What’s in a Basket? Shopping Carts in Mobile Apps

Enhancing the shopping cart

Every digital shopping experience uses the concept of a shopping cart, bag, or basket. As you browse the products for sale, you add items to this temporary holding place while you continue shopping. Optimizing this checkout process is a hot topic; this blog post isn’t about that.

I am convinced that the shopping cart is more than just a part of the checkout process. I think of it like a running wish list. Interestingly, many of the stores that I’ve observed people doing this have a wish list feature, but there is a subtle difference between the two.

A real example

My wife, Steph, has been a devoted Ricki’s shopper for years. She receives and reads the marketing emails each week, keeping up to date on the current sales and the special events. We’ve made trips to the mall specifically to attend some of these events, a real world example that these kinds of marketing messages can be effective for loyal customers.

Steph uses the Ricki’s mobile app on her iPhone or iPad, depending on where she is (iPad on the couch; iPhone everywhere else). When she finds an item she is interested in, she adds it to her shopping cart for safekeeping. Every couple weeks, she will clean up her shopping cart, purchasing some items and deleting others. She also purchases items from the app, so the shopping cart is used as a checkout, but it is much more than that.

Problems with mobile shopping carts in the real world

When Steph goes to the Ricki’s store in the mall, she pulls out her iPhone to remember what items she wanted to try on. And here’s where it gets interesting for mobile apps, because this experience has burned her a few times, directly costing Ricki’s a sale from a loyal customer.

“My cart is empty!”
On more than one occasion, the mobile app “forgot” everything that was in her shopping cart. Whether the app was updated and lost the contents of the cart, or maybe items in the shopping cart expire after a set amount of time, I don’t know. In either case, all of those potential purchases are gone.

“Where is that shirt… ah, must have been on my iPad”
Because she uses the app on her iPhone and her iPad, she is managing two shopping carts. Why these two aren’t linked, I’ll never understand. Ricki’s has a loyalty membership program, so they could use that as a way to link a user’s experience across platforms.

Lessons for mobile shopping carts

So how can we create a better mobile shopping cart for loyal customers?

Do not expire contents of the shopping cart
There’s a reason people put items in their shopping cart; respect it.

Persist the contents of the shopping cart
Never lose a user’s shopping cart through an app update or a lost user session. This is why a native mobile app is a better solution than a web-app. Saving contents to the phone for long-term storage is hard to replicate on a web-app.

Find a way to link experiences
The shopping experience crosses boundaries: for Steph, her Ricki’s experience goes from iPhone, to iPad, to web on a mobile device, to web on a desktop, and finally to the physical store. These experiences are all from the same customer, so find a way to link these together, especially when they walk into your physical store. The app could offer Steph a coupon to purchase one of the items in her shopping cart when she walks into the store. I’m sure she’d be impressed that it knew she was interested in that shirt, and she’s all about the sales.

More than checkouts

The mobile shopping cart is more than a checkout process. Some customers use it as a persistent, long-term, wish list experience. It’s different than a wish list, because it keeps everything in one place instead of having two separate features for the same concept. With a solid and well thought out mobile shopping cart, retail stores can link digital and physical experiences, and provide an avenue for loyal shoppers to purchase more, easier.

Andre is the Product Director at Push with a PhD in Human Computer Interaction. Andre believes that thoughtful design can simplify people's lives, and strives to make all of Push's products easy to learn and use, while providing compelling, useful, and joyful experiences.

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