Marketing to the Abandoned Cart

Content by Ken Burke of MarketLive

Consumers are changing how they shop online and this is leading to higher rates of cart abandonment throughout the e-commerce industry. Fortunately there are some highly effective techniques you can use to recover a large part of these “lost” sales if you employ a few tried-and-true tactics.

These techniques are explored in greater depth in the new research report “The Perfect Shopping Cart.” Download your free copy here.

An abandoned cart occurs when a shopper places something in their online shopping cart and then fails to make a purchase during that visit. Like the big fish that got away, it may at first seem impossible to lure them back. Finding the right bait depends on their reasons for abandoning in the first place.

Consumers’ online shopping activities are focused more and more on browsing, searching, comparison shopping and knowledge-building. They have been conditioned by shopping comparison engines and auction sites to browse longer to see what is available and at what price. The overabundance of marketing emails and online promotions has made them very price sensitive, and the blurred boundaries between online and offline channels make it easy to switch indiscriminately from website to catalog to store when they are ready to actually buy. Broadband adoption lets more people load more websites faster and faster, so there are fewer impediments to switching from one merchant to another. For all these reasons, shoppers can afford to be cautious and do their research before buying. They may visit your site several times before laying down their money.

And there’s a lot of money to catch. Forrester Research found that the industry average abandoned cart rate was just about 50%. That is, fully half of all filled carts never result in a purchase. Approximately 88% of shoppers abandoned shopping carts at one time or another in 2005. Forrester also estimated that in 2005, $33 billion was lost due to abandoned carts. There were six primary reasons for abandonment:

Didn’t want to pay shipping costs


Total cost of purchase was more than expected


Used the shopping cart for research


Didn’t want to wait for the product


Purchased offline instead


Checkout process was too complicated


Other reasons:


Source: Forrester Research

Base: North American Web buyers who have abandoned a shopping cart (multiple reasons accepted)

You can recover sales lost for all these reasons, and get your shopper to complete the purchase online. You can encourage them to buy offline with you, and maintain a positive relationship with them. But you must act quickly and with the right approach.

How to recover those lost sales

Automated pop-up messaging on exit
Most e-commerce applications let you set business rules that will activate in response to specific customer actions. An excellent use of this is to trigger a pop-up box when someone leaves your site with something left in the shopping cart. Examples of highly effective messaging include:

  • A discount, effective immediately, for completing the order during the current shopping session. Consider offering a percentage off, free shipping, or dollar amount off.
  • An offer to send a list of cart contents to the customer via email. You also get the added bonus of potentially gaining one more opt-in for your email list.
  • Offer to save the entire shopping cart as-is for easy shopping when they return.
  • Promoting offline purchasing with “Print Cart” functionality and a store locator. Many merchants include a discount as an incentive to buy at a store.
  • A promotion for in-store pickup if available.
  • Offer to send them a printed catalog, and provide fields for them to input their shipping information and email address.
  • Promote email sign up, enticing them with the promise of newsletters, product announcements, future promotions, and other value-added materials.

Live chat
Use your online analysis tools to gauge when an abandoned cart is imminent, and then launch a live chat window. initiates such windows after a customer has been on the site for a specified time without purchasing anything. Direct interaction with a customer service rep can often favorably tip the scales.

Automated pop-up at re-entry
When your site recognizes a customer who last left your site after abandoning their cart, greet them with a pop-up window with messaging targeted at them. Offer an immediate discount for completing their prior order (if your site can save shopping carts) or the order they are about to start. Test different messaging and promotions to see what works best. Recently there has been an increased use of pop-ons, which function similarly to pop-ups except that the pop-ons dispense with the browser-like frame around their windows, and are more carefully designed to be visually integrated with the site.

Event-triggered personalized email marketing
Some advanced e-commerce applications can automatically trigger emails to individual customers based upon parameters you set. This can be used in several ways:

  • Recently abandoned cart: Set the system to watch for abandoned carts and then automatically send a carefully designed email message after the time interval you specify. List the contents of the cart and include messaging or promotions that stimulate them to return and buy. Pro Flowers uses this tactic to encourage the completion of orders for its numerous gift bouquets.

The text below is from the the email seen above

  • Abandoned cart expiration: This requires that your site be able to save shopping carts and their contents. You are probably allowing these saved carts to expire after a set period so send an email 7 days prior to expiration, reminding them of their recent shopping visit and the items they were interested in. Discounts are usually not necessary with this tactic.
  • Product availability: Alert the customer when a product in their abandoned cart is about to sell out, imparting a sense of urgency. If they abandoned a cart because one of their selections was out of stock, let them know when it is available again.
  • Product price status: Let the customer know when one of the products they abandoned has gone on sale. Macy’s does this with a “Good News” HTML email announcing sale prices and including product images. Or, if the product they chose was on sale when they placed it in their cart, let them know in advance when it is about to revert to regular price. If you want to drive these shoppers to your retail stores, let them know when the product is on sale in the store.

Links to

Segmented Email Marketing
If you can’t do event-triggered email marketing, send generic batch&blast emails targeted to each of your customer groups. For example, all people who have abandoned a cart within the last 30 days might receive a special “We Want You Back” promotion. Such a mailing will not include the contents of the cart, because the mailing is not personalized. You can increase the effectiveness of your targeting by grouping customers according to the category of products they had in their carts. Send each of these new customer segments an email promoting top sellers in these product categories with “You may be interested in this” messaging.

Things to keep in mind

As you create your cart abandonment response strategy, here are some important points to keep in mind.

Type of messaging or functionality: Always keep in mind exactly what you want to accomplish, and tailor your messaging to suit your requirements. If you need to prevent people from abandoning the cart in the first place, use a method that will hit them at the moment they abandon or just before. Pop-ups, pop-ons, and live chat are highly effective here. Email is great to use after someone has abandoned their cart but it is not useful in preventing abandonment in the first place. Be careful with pop-ups; measure customer reaction to them because they are not always popular and you may need to select a different tactic.

Timing of message: Again, this depends on what you want to accomplish. To prevent an abandoned cart you need to be able to act immediately, with something they will see right on the site. To get them back to your site after abandonment there will be a lag of some kind. Some messages may be best sent virtually immediately, such as the “contents of the cart” email. Others, such as cart expiration notification, are best sent after some time has passed. When in doubt, err towards sending your emails sooner, before your shopper has much time to find an alternate deal elsewhere.

Content of message: Always be conscious of exactly what you want to happen and shape your messages appropriately. The statement “We want your business” works very well in post-abandonment emails, but it may not work well in a pop-up on the site. A pop-up with “Can we help you find something?” can be very effective with those who are about to abandon, but it may be too little too late to someone who receives it via email a week afterward. Always word your messaging as a customer service, so your shoppers can see that you are trying to help them find the things they want or to make their shopping easier.

Additional dependencies: You do not necessarily need to respond to every abandoned cart. Start by addressing those that represent the greatest potential return for your effort. You may choose to set a minimum dollar amount, so you can focus on the high-value sales. Some customer segments may be more important to you, and you may choose to chase them more assiduously. Such segments may include long-time customers, new customers, catalog shoppers, repeat cart abandoners, or any other that is important to your online strategy.

Saved shopping carts — use it if you have it. This is a very powerful tool that you should be using if your e-commerce platform offers it. It is the basis for some of the best recovery tactics, and customers respond very well to it. If you can, place some kind of indicator next to items that are from a previous shopping session, such as a “placed in cart” date. That way your more forgetful customers are less likely to be surprised when they look at their cart for the first time during a shopping session and see more items in it than they remember placing there.

Discount strategy : Discounts are a great incentive for getting cart abandoners back, but be careful about how many promotions you offer. You do not want to train your customers to fill their cart, abandon it, and then wait around for you to offer them a discount. For this reason, start with the smallest discount you think will bring people back, and test it. Try more generous discounts, and then select the one that you calculate gives you the best return for you dollar. Different discount types may have a different effect on each of your customer segments.

Place products in your emails: When you send your post-abandonment emails, include thumbnails of interesting products. Ideally these will be the items they abandoned, assuming you use a personalized, event-based email system. Emails to entire customer groups may include items that that group often abandons, or even just a couple of best sellers. Provide something that is likely to catch their interest and get them back to your site. Link the product images to their respective product page, and always include a “Buy Now” button that places the item in their cart and starts the checkout process. This may seem aggressive, but it works.

Find out why customers abandon carts: Use your site analytics tools to find out where your customers are abandoning their carts. Your site may have a flaw that stops some shoppers dead in their tracks, such as a confusing checkout process, excessively high shipping charges, or programming bugs that simply won’t let them proceed. If you discover it you can fix it, and eliminate the need for a lot of cart abandonment follow-up.

Cart abandonment is inevitable, particularly now that customers are using your site as a research tool. Most customers want to complete their purchases in one way or another and they often just need some help. You will never be able to reduce abandonment rates to zero, but with a little well-placed intervention you can recover a lot of the sales that would otherwise get completely away.

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