Save Our Sales: Preventing Abandoned Shopping Carts

The e-tailing group's examples of how e-commerce sites successfully save sales by rescuing abandoned shopping carts.

With holiday buying budgets being squeezed, it's critical to make sure you are doing all you can to minimize cart abandonment. Naturally, if a customer has taken the time to place an item in his or her cart, you want to close the sale.

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E-commerce expert Lauren Freedman, head of the e-tailing group, recently did a survey of 100 online stores examining how merchants are messaging to customers who have already invested valuable time to peruse a site and get as far as placing products in the shopping cart but do not complete the buying process.

She offers five strategies for preventing orphaned carts, with examples, as well as some insightful research on what Web shop owners are doing in regard to the issue, plus a summary checklist of nine tips.

"We are pleased to report that results of the e-tailing group's 7th Annual Merchant Survey (2Q '08) show many more merchants putting standardized shopping cart strategies in place," says Freedman.

Those not holding merchandise in carts dropped from 29 percent last year to just 18 percent this year, according to the survey. Most now elect to do so for one to three weeks (28 percent vs. 16 percent in '07) resulting in fewer empty carts after each session (18 percent vs. 29 percent in '07) and enabling introduction of initiatives to save the sale.

Freedman also found that there appears to be a "distinct divide regarding how merchants value tracking cart behavior." When asked to name the top three impact points where they have been able to leverage analytics, 41 percent said that shopping cart abandonment was the most important, second only to conversion at 46 percent.

On the down side, too many merchants, 29 percent, still do not even know their shopping cart abandonment rates, the survey states, with 74 percent not communicating with shoppers who have abandoned their carts.

"Keeping privacy in mind, it is time to prioritize addressing cart abandonment. To provide guidance we repeated the study introduced last year by signing on to each of the EG100 sites, adding an item to the cart, going through the entire checkout process then stopping just before completion and leaving the site," says Freedman. "Following are noteworthy year-over-year findings and best-in-class examples of how merchants responded to our actions including tracking of all related e-mail correspondence."


1. Start with onsite messaging that lets customers know your policy.
The study recommends that you "begin the process in the cart by letting customers know exactly what your policy is."


William Sonoma Cart Page
Williams-Sonoma: Classy cart characteristics.
(Click for larger image.)

It cites Williams-Sonoma as having a best-in-class shopping cart, which states: "Items in your cart will automatically be saved for up to 30 days. For any questions or concerns please call Customer Service: 877.812.6335." Among the other attributes that make this page worthy of emulation: holiday shipping cut-off dates, their guarantee and a conditional free shipping offer.

2. To save the sale, communicate with customers once abandonment has occurred.
In terms of reaching out to customers who bailed, Freedman says, "Out of 100 sites, only 14 sent a follow-up e-mail (on average seven days after leaving our products in the carts) and seven called including one zealous merchant who actually phoned the same day we left merchandise in their cart."

When sending e-mails, the majority of e-tailers reported that they continue to use HTML formatting to deliver a richer visual marketing message and most use personalized salutations, displayed product images and offered incentives as efforts to save the sale were bumped up a notch.

eBag Cart E-Mail
eBags: Offering personalized reminders.
(Click for larger image.)

As an example of how to handle follow-up communications, the survey say eBags sent an e-mail three days after the cart was orphaned with this subject line: "Come Back, Order the Jans Super Break at eBags." The components were as follows, according to the report: "It included all of the pertinent tools — personalized salutation, a photo of the item, and a 15-percent off incentive — plus a convenient link enabled the recipient to view product details in one click. The personal appeal was further enhanced by the letter from the president format, which offered thanks for shopping along with customer service contact information."

3. Offer incentives in your follow-up.
Twenty-nine percent of e-commerce sites in the survey used incentives to lure customers back for the sale, including a percent off ranging from 10 to 15 percent, conditional free shipping starting with orders over $79 and 45 off a $75 purchase.

The survey uses Fossil as a good example of following up with a promotion. It says, "Fossil's e-mail with the subject line, 'Find what you are looking for at Fossil' is unique for it soft-sell, lifestyle approach. Next to a laid-back customer visual the headline asks: 'Still Deciding?' Then promises: 'We'll hold your bag!'


Fossil Cart E-Mail
Fossil: Soft-sell follow-up.
(Click for larger image.)

"Messaging further advises that the unpurchased item will be saved for up to four weeks and links to the onsite shopping bag. While the masthead enables shopping by category, store locator, personal shopper, gift cards and catalog the footer closes on a promotional note with free shipping on orders over $100."

4. Don't stop with one reminder.
Freedman recommends that you send more than one reminder, and reports that of those merchants who sent reminder e-mails, 14 percent sent a second notification received on average about five days after the first one. "Wisely, 50 percent of these were incentivized." Brookstones automated reminders were showcased as a great way to execute second-round reach outs. They were sent eight days, and then 15 days after the cart was abandoned. "Essentially the messaging is the same with the addition of a limited-time 10 percent discount on the second," she says. "Both facilitate this purchase by linking directly to the cart and additional purchases via links to shop by price and shop by top gifts."

5. Use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the customer.
The survey outlines the following example as a way to make your relationship more personal: "Twenty-five days post-abandonment Doctor's Foster and Smith sent us an e-mail headlined 'Your Shopping Cart is About to Expire' advising that the items were being saved for 30 days," says Freedman. "Messaging was personalized and friendly from 'thank you for browsing...and dropping some items into your shopping cart. We've saved them for your next visit' to 'thank you for shopping...and trusting us with your pet's best health.'" She adds that the content and tone of the message is designed to foster a relationship beyond the forgotten item with references to their free catalogs, e-mail newsletter and wish list, followed by links to their guarantee, promotional offers, and expertise — ensuring that messaging appealed to every customer type.

To summarize, here is a list of nine tips for preventing shopping cart abandonment:

  1. Establish a strategy for saving items in your cart.
  2. Ensure that real-time inventory messaging is found on the product page and in the shopping cart.
  3. Message cart strategy to ensure customers know when and if their cart will be cleared.
  4. Review abandonment opportunities.
  5. Understand current technology's ability to trigger abandonment e-mail.
  6. Send multiple e-mail reminders spaced so as not to be annoying.
  7. Use incentives to save the sale.
  8. Include merchandising tactics to foster the customer relationship and encourage purchasing beyond the abandoned item.
  9. If abandonment is due to out-of-stocks, consider a stock alert capability.

The e-tailing group, inc. is a Chicago-based consultancy that provides practical strategic perspectives and actionable merchandising solutions to merchants selling online as well as to enabling technology firms. For more background about their research studies visit the e-tailing group Web site.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of


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