Mitigate Shopping-Cart Abandonment

When e-commerce teams consider ways to mitigate shopping cart abandonment, email rarely tops the list. In some cases, it doesn't even make the list. Tuning pages, refining page layouts, and offering discounts and promotions are the tried and true methods for boosting conversion. What can email possibly do? A lot.

Done right, email can help convert up to 50 percent of a website's abandoners into customers. At most websites, the majority of visitors become abandoners. Up to 70 percent of shopping carts, online forms, applications, registrations and other conversion processes are abandoned before being completed. For medium-size ecommerce companies, converting 50 percent of abandoners into customers means recapturing up to $5 of the $10 lost every second, on average, to abandonment.

What exactly is "email done right"? It's post-session remarketing with real-time email follow up. In other words, you want to immediately send relevant, follow-up emails to website visitors who previously abandoned their sessions. Here's how:

Follow up in real time. Independent studies consistently show that remarketing best practice is an immediate follow up to an abandonment. Timing is critical. Delay the follow up and you risk sending an irrelevant or annoying email to the abandoner. Research shows that response rates plummet in the hours following abandonment. A follow-up email sent three days after the abandonment is seven times less effective than one sent within a few minutes. More email service providers are starting to offer the transactional, event-driven capabilities necessary to send these individual, 1-to-1 remarketing emails in real time.

Follow up more than once. Some abandoners need more than one email to be wooed back onsite. To convert those abandoners, real-time email follow up should be the first stage in an intelligent, multi-stage follow-up campaign that uses the most appropriate channel for each abandoner. For example, an initial real-time email can be followed by a second follow-up email 24 hours later, while updating the contact center's CRM application at the same time. Continuous real-time analysis and intelligent handling of website visitors is essential to ensure that multi-stage campaigns are in step with the actions of abandoners who return to the site.

Serve, don't sell. Follow-up emails should serve - not sell - the abandoner. Like timing, the email's tone is everything. You need to genuinely care about the customer, their success and delivering superior service to them through this remarketing approach. Trying to sell them will just drive unsubscribes from your program. Make sure that there's a key customer benefit. A free shipping offer (by way of apology) can be a welcome, clear benefit to being in the remarketing program.

Be relevant. Generic follow-up emails that are not directly relevant are just plain annoying. Your emails may be service-oriented, but do they give the customers a high degree of service directly related to their abandoned purchases? Ideally, yes. Include details about what they were looking at prior to the abandonment and help them find what they need, perhaps with links relevant to the products or services they were considering purchasing. Provide details about alternative channels so they can speak to someone, or purchase by phone or in store, if they prefer.

Simplify the conversion. If at all possible, provide a personal link that enables the abandoner to pick up where he or she left off. This addresses one of the most frustrating experiences in buying and registering online: for one reason or another, would-be customers have to stop part way through the process, only to have to restart the process again from scratch. Make it easy to complete the process with a link that doesn't take them back to the start.

Automate the process. Unless you run a very small site, where you can give personal service to individual customers, you're going to need to automate the remarketing process. Otherwise, your remarketing efforts can easily fall out of synch with what the customer is doing. If you have a delay in processing the data after the abandonment, you run the risk that the customer comes back onto the site of their own accord. If you get out of step, your marketing becomes irrelevant and annoying.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) makes it easy. Until recently the thought of installing complex software for remarketig campaigns made these types of programs accessible to only the largest companies. They'd get their IT department to build a solution and the project would take months to deliver. But a lot has changed: now everything you need is delivered as a service, making it dramatically easier for retailers of all sizes to deploy these types of campaigns in a matter of a few days.  

Given the promise of 50-percent conversion rates, it's surprising that only two percent of web analytics users follow up on abandoners with email remarketing campaigns within an hour. Less surprising is the e-tailing group's 8th Annual Merchant Survey finding that targeted email is the top technique most merchants plan to use to mitigate shopping cart abandonment and improve web conversion in 2009.

About the Author

Charles Nicholls (charles.nicholls@seewhy.com) is founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy and author of In search of Insight, which has established a new agenda for the analytics industry. As a veteran of the analytics space, he has worked on strategy and projects for some of the world's leading ecommerce companies, including Amazon.com, Ebay.com, and many other organizations around the globe. Incorporated in 2003, SeeWhy helps companies improve website conversion rates by bringing back up to 50 percent of visitors that abandon sites prematurely. Learn more at http://www.seewhy.com and the WebsiteConversion blog. Follow Nicholls on Twitter at @webconversion.

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