Cart abandonment: Ever ‘ghosted’ your shopping cart online? Here’s why we do it


We’ve all been there – lounging around in your finest trackie dacks, scrolling and adding items to your dream cart while imagining the undeniable positive impacts they would have on your life. Or, as is the case for a number of parents I know, preparing click-and-collect grocery shopping to prevent a meltdown in the confectionery aisle by a strong-willed toddler. But once you have had your retail fill and your cart is sitting pretty, what happens next?

Abandoned cart in carpark
Source: ArtemH/

Well, if you’re anything like 70% of the Australian consumers surveyed by Canstar*, there is a good chance you could abandon your cart. That’s right, dating apps are not the only platform where ghosting is rife.

From window (or screen) shopping through to the recent stories of TikTokers deliberately trolling Trump clothing and merchandise, cart ghosting has become an aspect of our everyday lives. But why do we do it, and what items are we most likely to leave behind?

Top 5 reasons why shoppers are ghosting

The number one reason why people ditch their shopping at the cart is if shipping fees are too expensive, according to those surveyed in Canstar’s research. On the theme of shipping, delivery time was noted as the least likely factor to cause shoppers to ghost their cart. These are the top five reasons why people say they ghost their online goods:

  1. Shipping fees were too expensive
  2. I changed my mind
  3. I wanted more time to compare items or get a quote
  4. What I wanted was out of stock
  5. I wanted to wait and see if I would receive targeted ads or emails for discounts

    Who you gonna call? Source: DrivemyarT/

Consumer behaviour expert Gary Mortimer told Canstar shipping costs could be a key price barrier that leads customers to abandon their cart.

“Often shoppers will see a great product online they’ve been searching for across multiple sites – they’ve found the product they want, it’s in stock, it’s got the right price and they pop it in the virtual cart – and when they’re about to transact they see all the added charges and realise it’s going to cost $10 more than they thought it would,” the QUT Business School Professor said.

He said another reason shoppers tended to abandon carts was if they were using it as a budgeting tool, to help guard against impulse buying.

“What some people do is they’ll shop online for clothes or a new piece of consumer electronics, they’ll pop it into the virtual cart which means it’s held there for them, and they might walk away for 48 hours to give themselves time to reflect on whether they really need to make that purchase,” Professor Mortimer said.

“We often find that after 48 hours, that impulse to purchase has dissipated.”

During this window, however, he said many retailers take the opportunity to give customers a “nudge” to get them over the line and close the sale, in the form of a reminder or even offering a discount on the products in their cart if they make the purchase now. This strategy is called ‘retargeting’.

“Nudging within 24 hours on Facebook as a reminder that the item is on special, that tends to affect purchasing behaviour,” Professor Mortimer said.

“If a retailer knows you’re a consumer who wants to buy a particular product, sometimes giving you a nudge or a discount can get you over the line to close the sale. It’s more efficient than offering everyone a 10% discount.”

Gary Mortimer QUT Professor
Professor Gary Mortimer. Image supplied by QUT.

‘Serial ghoster’ explains why she’s put off at the checkout

Online shopper Emma McGregor is a self-proclaimed “serial ghoster”. She admits she has been doing more of her shopping online over the last year due to the convenience, which has also led to her abandoning more carts than before, ranging from food delivery through to fashion. And she isn’t alone. A recent survey by PYMNTS and Cybersource found there had been a 24% increase in the share of Australian consumers who prefer wholly shopping online since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with the total number of these ‘online native’ shoppers now sitting at almost one in five (19%).

“I guess I can be a bit of a flake. I don’t like paying a shipping fee, sometimes I get a little click-happy and when I realise how much the cart is I abort, or I may decide to wait to see if it goes on sale later,” Ms McGregor told Canstar.

“I know it is a marketing gimmick, but I definitely go for the free shipping option, even if an alternative was cheaper to begin with but charged shipping on top of it, so that is one reason I would ditch the cart.

“I have noticed I am targeted with advertising and discounts when I don’t progress to payment. Most recently it was for glasses, which are tricky to buy online so I like to take my time and sit on it, and I am regularly reminded by email that I didn’t complete the purchase.”   

Cart offer
Some retailers are ‘retargeting’ people who abandon their carts with emails. Image supplied by Emma McGregor.

Cart ghosters strategically wait to nab a discount, but why is shopping cart abandonment a problem for retailers?

As a money-saving strategy, some savvy customers may intentionally abandon their cart and wait for targeted discount offers before going through with a purchase, Professor Mortimer said. But can this impact the business?

There are usually relatively minor impacts to a business when customers do this, because it doesn’t mean an item has been physically removed from the shelf or isolated with your name on it, Professor Mortimer explained. It may, however, skew the retailer’s data if there is an impression that a product is in high demand.

The cart ghosting bonanza on Donald Trump’s online merchandise store in 2020 was one example of this phenomenon. Social media users shared videos showing how they had intentionally abandoned their carts, which according to some reports resulted in product lines appearing to be sold out.

“If suddenly people jumped online and put items in their virtual cart, as a marketing manager you might see all that data and say obviously these products are sought-after and I might need to order some more from my wholesaler or distributor. But in fact the purchaser has never purchased,” Professor Mortimer said.

“Normally retailers won’t purchase products from suppliers and distributors until the transaction is made, but they’re constantly looking at the data.”

He said retailers will also look at the data on cart abandonment to try to work out what the big deterrents are for customers, whether it’s delivery costs, charges and fees, a budgeting issue or the quality of the item.

The 5 things we ghost the most in our carts

Respondents to Canstar’s survey said the items they left behind in the virtual dressing room of online shopping were most commonly clothes, shoes and accessories. The least common items to be abandoned at the cart were appliances, including fridges, dishwashers and coffee machines. These are the top five most-ghosted types of items in Australia, according to the survey:

  1. Fashion (clothes, shoes and accessories)
  2. Books and games
  3. Homewares
  4. Fitness equipment
  5. Hair and beauty products

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Additional significant reporting by Ellie McLachlan.

*Source: Survey of 1,049 Australians aged 18+. Commissioned by Canstar and conducted online via Qualtrics in January 2021.

Cover image source: ArtemH/


Thanks for visiting Canstar, Australia’s biggest financial comparison site*

This content was reviewed by Editor-in-Chief, Canstar Nina Tovey and Sub Editor Tom Letts as part of our fact-checking process.

Shay has worked in content for over a decade. Her experience includes PR and copywriting in Australia and the UK where she consulted to Lloyds Banking Group. She also gained work experience at Czech Republic English-language newspaper The Prague Post and Quest newspaper The Wynnum Herald.

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