December 11th, 2012 | 2 MIN READ

Should You Show Cart Totals In Checkout?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

I recently listened in on a web clinic from Marketing Experiments titled Optimizing Shopping Carts for the Holidays. One of the case studies presented was particularly intriguing. If you read the title of this post you guessed the subject of the test -- showing cart totals in checkout.

Cart totals in checkout - best practice?

Back in 2007, Elastic Path conducted an audit of the Internet Retailer Top 100 for our Ecommerce Checkout Report. At that time, only 14% of checkouts displayed cart review boxes in checkout. Conversion rates were 60% higher for the sites that didn't show cart totals.

What's changed in the last 5 years? I checked out the current IR50 this week and found a 50/50 split between showing cart contents and not. It's certainly trendy (perhaps it's been touted as best practice at conferences like Internet Retailer), with Apple, Walmart and Sears adopting it.

Which test won?

Marketing Experiments' test site was not disclosed, but web clinic attendees were live-polled which version, showing cart totals or not, resulted in higher conversion. Overwhelmingly, the audience selected the underperforming version.

Gut feel lost. As it so often does.

The winner was the version that didn't show cart contents in checkout. The relative conversion rate difference between winner and loser was 28.6%, and a full 8 points higher in absolute conversion rate.

This is an isolated test, your mileage may vary. But we learn 3 important lessons from this case.

1. Gut feel fails. Often.

2. "Best practice" fails. Often.

3. Following the leader can fail. If this ecommerce site blindly emulated Apple or Walmart, it would have left big money on the table.

That also goes for blindly following a case study mentioned in a blog post. Test it for yourself. This test is a particularly good one to start with in checkout, as it's generally believed to help users, but appears to cause distraction or second thoughts in the funnel, despite its popularity in ecommerce design.

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