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Evaluating What Makes a Shopping Cart Work Best

WordPress PluginsBefore you check out your next WordPress shopping cart or ecommerce WordPress Plugin, you need to read this.

In April 2011, Smashing Magazine published “Fundamental Guidelines Of E-Commerce Checkout Design” in their UX (User Experience) column exploring what they called the “harsh reality” of e-commerce websites.

According to recent e-commerce studies, at least 59.8% of potential customers abandon their shopping cart (MarketingSherpa puts it at 59.8%, SeeWhy at 83% and MarketLive at 62.14%). The main question is why do customers abandon their shopping cart so often? Is there some fundamental mistake that designers of e-commerce websites do very often?

They reported on a usability study they launched in 2010 focused on the checkout user experience. They wanted to document everything that happened throughout the entire experience to determine if there were answers to the questions that plague e-commerce sites. The results left them with 11 fundamental guidelines that everyone using some form of e-commerce, from selling ebooks to full blown online stores, should follow.

Today, they released a follow-up, “The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design 2012.” Their finding should shake up some e-commerce WordPress Plugin authors.

Here’s a walkthrough of just a handful of the interesting stats we’ve found when benchmarking the top 100 grossing e-commerce websites’ checkout processes:

  1. The average checkout process consist of 5.08 steps.
  2. 24% require account registration.
  3. 81% think their newsletter is a must have (with forced opt-in or without clear opt-out options).
  4. 41% use address validators.
  5. 50% asks for the same information twice.
  6. The average top 100 checkouts violate 33% of the checkout usability guidelines.

I just ordered a dozen items from Amazon, delighted with the one-click feature. Fast and easy. I knew what I wanted and it took me 10 minutes total. Then I needed to purchase one item directly from a website…it took over 30 minutes to finalize the purchase, twenty-five more than I’d allowed in my schedule. I had to call the company to directly order the single product when the website process failed for the nth time. Do you think I’m happy? We all have similar experiences and stories, and there is no need for us to waste such time anymore.

One of Smashing Magazines conclusions was:

What matters the most for checkout experience isn’t the number of steps in a checkout process, but rather what the customer has to do at each step…don’t focus too much on the number of steps in your checkout — instead spend your resources on what the customers have to do at each step, as that is what matters the most for the checkout experience.

If the experience was friendly, open, and easy, I might not have considered those 30 minutes a waste.

Here are some of their findings to consider for your commercial site and shopping cart decisions.

  • Forcing or offering a company newsletter is useless. Most users don’t want any newsletters, considered “spam.”
  • Opt-out techniques infuriate customers. Make it their decision from the beginning, and make it an obvious decision.
  • Customers don’t like registering before purchasing. They just want to buy, they don’t want an account.
  • Customers online want to be treated the same as they would at a brick and mortar store. In and out, no questions, no strings.
  • Address validators are great, but let the customer be right, not the machine.
  • Don’t ask for the same information twice across multiple pages. If we give it once, use it.

The end of the article has an excellent list to consider when designing or selecting ecommerce Plugins for your WordPress site.

How do WordPress Plugins for Ecommerce Fare?

I’m frequently asked which WordPress Plugin I recommend for ecommerce and online shops and orders. I have no favorite and recommend none as I have yet to find one that comes close to meeting the needs of the many, not the needs of the few.

Here is a list of just a few of the popular Ecommerce WordPress Plugins, usually referred to as shopping carts. Some of these are free for the basic version and paid for the full or commercial version. Some integrate directly with PayPal or other credit card services.

There are also a wide variety of WordPress Plugins that integrate into ebay, Amazon, etsy, and other online sales services.

As I’ve said, I don’t recommend any of them. Each one is different. I’ve used some, switched to others, and jump around to match the right shopping cart WordPress Plugin with the right client, focused on meeting their needs.

There is a long history of problematic WordPress Plugins for shopping carts. Too many try to be everything for everyone, but the real world of retail doesn’t work that way. Not all stores are the same. Not all products sold in stores are the same or sold the same. While there are few unique buying and shopping experiences today, the online experience should match the in-person experience, or improve upon it.

Before you make a decision, I recommend you read Fundamental Guidelines Of E-Commerce Checkout Design and The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design 2012 to familiarize yourself with the needs of the users, the failures of the top shopping cart and ecommerce sites in the world, and define what it is your customers really need in a good checkout experience.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.


  1. Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on shadowvigil.

  2. Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Did you mean “opt out or worse”? I don’t understand that. Thanks for another great article.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Ah, one should never assume others understand what “worse” is in all situations. 😀 Thanks. The point is that too many order forms force opt-in subscriptions for newsletters, emails, etc., without ever asking the user. Your input is filled with unwanted stuff and it takes time and effort to get off the list, or the expectation (fear) is that they will lose their account or account standing if they refuse the incoming emails. This prevents people from actually buying things online because they don’t want the junk email. They don’t want their privacy violated. That’s the worse. Thanks for kicking me to be clear.

      • Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        As always, thanks for a great article.

        The explanation was very helpful.


  3. Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this post, and for putting links to eCommerce plugins in one place! I need to set up one for my sister and finding a decent plugin has been a bear. I also thank you as a consumer who shops online a lot. I’m one of those shopping cart abandoners. I can get up and go to a brick and mortar and get what I need faster than some of those online sites. Frustrating! And I hate the opt-in thing so much I have an email account set up specifically for those types of things. I never even read any of it, just delete the whole thing. Here’s a new form of that I discovered the other day: I found a free plugin, but to download it I had to sign up to allow access to my Twitter account to allow them to tweet themselves via my feed. Guess who now has a 2nd Twitter account? And no, the plugin wasn’t even worth it.

    You rock, Lorelle!

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, and thanks for sharing your story. It really helps to have another voice whine about this from both sides.

  4. Sue Surdam
    Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I appreciate one click shopping too! Thanks for the list of shopping carts to “checkout”. Finding an elegant solution to WP shopping is must for selling on site.

    I don’t mind registering for site if it’s someplace I will want to shop at again. I might even want to get their email newsletters. However, I agree with you that needs to be an obvious decision in the beginning. I also hate opting in for email and suddenly finding my inbox flooded with “related” offers from other other companies.

    Going one step further, shopping online needs to be much easier than going to a brick and mortar store. Today, my husband wanted some collar extenders and my first thought was I wonder if I can get those on Amazon rather than drive to the fabric store. With one click shopping and Amazon Prime I can get them delivered in two days if they have them for free! It’s like having a personal shopper.

  5. Posted September 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s something fundamental that these stats miss. I shop online all the time, and putting something in my shopping cart is much more the real-world equivalent of “picking it up to look at it” than “putting it in my basket cause I want to buy it”.

    I use online shopping carts to *think over* what I want to buy. I might very well never buy it–because I don’t want to buy it. Having nothing *at all* to do with how usable anything was.

    Calling it “shopping cart abandonment” makes it sound like someone was walking toward the checkout line, and then suddenly ran screaming from the store because they didn’t like the magazines–“abandoning” a cart full of stuff they were really going to buy if not for some usability offense.

    That’s just not what is happening.

    In the real world, you look over items one at a time and then decide to put them in your cart. Once it’s in your cart, you’re highly likely to buy it.

    In the online world, putting it in the cart is a way to hold it for comparison once you have everything else in your cart–and your search might span several different sites and several different carts.

    In the real world it’s impractical to fill a bunch of carts at different stores, and then have to put everything back when you finally decide on the one thing you want and which store you want to buy it from. But online that’s precisely what we are doing, because it’s so easy and you don’t have to put anything back, just walk away.

    So of course the stats are that high. It’s not a failure of anything, except understanding the conceptual model of the user. Shopping carts are the most convenient holding/comparison tool, and we do a lot of comparison before buying anything online, because we can. And we take as much time as we want to decide, because we can. We can leave the cart there and come back in a few days…you just can’t do that down at the mall. And unlike the mall, where you have a finite number of things to choose from, online you have an infinite number. So you need to use shopping carts, to keep track of your options. But you put the items in way earlier in the decision making process than you would in real life, so you end up ‘abandoning’ more. But think about all the items you pick up and then immediately put back on the shelf in the store. Nobody thinks you are abandoning them because you didn’t choose them. You just don’t have the luxury of adding them to a virtual list to think about over the next two weeks. If you did, you probably would.

    By all means I agree we could improve the UX of e-commerce. But that’s not why people don’t use shopping carts online they way they would in a brick-and-mortar store. They just aren’t the same thing.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Shopping for the sake of shopping, not following through with the intent to purpose is not what is being discussed. That is expected. The issue is with problematic and inadequate design of shopping carts and ecommerce systems.

      What is getting in the way of someone making a final purchase. As described in the article, I’ve often had to call the company to complete my order as the order forms weren’t working. Sometimes it is an issue of the code to not be cross-browser compatible, or a browser extension like AdBlock interfering with the process, or they are using a non-accessible web form which makes it impossible for someone with a disability to complete the process.

      We’re talking about the code and user experience, not the psychology of shopping. There, you are right. People bring their shopping habits to the web. That is a part of the process, too, to make it easier for someone to make their decisions and abandon them easily without risk.

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      I wasn’t talking about “shopping for the sake of shopping” either, but rather the normal shopping experience (with every intent to buy *something*), which influences the stats you mention in a big bold box at the beginning of your article.

      The stats were the only thing I was commenting on. I said that several times.

      But I guess you don’t want comments about that *part* of your article. Geesh.

      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink


        Sorry if you misunderstood me. I agreed with you. The stats are related to functionality and code, so I was hoping to talk to you about that part of the topic.

        The stats are fascinating as they mostly relate to poor planning, coding, and way too many steps along the way to add items to the cart and make the final purchase. What is missing in the functionality that needs to be fixed is important, and taken into consideration when choosing an ecommerce WordPress Plugin or other platform.

        Shopping for the sake of shopping isn’t a bad thing. The psychology of shopping is fascinating, one worthy of extension discussion, which you have beautifully brought up. It plays an important part in understand behaviors and how to incorporate that research into the methodology and code behind a shopping cart – a very exciting topic.

        I brought up this article because of the growing frustration among my clients and others when it comes to choosing a shopping cart system. I wanted to specifically address shopping cart builders, letting them know that there is work to be done to improve them and the incredible work done by Smashing Magazine is worth paying attention to.

        I also wanted to address those looking to get or change their shopping cart system. Consumers beware. These are the things they have to consider when making their choice as many shopping carts can be costly, and require a great deal of personal investment in time and learning, so what do they need to consider when making their choices.

        I brought this up because I firmly believe that anything you do to get into the way of the user and their goals on your site is something worth discussing. This is why I do not permit CAPTCHAs on this site or any of my clients. Let nothing get in their way to have their say, as you have had yours. 😀

        I’m glad you chimed in on the psychology of shopping online. I’m sure that will help many as they make their decisions about their shopping cart choices.

  6. Aenina
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I like few clicks to checkout and no forced sign ups for anything! So I avoid newletter sign ups in my Estore

  7. DP
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been snooping around the e-commerce/shopping cart world lately. I have a Zen Cart website, and I’m looking to jump to WordPress, or maybe Magento, but certainly a more user-friendly experience. The WordPress plugins you listed are going to be a huge help, when I decide to move to WordPress. I’m getting a lot of bounce rate right now, without many people finishing the checkout process, so I will have to solve those issues too. Again, really good info, and thanks for the tips.

    • Marilyn Hudson Tucker
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I love, love, love WordPress, and I think you will, too.

      • Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Odd place for such a comment, but the sentiment is definitely appreciated. I’ve been on since its beginning in 2006, and with WordPress since August of 2003. I definitely love it.

    • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Lorelle, I said “love, love, love” because DP said he/she was thinking about moving to WordPress or something else. It was just a compliment for WP.

  8. Descontos
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    It really is people bring their buying habits in the malls for shopping on the web .. This very often impairs a bit about bad habits … hugs

  9. Posted December 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Hello Lorelle,

    The link to the post on Smashing Magazine and your round up of e-commerce WordPress plugins were very useful information. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Ramkalyan
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    By the way Lorelle,

    I noticed that your blog is on Are you able to use any of those plugins on

    • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      As stated in the article, Plugins are not permitted on You cannot directly sell things or have affiliate links on unless you are part of one of their paid programs. This is one of many sites I have on WordPress, both and the self-hosted version of WordPress. Thanks.

  11. Posted December 9, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I am in the process of finishing my memoir entitled IF I SURVIVED THIRTY YEARS OF TEACHING, SO CAN YOU. I plan to distribute it as an audiobook only. Is there a simple way for me to put something on my WordPress site that would allow someone to pay for the audiobook and then access it through my site? Thanks for your time (from someone who is a technical moron).

    • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      First, congrats! Good for you. Sounds like a book I need to read.

      If you are on, you can add a donate button through PayPal which could easily result in the donation form resulting in a link to your audiobook download link. If you are on the self-hosted version of WordPress, get the PayPal download feature an embed the code on an “order” page or wherever you wish the people to click to pay and then download. Check Learn WordPress for help on the PayPal feature for

      Good luck with it!

      • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Lorelle, thanks so much for the explanation. I am on WordPress, but I can’t remember if I am self-hosted. I did buy my own domain name,
        Does that mean I am self-hosted?

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for the delay in responding. I was doing a workshop presentation yesterday.

        Your site appears to be on, which means you are on the hosted version of WordPress. If you were using, the self-hosted version of WordPress, you would be paying fees to a web host like GoDaddy, Dreamhost, etc. Your comments show, and I find a site there with current content, so I believe you are on

        You can buy a domain name fro anywhere, including, and have it direct to your site for a small fee.

        I hope that helps explain things.

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Excellent. Also, please delete my later message to you (today) about WordPress kicking me off. It was actually my aol account that was messing up. So sorry I complained. What a dummy I am.

      • Posted December 9, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the link. The info looks very helpful.

  12. Sally Dorian
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I think a really important checkout feature is to allow customers to checkout without actually registering. People fear forms, so sometimes click away at the last momenent.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] researching shopping carts for a client and found this great  blog post from Lorelle On WordPress curating a post from Smashing Magazine, Fundamental Guidelines of E-Commerce Checkout. The original […]

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