The Outdated e-Commerce Shopping Cart

Shopping cart experiences have always formed the bedrock of e-commerce. Customers spend time finding products on the merchant’s website or app, add those products to a digital shopping cart, and then follow the payment flow to check out.

As the newcomer in retail in the 1990s, e-commerce needed to use the shopping cart and checkout metaphors from traditional brick-and-mortar commerce to help consumers understand the transaction process. This skeuomorphism has defined e-Commerce ever since.

For more than 20 years, product teams have obsessed over nuances such as button placement, field behavior, and credit card entry in an effort to make the purchasing process as painless as possible.

But times have changed.

With the advent of mobile, the ever-rising expectations of customers, and the complete lack of patience for e-commerce friction, the shopping cart metaphor is losing its effectiveness. Just as retailers were starting to get the hang of traditional e-commerce checkout processes, the market seems ready to move beyond the shopping cart.

Mobile Giants Are Moving Beyond the Shopping Cart

Amazon has perfected the shopping cart. The design might not be flashy, but after years of testing, feedback and improvement, it’s an elegant and reliable workhorse. However, Amazon is doing more than just making iterative changes to the shopping cart.

In dutifully managing and leveraging all of the information at its fingertips, such as shipping addresses and cards on file, Amazon has not only perfected the cart, but moved beyond it.

To understand how Amazon is ending the shopping cart era, we have to go way back to 1999.  Right before the turn of the century, Amazon patented its “one click to buy” concept. In many ways, Amazon didn’t need to patent this technology—nobody has built a logistics infrastructure strong enough to match the e-commerce giant’s ability to deliver goods in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable (read: free) price the way Amazon Prime can.

So, for many household items or impulse purchases, Amazon lets you skip the shopping cart entirely and buy with the help of all the context it already has about you. Amazon has even taken the one-click concept a step further by turning the digital “buy” button into the physical Amazon Dash button.

The one-click patent was always meant to streamline the checkout experience. However, this frictionless experience becomes even more important on mobile as you have less screen real estate and ever-impatient customers has better things to do and better places to be than navigating a complex checkout process on their phones.

Now, the one-click patent is coming to an end and Amazon’s cart-less efforts are evolving yet again with Alexa. With Alexa, customers can have an ongoing conversation with a virtual assistant who never forgets and knows all of the relevant details for your shopping needs—not just your credit card and shipping info, but your past preferences and purchase history.

The voice-enabled shopping experience further shrinks the purchase funnel into an immediate fulfillment of customer intent. And as the shopping cart metaphor disappears from e-commerce, Amazon is even experimenting with this concept in its physical Amazon Go grocery stores. Once customers are authenticated at the door, they can just walk out with merchandise and be billed accordingly without standing in line or waiting for checkout.

It’s important to note that Amazon isn’t the only company moving away from the traditional shopping cart. Uber is another example of the magical cart-less experience. You don’t think about paying for your Uber. You order it, you take the ride, and you just get out of the car. The card on file removes all friction from the process.

There’s even been stories of people getting so accustomed to this experience that they’ll accidentally get out of standard cabs without paying. We can’t dismiss these instances as anomalies—they’re indicative of shifting consumer preferences and e-commerce companies have a chance to get ahead.

Trunk Club Redefines the e-Commerce Shopping Cart with Messaging

One of our customers, Trunk Club, has innovated away the shopping cart both in terms of its business model and in terms of the interface that forms the basis of its customer experience—rich messaging.

After signing up for Trunk Club, you’re matched with a stylist who proposes a personalized “trunk” of clothing that meets your stated tastes and needs. After you collaborate with the stylist—removing things that you don’t want, requesting recommendations for other things that didn’t show up the first time—you verbally OK the trunk to be sent out to you.

Once the trunk has been shipped to you, you’re able to try the clothes on, see how they feel, and send back anything you don’t want. Your card is only billed after you decide to keep items from the trunk.

After you enter your card and delivery info the first time, you never have to think about the shopping cart or checkout process again. You don’t even have to think about whether you’ll want to keep everything in a trunk—just say “yes,” “yup,” “good to go!” or whatever chat confirmation you prefer to say you’re ready for a trunk and the personal stylist will ship it to you. This is a frictionless experience that gets beyond your typical e-commerce shopping cart and creates higher-value customer interactions.

The key here is that rather than focusing on conversion rate optimization for an outdated shopping cart metaphor, Trunk Club is basing its business model and interface on conversation. And in a mobile-first world, that means messaging.

Your e-commerce business isn’t just a series of transactions hindered by cart abandonment. Today, e-commerce is a relationship—a personal service that you provide to customers by talking to them and understanding their needs. From this relationship, purchases will flow naturally.

If you’re ready to step away from the aging shopping cart metaphor and buy into a more conversational e-commerce experience, contact us today to find out how the Layer customer conversation platform can help.