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Shopping Cart Abandonment Email Strategies (For the Rest of Us)

Shopping cart abandonment emails—aka cart recovery campaigns—have long been a mainstay in the campaign arsenal of retailers and e-tailers, but what about the rest of us? Can we benefit from abandonment recovery campaigns, and should they be an essential in email marketing programs?

Brands, companies and products that don’t normally lend themselves to e-commerce or naturally have longer and more winding customer journeys than retail also have engagement and conversion points along the way. If abandoned, these missed conversion opportunities represent lost revenue.

So yes, even though “the rest of us” may not have online shopping carts on our websites or an e-commerce business model, it absolutely makes sense to be listening for abandonment signals and responding with recovery campaigns.

Let’s consider a few scenarios and—with insight from those early-adopter retailers— lay down best practices for abandonment recovery that are widely adaptable to nearly any email marketer.

True enough, shopping cart abandonment was and still is a slam-dunk as far as revenue-generating email goes. Once e-commerce companies figured out that by connecting a simple browser or visitor cookie to an email address they could track email subscriber behavior from site arrival to point of purchase, they realized they could accurately path the customer journey and any abandonment points along the way.

Perhaps the highest-risk (and highest-value) abandonment point is an online shopping cart chock-full of items on the brink of being purchased but for some reason, left behind. Email was the natural solution for timely follow-up to overcome barriers to sale—ranging from high shipping costs to long and complicated checkout processes, to account creation issues (all of which bogged down the buying action) and more.

With a reported average shopping cart abandonment rate of nearly 70 percent representing $4.9 trillion in lost revenue worldwide as recently as 2016, obviously even a small percentage of recovered sales makes a huge difference!

But today the reality is that lost revenue goes far beyond unpurchased shopping carts; the obvious world of retail-plus extends beyond B2C to B2B marketers too. I’d like to move our perspective and language beyond merely considering whether shopping cart abandonment campaigns apply to our businesses or don’t.

All companies offering prospects and customers the ability to interact with and gather data online (and isn’t that just about all companies?) should be considering where the many potential abandonment points are along a customer journey, identify points for conversion recovery (as I prefer to call it) and use email to enable it.

Let’s consider these non-retail purchase scenarios, some of which have multiple abandonment points.

• A consumer insurance site offers free online quotes and even the ability to purchase policies online. If a visitor doesn’t complete the quote form, does he get an email reminding and inviting him to do so?  Or if the quote requestor finds the quote acceptable and wants to buy a policy but doesn’t complete the process online, does she receive an email inviting her to do so, or explaining how to speak with an agent instead?

• An adventure vacation company offers hiking and trekking trips for adventure travelers. A visitor spends over 45 minutes on the company’s website researching trips and reaches a booking page, but doesn’t book. Does she get an email offering more detailed information? A price incentive? Trip date and booking deadlines? Instructions for reaching customer service to speak with a live representative?

• A luxury car company has a vehicle configurator on its website. An email subscriber abandons the vehicle configuration process midstream. Does he receive a follow-up email providing ideas, resources or a customer service connection either to complete the process or better yet—visit a dealership and buy?

If any of the above scenarios reflect your business type or model, you might be missing opportunities to recover otherwise-lost sales if you’re not tracking email subscriber site behavior and using it to trigger recovery campaigns like the ones suggested above.

Here’s my list of the top five best practices for implementing successful conversion recovery in email.

1. Don’t wait too long to follow-up. The timing of your recovery campaign is important and indicates you’re paying attention and responsive. Send your first email after an hour of abandonment, and consider sending more than one reminder.

2. Match message volume and cadence to the customer journey. A successful conversion recovery email strategy should mirror the complexity and length of the customer journey. Have a longer and more winding journey? Consider a conversion recovery email series vs. a single message, with a cadence matching the time frame of the journey and addressing different “moments of truth” to overcome potential disengagement points before they take hold.

3. Create a sense of urgency. Retailers have long relied on notices of dwindling inventory, discounts for purchase by a deadline, “buy now” incentives like gift with purchase, threats of cleared carts, or free shipping to elevate urgency. Even if those tactics don’t apply or are not consistent with your business, you can still create urgency by communicating deadlines for action (if they’re real), emphasizing the benefits of acting vs. waiting, offering help, and using compelling subject lines.

4. Lead, guide and educate. Longer and more complex conversion processes often consist of several micro-conversions—small steps which need to be taken for the overall conversion (usually a purchase) to be complete. Manage expectations and mitigate confusion by breaking down the process and enumerating next steps one by one.

5. Go omni-channel. Abandonment often occurs because of channel issues—a prospective customer starts her journey on the store’s mobile app but realizes shopping on desktop would be easier. Make sure to incorporate your email campaign into a robust omni-channel marketing strategy to ensure a seamless conversion recovery experience.

Don’t walk away from shopping cart abandonment email just because you don’t have an e-commerce-empowered business. You’re selling yourself short if you aren’t actively monitoring site visitor and email subscriber behavior! Listen for meaningful signals you can use to launch triggered email follow-up to stimulate action.

Shopping cart abandonment email campaigns have reaped rewards for retailers for decades; reframing our mindset around abandonment recovery and how to activate it with email can do so for rest of us too.

Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is President and Founder of Synchronicity Marketing where she is an industry-leading email marketing expert, strategist, consultant, sought-after speaker and professional educator with 20 years' experience in data-driven digital marketing.

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