Take a second and imagine going to a store near you.  I’m talking bricks and mortar, so think of your favourite local shop or a big retail outlet.  Imagine you pull into the parking lot and hop out of your sweet ride.

As you walk up to the door, the automatic sliders part like the red sea to greet you.

You grab a cart or a basket, and hear to the soft easy listening music piping through the speakers.  You casually stroll the aisles, browsing products.  A friendly store employee looks your way and smiles.

You see something you need, so you throw it in the cart.  You grab another product off the shelf that you’ve heard of and would like to try.  Another product in a nice looking package jumps off the shelf.  You are humming along to the soft music.

Now imagine this:

You stop dead in your tracks. You take your hands off your cart, turn around and walk directly towards the exit.  You’ve left your product sitting in your cart, abandoned in the middle of the aisle.

Nobody loves me

Weird, right? 🤔

It may even feel uncomfortable to imagine.  Consumerism is a cornerstone of our modern culture.  By going shopping, you’re participating in a normal cultural activity.  That activity has unwritten norms and rules.  As you step into that store, you are upholding a sort of social contract.  The entire system of people and capital that exist to put those products on the shelves for you.

Your responsibility is to buy SOMETHING.

A long time ago we figured out how to manufacture way more crap than we actually need.  The shopping has since been promoted, designed and refined to drive you to make a purchase.  Once you are through those doors, there’s a very high probability that you will do just that.  There’s a very low chance you will abandon your cart.

This was just normal culture until the late 90s when along came eCommerce.  Faster, more selection, more competition (cheaper), and generally just an easier experience.  ECommerce was potential was consumer culture on steroids.  You could shop from anywhere you had internet access, and buying online gave a ton of advantages.  For retailers, the reduced operating cost and overhead seemed like a win, enabling cheaper prices and fatter margins.  So in the first dot com boom in the early 90s, there were a TON of eCommerce sites set up.  They were all positioning themselves to reduce traditional bricks and mortar retailers to rubble.


But why did so many of those early eCommerce businesses fail?  Among many reasons for early failures was one that stands out to me – abandoned carts.

Sure, people showed up to shop online because of all the ease and new benefits, but at the same time none of those cultural cues, the ones embedded in the bricks and mortar shopping experience were there to close the sale.  There was nothing working to ensure you always made a purchase.  They environment around you wasn’t enforcing cultural compliance.  There was all the benefit to buying, but none of the consequences of walking out.  Oh and returns?  None of the shame of bringing an item back to the store.  No admitting that YOU made a mistake, and no pleading for your money back.

Love them or hate them, Amazon figured out this differential element very early on.  They knew that they could only control the shopping experience on the screen and nothing else.  They knew that every additional step a consumer had to go through to finalize a purchase increased the chance that they would abandon the effort.  It was this early understanding that enabled Amazon to make massive strides against their competition.  It’s also why they filed for (and were granted) the patent for One Click Checkout in 1999.

It’s no surprise that almost exactly when that patent expired in 2017, Shopify, one of the largest eCommerce enablement platforms, launched ShopPay, a version of one click checkout that store owners could enable on their sites.

A relentless focus on conversion rates has become the norm in the eCommerce business, but an early understanding of the cultural and experiential difference between in person shopping and online shopping is what helped make Amazon so successful.

Like I said in this post about the legendary Ned Ludd, we’re still in the middle of a technology fuelled, monster culture shift.  There are many ways to combine an understanding of a) modern tools, b) the nature of individuals and c) the culture of groups to create incredible new things, and I believe the opportunity to have the vision and create success like Amazon did is still possible.

Now go figure it out and make something awesome.