Online basket abandonment has long been a burden on the eCommerce industry – BI Intelligence recently estimated $4 trillion worth of merchandise was abandoned online for the first quarter of 2015 alone.

As more and more retailers sell their wares online, customers are becoming less loyal to their favourite shops and brands. And if these increasingly impatient shoppers face roadblocks when trying to transact online, they do not think twice about exiting a webpage with one click of a button.

Customers are also increasingly impatient and exiting a webpage with one click of a button is all too tempting if they face roadblocks when trying to transact online.

The average industry rate of basket abandonment according to Annabel Kilner, head of UK at Made.com, is around 68%, and while the retailer told Essential eCommerce it has below-average abandonment rates, Made.com is always looking at opportunities to improve conversion.  The e-tailer has already introduced a single check-out page, as well as a predictive address finder and a range of financing options to provide a better user experience.

Isla Kirby, digital director of the retail and marketing agency Savvy, said the smartphone revolution has put the power firmly in the shopper's hands.

"Even if a retailer does all of the right things in terms of user experience, it may be dumped at the last minute by a highly demanding consumer who considers free next day delivery as a basic human right," she said. "As we know from our own research, understanding how to really deliver the next level of convenience in the future is key. And the shopper won’t wait long for you to figure it out."

So what should retailers be considering to help reduce checkout abandonment? Essential eCommerce looks at five imperative actions:

1. Help customers find out-of-stock products

Technology marketing agency, Connexity, surveyed over 60,000 eCommerce shoppers around the world and concluded most consumers (21%) abandoned their checkout because they could not find the item they were looking for, while 17% said the item in the colour or size they wanted was out-of-stock.

But around two-thirds of those consumers said if the retailer had offered to locate the item, it would have helped them complete their transaction.

Kirby said not having accurate stock levels can be a "deal breaker" as retailers are struggling to provide a true omnichannel service.

"Even worse is when that item might not be out-of-stock at all and actually available in a physical store, it’s just that the retailers systems are not joined up to know it. Whilst there are limited examples of services which try and bridge this gap, such as Oasis’ ‘Seek and send’, they are few and far between and it may be a long time before all retailers can update more antiquated inventory systems to avoid such issues.

"There are solutions though - services like live chat have been in existence for years and are easy to implement, however few retailers are harnessing their powers and using them to support shoppers navigating ranges and finding alternatives when first choices are out-of-stock. We just need to move into thinking about how to deliver service in an eCommerce environment, not just to fulfil a transaction."

2. Make the online journey as easy as possible

Giving customers too many hoops to jump through when completing online purchases can also lead to abandonment.

The Connexity report stated 13% of abandoned purchases online were due to web technical problems and a further 8% said it was because they were unable to redeem a coupon.

Steve Mader, vice president  of digital retail insights at Kantar Retail, said Amazon's ability to connect customers to product information as quickly as possible combined with its one-click order functionality is an example of reducing complexity surrounding the online journey.

He also said influences from other technologies, from the likes of Google and Uber, have heightened customer expectation of immediacy and fulfilment.

Throw mCommerce into the mix and retailers are even more pressured to provide a quick shopping experience as customers are usually shopping on-the-go and are more time pressed.

"This is hard work and takes a long time to get right," said Mader. "But anything from making sure the mobile app has a keypad to enable number entry or ensuring contextual sites – where if a customer clicks on an advert on a mobile platform making sure they are taken to the product rather than a landing page – is helpful.

"But a lot needs to be done to make sure the eCommerce software is well looked after from an immediacy perspective – shoppers using mobile are much less willing to wade through different hoops to checkout," he added.

In fact, a survey by identity management company Jumio concluded that in 2014 poor mobile shopping experience cost the UK retail industry £6 billion in abandoned sales.

Retailers need to improve the online shopping journey for customers using mobile devices, as the Jumio research stated over a half of UK smartphone shoppers abandon their baskets before checkout.

European e-tailer, Fitnessguru.co.uk struggled with mobile conversions and chose eCommerce payments company Klarna to help improve the checkout experience.

Owner of Fitnessguru, Christian Lindberg, said: "As with all e-commerce players, the struggle for less abandoned carts and increased conversion is constant. Every lost cart is a lost customer and purchase. We saw heavily increasing mobile traffic but had a hard time transforming that into purchases. Klarna’s checkout solution really focuses on simplicity for customers, and proved to be what we needed. Conversion increased by 40% on mobile devices and by 25% on desktop. We also got rid of a lot of admin, meaning we could focus on talking to our customers and selling great products."

Jens Saltin, head of expansion at Klarna, added: "Many retailers focus a lot on the first step of the buying process, getting consumers to their site by offering cool products, marketing, design and so on. But often the last step is forgotten. A smooth and safe checkout experience is one of the most important factors to reduce cart abandonment and is a low hanging fruit to increase sales.

"Key is to simplify the checkout experience in all aspects while still keeping it safe and to offer the most important payment options demanded on each local market. With heavily increasing mobile traffic it is even more important to reduce friction and simplify the checkout process on all devices. "

3. Don't hide delivery charges

Another shopper turn-off according to the Connexity survey was mounting costs towards the end of the checkout process – 7% of consumers said they abandoned a checkout because the total costs ended up being too high.

Add-ons towards the end of the checkout process, such as delivery charges, can leave a sour taste in customers' mouths.

Mader explained that retailers need to be upfront about their delivery options. "If a shopper all along assumed delivery was free and then finds out there's a cost, this significantly impacts drop outs," he said.

Kirby agreed, saying hiding delivery charges is a dangerous game to play as consumers are no longer loyal shoppers.

"Hiding high delivery charges at the end of the shopper journey is a futile exercise as shoppers have no qualms about reverting back to google and starting their search again," she explained. "Shoppers are less loyal than ever before and rely more and more on search rather than going straight to specific retailer.com sites."

4. Follow up with targeted marketing

But some customers do not intend to abandon a purchase indefinitely, 12% of Connexity respondents said they were leaving a retail website to buy items at a later date, and a further 10% left their basket to mull their purchase decisions offline.

At this point, retailers need to gently remind customers that their basket is still waiting for them online.

Made.com's Kilner said the retailer has sent abandoned basket emails for the past two years.

"These timed emails [are sent] to the customer after one hour, one day and a week, but we recently introduced an automated workflow and early indications are extremely positive. Despite no added voucher incentive not only is average order value almost double that of our standard emails, but conversion rate is a very pleasing 8%.”

Georges Berzgal, managing director for Europe at cloud-based marketing automation provider Bronto, said: "When implementing a basket abandonment programme, it is important to keep in mind that consumers use the basket not only as a first step to checkout. It is also a shopping tool that helps them transition the shopping experience between devices and across channels."

Berzgal recommends emails that offer directions to the nearest shop to pick up the goods in person and include customer service details in case they have any questions they want to ask over the phone. 

"Keep in mind that there is no magic strategy, retailers must test every element of your basket abandonment programme to find out what works best for your brand. This should include the subject line, content and tone of the email, timing of the send, number of emails etc. Testing is key for every successful basket recovery strategy.

"Personalised messages are equally important: This is where knowing your customer is fundamental, as well as where data becomes invaluable in understanding consumer behaviour."

5. Alert customers to deals

Today's online consumers are savvy shoppers craving a bargain. Somewhat unsurprisingly, 59% of shoppers said they would complete their online purchase with a 20% or less discount, while 25% said they would be convinced by a 10% discount.

But a fifth of consumers said a notification of when the item they were about to buy goes on sale would help them return to the e-tailer to complete the purchase.

"If a customer walked into your high street shop and you knew 100% that they were interested in a product, you wouldn’t hesitate to let them know it had gone on sale," added Berzgal. "So why should it be any different online? If a product is discounted it could be the small push the customer needs to go from putting it in their basket to actually buying it."

But he said while consumers are used to basket abandonment reminder emails, they need to offer value.

"Focus on service, not selling: Rather than using urgency or a discount as the only strategy, help the shopper reconnect to their basket and give them ways to explore similar items on your site or in a store."