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The Perils of Online Shopping

Ylan Mui

I have to shop. It's my job.

Ok, let me refine that: I have to browse for work, justifiable research for a retail reporter like myself. I don't have to buy anything.

The problem is that I tend to browse while at work, clicking through my favorite stores online so that I can still feel like I'm shopping, even when I'm not. Sounds complicated, I know, but sometimes you have to trick yourself into doing the right thing.

I am the queen of shopping cart abandonment -- the bane of any e-tailer. I'll give in to temptation only so far, picking out just the right outfit or fancy kitchen tool, adding it to my shopping cart ... and then quickly closing the window, erasing the evidence of my little dalliance.

According to a recent survey by PayPal and research firm comScore released last month, about 45 percent of online shoppers had abandoned their carts multiple (multiple!) times in the past three weeks. The average purchase price (had they followed through) was $109.

The top reason cited by consumers was high shopping costs. But the third most common response was lack of money at 36 percent. More than one quarter said they left the site to find a coupon.

Moneywise Moms suggests ways to tackle the problem rather than simply running, er, clicking away like I do. The key is not to stop shopping online altogether, but to shop smarter. She suggests waiting for free shipping deals (if you really want it, you'll wait for it) and shopping through portals that give you cash or points for your purchases. That way you're making money when you spend money.

Will you admit to shopping cart abandonment? What are your online shopping strategies?

By Ylan Mui  |  July 10, 2009; 7:01 AM ET
Categories:  Consumer News , Ylan Q. Mui  
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Next: Mastering the Lingo of the Recession


It's usually the shipping costs that send me running - I've decided to buy something, but then I see what it's going to cost to ship it, and suddenly it doesn't seem like a great bargain anymore.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | July 10, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

I love shopping online. It curbs my long standing urge carried on from childhood to grab anything I like, put it in my cart, idolize it, toy it with, become bored with it, and then abandon it (like oh-so-many barbies & games that didn't survive my short & fickle attention span). It really has helped. What I see online shopping stores do, now, is actually save my shopping cart, so if & when I return, I will sift through the items, delete what I don't want and then actually buy the few items that survived my junkie-shopping need.

Posted by: nerdesse | July 10, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't tend to fill a cart unless I actually intend to buy something. In fact, I usually don't go to online shopping sites unless I need something specific and am either researching or planning to buy. When I do bail, it's generally for one of three reasons:

(1) I discovered the shipping was ridiculous. Harry and David is horrible for this -- I wanted to send my great-aunt a (small, nonbreakable) $35 birthday present, and they wanted $12 to ship it. Bailing? More like "run screaming."

(2) I don't find everything I want. If I'm going to have to go to the store in person to find what I need, there's no benefit to buying half of it on-line.

(3) I go look for promo codes. Drives me NUTS that the shopping sites have to turn this into the equivalent of a video game, where you can only "win" the glowing golden orb if you know just the right cheat code to plug in at exactly the right time. Ugh. I really don't care that much to be following things closely enough to make sure I'm in on the super-secret handshake -- but knowing that there's probably one out there, and that I'd get a better deal if only I knew it, really makes me NOT want to buy unless I can find a good promo code.

The whole promo code thing is actually something that turns me off of online shopping in general, because I either have to make a big time investment in tracking these things, or accept that I will be paying more unnecessarily. Whereas when I go to the store, I just need to pay attention for coupons/ads when I'm reading the paper (which I do anyway). If the online sites made the deals more transparent -- made it easy for me to know I was getting whatever the best available deal is -- I would be much more likely to shop (and buy) more frequently.

Posted by: laura33 | July 10, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I do it all the time - a repeat offender.

But, what often happens, particularly if it's a site I was logged into, is that I'll get email later with some deal-sweetener. The Gap will also send you emails if what's in your cart goes on sale.

An abandoned shopping cart at JC Penny's will also generate emails with various offers.

I've also heard that when you shop someplace and leave without purchasing that you are more likely to see ads for that retailer in subsquent web browsing. If they have a little coupon or something all the better!

Target has recently had a deal for free shipping with an order over $50. Find me someone who can't spend $50 at Target! In fact, I think I save on that kind of transaction because after buying my son a swim suit ( swim suits dissapear like soxes at my house) and a new phone, plus curtain rods I didn't pick up the other stuff that I almost always throw into my cart when shopping there.

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 10, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

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