Daniel Burstein

E-commerce: How long should a shopping cart be?

In our most recent Web clinic, Shopping Carts Optimized: How a few tweaks led to 12% more revenue across an entire ecommerce website, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin shared our recent discoveries from our consumer marketing experimentation, set out a strategic approach to shopping carts and gave a few helpful fishing tips to boot.

As usual, we received more questions than we could possibly answer live during the Web clinic. A few were simple and straightforward (to which I say, “Yes,” “Maybe,” “One form field for name instead of three,” and “By the pier in Jacksonville Beach using Mayport shrimp as bait.”)

But one question particularly caught Dr. McGlaughlin’s eye…

How long should a shopping cart be? Is it better to have a long page or many short steps?

I passed this question around the lab, and here’s what our researchers had to say. We’d love to hear what you’re learned from your tests as well…

It depends on your product

I think this really depends on the product.  If you have a very simple product, like a DVD, you know what you’re getting as soon as you click “Add to Cart,” so I would get them through the process as quickly as possible.

If you have a more customized process, like ordering flowers with different vases and greeting card variations, I have no problem breaking them each out to their own special page so we can hammer home the value of each step without over-cluttering the long form. This also allows us to better track which specific step someone is dropping off on so that we can more easily determine the leaks in the funnel.

In the end, you have to test checkout process length.

Tony Doty, Research Manager



The two optimization factors that you must balance

To the customer, shopping cart page length may be irrelevant unless the length is driven by unnecessary information.

I ran a test and discovered that reducing unnecessary fields on a single page inside the checkout funnel resulted in an increase in finishes, whereas including these fields in a similar process outside of the cart resulted in more conversions.

To the client/site, it is preferable to measure in multiple pages so they can track where the leaks are in the funnel.

If everything is one big page, it makes it much more difficult to track where or what causes a visitor concern enough to abandon.

In this case, showing the customer where they are in the process (progress indicator) helps keep the balance and alleviate the effects of that type of process friction (perceived process length).

Jon Powell, Research Manager



Reinforce the value proposition

Optimizing the shopping cart path – including its length, sequencing of steps/forms, etc. – should conform to our foundation landing page optimization/conversion index analysis tenets. For instance:

  • Not asking for any more information than you need
  • Not asking for information you do need before you need it (to complete the process step)
  • Managing form length and eye-path
  • Avoiding ‘visual barriers’ such as horizontal bars across the page, etc.

The emphasis shifts slightly upon transitioning from ‘offer’ phase to ‘cart’ phase, shifting from ‘expression’ of the value proposition towards ‘support’ or ‘reinforcement’ of the value proposition to sustain (rather than build) cognitive momentum toward conversion.

Bob Kemper, Director of Sciences


Optimize the page or the path

There are two approaches you can test to see which works best with your customers and products. Either have a clear descriptions of the steps (breadcrumbs) to let customers know how many to expect and where they are in the whole process, or create one longer page that includes all necessary billing and shipping fields.

Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe, Research Analyst


Test on new and repeat customers

How long should a shopping cart be? It is better to have a long page or many short steps? It depends.

Every retailer should test as many different checkout processes as they can. Retailers need to know what their customer target group responds better to. Some visitors will prefer one single, long step and others will prefer a couple of short steps.

Probably for repeat customers, short checkout process (1-2 steps) will work well because they already trust the retailer and are familiar with the process. But even in this case, it is important to test.

Gaby Paez, Associate Director of Research


Be brief and be thorough

I personally prefer a short cart, incorporating all of the steps in one with accordion-style sections. With this type of a checkout process, it’s easy to get back to previous steps with an ‘edit’ link and it appears short while still collecting all of the needed information.

My favorite checkout process is Gap/Banana Republic/Piperlime – it’s super intuitive and really easy to get back to any step to make a change

My biggest pet peeve is when a checkout does not work in a certain browser. I use Google Chrome, and the other day I was looking at something on the Hobo International site and I couldn’t select from a drop down in Chrome, but when I went to Firefox it worked. Most customers wouldn’t be that dedicated or might not think to check another browser.

Gina Townsend, Director of Operations



Related resources

Free Web Clinic, May 18, 4-5 p.m. – Optimization Researched: Latest findings about effective LPO practices based on data from 2,673 marketers

Web Clinic Replay – Shopping Carts Optimized: How a few tweaks led to 12% more revenue across an entire ecommerce Website

E-commerce: How your peers optimize shopping carts and product pages

E-commerce Shopping Carts: How a redesigned checkout process led to 13% increase in conversion rate

Shopping Cart Abandonment: How not being annoying can get you 67% more cart completions

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Categories: Ecommerce, Marketing Insights, Marketing Q&A Tags: , , , , , ,