The answer depends on the decision time. All products are not made equal. But to understand why and how cart button placement matters, let’s take a journey through the buying process.

The buying process has four main stages: awareness, consideration, decision, and post-purchase evaluation. You look at your wardrobe and think: “I don’t have any clothes to wear.” Or: “My clothes are too old.” Or maybe: “None of this stuff is trendy anymore.” This is the awareness stage.

Then comes stage two, you go shopping. You’re not committed to making a purchase but you still want to see if whatever is available is worth spending your money on. You look at a bunch of stores and a bunch of clothes. This is the consideration stage.

After consideration is when the decision comes. This is where you either decide to buy what’s on offer or not. If you decide your current clothes are trendy enough or that whatever is on offer is garbage, then you don’t buy. If you decide whatever is on offer is good enough, then you make a purchase.

Once you buy, there is the post-purchase evaluation. You get compliments on your new style and become pleased with yourself. But the opposite could happen. A cruel nephew tells you you look like you stole your clothes from a homeless man’s trolley. Or maybe a pair of pants doesn’t fit. Perhaps you begin regretting that you spent so much money on a bunch of clothes you don’t actually need. If you regret your purchase enough you might return your new clothes for a refund. Or maybe you give them away and never go back to the same store.

As little consideration as possible and as little post-purchase regret as possible

For a product to have an “Add to cart” button next to it on the list, it needs to require very little consideration and induce no post-purchase regret. It needs to be an impulse purchase, but cheap.

When you’re buying 1,000-dollar boots, you put a lot of thought into it. You want to know the material, whether they fit, and how long the soles last before wearing thin or how long before the leather starts wrinkling. You’ll want to know about the experiences of the people who have bought that particular pair of boots before and the prestige of the brand selling them.

Thus an expensive pair of boots is a considered purchase. That’s why the “Add to cart” button is on the product detail page. You will only make the purchasing decision after extensive research.

But for something like a ten-dollar pack with five pairs of socks inside, you don’t spend that much time reading reviews or researching the brand. You just add them to your cart and move on.

Thus, to put an “Add to cart” button next to an item on a product list, it needs to be cheap, require no pre-purchase consideration, and induce no guilt. No one really regrets buying a pair of socks unless the quality is complete garbage. Therefore, there is no return risk. If the product has a high return rate, it’s not a good idea to have a cart button on the product listing. Give the customer a chance to familiarize himself with the product.

If a product is costly, then a cart button in the listing is also a bad idea because no reasonable person makes an expensive purchase without familiarizing himself with the product in question.