There's an epidemic online, and it may be infecting your sales.

It's the epidemic of abandoned shopping carts.

We may always have it. It's so easy to abandon an online cart. There's no embarrassment factor to it at all.

And there are good excuses for abandoning a cart.

Some carts are abandoned because the Mrs. has opened some other windows and found a better price, maybe from an out-of-state retailer who didn't have to charge sales tax.

It could be someone is just window-shopping, and wants to know the whole price before making a decision the next day or next week.

It could be a kid who's shopping, and they don't even have a credit card.

There are a lot of studies about abandoned carts. The carts ask too many questions, they don't disclose shipping costs ,or customers are just doing market research and you can do your own by looking inside those abandoned carts.

But the biggest problem is often that the process isn't clear, as it is in a real store.

In a real store I know before I get to the line how much my purchases will cost. There's no shipping, and I know the local sales tax rate. If the clerk asks me for my home phone number or address, I know how to lie.

In an online checkout you have to get the address and phone, in order to arrange delivery. You can't be certain of the tax or shipping information until you scan the item being bought. Abandonment is going to happen.

But you don't have to make it easy.

Recently the pump on my son's water fountain broke. I went online to find a replacement. I found one that might be right, but I wasn't certain. I e-mailed the store ( to ask.

I got a great response. This store owner knew the hidden secret to Web site success. ( He told me exactly what I needed to know. He was kind and friendly, even personable.

I go back the next day to buy. I enter his checkout line. I find this horrible shipping cost calculator, that I basically have to complete myself. (

Then I click to the final checkout. I have to fill in my address twice -- once for the billing and once for shipping. I'm patient, the store manager was very nice. I get out my credit card, head for the bottom of the page and (arggh!) they only take Discover!

Now, this story has a happy ending. In going back over the transaction for this column, I find there was a clickable menu for “select payment type” on an earlier screen and Discover just happened to be first. (They have lower discounts than Visa, MasterCard, or AmEx – it's a better deal for many merchants.)

It turns out they do take the card I have. I will buy the pump. My son will be happy.

But I didn't need the aggravation, and had I not been writing this, I wouldn't have put up with it.

Your Clue ( here is simple. Look at your checkout lines from the customer's point of view. Analyze it just as you would your real-world checkouts. How fast can you take their money? Time it. Then look for solutions that will cut that time, and install them.

If you can cut your abandonment rate by just one-third, you've increased sales 67%. It may never be zero. But if you think like a customer, shopping cart abandonment doesn't have to be nearly as big a problem for you as it is for your competition.

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Dana Blankenhorn  ( is the author of the new book, The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You, available at Amazon.Com.