Closing the Sale: Practical Tips for Reducing Cart Abandonment, Part One: Learning to Use Google Analytics to Understand the Reasons for Cart Abandonment

Cart Abandonment Each time someone selects an item and puts it in their shopping cart whether that shopping cart is a physical or virtual, it represents a potential purchase. In a brick and mortar store, a person placing an item in their cart is almost certainly going to purchase that item. In fact, something pretty dramatic would have to happen to cause them to leave that item in the cart and walk away without making a purchase. However, in digital stores it is much more common for people to walk away from their virtual shopping carts, this phenomenon is referred to as cart abandonment. It is very important for any business selling products online to closely monitor their abandonment rate to determine if there are factors on the web page influencing the customer not make the purchase.


There has been much research into the causes of abandoned carts and what to do about them. Despite the research, cart abandonment is still a problem that constantly plagues online retailers. Why? Because for all of the research and proposed solutions, there is very little literature on how to understand what exactly is causing cart abandonment. Of course, there are plenty of lists of potential reasons ranging from a technical issues to “I caught my five year old learning how to buy himself more Legos”, but how can you tell which of these potential problems is affecting your business? This is no small question, because your whole strategy for reducing abandoned carts and re-engaging the customers who do abandon their cart are predicated on why it is you think people are walking away from these purchases in the first place.

The reason it is so difficult to determine the sources of cart abandonment is that each and every abandoned cart has its own story. However, if you were to listen to all the stories, you are likely to find some common elements. It is those common elements that you have to address. Web analytics, can help you get the story behind your abandoned carts. Web analytics is a tool for measuring the traffic and behavior of people on your website. While web analytics cannot specifically tell you exactly why each individual abandoned a shopping cart, they can tell you at what point in the shopping process they decided to walk away from the purchase. By understanding where people left off in the purchase process, you can narrow down the likely reasons for cart abandonment and create a more targeted campaign for abandonment reduction and recovery. Part two of this article will cover some common problems that lead to cart abandonment and how to resolve those problems.

My preferred web analytics tool is Google Analytics. There are many other types of web analytic tools both for free and a fee, in addition you can always hire a professional to manage your e-commerce site, or get a consultant like NourTek that will help you understand problem places in your website. I like Google Analytics because I have the freedom to create custom reports and goals, I can monitor my social media goals alongside my e-commerce, and because it gives me a lot of options for optimizing my online marketing campaigns, all for free.

So how can you use Google Analytics to solve the mystery of the abandoned carts? It is really pretty simple.

1. Set Goals: When you first set up your Google Analytics account you are given a whole list of standard reports and metrics. These metrics tell you things, like how many visitors you are getting, what kind of computers they are using, what websites they are coming from, and many other helpful things that will help you improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and target more specific audiences. However, if you really want to use Google Analytics to its full potential, you should take advantage of its goals function. You can track how many people are going to a specific page on your site, what paths they are using to get there, how long they are spending, and if they are actually spending any money in your online store as a result of being on that page. An excellent way to track cart abandonment using goals, is to track how many people are making it to the sales confirmation page of your website. To create your goal, you go to the admin page in your Google Analytics account and select the goals tab for your website (note: you have to have administrator level access to create goals). Here you enter the goal url, select exact match, and it is ready to track how many people get to that particular page. If your thank you page does not have a static url, you need to create an event match. That is a little bit harder to do and the instructions for setting that up are outside the scope of this article. To understand why people aren’t getting to that page you need to:

2. Use Goal Funnel Visualization: When you create a goal you are given the option to use a goal funnel. A goal funnel is the path that a user takes to get to your destination page. You see where people are entering the funnel, and you can see where people are exiting the funnel (see image below entrance is on the left exit is on the right).

By narrowing down where they are entering and exiting the funnel, you can get an idea of what part of the purchasing process needs to be evaluated. For instance, if you find that many users get to the billing page and exit there you can narrow it down to technical issues, an issue with the price, the fact they were comparison shopping etc. Whereas if you find that they have moved forward to the payment page, and then exit the funnel you can assume that pricing and shipping are probably okay, but there is something wrong on your payment page, like a technical issue or a lack of a good payment option.

3. Use Custom Reports: One of the best features in Google Analytics is that you can create customized reports of your data. This can be helpful, because you can plot different data points together. For instance, you can make a comparison of what browsers people are viewing your site in. With Google Analytics, you can create a report that overlaps that with your cart abandonment information. If you find that users of a particular browser are more likely to abandon carts, you may have stumbled on a technical glitch that can be fixed.

I would like to reiterate that it is impossible to identify exactly why it is each and every cart is abandoned, without surveying every visitor. However, the tips above give you a little bit of insight into how you can track trends to get a more precise picture of what is happening on your website.

For more information on some of the common issues that this method will identify and how to fix it, please stay tuned for part two of this article.

What ways have you been using to track cart abandonment?

One thought on “Closing the Sale: Practical Tips for Reducing Cart Abandonment, Part One: Learning to Use Google Analytics to Understand the Reasons for Cart Abandonment

  1. Sohail   said:

    This is great info – contains lots of great tips, thanks for sharing!

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