Totals and Subtotals in Baskets May Just Waste Space


A few weeks ago I tweeted that I was going to try what I considered to be possibly a “crazy” site design / usability test. In fact, the idea at the time seemed so crazy that at first I limited it to a very small amount of customers, as it was such a departure from norms that I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve long argued that the whole idea of our classic concept of digital shopping carts on web sites is a very backward way of shopping – especially in the art of increasing average order value. The whole concept of giving people a running total of how much they are spending just seems to run counter to encouraging continued shopping.

Imagine that if when you were shopping at Target you got a continual update on your cart showing you how much you were spending. You’d likely keep a much closer eye on it, and work harder to stay within your budget, and let that continually increasing total ticker start to limit your buying behavior. If every time you threw a new thing in the your cart you received an update on just how much all that stuff was going to cost, you’d probably end up with less in the cart. Instead, since our physical carts don’t have digital price displays on them, we tend to shop in physical stores with the intent to buy what we want to buy, maybe keeping a rough running total in our heads, but mostly we just get what we want to get – then maybe at checkout we’ll put an item or two back once we see that subtotal start to go higher and higher.

Could we increase average order value by not continually showcasing an increasing $ total every time someone adds an item to their cart?

So, the theory behind my test was that by employing the same tactics we could increase average order value by simply not continually updating and showcasing the order total as people shop, but instead leave all calculations of totals until late in checkout – where people have already become so invested in the purchase that cart abandonment will be minimally affected (and still allow people to edit their cart at that time, without having to restart checkout).

The test for this was simple, in our shopping cart I just hid all sections that display totals and subtotals and only left the line item prices in place. Yes, people could still add up their totals in their heads, but there wasn’t a continually growing order total value to scare people into stopping their shopping. We ran the test for a few weeks, and the results … the results showed that it made absolutely no difference to buying behavior.

That’s right, the big area on the page devoted to displaying all the calculations for totals made absolutely no difference in buying behavior. One possibility for this could be that my theory isn’t valid, and that order totals (especially for our low ticket items) really don’t affect how people purchase – they just buy what they want when they want it and aren’t turned off by increased basket sizes. What was clear though was that for the most part this section of the basket mostly just took up extra space – but even with the side-effect of moving the “proceed to checkout” button higher on the page (it’s normally below our subtotals), there was no effect.

In the end we stayed with things how they are, as we hadn’t tested what happens when there is an active promotion that requires a minimum purchase threshold to get a discount – that’s the one instance where we could see it actually having importance.

We’re considering additional tests to see what happens when you pull focus away from price and put it much more on the product. A new test is being thrown around of not even displaying price on product display pages (all of our products cost about the same, and we aren’t competitive on price since we sell a premium product) – but that one is going to be a bit harder to sell internally. Another followup being considered is a version of the basket without totals and subtotals, as we previously tested, but also hiding the individual line item prices.

… think of all the time and resources that could have been potentially put toward projects that actually do matter in the customer experience …

In the end the most surprising part of this test though was that it really had no impact at all. It’s in instances like this that I’m most often reminded that just because something is always done a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s doing any good. Why do we show subtotals in our baskets? Mostly because it’s standard to do it and we don’t really think about it. But if it really doesn’t matter at all, think of all the time and resources that could have been potentially put toward projects that actually do matter in the customer experience, instead of building out potentially complex calculations for a place where they serve little to no value.

You should totally share this.

Leave a Reply