Face and Fight Abandonment

Face and Fight Abandonment
Affiliate Marketing


BY Jason Ciment | October 5, 2001

Now, I'm willing to bet that there are a lot of people like me who hate crowded malls almost as much as I detest chopped liver and Tam Tam crackers. So why are the majority of people still going to shop offline again this holiday season, under the ubiquitous and oppressive fluorescent lights of brick-and-mortar stores?

And of people who are shopping online, why do so many (like myself) invest so much time surfing — even filling online shopping carts with products to buy — and then end up leaving empty handed? (Colloquially this is known as the "shopping cart abandonment crisis.")

This abandonment crisis, and the resulting frustration it sparks, can spur affiliates to start pulling their traffic from our sites, because they are so aggravated by the low conversion rates their referrals produce. So, what can we do as affiliate marketers?

  • Can we tell affiliates that shopping cart abandonment rates are universally depressing among commerce-related Web sites?





  • Can we reassure them that 67 percent of shopping carts get left behind in the dust, and thus our results are no better or worse than the industry average?





  • Shall we tell them that the average shopper visits a few sites two or three times before making a purchase?

Obviously, the answers are no, no, and no again. Affiliates want results!

What do we slightly intelligent affiliate marketers do to retain and incentivize our affiliates to not only keep sending us their targeted traffic, but send us even more? We need to educate our affiliates on how shoppers actually shop and, at the same time, work on improving our abandonment ratios.

In my last two articles, I've talked about two items specifically: attracting more affiliates who will send us "targeted traffic" and ensuring that the "traffic" is comfortable with our usability and reputation.

Today, I want to move on to the topic of helping close sales once we've attracted some targeted visitors. The rule here is quite simple: If the customer doesn't hit the "confirm" button, you've probably lost the sale.

So how do we get the customer to confirm? Resolve the disconnect between how shoppers use their shopping carts and how merchants want the carts to be used.

This disconnect is like two planets circling in different orbits that never meet. Studies show that it is at the heart of the shopping cart abandonment crisis.


The first rule is to make your customers aware of exactly what is happening at every step along the way. Customers want to know what they've selected at all times, how much it costs, and where to go to pay for their order so they can walk out with the purchase in their hands. Developers have forgotten that the primary goal of a shopping cart system is to direct potential buyers to their desired items in the most obvious ways. And we need to make it fast and easy to buy those items.

What have e-commerce sites been doing instead? They have driven their potential customers insane with colorful distractions and design disorder. Instead of making it easy to add multiple items to a basket, customers find themselves at the checkout counter every time they add an item to their shopping carts. Instead of making it clear which products are for sale and how to actually make a purchase of even a single item, online stores confuse customers with mixed offers and constantly changing pages and environments. I just read a firsthand account yesterday of someone who had to click 10 times to get a price for one item. Insane, I say, insane.

Unless you have an express "Buy it now" button, don't take people to the checkout screen when they hit the "Add to cart" button. They aren't ready yet. Instead, tell them that you are adding the magazine to their cart and then take them back where they were when they hit the button, so they can decide if they want to make any more purchasing decisions related to that product (e.g., upsale or cross-sale items if you have them).

And, if you have the WebCart shopping cart technology from Mountain Network Systems, you can actually show shoppers their cart contents right on that product page. Instead of just informing shoppers that there are one, two, or three items in the cart, the WebCart shows the name of each product selected by the customer.


Give the customer a lot of ways to confirm with reassuring messages about security and guarantees. That also includes providing a:

  • Confirm button





  • Phone number (toll free preferably)





  • Live customer support tool via chat





  • Fax button to print an order form with the product information


Install your own version of what we use very successfully on MagMall — a utility we call the Order Saver, which contacts a customer who, after giving us his email address, still abandons his order prematurely. The Order Saver captures the customer's order information and sends out an email that innocently asks the customer if he wants to confirm by email. We rescue orders every day that we might have lost.

To recap, targeted traffic is great — but unless we are closing sales, our affiliates may abandon us, too. Understanding that online customers lack the reassuring feeling that they get from physically entering a store and speaking with a skilled, knowledgeable employee, it is your resourcefulness and foresight in creating such an accommodating shopping cart that will compensate for the absence of direct customer/employee communication. An easy-to-use shopping cart is practically equivalent to a likeable, all-knowing, live sales clerk.

Get busy working on analyzing your shopping cart process, tell your affiliates what steps you are taking to improve conversions, and with that your affiliates — and customers — will love you. Happy converting!


Jason Ciment is CEO of MagMall, which he founded 1997. He designed, programmed, and developed the fully interactive java and perl-based magazine subscription Web site that has more than 10,000 individual and corporate partners. He has also worked with manufacturing companies such as Liz Claiborne and Jones New York to maintain quality standards and prompt order fulfillment.

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