Billy Robins
Mar 9, 2016 · 7 min read

Short attention span showdown: eCommerce Shopper vs Goldfish

By Tommy Walker, Shopify

When we talk about shopping cart abandonment, it’s always about a “lack of interest” on the customer’s part. Would you be surprised to know that distraction is just as much of a culprit?

Formidable Opponent … for no attention span!

What if, and hear me out, some people aren’t completing purchases not because your shipping costs were too high, but because their Uber showed up, they got a tweet notification, or their bathroom break was over?

It’s true — distractions can drive down sales. Our attention spans are now , and . Back in 2014, , and yet, plenty of online retailers have not adapted their marketing funnels to accommodate for the new buying environment.

The commerce flow still looks something like this:

See ad on social network *click*

Go to a page with several categories to choose from *click*

Find the appropriate category page *click*

Locate the product you want *click*

See your size *click* Add to cart *click*

(Bored yet, if so, I’m making my point)

Find the checkout button *click*

Create an account *click* (Y U NO OFFER GUEST CHECKOUT?!)

Get paranoid about using social logins and hunt down the tiny manual sign up button *click*

Ask yourself if a $50 shirt is really worth it, but fill out the fields anyways *click*

Get frustrated that you forgot you already had an account, find the “log in here” link *click*

(Realistically, by this point, you’ve already received a text message that’s thrown you off course, but you’ve come this far, so ride this out with me, ok?)

Try typing in your usual password *click*


First off, if you’ve read this far, thank you.

Research suggests that switched tabs after the third screenshot.

It also lends gravity to the rise in shopping cart abandonment during the same period of time that our media consumption has increased.

My hypothesis?

It’s too much for retailers to be competing for attention with the same mediums that are driving traffic to our sites. Nine out of ten notifications from a friend will be more important to consumers than a $50 shirt. If it takes too long to purchase the shirt, the friend will always win.

We’re expecting too much from “the funnel” and need to adapt our strategies to accommodate shorter attention spans. That’s where social commerce comes in.

A look at the Pinterest buying experience

Before we move on, please keep in mind that with the previous funnel, we encountered a total of eleven screens and were nowhere near completing the purchase.

Now, let’s say I’m on Pinterest casually searching for journals.

What does it look like when we’re not trying to “drive traffic” but just sell natively in the platform.

Already there are different inexpensive options for purchase native to the search, which may trigger signal a buying mindset without interrupting my user experience.

I scroll down until a journal for sale catches my attention.

*Click* on the Pin.

*Click* on the “Buy it” button.

*Click* Place Order.


Five screens to complete the purchase on Pinterest compared to eleven screens to get nowhere the other way.

See where I’m going with this goldfish brain?

It’s harder to abandon the cart when you don’t have time for second thoughts or interruptions.

Facebook shop gives you one less reason to leave the social network

Native social commerce is happening on every major social network now, and Facebook is no exception.

What’s interesting about the world’s most populous social network however is its ability to bring back the social shopping experience of a by-gone era.

For example, if you clicked the “share” button on this bike listing, you could send it to one of your cyclist friends and ask for their advice right within Facebook Messenger.

If they agreed, buying the bike would only be two more clicks away.

You may argue that this experience could be done just as easily on an external website, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but our attention spans have become so fragile, that as soon as your customer switches tabs from your website to Facebook, you’ve 10Xed the risk of losing them to a cat video.

Keeping everything in the Facebook ecosystem allows you to keep their attention while you have it and remain focused on the purchase.

On a similar note, both Facebook and forward thinking retailers have realized that users enjoy the uniformity of Facebook Pages as it relates to customer service.

Consider for a moment how much of a hassle it is to track down the customer service information on any given website. Is it listed as “customer service”, ‘Contact Us” or buried in the “About Us” page. Is it listed prominently in the header navigation or is it deep in the footer with barely legible text?

On Facebook Pages, the message button is in the same location on every single page.

This is why Zendesk customer Everlane signed up to be a part of the Facebook Messenger Beta program — allowing their customers to live-chat in the environments that were comfortable for them.

Everlane customers can now use Facebook Messenger to get in touch with Everlane customer service. Now, thanks to , Everlane’s customer service can chat, make product recommendations, and solve problems without requiring their customers to jump through hoops to get the help they deserve.

Final thoughts on social commerce

I know how easy it is to dismiss social commerce as a gimmick. As an online marketer of eleven years, I want just as much as anyone to dismiss it all and stick to the tried and true format of ad -> product page -> checkout. That’s what I know, that’s what works (sometimes), so that’s what we’ll do.

But the hard reality is, with the overwhelming abundance of content out there, we’re not just competing with our direct competitors. We’re also competing with cat videos, click-bait articles, texts from spouses, public transportation and other environmental factors, low phone battery life, and the very media platforms that are supposed to bring attention to our products.

Social commerce, for now, is the compromise.

It’s new, so it’s not a huge revenue generator yet. But once the public catches on to how convenient it is, there won’t be any turning back.

Many of the hesitations we have about embracing selling products on Facebook or other social networks are similar to the ones we had about letting Facebook to control logins not all that long ago, and yet the research says that .

The truth is, we’re lazy. So the faster we can get the stuff we want, the more we’re going to want to do it.

All it’ll take for social commerce to really take off (and I believe it will in 2016) is an excellent use-case from a business daring enough to embrace social commerce for everything it can do, and be inspiring enough for everyone else to push it forward.

The question is, will you be the leader or the follower?

About the author

Tommy Walker is the Editor-in-Chief of the . It is his goal to provide high-volume ecommerce stores with deeply researched, honest advice for growing their customer base, revenues and profits. Get more from .


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Billy Robins

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Business Development. Hustler, Connector. @Zendesk @PayNearMe Love SF, StartUps, The Boss, Behavioral Econ. Marathoner (Foolish!). @WARobins @Chasing180

Neatly Folded Sweater

Retail, in real-time. Watch this space for essays, trends and insights from a range of innovators, lovingly curated by the Zendesk Retail Team.