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Dec 20, 2010 | 5 minute read

Saving Sales with Abandoned Cart Recovery Emails

written by Linda Bustos

Cart abandonment is a sore spot for every ecommerce retailer, who will have some percentage of visitors leave at some point in the checkout process. Depending on which study you look at, average cart abandonment across e-tailers ranges between 60 to 70% - staggeringly high.

There are a number of reasons why a customer might abandon cart, including but not limited to:

  • ”Sticker shock” (reaction to unexpected shipping and taxes)
  • Required registration (1 in 4 will abandon unless a guest checkout is offered)
  • Security or privacy fears
  • Distractions mid-checkout cause customer to close tab or window
  • Not ready to buy
  • Intent to come back and purchase later (24% of online shoppers, according to Forrester Research)
  • Technical issue (form not working, credit card declined, session expiry, slow loading page, unable to bill outside the country, etc)
  • Usability issues (forms too complicated, asking for too much information)
  • Preferred payment type not available
  • Unable to ship to destination

What is a cart recovery email and why should I care?

Not all of the above can be mitigated by conversion improvement efforts like redesigns, usability testing and A/B split testing. Many e-tailers have had success with remarketing programs that send triggered emails to cart abandoners. Cart recovery emails can have upwards of 50% open rates and very high conversion rates since they are relevant and timely. So long as an email is captured in the first step of checkout, retargeting is possible.

Know when to pull the trigger

In 2009, Listrak conducted a study on the triggered email habits of the Internet Retailer 500, and found only 42 that deployed cart abandonment emails. Of these 42, the average time to reach out was 75.1 hours - or 3 days, 3 hours and 6 minutes. Less than 10% sent within the first hour, 17% between 1 and 24 hours, 33% between 24 and 72 hours, and 40% after 72 hours.

Timing your cart recovery email is important. Many email marketing specialists believe best practice is to send within 24 hours of cart abandonment – some even suggest within minutes. However, this advice is no substitute for your own testing. Bronto Software’s Kelly Lorenz recently shared on the Email Marketing Reports blog that one of her clients saw higher conversions and revenue sending 3 days after the abandonment, rather than 24 hours.

Marketing Experiments actually found the best conversion using a series of 3 triggered emails.

Testing is always the best way to know what works best for your business. You may also consider your average days to purchase and visits to purchase (found in your web analytics) to give you ideas on how long your “window” should be.

Crafting your triggered email strategy

Deploy different messages for different segments

While it does make sense to strike while the iron’s hot, if a customer is still in research mode or is intending to purchase later (perhaps when money is available), your triggered message will have little impact. On the other hand, waiting too long leaves room for the customer to shop around or simply forget about items left in the cart intended for later purchase. A good strategy is to deploy different cart recovery emails with different timing for various abandonment situations.

Identify where the abandonment occurred

Typically, the further along the customer is in your funnel, the greater the intent to purchase. Abandonment after entering credit card information could indicate a technical problem with your form. I recommend sending a customer service oriented email offering help with checkout completion (including a customer service number or email contact is helpful) within a few minutes or a few hours.

On the other hand, if a logged in, existing customer (remember, you need an email address) abandons at the shopping cart page, you can assume he or she is either holding their items for later (perhaps to add to their purchase), became distracted, was put off by shipping costs, or is simply not ready to purchase at this time. Testing reminders 72 hours up to 10 days may make more sense here.

Identify why the abandonment occurred

Tagging customers based on what form errors they encountered in checkout forms can help you trigger the most relevant message. If the customer continually received an AVS mismatch error, it could be their card was blocked for security reasons due to several attempts. Most customers don’t understand why, even with triple-checked, correct information, the form continually rejects their input. An email explaining AVS security might prompt the customer to try again in 24 hours, when the “ban” is lifted, or to phone customer service to pay with a different card.

Customers who attempted to enter expired coupon codes may be won back with a personal offer code. (Careful, this may condition customers to always abandon for the prize). Or, you may simply ignore this customer.

Did the customer receive an “out of stock” notice? An email suggesting similar products or offering a “notify me when this item is back in stock” option, deployed as soon as possible would be most appropriate. When the item is shown available on the product page but is unavailable in checkout (this can happen during mega-sales, Black Friday, etc), a small coupon for next purchase is also a nice gesture. There’s little risk of the customer being “coupon conditioned” in this case, as it’s clear it’s a courtesy for the unexpected inconvenience.

If you preserve navigation within checkout (as opposed to using an enclosed checkout which removes navigation), flag customers that click out of checkout to go back to the site. Such customers may be planning to add to their order and checkout later. You may test timing and content (including related product suggestions or other personalized merchandising) to see what works best for these customers.

Just reach out with email?

If you’ve captured a telephone number, a customer service oriented phone call may save the sale. Services like OneCommand can send an automated call to the recipient. But because customers may not appreciate follow up phone calls from online shops, you may want to reserve this for high ticket items where abandonment occurred further in the funnel, or for complex sales that involve customer service (telecommunications, B2B, automotive, etc).

Triggered email content and design

Next post we’ll look at some actual cart recovery emails and deconstruct them to the good and the not so good. Stay tuned!