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What Stops You Buying High Value Goods Online?

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Recently, as part of a wider optimisation study of how we operate our business at Cutting Edge Knives, I posted up a short survey on Twitter. I specifically asked why people abandon shopping carts with expensive/luxury items in them and what (if anything) would encourage more people to complete their purchase.

Here are my observations, plus some noticeable trends from the responses and suggestions for improving your own (or clients') eCommerce site.

Caveat: The questions and indeed answers may be relevant to your business, or they might not. Ecommerce, we're discovering as we go, is full of many variables which ultimately impact whether someone clicks that magical "Pay now" button or not, so make of these results and my observations what you will.

The survey "What stops you buying high value (£100/$160+) goods online?" comprised four short questions. Here are some of the highlights.

Q1: Expensive Goods

Do you buy expensive products (£100/$160+) online?

Yes/no answers only
  • Yes- 56 (86.2%)
  • No- 9 (13.8%)


I have to admit, as the survey was promoted through my twitter feed, and therefore I assume most of the people answering were fellow designers and developers, I thought the Yes vote would be closer to 100%.

Everybody answered this question.

Q2: Product Research

How often do you spend time researching a product, only to then abandon your shopping basket without completing your order?

Multiple choice, single answer permitted
  • Never- I always buy it once I enter the checkout process: 6 (9.2%)
  • Occasionally- Sometimes I buy it, sometimes I abandon my basket: 39 (60%)
  • Frequently- More often than not, I won't complete my order: 20 (30.8%)


No massive shocks really, a couple of people never buy expensive goods online, even when they've added them to their basket. I'm going to suggest that based on the answers to other questions there's an element of using a shopping cart to store things for later, rather than buy them.

I thought the "Frequently" answer was on the high side. I was quite leading with the question about spending time researching the product before committing to buying it, but it seems people are still happy to research an item, commit to buying it (or at least commit to adding it to a basket) and then abandon it. Seems a slightly unusual user journey of "Find item - Research it - Convinced enough to add to basket - Run away!"

At this point, I felt that on many similar eCommerce projects, I'd followed this "standard user journey" through a site, but this critical extra step of doing more last minute price and voucher code research is one I'd never really fully considered. We can think of this as a customer getting cold feet near to the checkout counter.


The good news is that there are things that can be done to mitigate some of the damage of last minute changes of mind.


When we talk about offering customers reassurance about their shopping experience, their online safety and security, we often think of things like adding padlock graphics or Visa logos and the like. In this instance, we found users weren't necessarily abandoning on these grounds. They were leaving to continue researching prices, to see if they can get their order total down.

In the basket above, we recently added the "Buy with confidence" list (which link off to relevant landing pages although in time will be optimised further with tooltips). We've essentially tried to tell people who have come this far that they won't find any better deal than the one they're currently looking at, and even if they do, there's no risk because we'll match it.

The results so far have been staggering. In this short test (three weeks) our sales have increased roughly 20% compared to the same time period last month, with roughly similar traffic levels. If you haven't yet spent time considering why your potential customers might think twice about completing their order, this is something I recommend trying.

Everybody answered this question.

Q3: Reasons Please

If you've done your research, added an item to your basket and are checking out, what reasons do you have for not completing your purchase?

Multiple choice, multiple answers allowed including "Other" which was a blank text field
  • Look further- Look for a better price or a discount code: 40 (69%)
  • Security- Not sure about security of your card details: 6 (10.3%)
  • Company- Not sure about website or company: 18 (31%)
  • Saved for later- Using basket just to save item for later: 21 (36.2%)
  • Pricing, postage- Pricing or postage options are not clear: 24 (41.4%)
  • "Other": 21


Interestingly, a massive percentage of people said they drift away from completing an order because they go off looking for a better price or a discount code.

We've been pondering the way we display, and indeed whether to use, discount codes any more (your mileage may vary). As I mentioned, we're currently testing our checkout during which we offer a price promise/match and don't display any discount or voucher input, so I'll share the results of that in due course. If you want to read a little more on promo code UX, this Stack Exchange thread has some good information.

One of the other things we've long suspected is the fact that a lot of people use a basket as a "save for later" or wish-list device of some sort. On our site, we initially found that the eCommerce platform we use had a short default timeout of when baskets would be cleared. By increasing that from somewhere around seven days to nearer one year we got a lot more people returning to the site - sometimes months later - completing a purchase we'd have potentially otherwise missed out on.

The other answers relating to credibility and clarity of information were roughly as expected and there are some good initial steps you can take if you're struggling to convince customers of your legitimacy.

In the open ended "Other" it was interesting to see that of the twenty one responses, ten were people saying once they hit the basket, when buying something expensive, they begin to question their budget and whether they can afford the purchase.


Depending on what your business can do to convert, there might be scope to really push hard with a prominent money back promise (please make it a good one where you actually let a customer use the thing before they decide if it's right) to essentially make it a lower risk purchase where possible.

Ensuring the clarity of your checkout process and any messages is critical.

It's natural for people to have second thoughts about buying something, so minimising these doubts will positively reinforce that they're making the right choice to buy from you. This can be done with clearer messages, highlighting things like a Price Promise or Free Postage, or an implicit link to a returns policy, for example.

Hide nothing

Several responses also raised concerns about postage, with particular emphasis on adding hidden or unreasonable postage fees later in the checkout process (I've written about this before). Also of interest was mention of reliability of delivery and, having experienced the dreadful service of companies like Yodel, in the past, there may also be value in having a very clear and concise postage summary, including how quickly you dispatch orders, with whom you send them, and how much postage costs.

Your courier choice can cost conversions

In a follow up on Twitter I also asked my followers (and their followers via retweets) if specifically naming the courier services you ship with would make any impact. This actually elicited quite a strong reaction from many people who have experienced poor service from a selection of couriers. They even went to the effort of saying they would consider shopping elsewhere if a particular courier was used, or if there was some question about it.

If you have an opportunity to actively distance yourself from poor shipping companies, who will ultimately damage your brand, then you should. This could be as simple as specifying which courier services you do ship with.

7 skipped this question, 58 answered.

Q4: What Can We Do?

What could a website do to reassure or convince you to complete your purchase, instead of abandoning it?

This was an open question with a text input.

Many mentioned clarity of information and design focus in your checkout process (specifically your postage costs and options) and critically, a price promise of some sort appear to be the clinchers here.

The vast majority of responses mentioned price and being reassured that they were paying the best price (or at least being offered the option of a price match) was important.

There were a few people who mentioned that they like to try out physical products when they're investing a significant amount of money. This is a very reasonable thing to want to do, and as I mentioned above in question three's observations, I believe a very friendly returns and money back policy might help out here.

There were a mix of other answers, but the final one that stands out would also appear to support the assumption that many abandonments are often a case of cold feet and/or people using the basket as a means to wish-list an item for later. Depending on your site you might be able to build in some sort of wish-listing functionality that ties in with an email or user account somehow. In this way you can gently remind someone if they havn't been back to complete their basket checkout, but that's down to how far you want to push.


Most people add a product to their basket, either because they want to buy it, or because they want to save it.

Delight with great customer service

At Cutting Edge Knives, we've had a thirty day money back promise from day one. We don't mind if our customers use their purchase (how else do you know it's not for you, right?!) and then send it back. In the two years we've been in business, we've had one customer return a knife because it was bigger than they'd expected, after which they ordered a smaller one from the same range, so don't be afraid to back the quality of the things you sell.

It's more efficient having a repeat customer than having to win a new one each time. Don't forget that once someone has bought from you, their experience of your company doesn't end. Get their purchase to them quickly and you stand a great chance of keeping them.

Save the savers

Take the time to consider those people who are just using your site to save a product. They might come back later in the day, month or perhaps never. If there's scope to create a wish-listing or save for later system, you have a potential avenue to capture an email address or name that you can follow up with at a later date. Be clear that you're not about to spam someone or sign them up to a newsletter though!

It's also worth noting in this multi-device age, a lot of people use different devices for different tasks, so the ability to let someone potentially research a product on a phone and then save it for later purchase at home on a tablet, or desktop is something to consider. Of course, the best route here is to give them all the relevant information and choice to complete a purchase on any device.


I hope this has been useful to you in some way. As I mentioned at the start, the reason for asking the questions was to try and help improve our own business, but we do like to test and share different things. While some of these answers and observations may be useless to your particular business, they might spark off an idea for improving conversions or the checkout experience.

If you have anything to add about why you do, or don't complete a purchase online, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

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