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Shopping Cart Dropout

-or Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?

(My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?!?)

The term ‘The Business of Pleasure’ tends to suggest a divide between the work that goes into generating pleasurable experiences for our audiences, and the task of generating optimal revenue from the value created by those pleasurable experiences. For most of us in The Business of Pleasure, both aspects are of equal importance. They are the cart and the horse that make the whole journey both possible and profitable. But there is one area where the two dimensions sit so closely together as to seem almost inseparable, and it is probably the single most important interface of the lot; that other kind of cart …the online Shopping Cart.

The contribution of eCommerce (and her sibling ‘mCommerce’, or ‘mobile’) was already vital to most areas of The Business of Pleasure pre-Pandemic, and, as with most sectors, their importance has sky-rocketed with the additional constraints of Covid. For many organisations they are now the Staff of Life, the solitary crop, and a couple of bad harvests can result in economic extinction. Help is at hand of course, in the form of an army of UI and UX experts, and a … What is the collective term for algorithms? A nest? Or a menagerie? Either way, the entire customer journey, be it three clicks or thirteen, climaxes in the Shopping Cart and that ‘to be or not to be’ moment on which so many of our enterprises depend.

So it’s probably worth spending a few minutes taking a closer look at it. And, more precisely, the role that pleasure itself plays in deciding whether the finger descends on the “Pay Now’ button/triggers the voice command …or not.

Cue Jennifer Aniston: “Here comes the science bit!

Basically speaking, your online system is offering a service, i.e. ‘the use of knowledge and skills to provide real value (value-in-use) from the potential value of available products.’

It does this in the form of a service network in which a number of different elements interact to create value:

Signals (cues) such as price and availability information, website aesthetics (smoothness of use, ease of navigation, great graphics) reviews and ratings, etc. interact to engage with the prospective purchaser…

…who will hopefully interpret these signals positively (and purchase the ticket, tee-shirt, G &T, etc.)

…or very positively and also provide flattering feedback which you can use to seduce more prospective purchasers.

The principal snag being that the whole thing relies entirely on each individual customer’s understanding and interpretation of the information.

A positive signal may for one prospective purchaser may be a negative for another, or have a different impact depending on the time, or date, on which it is presented.

In the early days of online purchasing, musical theatre ticket sales followed the same pattern as those experienced by the theatre call centres. Sales would drop off Friday afternoon (as workers sloped off for extended lunches, etc.) and then we’d see a spike on Monday morning when they were back in the office (probably having discussed their plans with partners/friends over the weekend). Similarly, who among us hasn’t scheduled promotions to coincide with the arrival of monthly salaries?

Cue tousle-haired street urchin (singing): “Who will buy? Who will buy?”

The classical view of purchasing would suggest that prospective customers will buy…

1) When they have the motivation to buy

2) When this motivation is not inhibited by the online search, evaluation and buying process

The first point might seem blindingly obvious, but not when you consider how many visitors to your site are browsing options, researching prices and availability, looking for discount vouchers, etc. (Or just the ‘experientially-driven’ enjoyment of loading up the shopping cart with items they probably cannot afford, as observed by Kukar-Kinney and Close, 2010).

It also fails to account for those ‘browsers’ who had absolutely no intention of buying anything, but you hooked them with a review, promotion or trailer, etc.

Or the incredibly important ‘impulse’ purchasers who, blessedly, only really think about what they have purchased after they’ve pressed the ‘Pay Now’ button.

The second point, where potential purchasers are inhibited from buying, seems to imply a judgement on either your products, pricing, or the design of your eCommerce platform, but research has shown that something like thirty percent of physical purchasers also drop out of the queue for the checkout. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’ve got the basics right. Your prices are comparable with others in the market. You haven’t overwhelmed prospective patrons with too many price-breaks, or peed them off by restricting them to too few. Your product, and brand, are trusted and the visitors to your site are confident of the security and integrity of the transaction (they don’t believe that you will defraud them through product/price misdescription or sell-on/off their data). In short, you’ve got it right (for a wide spectrum of remunerative segments) and still the ****ers didn’t buy!

And there’s an awful lot of them about!

Well over fifty percent of all online transactions are abandoned before completion, as estimated July 2020, with mCommerce abandonment in 2021 supposedly in the region of 80% across all industries.

We have to assume that a reasonable percentage of visitors to your payment pages started off on the purchase journey with a goal in mind, and weren’t just time-wasters. So what’s stopping them?

Get Jennifer back, more science bits!

A goal is essentially an idea, or series of ideas (a cognitive representation or schema) of a ‘desired end state’ that someone wants to achieve.

When these goals, or expectations, are not met by the online purchasing process negative emotions are generated which can result in the prospective purchaser hesitating.

This has been described as ‘pre-decisional conflict’ …and we’ve all been there. Page-speed is too slow, too many forms at check-out, can’t add or subtract items easily, text is too small, no back-buttons! patronising prose, phony time-limits or scarcity updates, etc…

Which is where you come in. Because research in the field (e.g. Krithika and Rajini, 2017) suggests that online purchasers are generally more ‘hedonic (pleasure) oriented’ than ‘utilitarian’ oriented.

And pleasure is our business after all.

It goes without saying that, for some gigs, shows and landmark events, fans (and their partners/fathers) are perfectly prepared to camp online for hours. Equally, some companies may have exclusive, or monopolistic, access to inventory for a product that has no immediate competitor or substitute. Or fabulously attractive (and unique) selling rates. Maybe the company selling is such a well-established brand/household name that a vast percentage of patrons just don’t think to try and purchase anywhere else…

For the rest of us, however, creating a pleasurable online purchasing experience is survival stuff. And yes, it does mean surfacing and removing all the negatives mentioned above. But as one conference speaker suggested, simply invite five people to feedback on your website and you’ll discover 85% of its flaws.

But how can organisations go beyond the subtraction of negatives to create a positively pleasurablepurchasing experience?

Call the irritating little pickpocket back: “Nick from the best, Sir?

As I mentioned, there are vast hosts of experts who can advise on this incredibly important area. But there’s also something in the old adage; “If you’re buying a toy as a present for a child, pick the one that youpersonally would most like to play with.” Your preferences and priorities may not exactly mirror those of your key segments of course, but making a list of features that you personally find most pleasurable in other organisations’ eCommerce platforms might well start you thinking in the right direction. In short, as seasoned experts in The Business of Pleasure, if something works for you, makes your purr (or makes your cogs whirr) there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to identify which of your key segments it might also work for.

As a footnote, some years ago I had a series of quite ‘heated’ discussions (arguments) with a new senior colleague (Board Level/end of table) about some very important issues, which I can’t for the life of me remember now. It was the first time we’d met, and we fought like cats and dogs. He said ‘up,’ I said ‘down,’ I said ‘left,’ he said ‘right’ kind of thing. So when we inevitably moved onto the subject of eCommerce it was odds-on that our views would be diametrically opposite. “I want a website where people come to daydream, not just buy,” I told him, adding: “Look at They’re always in the Top Ten most visited sites.”

My colleague, a globally-recognised ‘Captain of Industry,’ had a plastic bag at his side containing a single folded sheet of paper. He carefully removed this one sheet of paper, unfurled it in front of me.

“No David,” he announced, “last week lastminute were ranked number thirteen.”

Creating a pleasurable experience does not guarantee conversion. But it does make those visitors more likely return… on Monday, or payday, or when Auntie Floss makes her mind up on the dates…

Oliver (breaks into song): “You can go, but be back soon!

Jenifer: (butts in): “…Because we’re worth it!

Copyright David Thomas 2021


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