One of the most often looked at statistics on an online store is the cart abandonment rate. As the name suggests, the metric tells website owners how many times a consumer clicked on an item to purchase it, but didn't complete check out. For many, these instances represent missed opportunities. It's sometimes compared to someone leaving their cart full of items in a retail store and walking out. Recent research suggests that such an analogy may not be appropriate since many cart abandonments come from "Window Shoppers".

A recent report from SaleCycle found that the most common reason given for cart abandonment was that people were just looking or researching in the first place. A third of those surveyed (34 percent) used research and browsing to explain their cart abandonments.

To think of it another way, this means one in three cart abandonments are unavoidable. The consumer never intended to purchase a product, so it's unlikely that any minor change to the website or ecommerce platform would have changed their mind.

Online window shopping is the reverse of the "showrooming" trend, where people would look at items in-store then buy them cheaper online, that once hurt many brick-and-mortar retailers. Clearly, physical stores have learned how to adapt to an online-enabled consumer.

Online cart abandonment will always be higher than those in-store because it takes less effort to put items in a cart online than to walk around the store and put items in a basket. Online window shoppers don't have to physically go to the cashier to get a total, and they don't have to feel bad since it takes no additional effort from the retailer to reshelve items when a cart is abandoned online.

In a way, this situation brings digital marketers back to using tactics and strategies developed for brick-and-mortar retailers. Since "window shopping" is something that retailers have dealt with for a very long time, online retailers can adapt some of these ideas for their virtual stores.

For example, when shopping malls were at their peak, they would sometimes use a "Blue Light Special" which indicated some great bargain in the mall that would be available for a short period of time. A ticking clock on website can serve the same function. For example, a timer can say when a customer must order to have delivery by a certain date or when a special offer ends.

Another useful tactic online retailers should consider is bundling. When a lot of stores have the same item for same price, offering a discount on related items can help a store stand out. Around the holidays, in-store retailers often do this with batteries for children's toys. When done effectively, bundling can lead to increased sales for high profit margin items at the expense of revenue generated from more common items.

Next to "window shopping", the second most common reason for cart abandonment among those surveyed was "shipping issues" so this is a good place to look for improvements. Nearly one in four (23 percent) said their cart abandonment was related to shipping.

Shipping has always been the bane of online shoppers and anything that can be done to lower shipping costs and/or shipping times can be a great selling point for online retailers. The importance of having a free shipping option is explored in another article.

Cart abandonment will always be an issue for online retailers, but that doesn't meant the problem is unconquerable. And while the cart abandonment rate an important metric for retailers to use, they shouldn't jump to conclusions if it suddenly spikes during the holidays when there are more people "window shopping".

Most importantly, online retailers should use cart abandonments as opportunities to learn more about the products their customers are interested in, then use smart tactics and strategies to turn some "window shoppers" into "impulse buyers".

For more information about e-commerce research, read this article on the cyber security methods consumers expect from modern websites.