Working in eCommerce, I’ve always been trained to believe that abandonment is a bad thing. Our goal is always to increase sales and make the most of the traffic we have.
The logic is straightforward. If you look at the page-to-page progression through a site (the “funnel”), the more users you can get to move on to the next page in the process, the more sales you’ll have. Focus first on the pages that have the highest abandonment (thus the lowest retention) and see if you can increase the number that progress forward.
But I am starting to believe that this approach is a bit too simplistic. It occurs to me that this concept borders on treating each page like a beauty pageant. The user (“judge”) gives the thumbs up approval for each individual page design by agreeing to progress forward. Or, he or she shows their disapproval by exiting the process altogether. Eventually - each page is designed and redesigned to gain the highest overall approval rating (aka conversion). But does this create a cohesive design?
I’m determined to come at this from the user experience standpoint. As a result, I’ve folded two of my own concepts here.
First one is that no matter what your product is, there will be users who don’t want it. For them, the best experience is to learn this as quickly and painlessly as possible. Thus one of my key measures is how soon people abandon. If the majority is half way through the process then either that page has a problem, or it is the first time your tell the user a key piece of information that tells them the product is not for them (like, say, the price).
Second is that no matter how much a user wants your product, they won’t always be ready to buy it right now. These folks usually abandon on the last step (the payment page). The offset is that you can frequently entice them back (ever get a coupon for something they carted but didn’t ultimately buy?).
So my hybrid recommendation is to focus on the middle of the process. Assume these users are interested and willing to go along. If they abandon half way through, check to see if you are disclosing some key fact at this stage. If so, try to disclose it earlier. If not, then you’ve probably found the page that needs your design help. Improve the conversion of that page and then repeat the entire process.