Online retailers spend a lot of energy getting people to visits their sites, and once there, getting visitors to make a purchase. It can be discouraging then to view reports and see the number of people who have placed items in the cart, then don’t complete the purchase. This is called cart abandonment, and it is a problem that faces most online stores.  But is it really a problem?

How often does a customer begin their shopping experience online, primarily for price comparison, but then completes the sale at the physical store of the same merchant? This question is difficult to track. Frequently, however, someone will place items in the cart, then complete the sale a few days later. I know I do this often – for example, I have a customer that I was ordering some business cards for. She wanted a price before ordering, so I went through the entire cart process, then abandoned the cart, only to complete the sale a few days later after she had approved everything.

The average online shopper delays making a purchase by almost two days after initially visiting a retail site, according to data from a leading Internet security company. After monitoring the shopping behavior of 163 million consumers completing 2.52 million transactions, McAfee SECURE discovered that the average customer waited 33 hours and 54 minutes, or nearly two days, between first visiting a retail site and making a purchase. In 64 percent of the cases, the shopper waited at least one day to buy.

This seemingly cautious behavior, which McAfee calls “digital window shopping,” is really a somewhat normal shopping behavior wherein a potential customer loads items into a shopping cart and then leaves the retailer’s site in search of more information, price comparison data, or even information about the merchant to ensure that the transaction and any customer service will be handled well.

What this suggests to me is that retailers should have a function to “save this cart”, so the customer can log back in at a later time and complete the sale without having to start over. Dell computers has this feature, but most online stores do not.  Combined with an email reminder that they still have not completed the checkout process, this could be a major enhancement to sales.

The single biggest reason for cart abandonment appears to be shipping costs. Some 46 percent of consumers surveyed in 2009 by PayPal and comScore, said that they did not complete an online transaction because the shipping charges were too high. I have always recommended that etailers build the cost of shipping into the product price and/or have a low flat rate charge for shipping. This let’s consumers know up front what the final cost will be, greatly reducing the number of lost sales. Don’t let the customer get away!