

Once you’ve identified the pages and products that are having issues, look at them to see if you can figure out why. Some of them might be technical, such as a broken button or programming error. But some of them could be psychological. Below, I’ve listed the three basic elements for follow through, and offered some ideas for how to provide those elements for your customers so they complete the order process.


  • Accurate and detailed product descriptions.
  • Current price for the product is front and center.
  • Shipping costs can be easily calculated and shipping policies are easily reviewed.
  • Enticing photos on your product pages that reflect a truthful portrayal of the item.
  • Good reviews from customers who have previously bought the item.


  • Item prices aren’t too high and are comparable to similar items from competitors.
  • Accurate, real-time inventory information lets the customer know they can buy it right now.
  • Shipping delivery options fit their needs, whether it’s two-day delivery or Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS, or ‘Store to Door’).
  • Shipping prices aren’t cost prohibitive.
  • A smooth, automated ordering process carries them through to order completion without a glitch.


  • Putting an item on sale, distributing a coupon code or utilising some other style of promotional offer (with an expiration date).
  • Trust badges and labels let shoppers know your site is secure and their information is safe with you.
  • An “endless aisle” gives them more opportunities to find things they need or want and add to their cart.
  • Providing social proof by recommending items that other people bought along with a product that’s been added to their cart.
  • Offering free shipping on orders of a certain amount – use data analytics to find the sweet spot for getting people to spend just a little bit more.

Angling for the next cartful

After you’ve worked on your cart abandonment issues, there’s more to do, as you want to make sure the customer comes back for another cartful. Leave them with a good impression from start to finish, from the online experience to the package’s delivery. Providing an excellent customer experience can serve as both motivation and a trigger the next time they need products you offer. Here are a few ideas that can be helpful.

Automated communications – Use automation to send them their order confirmation, let them know their package was shipped, provide tracking information and maybe follow up with a survey of their experience. Automation can also reduce the delay from the time an order is placed to when it is fulfilled, allowing you to ship packages sooner.

Accurate shipping information – Customers want to be able to see how the package is progressing to its intended destination. When shoppers are provided with shipping information and are able to track their package, they’re less likely to call customer service with delivery inquiries and more likely to be patient with the retailer. They’re also more likely to forgive a retailer if they can see the carrier’s responsibility in the event a package is delayed.

Branded packaging and labeling – When a product arrives, branded packaging, documentation and labeling can remind the shopper that you, the retailer, are the one who has provided this item and excellent customer experience. Additionally, the documentation you include should tell the shopper how to return the item, and it’s even better if you can actually provide them with a return label. Though in the event of a return you are giving a refund, providing an easy and smooth return process can inspire a customer to come back to your site later to make another purchase. 

Multiple approaches to reduce cart abandonment

Applying the Fogg Behavior Model is just one approach to looking at why carts are abandoned, and these are just a few ideas for how to reduce their numbers. Motivation, ability and trigger might not take into account other ways of encouraging follow through on a purchase, including product page design, conversion optimisation and more. The more ways you look at the cart abandonment issue and try to solve it, though, the more likely it is you’ll be able to encourage customers to click all the way through to order completion.


SPS Commerce Blog Team