How to Design Shopping Cart Abandonment Emails

If you could permanently increase sales, just by designing one email, you'd do it - right? You can, by 8% on average (Fresh Relevance, June 2014): that's the business case for sending cart abandonment emails.

What are cart and browse abandonment?

  1. Shoppers on your website take a quick look around.
  2. Then they look at products. If they leave at this stage, as most do, it's called browse abandonment, and sending browse abandonment emails to call them back gives you 3.5% sales uplift on average. See the next post in this series: How to Design Browse Abandonment Emails.
  3. Finally shoppers put products into their shopping carts, go to the checkout page and buy. If they leave during any of these steps, it's called cart abandonment, and sending cart abandonment emails to call them back gives you 8% sales uplift on average. These emails are what this post is all about.

Browse abandonment and cart abandonment emails target shoppers who leave at different stages in the sales funnel. If you send both types, properly designed, you get 11.5% sales uplift on average. Omit either and you're leaving money on the table.

On the High Street, everyone does "cart abandonment". My partner runs a nail salon and she told me how, last week, a woman brought in her teenage daughter to get her nails done for the school prom. The member of staff who should have helped was busy, so the couple wandered around, were unable to decide on a nail color, and headed for the door. Quick as a flash, my partner was at their side, helping them and saving the sale.

On the Internet, "cart abandonment emails" do the same job. They are straightforward, focused, real-time emails to call shoppers back and help complete their order. They are different from newsletters, and marketing brochures, and advertising.

So how do you design one? Here's a guide and some examples to help you.

A good cart (or form) abandonment email has the following design features

  1. Easily recognizable in the in-box, so recipients will open it - ie from the sender, subject and pre-header. These must identify the brand, the purpose of the email (e.g. Did you forget to purchase? or Your shopping basket is waiting) and possibly include one of the abandoned products.
  2. Content must be Clear and simple. The reader must "get it" in two seconds.
  3. Follows your website branding and tone of voice
  4. Shows exactly what's been abandoned - using content from the abandonment system
  5. Includes related product suggestions- using content from the abandonment system
  6. Has a strong, clear call-to-action that links to your checkout process, so it's easy for shoppers to click, return and buy.
  7. May have basic personalization, e.g. "Dear Jane Smith". This is controversial. Some marketers strongly recommend it; some think it's been over-used by spammers. Make up your own mind.
  8. May have a navigation bar. This is also controversial. Some marketers recommend it, as it allows shoppers to return to their favorite part of your site; we've seen better results by dropping it and keeping the email simple. Again, make up your own mind.
  9. May have an unsubscribe link. Most abandonment emails don't have them, because it's not usually a legal requirement for transactional emails (this is just a blog post, not legal advice). We recommend that you do have an unsubscribe link at the bottom, because it's polite and it avoids people using the spam button to unsubscribe. But basically you decide.

And a good real-time messaging/cart abandonment system has the following features

  1. High identification rate to maximise the proportion of customers addressed: e.g. recognizing visitors using any registration or logon form, or when they return (using first-party cookies), or when they click-through from marketing emails, or if they use a standard pop-up identification form.
  2. Comprehensive data collection, because more data means better targeting and personalization: storing browse events as well as shopping events, handling sessions where shoppers use multiple devices, and storing anonymous events until the visitor is identified. Also support for data standards, such as the W3C DDL.
  3. Real-Time Emails: sent 20-30 minutes after the shopper stopped using the website (90% of cart abandonment leads go cold within 1 hour - Forrester - and every extra minute reduces your conversion rate).
  4. A sequence of emails can be sent, with configurable delays and formatting, and this sequence gets automatically canceled if the visitor returns.
  5. Handles many other types of triggered emails, such as browse abandonment and purchase complete.
  6. Different emails can be sent for different types of shopper or product (e.g. a beach holiday vs a city break).
  7. Sophisticated formatting for cart contents (see the examples below).
  8. Sophisticated selection and formatting of Real-Time Product Suggestions and Count-down Timers etc: in case the shopper didn't like exact products they chose, but might prefer something similar (see the examples below).

Here are some great examples of cart abandonment from Fresh Relevance clients

Cart abandon email example 4

A classic, minimalist example from an art gallery. It explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details.

Cart abandon email example 5

Another clean email, from a holiday company. It explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. The branding matches the website. The way it's personalized is interesting - there's no mail-merged "friendly greeting", but the product information is hyper-personalized with the details of the holiday that was almost booked. If you click the "complete" link you return to exactly that holiday.

Cart abandon email example 11

Pretty and uncluttered email from a fashion company, with a strong tone of voice. It explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. The branding matches the website. It repeats the three most important requirements of any online fashion site across the top: free click & collect, free delivery, and free returns.

Cart abandon email example 7

Highly-branded email from a different holiday company. You can't tell just by looking at this one example, but different emails are sent for different types of  holiday, with matching styling and images. The content explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. The product information is hyper-personalized with the details of the holiday that was almost booked: if you click the "complete" link you return to exactly that holiday.

Cart abandon email example 9

From a mobile phone retailer. This explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. The product information is hyper-personalized with the details of the phone plan that was almost bought: if you click the "complete" link you return to exactly that phone plan. Then it includes alternative product suggestions, based on shopping activity, to give an extra chance to attract the shopper back if they didn't find their ideal phone before abandoning.

Cart abandon email example 6

A high-end coffee retailer. This has more design elements, including a themed model picture alongside the shopping cart. There's no mail-merged "friendly greeting", but it's fully personalized based on behavior and includes alternative product suggestions. A lot of prominence is given to a free shipping offer, but note that it only applies above $75 which means it functions as an upsell offer for shoppers who only intended to buy one pack of coffee, and it avoids the risk of encouraging people to abandon to get the offer.

Cart abandon email example 10

A wine retailer. This literally copies the format of a business letter, complete with a formal signature. It also reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details.

Cart abandon email example 2

Very strong branding from a holiday company, making great use of their lovely locations. Again, It explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. There's no mail-merged "friendly greeting", but the product information is hyper-personalized with the details of the holiday that was almost booked. If you click the "complete my booking" link you return to exactly that holiday.

Cart abandon email example 3

Another mobile phone retailer. This explains why the email has been sent, reminds the shopper of what they nearly bought, provides a clear link to return, and summarizes contact details. The product information is hyper-personalized with the details of the phone plan that was almost bought: if you click the "complete" link you return to exactly that phone plan. Then it includes alternative product suggestions, based on shopping activity, to give an extra chance to attract the shopper back if they didn't find their ideal phone before abandoning.

Cart abandon email example 1

Finally, a pretty and uncluttered email from a children's fashion company, that proves you don't have to personalize much. This doesn't include the shopper's name, or show the products in their basket, presumably because children are involved. The only personalization is details of current offers such as a mid-season sale. It provides a button to continue shopping.

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07/02/2014 How-tos