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How to Reduce Abandoned E-Commerce Carts With Email Marketing

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Learn how to use email marketing to recover e-commerce cart abandonment and increase sales.

We've all been there – you're browsing an online store, you put some items in your cart, and then you exit before hitting "purchase." This phenomenon is called cart abandonment, and even though it is common among all e-commerce stores, you can mitigate it with a tactful cart recovery strategy and email marketing campaign. Learn the leading causes of cart abandonment and 10 ways to improve your marketing strategies to convert abandoned carts into online sales.

How do you recover abandoned carts with email marketing?

Instead of viewing abandoned carts as lost sales, think of them as opportunities. Just because a customer leaves your site doesn't mean you should stop communicating with them. One of the best ways to win over a potential customer who previously abandoned their e-commerce cart is through strategic email marketing. 

Recent surveys show that 45% of all cart abandonment emails are opened. Additionally, the average abandoned cart email click-through rate is 21%, and the abandoned cart email conversion rate is roughly 10% (although rates vary by industry, device and recovery tactics). This gives you a great opportunity to create savvy and timely cart abandonment emails that resonate with your audience and increase conversions.

"Assuming the user is logged in when they abandon the cart, you will have their email address and can send them a reminder to complete their purchase," said Harry Thakkar, partner at Avatria. "This type of email typically includes a list of items they left behind, some marketing copy focused on creating a sense of urgency and/or showcasing the products' benefits, and potentially also a discount code to entice the user to come back and finish the transaction."

Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy at Iterable, suggested 10 ways to improve your cart abandonment email campaigns:

  1. Replicate the abandoned cart in the email, showing the exact items the shopper left behind. Visually depict what they're missing out on by abandoning their cart. There is often emotion at play in retail purchases, so use that to your advantage.

  2. Display similar in-stock items to the customer at lower price points and/or with faster shipping. Give them the chance to add reliable and attractive replacement options to their cart.

  3. Close the shipping gap by offering cheaper or faster shipping alternatives, such as curbside or in-store pickup, in your follow-up email. Of course, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, so provide high-touch options with caution.

  4. Offer single-click, in-email purchase completion capabilities for customers to facilitate a faster purchase.

  5. When you analyze your cart abandoners, segment those repeat gamifiers (customers who have a history of abandoning their cart and then converting when you offer a competitive coupon). Once you identify these customers, make sure to send them modest coupons. Recognize their value, appeal to their money-saving tactics, and make the sale.

  6. Offer discounted shipping as an incentive to complete the purchase. This is a motivator to both the procrastinator and the proactive customer.

  7. With companies like Amazon offering free one-day shipping, consumers expect the same from every brand. If a customer is concerned with shipping, follow up with an offer of free shipping if they reach a certain cart spend. This will not only incentivize greater spending, but show that your brand can compete with the conglomerates.

  8. Synchronize messaging across email, mobile and web channels to create a reengagement ecosystem and a layered messaging scheme. This reactive workflow will enable you to message customers based on a series of anticipated user behaviors.

  9. Use lifestyle content and imagery to illustrate how the product might fit into and improve the shopper's day-to-day life. Brands that are not aware and empathetic won't connect. We see the relevance of this tactic today; consumers are working from home, so fashion retailers that don't shift to a casual style are losing loyalty. 

  10. When sending discounts and options to customers, remember that you must A/B test different messages, offers and calls to action in real time to determine what resonates with each consumer, down to the color of the button that generates more engagement. You'll need to do this test for any campaign you run, at multiple intervals during the year. As customers change their preferences, change your marketing strategy.

"With the right optimization of timing, frequency, cadence, channel, and personalized content, offers and context, abandoned cart email performance can be improved up to an industry-standard recovery rate," said Hobbs.


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Why should you send an automated series of abandoned cart emails?

There are many reasons a customer might abandon their cart, which means there are many ways you can successfully use email marketing to bring them back to your site – one of which is an automated series of abandoned cart emails. By sending out multiple abandoned cart emails and increasing conversion rates on customers who previously abandoned their carts, you are essentially gaining revenue that would have otherwise been lost.

"It's like the saying goes: Why go an inch when you can go a mile, right?" Hobbs said. "Why send a single email when you can send a series of automated and strategic, layered messages? One email won't convert all abandoners – though they nearly always have the highest open, click and conversion rates due to the immediacy of their delivery – and even though subsequent emails do see a successive degradation in performance, they still drive incremental revenue."  

Research shows that sending a series of three abandoned cart recovery emails can result in 69% more completed transactions than a single email would. A series of automated abandoned cart emails not only brings your customers back into your funnel, but saves you time in the process.

"Once the content for these automated emails are configured, they largely run themselves, so the additional time investment is fairly minimal," said Thakkar. "However, the frequency and tone of these emails should be considered carefully, as there is a risk of spamming the user and causing them to permanently abandon their cart."

In addition to increasing conversions and recovering lost revenue, sending automated abandoned cart emails that are personalized to each customer will show that you understand your customers' needs. This can help create loyal customers and build brand reputation. [Read related article: Everything You Need to Know About Email Marketing]

How do you create your own abandoned cart email sequence?

The platform you use to send marketing emails (e.g., Mailchimp or Constant Contact) will likely be able to integrate with your e-commerce store and generate automated abandoned cart email sequences based on customer behavior. Since every business is different, the best email sequence (e.g., three, five or six emails) for your audience depends on your customers and their specific needs.

Hobbs offered a five-step approach to get you started on your abandoned shopping cart campaign:

  1. Send the first message in as close to real time as possible. Purchase considerations are often fleeting, and the greatest opportunity to convert is that moment when customer intent is highest.

  2. Personalize the content to show the exact abandoned item or categorically similar product recommendations.

  3. Offer a discount to close the deal. This can be either a percentage discount or free shipping.

  4. Message with empathy, value and brand authenticity.

  5. Test your email sequences often.

"In addition to trying to recover abandoned carts, it is also in the best interest of the site to determine why customers are abandoning their carts in the first place," said Thakkar. "While it won't be possible to eliminate all abandoned carts, any underlying causes leading to an increase in abandoned carts needs to be addressed as a priority."

Why do customers abandon their online shopping carts?

When digital shoppers were asked why they abandoned their online shopping carts, the primary reason was the cost of shipping (63%), followed by discount codes that don't work (46%) and long shipping times (36%).

Many cart abandonment issues are easy to resolve. If a customer is failing to complete a purchase for any reason other than not wanting the item, there is a good chance you can solve their problem and increase your conversion rates. Learn why customers may be abandoning their shopping carts so you can anticipate a way to fix it.

Here are other common reasons customers abandon their carts:

  • No discounts are available.

  • You do not offer express shipping.

  • They have to reenter their credit card information.

  • There are not enough payment methods available.

  • They have concerns about online payment security.

  • They are required to create an account before making a purchase.

  • The checkout process is too long and complicated.

  • You have an undesirable or ambiguous return/refund policy.

  • You have poor customer support.

  • Your website or mobile app performs poorly (e.g., it loads slowly, crashes or has errors).

  • You have limited product quantity.

  • They were just browsing, researching or comparison shopping for later purchase.

Small business owners should be aware of consumers' intentions, as they are smart and discerning. Hobbs said customers approach the e-commerce environment with intent and scrutiny, and they know that companies traditionally send cart abandonment emails with discount offers.

"Marketers can recognize this level of intentional cart abandonment as gamification," said Hobbs. "It's difficult to combat, but with the right martech (marketing and technology) stack in place, tracking these intentional abandoners is the solution. In any case, this is a classic commandment moment: Know thy customer. Then you can determine how to act."

What is shopping cart abandonment?

E-commerce cart abandonment is when a customer visits an online store, adds items to their shopping cart, and then decides to leave the website before completing the purchase. There are several reasons why a customer might abandon their online shopping cart, many of which can be resolved through strategic email marketing. 

"While e-commerce cart abandonment doesn't typically hold a positive connotation, it is overwhelmingly an opportunity for a brand to showcase their value to a customer, to make a sale and to drive long-term loyalty," said Hobbs. "Most customers expect a generic 'Hey [First Name], you left some items in your cart!' email, but an agile, intuitive e-commerce brand will use this opportunity to connect with potential customers on a deeper level." [Read related article: 5 Tips to Reduce Friction on Your E-Commerce Website]

Average cart abandonment rates

Shopping cart abandonment rates vary by industry, typically averaging around 70% to 80%, with mobile shopping cart abandonment rates even higher (85%). However, despite a significant number of people abandoning their online shopping carts, online shopping conversion rates have been improving.

How do you calculate your cart abandonment rates?

To improve your e-commerce conversion rates, you should start by calculating your current cart abandonment rate. You can do this with a simple equation: Divide the number of completed transactions by the number of created shopping carts, subtract the result from one, then multiply by 100. Make sure all transactions and shopping cart numbers in the equation are from the same time period.

For example, if a company has 3,000 completed transactions in one month and 10,000 total shopping carts created in that same month, what is the shopping cart abandonment rate?

Step 1: 3,000 completed transactions/10,000 shopping carts = 0.3

Step 2: 1 - 0.3 = 0.7

Step 3: 0.7 x 100 = 70% 

For this example, the shopping cart abandonment rate would be 70%. 

Image Credit: Poike / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley,
business.com Writer
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Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.