Add to Cart vs. Add to Bag: Which Button Label to Use

by on 04/26/16 at 4:45 pm

There’s one thing all ecommerce sites have in common. You have to click a button to select the items you want to purchase. But the text labels on the buttons aren’t always the same. Some sites offer users an ‘Add to Cart’ button while other sites offer an ‘Add to Bag’ button. Does this difference in button label terminology affect user purchasing behavior?

Conversion rate testing results have found that ‘Add to Cart’ buttons perform far better. The button label significantly improved the rate of products added and purchases completed. The results prove that users perceive the two labels differently.

Shopping Cart Convention

Since the advent of ecommerce, the shopping cart concept has been a familiar convention on most sites. Users have no trouble understanding what the ‘Cart’ means.

shopping-cart-photo

Designers confuse users when they start to take the interface metaphor in a literal way. Their store may not use any shopping carts. So it doesn’t make sense to use ‘Add to Cart’ in their eyes. But users don’t see it the way that designers do. They follow naming conventions to understand what an action means.

‘Add to Bag’ Causes Confusion

Users can read the ‘Add to Bag’ label and interpret it in many ways. If they’re shopping for handbags, they could interpret that as adding another handbag to their purchase. They can interpret the bag as an extra shopping accessory they don’t want. Or they can interpret it as a feature that’s separate from the checkout process.

shopping-bags-photo

The attitude that users have towards bags and carts are also different. A bag is an object where you place your items after you have made a purchase. Bags give users the impression that they already bought an item and can’t change their minds.

A cart is an object you use to collect items. It gives users the impression that they are free to put in and take out items if they don’t want them. There’s less pressure on the user when they add items to their cart. But when they add an item to their bag, it makes them question whether it’s final or not.

cart-bag-naming-conventions

Imagine if designers changed the labels of other naming conventions users are familiar with. What if the label for site searches became ‘Find’ instead of ‘Search’? Or if the label for home page became ‘Main’ for main page instead of ‘Home’? Designers should use labels that have the highest familiarity with users.

The alternative labels are confusing because users aren’t as familiar with them. This creates confusion and stops users from complete their task. If users are uncertain, they won’t feel comfortable completing a transaction. This is not what you want when users are shopping on your site.

Cart vs. Bag Icon

Users aren’t just used to the word ‘Cart’, they’re used to recognizing the icon too. The shopping cart icon is distinct and unmistakable. A cart has a strong connection to shopping because it’s a common object used in stores. But the bag icon is easy to misinterpret. It’s not an icon that has a distinct shape or meaning. This makes users uncertain when they look at it.

cart-bag-icons

Location Appropriate Term for Cart

In the U.S., ‘cart’ is the term that describes the physical shopping cart in stores. But in other countries, such as the U.K., they use the term ‘basket’. The button label for U.K. users should say “Add to Basket” instead to avoid confusion. Call the shopping cart whatever is appropriate for the location of your target users.

Final Thoughts

Changing your button label from ‘Cart’ to ‘Bag’ isn’t helpful if the former is what users are more familiar with. Designers think ‘Bag’ is more technically correct if their store doesn’t use carts. But being legalistic doesn’t get you the high conversion rate. Speaking the user’s language does.


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Author and editor-in-chief of UX Movement. Finds beauty in clear, efficient design and loves fighting for users.

12 Responses to “Add to Cart vs. Add to Bag: Which Button Label to Use”

  1. Rachel Reveley

    Apr 27th, 2016

    Or in the UK the equivalent would be basket. A cart in the UK is something pulled by horses.

    • Michael Trussler

      May 1st, 2016

      Why’s it always a picture of a ‘trolley’, then ? :)

    • chris

      Jun 2nd, 2016

      A cart is something people used to tie to the back of a horse. Still looks odd to me when I read it. The Californication-as-normal is alive and well, even in the rational world of UX.

      • Velma

        Sep 19th, 2016

        I’m usually quick to blame California myself, but in this case they haven’t earned it. The entire US refers to them as “shopping carts”. (Sounds quaint to us to hear them called “trolleys” – here, a trolley is a streetcar!)

        Basket works too, though, as just about every brick-and-mortar store has a stack of “shopping baskets” near the door.

  2. David Millar

    Apr 29th, 2016

    The ‘bag’ icon looks like a smiling square with no eyes.

  3. DJ P

    May 2nd, 2016

    Great article. When designing stores our design team always debate over which words to use.

    One question. Is there any added value for “Bag” or “Basket” if the physical retail space uses a bag or basket when shopping, like boutiques or pharmacies?

    • Afiq

      May 4th, 2016

      IMO, depends on what kind of ecommerce. if the ecommerce is selling groceries e.g carrefour, use “Add to Cart”. If the ecommerce is something like H&M, using “Add to Bag” is much better than “Add to Cart” because they do not use cart/trolley at their physical store.

      • chris

        Jun 2nd, 2016

        I agree, A cart (or trolley) is for supermarket items and bags are for clothes. Burrberry.com has a ‘bag’, because there isnt a luxury clothing shop on the planet where you’re items go in a cart.

  4. Sam Abay

    May 6th, 2016

    As of my knowledge till now in eCommerce website development add to cart is more feasible over add to bag. It is easy to understand and purchasing the item.

  5. Simon

    May 26th, 2016

    This makes sense. After all, a shopping cart, trolley or, basket is what you put things in and out of while you’re browsing. A bag is what you put your purchased items in and is the end of the process.

  6. Luis Honrado

    Jul 6th, 2016

    Doesn’t it depends on the type of shop you have?

    Online shops are just a metaphor of physical ones.

    Like in fashion for example, you may want to use bag instead of cart as you normally carry the items you buy in a bag.

    So every scenario has its particularities and you shouldn’t generalise a solution based on your own research. If you’re building your own website, do your own research.

    In my opinion, your approach to this question is wrongly suggesting that everyone should use cart instead of bag. Don’t do that please.

  7. Velma

    Sep 19th, 2016

    Thank you for this post, as a consumer/user I am getting pretty sick of seeing “add to bag” everywhere. It sounds precious and feels pretentious and phony. Only a few brick-and-mortar store encourage customers to carry their selections in a bag while they shop (Ikea is the only one I can think of at the moment) so it feels to me as if the site is trying to borrow cachet from those retailers.

    Shoppers know the cart is metaphorical, that’s why it’s depicted with an icon of a cart and not a photo! It’s a well-established convention, just like the handset icon on your smartphone. Allow me to quote the second paragraph: “Conversion rate testing results have found that ‘Add to Cart’ buttons perform far better.” Because “bag” sounds wrong, for the reasons he outlined in the post.

    If you insist on simulating reality, then luxury retailers should have a virtual sales associate following you around and whisking away your choices. I bet that would go over GREAT.

Leave a Reply to chris