Practical Ecommerce

Cart-abandonment Email Best Practices

An abandoned shopping cart is like a broken promise. For the merchant, there is a lost sale and unclaimed revenue. For the shopper, there is an unfulfilled need or want. Fortunately, a quick series of cart abandonment emails may renew that promise, helping both the customer and the retailer.

Roughly two out of every three (67.35 percent) ecommerce shopping carts are abandoned after consumers have selected items and placed those items in the cart, according to April 2013 data from the Baymard Institute, which averaged documented online shopping cart abandonment rates from 19 separate studies conducted in the last few years.

Shopping cart abandonment can happen for a number of reasons. Forrester Research, as an example, has consistently blamed shipping and handling costs. Imagine that a shopper finds the perfect $25 item, adds it to the cart, and learns that it will cost another $15 — more than half of the product’s price — just to ship. At other times, a shopper might have become distracted, or maybe the shopper just wanted to compare prices from other sites.

Automated, behavior-driven emails — often referred to as cart abandonment emails — have demonstrated an ability to reengage shoppers, save sales, and benefit both the shopper and the merchant. There are a number of ideas about what is the best way to use cart abandonment emails. What follows are thoughts about some of the key shopping cart abandonment best practices and how small or mid-sized merchants might apply them.

Collect Emails Early

For a shopping cart abandonment email series to be effective, you must have a valid email to send those messages to. If there’s no email, there is no chance to reclaim the lost sale.

Collect the email address early in the checkout process.

Collect the email address early in the checkout process.

Make certain that one of the first, if not the first, questions that you ask a customer is for her email address. Also, you want to ensure that the email address is either automatically saved with the shopping cart or saved after the shopper submits the first step (often the contact information) in the checkout process. It is important to note that you will be creating a business relationship, if you will, with the customer. This will allow you to send transaction-related emails, like the cart abandonment emails, without sending spam.

Plan a Series of Emails

Many email experts recommend a series of shopping cart abandonment emails with about two or three emails sent at scheduled intervals.

The first email that you send might ask the shopper if he needs any help completing the transaction. Perhaps, there was a technical issue, or maybe he wasn’t certain about the proper size. As an example, Cooking.com’s shopping cart abandonment email says, “If you had trouble checking out or found something confusing, please contact our customer service department by email at support@cooking.com or by phone…”

The second email in the series might simply inform the shopper that you are “holding” her items. It might even make sense to add a deadline. Here are a couple of examples.

“We have saved your selected items, but remember many of our popular and limited-edition styles sell out quickly. Please place your order soon.”

“Have you met Dash the Dog? He keeps the Zappos.com site running smoothly so our customers can shop with ease! Dash has been looking after the items you left in your shopping cart. While Dash doesn’t mind watching your order, he wants you to know that your items have been asking for you and would like for you to return.”

Finally, for a third email consider making a follow up offer. Often this offer could include a discount or even free shipping, such as, “We were just about to put away the items you had in your shopping cart, but we thought we’d give you another chance to claim them. We are even going to include free two-day shipping if you order in the next four hours.”

Send Emails Soon

While conversion rates from successful shopping cart abandonment emails vary greatly, sending the first email in the series within 60 minutes of the cart abandonment can dramatically boost the recovery rate.

SaleCycle, as an example, reported in 2012 that merchants who sent the first shopping cart abandonment email within 20 minutes of when the shopper left the cart would enjoy about a 5.2 percent conversion rate while retailers that waited 24 hours to send the first cart abandonment follow up experienced about a 2.6 percent conversion rate.

Measure, Compare, Adapt

It is vital that online retail marketers continue to monitor, measure, and adjust a shopping cart abandonment email series. For example, the above data about when to send the first email in a series might not apply to online retailers selling large or expensive items.

The best practice is to monitor the cart abandonment campaign. Make small, distinct adjustments and compare the results. Does changing the subject line impact conversions? Does including pictures of the items in the abandoned cart help?

Test each change for a statistically significant audience and compare the results.

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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 16 )

  1. Kahomono June 25, 2013 Reply

    Here’s a customer’s take: if I abandoned a cart on your site, there are two possible reasons: 1) I made a last-minute decision against the purchase or 2) Your process was sufficiently demented to dissuade me from doing business there. A subset of 2) is an obvious security flaw – and that includes Verified By Visa or similar crap from other brands.

    Regardless of which factor led me to abandon my cart, if you then send me an email about it you will turn mild annoyance into red-eyed fury and ensure that I will never, ever do ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY benefit your organization. I will be hunting down and nuking every cookie you may have left on my system for any reason whatsoever, and marking any and all email from your domain as spam forever after.

    TL;DR on cart abandonment emails: DON’T! EFFING! DO! THAT!

    (cross-posted from G+)

  2. Armando Roggio June 25, 2013 Reply

    @Kahomono thanks for the comment. Nearly every major online brand from Zappos to Walmart uses cart abandonment emails.

  3. Rhys Davies June 25, 2013 Reply

    The fact is, is that cart abandonment emails work, period. In fact, they generally work extremely well.

    The main problem with your argument, Kahomono, is that it’s balanced towards that people only abandon a cart through frustration and/or a problem.

    Your point does have its truths. If someone was annoyed with the checkout process and left out of frustration, then you may-well annoy them by essentially saying "going through this process you hated again."

    In reality though, a lot of cart abandonment is to do with things like checking for reviews about your site before ordering, didn’t have enough time to fill out their shipping details or them or simply not being able to find their credit card.

    Guess what happens when people leave something, the chance of them coming back drops. While checking reviews about your site, the doorbell went or they "quickly" check their Facebook.

    A lot of our sales are achieved via cart abandonment emails and when we ask them why, things like I mentioned above pop-up all the time.

  4. golfwize June 25, 2013 Reply

    I agree with Kahomono at least in relation to the premise that I was ticked off when I left, however after not using abandoned cart email for many years, and then having it available, I’ve found that most people aren’t mad necessarily. They might be frustrated, or confused, and sometimes these sales can be fulfilled by a simple follow up. Also you learn a lot about what’s stopped someone from buying simply via the feedback they share. Maybe it was shipping, upon which you could offer a discount coupon if you like.

    Without this system in place the sale is most likely lost anyway, at least for the time being so the risks of annoyance (which can certainly be minimized with the right approach) is greatly outweighed by the successful sales and the lessons learned in the process.

  5. mjcswan June 27, 2013 Reply

    Hi Armando, good article! I do feel, however, that merchants should consider a couple more best practices to supplement your recommendations:

    1. Data Management and Compliance – some territories require an opt-in whilst others do not. Furthermore, certain countries must have a different style and format of email creative; a simple translation isn’t sufficient. Be sure to do your due diligence on the provider who will be advising best practices and processing your data.

    2. The timing of emails – this should vary depending on the sector because consumers in each industry make purchasing decisions over different time frames. Third parties should not be cannibalizing the organic returners and taking the precious margin from users who would have returned anyway.

    Please let me know if you have any questions on either of my points above.

  6. SatNavWarehouse June 27, 2013 Reply

    We’re just redeveloping our site and plan to use abandonment emails. We currently have access to abandoned carts when customers have entered details and instead of emailing, call them to assist. Not once have people been angry and more often than not, this leads to a sale. Perhaps this is because our current checkout captures contact data quite far down the process and they are further down the buying chain?

    Either way, i found the article very informative and will be putting it to good use! Thanks

  7. Kathy Heslop June 27, 2013 Reply

    The key is in the messaging being customer service-centric, offering help, especially if a technical issue caused the abandonment in the first place. If the basket is also automatically repopulated too (without the use of cookies, which can cause errors if the user receives the email in on a difference device to the one the original attempted transaction was made on, or if the product has since gone out of stock) the content messaging combo is then all about delivering service and convenience for the end consumer, who can then chose to act or ignore.

    Where best practice issues are now coming to light is where cart recovery campaigns are being operated ‘across borders,’ without adherence to localised data protection and compliance regulations. I’ve seen illegal remarketing campaigns and no brand should be naively exposed to this risk by a third party provider. One size does not fit all countries.

  8. Kahomono June 27, 2013 Reply

    1) I don’t shop at Zappos. And do I even need to add Walmart to that list?

    2) By the time I have a cart on your site, my research is done.

    3) I have sold via mail order and I know some merchants make shipping a profit center. Fair enough. I did. Shipping would have to really rapacious to get me to drop a transaction just because of its cost, though. Something else in that arena could, like "we only use VQT as our carrier" and if I hate VQT I will find somewhere else to buy. But I would count that in the "demented process" category.

    If all that makes me weird, then so be it. But if you send me an email asking why I abandoned your cart, you may get a response… but you might not want to quote it verbatim in a report to management ;)

  9. Armando Roggio June 27, 2013 Reply

    SatNavWarehouse, I have not tried calling customers, but it seems like that would be very effective. I am going to give that a try.

    Kathy Heslop, yes, I agree regarding offering help. Thus, "The first email that you send might ask the shopper if he needs any help completing the transaction."

  10. Armando Roggio June 27, 2013 Reply

    Kahomono, I can certainly understand your points. I have found cart abandonment emails to be very effective, and I am going to continue to use them and write about using them.

    In marketing, almost anything we do has the potential to offend someone. As an example, I think that Kmart’s recent ["Ship My Pants"](http://youtu.be/hL4lSavSepc) and ["Big Gas Savings"](http://youtu.be/m1yir-p68xM) commercials are some of the best marketing that company has done in years, but these ads have no doubt offend some.

    I believe that most shoppers are either neutral to emails that follow up on abandoned carts or positive about getting help.

    Thank you for reading and comment. Although in this case, I am not moved to changed how I market, I do appreciate an alternative point of view.

  11. Sarco111 June 27, 2013 Reply

    Kahamono’s points are made more vivid because of his/her eloquence, and we marketer’s miss the point by insisting that follow-up email "works". When 95% of our efforts are ignored, deleted, or responsible for verbally violent reactions – we are happy. The hapless recipients see it differently. And we are unlikely to ever change each other’s behavior.

  12. Charles Nicholls June 28, 2013 Reply

    Hi Armando

    Great article. There are several interesting data points that we’ve found in our data that would support key points in your article. (SeeWhy powers shopping cart recovery on more than 4,000 ecommerce sites, and recovers significantly in excess of $500m each year for merchants.) From analyzing this data we know:

    • Timing – Timing of email follow up is critical. 72% of incremental recoveries that are generated by the campaign will happen in the first 12 hours, so sending the next day is really sub-optimal as you noted. The first email should be sent immediately following the abandon, and while there may always be an edge case where it works better with a delay, we have yet to find one. We have done many A/B tests comparing send times, and have seen revenues triple with a real time send compared with a send 24 hours later.

    • Send a sequence – The Forrester study cited above is getting a bit old so we repeated their study by asking more than 5,000 US consumers why they abandoned their cart. It shows that the top two reasons why visitors abandon shopping carts are #1: They are not yet ready to buy and #2: A price objection, including shipping and handling. Sending a sequence is important because it allows you to gently nurture your prospect until they are ready to buy.

    • Tone – the tone of the email is really important. The role of the email is to keep the emotion of the purchase alive, and deliver value to the customer. The value is in providing great service and in particular a link back to their cart. We know that many customers will put items in their carts simply so that they can find them again easily later, so providing a link is useful.

    • Staying in step – This is the biggest potential pitfall, and one guaranteed to annoy customers if you get it wrong. If you email customers that have already purchased, you will get a negative reaction, this is especially true if you include a promotion. Giving a promotion to a visitor that has just purchased will betray your brand, and you may lose a customer for life. You may not intend to, but emailing customers that have already purchased is really easy to do: all you need to do is extract data from your ecommerce system every night and push it into your email engine. In doing this, there is a time delay between when the customer abandons, and when your email goes out. Some customers will return to purchase in that period. For the same reason, you should not personalize the email heavily, (or include promotions) unless you have real time synchronization between your shopping cart and your email engine.

    • Unsubscribe – These emails are marketing, with only a few exceptions, and therefore you must abide by the SPAM regulations in every country where you operate (to Kathy’s point). This means having an unsubscribe link, and also doing an unsubscribe check before sending to ensure that the abandoners has not already unsubscribed. Some of the largest brands we work with do an additional check to ensure that the abandoner is also opted-in to their subscriber list as well. This isn’t only about compliance, but is really about doing the right thing by your customers, and putting in the effort to minimize the risk of annoying customers.

    • Browse remarketing – Don’t forget that emailing browsers with relevant content using a similar trigger mechanism is another very lucrative opportunity. In some cases this generates more revenue than the shopping cart recovery campaign.

    Charles

  13. Armando Roggio June 28, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Charles. Keep the data coming. :-)

  14. Pamotos Colomb Ia June 30, 2013 Reply

    SatNavWarehouse, I’m starting recently to call my customers after they abandon cart, but still have not enough data to define a conversion. In your case, what percent of the calls for abandon carts convert into sales? Thanks

  15. Kerri Ahern October 14, 2013 Reply

    Really great advice. Thank you.

  16. Philip Docherty December 5, 2013 Reply

    Great article!

    The key to any successful cart abandonment campaign is about choosing the right design and more importantly knowing the best time to send.

    At SaleCycle we are constantly split testing email designs & send times to enable the most productive email for our clients and their campaigns.

    We have a LookBook on our website with a few examples of best practice email designs. http://www.salecycle.com/lookbook/

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