The 80/20 Rule of Online Shopping Carts

2 min. read | Last updated: May 29th, 2015

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, has lots of applications in the online marketing world, like here and here. I even wrote about it here in a past life.

Another instance of the magical 80/20 ratio in Marketing occurred to me the other day as we were analyzing a client’s online checkout experience to prepare for rounds of testing. The checkout experience was wholly dry, transactional, and cold. After spending time in this particular checkout (which was NOT unique), I realized that the proportion of prospects who are “un-sold” when they encounter your shopping cart is likely 80%, while the audience segment that is truly “sold” is probably around 20%.

What I mean by “un-sold” is that they have a level of desire (think “D” from the AIDA sales model) which brought them to your checkout process, but they likely don’t have enough Desire to complete the desired Action of a full checkout.

What I mean by “sold” is that they have such an intense level of Desire (based on the product, the promotion, the incentive) that they will put up with all sorts of poor usability, confusing policies, and complex legalese in order to take Action and complete their purchase. If you have a product that is that Desired, congratulations, and please realize that you are in the minority!

Marketers, designers, developers, legal counsels, and copywriters often assume that all prospects are 100% sold by the time they enter checkout.

This is a dangerous assumption. It is more likely that 80% are un-sold and need continued persuasion throughout the process. The Fireclick Index reports that last week’s funnel conversion rate was 25%. Remove the 20% who are dead-set on buying, and you get only 5% of those who “add to cart” being persuaded to finish your checkout process.

In your checkout, therefore, the biggest revenue gains are to be made in persuasion and optimization, NOT in usability/design. Gorgeous design is unnecessary for those who are “sold,” and doesn’t have what it takes to sell the “un-sold.”

Assuming you believe my theory has legs, what is an eCommerce site leader to do?

Here are some things to test in your cart/checkout process to go after that elusive 80%:

  1. Test enhancing the credibility of your checkout – there are many things to test here, and none of them are a “sure thing.”
  2. Test increasing the readability of your checkout – a site cannot be persuasive if it cannot be understood.
  3. Test optimizing product images in checkout – have you been so busy working on product pages that you’ve neglected the images in checkout?
  4. Test product benefits in checkout – does your checkout only talk about shipping weights, SKU#s, and other technical details? What about the value of the product(s) in their cart?

When was the last time you went through your checkout process? Try going through it today with a lens of skepticism, hesitation, and fear. Does the process still persuade the un-sold?


Chris Goward

Founder & CEO

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