Cart vs. Checkout Abandonment: Are You Tracking the Right Metrics?

Bolt Team July 25

Both cart and checkout abandonment involve customers leaving the shopping process after finding a product they liked, but there is a clear and important distinction to be made between them.

Knowing the difference between the two is essential for tackling each problem, but that’s only half the battle. Combat both cart and checkout abandonment and save on hidden payment processing expenses by understanding and appreciating the difference between them, and how each can impact the strategies you use. We’ll explain these differences in the following sections:

First, let’s define what cart abandonment and checkout abandonment are, learn how to distinguish between the two, and examine ways that each will impact your online sales platform in similar but distinct ways.

Cart abandonment vs. checkout abandonment: what’s the difference?

The main difference between cart and checkout abandonment is the stage in the process that users abandon their purchase – after loading their cart or during checkout. This difference is significant because certain metrics help identify and isolate when and why customers abandon their cart or checkout.

The major difference is the actual point at which users abandon their purchase, but effectively solving these problems requires more than knowing at which point customers are dropping off. To mitigate both cart and checkout abandonment, it’s important to understand the difference, as well as examine the root causes for abandonment.

Solutions for checkout abandonment are different than for shopping cart abandonment because the reasons for leaving are different at each stage of the process. Tackling checkout abandonment with cart abandonment solutions (or vice versa) will fail to address the real issues at hand.

What is cart abandonment?

Cart abandonment is when a shopper adds an item to their cart during browsing, but then leaves the site or app without completing the purchase. A website or online store’s cart abandonment rate is calculated by dividing the total number of completed transactions by the total number of opened carts.

To calculate cart abandonment: 1 – (total # of completed transactions / total # of carts filled)

Those that abandon purchase during the cart stage did not advance to the checkout process. As the cart stage is earlier than checkout, more customers will hit the cart stage. Your cart abandonment rates will therefore almost always be higher than your checkout abandonment rates.

What is checkout abandonment?

Checkout abandonment is when a shopper that has initiated the checkout does not finish the purchase. The checkout abandonment rate is calculated by dividing the total number of completed transactions by the total number of started transactions. High rates usually signal problems with the user experience in the payment process.

To calculate checkout abandonment: 1 – (total # of completed transactions / total # of initiated checkouts)

After they have a cart filled with items, customers proceed to checkout. Checkout abandonment is farther in the customer journey, and therefore should have a slightly lower rate than cart abandonment. At this stage, customers are closer to their purchase and converting. An abandonment at checkout means you’ve expended more effort to get them to this stage and it’s more important to capitalize on these efforts. Do everything possible to make it easy to seal the deal and finish the sale. 

To better understand the difference – and relevance – of cart abandonment and checkout abandonment, let’s examine what causes friction at each stage and why customers abandon their cart or checkout.

Why shopping cart friction points cause users to ditch their items

Abandonment at both stages is caused by points that cause friction between the user and the product, negatively impacting their experience and potentially causing them to abandon purchase. While the impact is unique to each step, factors can influence both stages.

The following factors typically relate most closely to cart abandonment:

  • Unexpected product, shipping, or additional fees – Added fees often cause a customer to second guess the value of the item; unfortunately, the cart phase is often an ideal place to add shipping information and any additional fees
  • Security or fraud protection seems inadequate – A lack of security at any point of shopping will give the customer a reason to doubt the safety of the process and security of their personal and financial details
  • Shipping or payment options aren’t inclusive enough – Limited shipping options by location, time to deliver, or delivery provider can change a customer’s mind
  • Browsing and researching due to lack of information – Without all the information about the purchase, customers are forced to add items to a cart – and sometimes even initiate checkout
  • Performance and speed – Load times and general service performance determine whether customers want to use a service or not; without high quality performance and fast load times, customers will seek a better shopping experience
  • Suggesting customers add more items to cart – Although this can sometimes result in a larger sale, it can also result in a customer changing their mind about their first purchase
  • Website crashes, errors, and bugs – The more problems there are with a website or app prior to getting a customer to checkout, the less likely they are to have faith in the checkout system

The cart method helps let customers visualize and organize their online shopping in a universal, accessible way. Make sure that you use it to effectively guide users to checkout to capitalize on the effort it took to get that customer interested in your product.

How checkout friction points cause customers to leave after starting the process

Factors influencing cart abandonment also impact checkout abandonment. In some cases, it depends where you are integrating these steps. In most cases, the below have a greater impact on checkout abandonment than cart abandonment:

  • Unexpected additional charges – An increased price makes the customer second guess the value of the purchase and rethink whether they are willing to buy the product.
  • Forced account creation or registration – Taking customers out of the purchase funnel and creating a physical obstacle to checkout fails to guide and funnel users to purchase, which is your main goal.
  • Long, complex checkout process – An overcomplicated payment process fails to provide users with an optimized user experience, slowing them down and losing their attention as they are signalling they want to buy
  • Many form fields to input – The more information you need, the greater the security needs to be and the longer the customer journey is from browsing to buying. Rather than adding time to purchase, make data input simple and error-proof for customers.
  • Lack of payment options – Not having preferred payment methods means certain customers will be unable – or unwilling – to make the purchase; a direct obstacle to closing the sale
  • Delivery and shipping problems – A lack of trust in the provider or disappointment in the delivery timeframe can cause a buyer to lose interest in the product or seek another provider, costing you the sale
  • Credit card and security badges – Displaying authentic credit card, banking, and other security badges gives customers peace of mind and develops trust and authenticity
  • Unsafe payment processing tools – Having multiple platforms that serve the payment process or insecure tools will cause customers to lose faith in your payment methods
  • A checkout that is not isolated or self-contained – A checkout system that uses multiple systems and directs the user to a different site reduces the customers trust in the payment security and user experience. The integrated systems often work less efficiently than isolated, full-stack payment options
  • Declined credit card or payment – Whether due to customer error or poorly designed form fields, declined cards mean lost sales and potential chargebacks
  • Remarketing by offering related items – Funnel users to make additional purchases with care as this can sometimes annoy rather than please

Factors influencing cart abandonment also impact checkout abandonment. In some cases, it depends where you are integrating these steps. In most cases, the below have a greater impact on checkout abandonment than cart abandonment.

16 easy ways to optimize your checkout experience

Now that we’ve examined the common pressure points related to both cart abandonment and checkout abandonment, let’s look at ways we can optimize the checkout experience and recapture lost revenue.

1. Remove unexpected or additional charges at the time of checkout

Why do it: The fact is, additional charges cut the customer’s bottom line. If users have decided a product is worth the value displayed, they are unlikely to be happy if the price is higher when they actually proceed to complete the purchase.

Unexpected charges, including taxes, shipping costs, and other fees at the time of checkout deters customers from buying. Providing these details earlier prepares the customer for the full cost and decreases their likelihood of abandoning checkout.  

Introducing this information when users create a cart can help decrease checkout abandonment, but will impact your cart abandonment. This can also be a way of differentiating between the two and tracking this metric specifically and its impact on your abandonment.

How to take action: Provide pricing information as early as you can to reduce abandoned checkouts.

2. Do not force account creation or registration at checkout

Customer sign up on Mac

Why do it: Forcing customers to create an account or register prior to checkout creates a direct obstacle for them to complete the purchase. This is often a long, complicated process that requires personal information to be input, adding more work for the customer, potentially turning them away.

It’s counter-intuitive to impede the customers ability to finish a purchase and, in general, you want to look for ways to speed up and streamline the checkout process rather than slow it down. Instead, reduce steps in the process to make it more efficient. Consider asking them to register post-purchase or integrate it earlier in your user funnel to avoid having it negatively impact your checkout stage. Ask only for the essentials you need to identify the buyer and complete the sale.

How to take action: Remove forced account creation and utilize post-purchase registration.

3. Streamline an efficient checkout process

Why do it: The longer and more complicated the checkout process is, the more likely you are to lose customers. Each additional step potentially pushes customers away, so make sure the checkout process uses the fewest steps possible and is simple and accessible to all customers. A long, complicated checkout process is one of the leading reasons for customers abandoning their carts.

How to take action: Any efforts to make the process more efficient and succinct will help encourage users to complete the purchase and reduce checkout abandonment.

4. Make high performance and speed a priority

Why do it: Having a website and app that performs well and has fast speeds is integral for users engaging with your service. Customers are impatient – especially when buying online – and want a service that works seamlessly. If a customer is not satisfied with the user experience, they’ll go somewhere else to get it.

More than that, high quality performance builds trust and reliability with customers that your service operates securely and consistently. It instills a sense of safety and comfort with customers, making them more confident in purchasing from your service in the future. Reducing technical errors and crashes will also keep customers using your service, as consistent performance issues will drive potential customers away.

How to take action: Get rid of bugs, and beef up page load times.

5. Payment security and fraud protection is a must

Two security cameras on top of post

Why do it: Protecting customer information is essential for providing an experience that customers want to use – especially when it comes to financial information. Having high-quality security throughout the payment process will improve the chances that your customers trust your checkout process and will follow through on their purchase.

Fraud protection also accounts for lost revenue due to false positives. Purchases are turned away based on false fraud indicators from inadequate security and fraud identification tools. Bolt’s fraud protection system analyzes over 200 variables, allowing you to approve purchases that would otherwise be falsely rejected.

How to take action: Use a secure system that detects fraud, like Bolt.

6. Streamline across all channels by designing for website and mobile

Why do it: Many customers complete a purchase using more than one device, browsing with their mobile and completing a purchase on desktop (or vice versa). Try to design for all platforms and types of software, from iOS to Android to Explorer to Chrome, to make sure the user experience is the same no matter how a user accesses your products.

How to take action: Maintain consistency in design, flow, and style to ensure that it’s familiar and accessible to customers on all channels.

7. Collect customer emails

Why do it: Focus on collecting a good customer email rather than collecting personal details or forcing account registration. Gaining a customer email is all that’s needed to further connect with the customer, giving you a chance to entice them to return to the checkout process, remarket related products to them, and offer discounts to finalize a sale.

Having a customer email lets you communicate in a variety of ways, and lets you track the users’ engagement with your service. By focusing on this one piece of information, you reduce steps to checkout and still capture the information you truly need to interact with the potential customer.

How to take action: Collect user emails during shopping or at checkout.

8. Guide and funnel the user

Arrow on post outside guiding travelers

Why do it: Leading the user along the purchase funnel is essential for capturing the most conversions possible. Creating a UX that intuitively and conveniently directs them along the purchase process – prompting them for information along the way – makes checkout efficient for the customer and encourages them to proceed.

Use an appealing and direct UX that walks the customer throughout the purchase process. Give them all the information necessary to make the purchase and lead them where you want them to go – to make the purchase.

How to take action: Create funnels that direct and guide users throughout the checkout process. Lead the customer, making it as simple and accessible as possible.

9. Shorten the purchase funnel

Why do it: Once a customer has chosen a product they are interested in, it’s important to make the route to purchase as short as possible and to remove any obstacles. The easier and more convenient this is for the customer, the more likely they are to proceed.

Shortening the purchase funnel also helps solve other problems, streamlining the checkout process and removing excess form fields to input. Overall, the shorter you can make the purchase funnel, the less stages there are for customers to drop off on.

How to take action: The shorter the checkout process the better; remove any steps that aren’t absolutely essential.

10. Display trust signals through the checkout process

Why do it: Displaying trust signals – such as credit card logos, security seals, and verification badges – throughout the checkout process gives users a sense of trust and security in the payment process. Having this information displayed readily increases confidence in the safety of their checkout.

How to take action: Include trust signals, keep customers on a consistent domain, and provide verification when available as this increases customer confidence in the checkout process.

11. Provide information to reduce browsing and research dropoffs

Blurred people walking through hall at shopping mall

Why do it: When users do not have all the information they need to make a purchasing decision, they are motivated to proceed to cart or checkout stages to get this information. By giving users this information as early in the process as possible, you mitigate the impact on checkout abandonment.

Often times, this is integrated into the cart stage, with additional fees and shipping information provided when items are added to the cart. Providing this information during the cart phase will impact cart abandonment but reduce checkout abandonment. This can also be a good way of isolating the problem to one stage so you can monitor and adjust accordingly.

How to take action: Provide all information that is essential to make a purchase, and anything that could be a relevant decision-making factor.

12. Encourage customers to save carts

Why do it: The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to make a purchase they were contemplating. The closer you can bring them back to the point of purchase the more likely you are to recapture that lost sale.

The option to save a cart – or auto-saving carts that are abandoned – gives customers the ability to return directly to the point of purchase. This removes the steps they’ve already taken and makes it as easy as possible for the customer to go back and complete their purchase.

How to take action: Add a save cart or auto-save feature.

13. Provide many and popular payment options

Paying with credit card online

Why do it: Not having a payment option is a direct obstacle for your customers that are ready to make a purchase. Make sure to remove as many of these obstacles as possible, starting with the most popular options that draw in the largest group of potential customers.

Having all available payment options that consumers want to use is an essential means of attracting more customers.

How to take action: Focus on the main payment options first so you capture the largest potential audience and then expand and add payment options as you can scale.

14. Give users the full picture early

Why do it: Providing users with information upfront reduces the need to abandon their cart or checkout later on, as they aren’t surprised by new information. If you insist on funneling users to the cart before providing them shipping dates, delivery providers, and other options, be aware that this will drastically increase cart abandonment.

How to take action: Give unexpected costs, including taxes, shipping fees, and any other additional expenses as early as you can. Show shipping related information essential to the buyer, such as stock and product availability, currency conversions, and shipping dates at the first opportunity.

15. Make the checkout process interactive

Why do it: The options available to customers during the cart or checkout phases will affect how often customers leave their cart or checkout. Providing interactive options within the cart or checkout steps will keep customers close to buying and reduce their need to abandon.

How to take action: Let the user update item quantity and remove items from their cart, allow users to print or email a copy of their cart contents to themselves, and display where customers are along the checkout process to keep them from needing to go back to browsing.

16. Connect users to customer support where they need it most

Why do it: Giving customers a helping hand at the right moment can keep them in the payment process and save you a sale. More than that, it can build a sense of trust, reliance, and dependence in your company and motivate them to return for a purchase later. Developing this relationship can go a long way.

Be careful to do this effectively; being too pushy will annoy them and being too light won’t actually grab their attention. At the very least, try to get feedback about their problem so you can start identifying the most common, recurring, and impactful problems customers have with your checkout process.

How to take action: Find a unique way to bond with the customer and try to offer them help they need when they need it. Where you are seeing drop-off trends, provide links to customer support.

Capture lost revenue with Bolt’s complete checkout system

Leveraging unmatched access to checkout behavior data that can accurately detect fraud, Bolt has perfected the checkout process. With an isolated payment experience that overlays on top of the online shopping service, it offers a seamless, optimized payment process for an ideal user experience.

Bolt is a secure payment method with top-notch fraud detection accounting for over 200 variables. Working from the mentality that fraud should be proven before potential sales are rejected, Bolt helps to capture false positives that account for a significant amount of lost revenue. Many companies don’t even realize the impact these false positives have on their bottom line, which is why Bolt captures 10% – 20% from potentially abandoned carts.

See how others have benefited from integrating Bolt’s checkout into their own platforms.


If ending unnecessary checkout abandonment excites you, we’re hiring across all roles – see our jobs page.

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