With the approach of Black Friday and Cyber Monday ─ the two busiest shopping days of the year ─ e-commerce, travel, and other industries are gearing up to announce attractive deals to lure consumers. On Cyber Monday 2018 in the United States, online retailers rang up $7.9 billion in sales, making it the biggest online shopping day ever recorded. As consumers increasingly take to online shopping and travel bookings, we will almost certainly see a further uptick in sales during the 2019 holiday season.
Positive sales forecasts are always good news, but then again, online sellers can also expect an increase in problems caused by bad bots that intensify in volume every year. One of the most damaging bot attacks is when they engage in what’s known as ‘denial of inventory’, also known as ‘cart abandonment’ or ‘phantom carts’. Essentially, it’s what happens when bots are programmed to add many items to shopping carts, only to abandon them later.
In 2018, the worldwide Cart Abandonment Rate (CAR) was estimated to average 79.17% across industries, though it was particularly acute for airlines (recording nearly 88% CAR), followed by travel sites at 81.3%, financial sites at close to 78%, and retail and fashion sites coming in at 74.5% CAR.
In 2019, analysts estimate that the global e-commerce shopping CAR stands at nearly 70% ─ meaning that just about three in ten shopping carts were actually being filled by real buyers (who also abandon carts in large numbers for various reasons.)
The graph below shows the proportion of Bot Hits to Total Hits on the shopping cart page at one of our e-commerce customers during November 2018, shortly before and after implementing ShieldSquare. The impact of bots on their cart pages was totally eliminated before Black Friday 2018. Along with other types of bot attacks, this large fashion retailer was experiencing a high volume of cart abandonment and denial of inventory attacks by bots, which made up roughly 10% of all traffic on their shopping cart page. While the bot percentage may seem low compared to overall traffic, it’s worth noting that even a small number of bots can put large quantities of products into shopping carts and severely impact overall sales and customers’ access to desired products.
Let’s take a closer look at the impact that cart abandonment has on targeted businesses:
- Product unavailability: During periods of sales offers and discounts, bots load up carts with desirable products right at the start of the sale. This artificially reduces inventory levels and make those items unavailable for genuine users. Customers may move on to shop at competitors’ sites instead, which directly impacts sales on the targeted site.
- Reduction in conversion rates: Spikes in the CAR may cause business owners to believe that their current pricing and marketing strategies are not working well, and may lead them to make greater investments of capital and effort in order to increase their seemingly-low overall conversion rate.
- Loss of revenue: Genuine buyers will not be able to purchase as long as bots continue to load up shopping carts, leading to a skewed ratio between the conversion rate and the cost of acquiring customers through paid promotions and bigger incentives.
- Reduction in ad CTR: Bots that browse retail sites and fill up shopping carts also create cookie trails which mislead advertisers and ad networks into showing targeted ads that real humans will never see. These fake leads are a waste of money that could have been used more effectively to target qualified audiences.
- Negative user experience: Bots that scrape content or load up carts at a high enough rate put great strain on servers and associated infrastructure, slowing down the site and frustrating buyers who may instead proceed to shop at a competitor’s site.
- Waste of time and effort: Heavy bot traffic on peak shopping days will inevitably lead to the need for IT teams to put in a lot of overtime and effort to solve the problems that bots create.
- Skewed website analytics: Bot visits significantly skew site metrics, making it hard to make out whether real visitors or bot driven data is seen on site analytics dashboards. This impacts not only traffic stats but also KPIs, lead metrics, campaign performance and marketing ROI, resulting in forecasts and strategies being based on incorrect metrics.
How e-commerce portals can prevent cart abandonment
Start preparations well in advance of the peak shopping season. Closely monitor any unusual spikes in traffic, and ensure you have a dedicated team that analyzes and monitor key metrics in real-time and raises a red flag when suspicious activities are spotted. We have seen that in-house solutions are ineffective, which is why e-commerce sites are growingly adopting dedicated bot management solutions that can provide real-time protection for web and mobile apps against increasingly sophisticated and damaging bot attacks. Leading solutions can look beyond behavioral anomalies and identify the intent behind attacks, and can easily integrate with your existing WAF/ CDN infrastructure to augment your overall web and app security. With all the investments in time, effort, and capital you’ve put into your business, shouldn’t you be celebrating a successful holiday season instead of being bamboozled by bots?