Ecommerce Guidelines: Shopping Cart

Guidelines 212-216

Ecommerce Best Practices » Cart & Checkout » Appearance/Usability » Cart Interaction

The standard ecommerce site allows shoppers to find items, add them to a shopping cart, and checkout. Pretty straightforward. But in our research, people rarely behave so simplistically.

The nice linear funnel turns into a revolving carousel of interaction. Most of it involves comparison shopping. It’s important to know that the cart also serves this purpose for many.

People use the cart as it’s intended for sure, but more often than you’d think it’s used as a holding area, almost like a fitting room to try on and compare different products.

So it’s important to have proper interaction and information presentation with the shopping cart. It needs to help shoppers in not just understanding what exactly they’re about to purchase, but also in making final decisions about what they buy.

5 guidelines for ecommerce shopping carts:

  1. Consider next move after adding product to cart: Take to checkout screen or remain on product page?
  2. If remaining on page, mini cart should appear whenever an item is added to the shopping cart.
  3. Keep shopping cart notification/contents open until the user clicks elsewhere or is taken elsewhere.
  4. Display essential information on cart page: product thumbnail, name, and price, etc.
  5. Product thumbnail should display the appropriate variation.(if customer ordered a BLUE shirt, the thumbnail should show a BLUE shirt).

Guideline #212. Consider next move after adding product to cart: Take to checkout screen or remain on product page?

Once the product is in the cart, then what?

There are two main approaches here.

  • Show “cart add” confirmation and remain on the same page. Pros: People didn’t ask to move to another page, so there are no surprises and thus good experiences. They might also consider adding more items to the cart before checking out. Cons: They already have the product they’re now staring at in the cart. It would be way more useful to you if they’d look at something else they’d might want to buy!
  • Transfer the user to the cart page. Pros: You’re taking them one step closer to making a payment. This is also a great opportunity to make upsell offers. Cons: you might be losing out on “items per cart.”

The exact strategy to choose depends on your industry and strategy, and you definitely want to test this.

Metrics to keep in mind here:

  • Average transaction value;
  • Average quantity per transaction.

We don’t want to just increase the number of transactions, but also the amount spent for each transaction.

I didn’t like that once i clicked to add something to my cart that it took me to my cart so then i had to back out to get to where i was or research. I didn’t notice a clear button that said back to search results or back to product overview. I prefer ecommerce sites to add the item to my cart and just have a little dropdown or notification that the item has been added.

“add to cart” feature should confirm that you’ve added an item to the cart but not take you directly to the checkout page.

Guideline #213. If remaining on page, mini cart should appear whenever an item is added to the shopping cart.

When people add something to the cart on your product pages, what should happen?

Most importantly: it should be stupidly obvious they’ve added something to the cart. Clear confirmation. It’s ridiculous how many sites screw this up either by not displaying a proper confirmation or showing a tiny animation, or small confirmation text that’s hard to notice.

It’s also important to keep the minicart notification/contents open until the user clicks elsewhere, this allows for control as well as the clear notification.

When adding an item to the cart I would like to see a visual representation of the item in the cart rather than just the button changing to “added to cart”. And as I continue to add items to the cart I would expect to see the pop up each time showing all items in the cart and updated total.

The other most frustrating thing about the site was not being notified when items were added to the cart unless hovering over the cart.

The cart was easy to manage and it told me that I have added items to the cart to confirm.

How to do it RIGHT


They provide the same apparent effect with a sliding minicart that comes in from the right. The cart appears with a small animation, which is good because the human eye reacts to movement, and it’s a subtle visual cue that indicates the shift from visitor to buyer.

J. Crew

They have the minicart slide down from the top of the page.

Swanson Vitamins

They make it very apparent that there’s been a product added to the cart with a pop-up interruption that clearly states what to do next.

Guideline #214. Keep shopping cart notification/contents open until the user clicks elsewhere or is taken elsewhere.

The first step was to make the “add to cart” indicator apparent via a popup or menu navigation slide-down.

After this, as a general rule, it’s important not to have it auto-hide after a certain amount of time. This can create frustration if the customer is reading the contents, about to click on it, and it just disappears.

Users are getting accustomed to the action of clicking off a popup to exit; use this inclination by closing out only the mini-cart when a user clicks elsewhere.

at times, it appeared as though I did not receive confirmation that an item was added to the cart. I would certainly add that confirmation.

How NOT to do it

J. Crew

The mini-cart of J. Crew stays open only for approximately 3 seconds. Is that enough to read what’s in there and casually click the checkout CTA?

Guideline #215. Display essential information on cart page: product thumbnail, name, price, etc.

Key principles for displaying cart contents are clarity and control.

Clarity: It’s easy and obvious to understand what’s in the cart and the final cost, including shipping and taxes. Surprises down the line make people abandon carts. It’s also crucial to keep things simple. It’s a delicate balance between upselling and efficiently getting customers down the funnel.

Control: It’s easy to make changes (update quantity, remove products).

The essentials:

  • Product photos;
  • Product name and price;
  • Ability to remove, save for later, change details (like size);
  • Show the kind of payments they accept;
  • Show total price with the option to change shipping;
  • “Checkout Now” CTA;
  • An upsell to attempt to get you to add more items in the cart.

I also had a lot of trouble at checkout because it seemed like less important things (ads and such) were being displayed in place of the important ones (the checkout button).

I might suggest to also include the product image inside of the shopping cart, for visual confirmation as well.

I liked that you could estimate your tax before you started the checkout process so that you could really get a better understanding what your total price will be.

In the one instance where I did receive confirmation of a product being added to the cart, there was no indication of the price of the product that was recently added; only a subtotal of all products in the cart. I might suggest adding an indication of individual product price for items recently added to the cart.

How to do it RIGHT


They have a nice minimalist approach to the cart page that highlights free shipping, a price-match guarantee, and an indication of the sales price.


Petco likewise gets all the essentials right, with the exception of a coupon field that is a bit too prominent.

Guideline #216. Product thumbnail should display the appropriate variation (if customer ordered a blue shirt, the thumbnail should show a blue shirt).

Have a unique picture for every variation, make it clear. This is somewhat obvious, and most major retailers are getting this right these days.

Don’t add confusion at this stage. If customers get a whiff that there might be hiccups or confusion with the order, they can always go somewhere else.

It’s a lot less effort to find the same product at a competitor than it is to return an item because it’s the wrong color or size.

Continue to the next section:

Ecommerce Best Practices » Cart & Checkout » Appearance/Usability » Checkout Navigation