Rescuing Sales from Abandoned Shopping Carts

Michelle Megna

Updated · Nov 09, 2007

Results of the e-tailing group's 6th Annual Merchant Survey (1Q '07) indicated that 75 percent of the surveyed merchants may be losing sales by not communicating with shoppers who have abandoned their shopping carts. The survey, conducted by the e-tailing group, headed by online shopping guru Lauren Freedman, goes on to provide e-tailers with advice for rescuing the sales stranded in abandoned carts.

Clearly a standardized shopping cart policy has not yet been established, according to the report, as 29 percent said that they currently do not hold merchandise in carts, 27 percent hold it for 1-3 months and the balance of merchants said they hold items anywhere from 30 minutes to indefinitely. Furthermore, over one-quarter of these merchants did not even know their shopping cart abandonment rates.

From the consumer's perspective, in May 2007 the e-tailing group fielded an online questionnaire to over 950 adults who shop online four or more times per year, spending over $500 online annually. It revealed that one-third expect items to be saved in their shopping cart until their next visit. Such findings inspired the online shopping consultant firm to track how a group of 100 merchants deal with cart abandonment.

For the period from Aug. 15 through Oct. 1 the firm signed on to each site, added an item to the cart, went through the entire checkout process; stopping just before completion and then left the site. Subsequent e-mail correspondence regarding the items left in the cart was received from just 9 percent of these merchants, according to the e-tailing group's study.

“Keeping privacy in mind, it is time to minimize cart abandonment by testing tactics to avoid these lost sales. This e-tail detail highlights some worthy examples along with additional statistics from our tracking exercise. We hope they will prove of value,” the survey states. Here are five tips from highlights of the e-tailing group report:

  1. Educate shoppers with established procedures. Start the process in the cart by letting customers know exactly what your policy is, like this straight-forward example from Nordstrom that states: “The items in your shopping bag will be saved for 14 days, but merchandise availability is not guaranteed.”

  2. Then use e-mail designed to get attention and remind shoppers of what was left behind. Eighty-nine percent of the e-mails the e-taling group received were HTML; 11 percent text; 44 percent had personalized salutations and 11 percent of the e-mails contained an image of the product left in the cart. On average the e-mails received arrived 5.67 days after leaving merchandise in the cart. Of the nine merchants who sent an initial abandonment e-mail, three sent a second reminder e-mail.

    A stand-out example is, which sends a weekly e-mail with a conditional free shipping offer to those who abandoned carts the prior week, according to the report. It includes convenient links to access the cart, site search, menus and top-selling features. Open rates typically average 55 percent with 15 percent click-through and 3.6 percent conversion, according to company sources.

  3. Use incentives to close the sale. Twenty-two percent of e-mails contained incentives such as free shipping offers, a discount on the abandoned item, a discount on the next purchase or a gift-with-purchase. “For example,'s subject line tells the whole story: ‘Check your shopping bag – there's $5 in it for you.' The offer, from their Director of Customer Care, is for a limited time and may be eligible for conditional free shipping. The e-mail wisely closes with five reasons to shop at,” cites the report.

    Another incentive strategy recommended is to follow up with reminders, then offer incentives. “Zale's initial e-mail, sent two days after we left merchandise in their cart is a gentle reminder; the second, sent four days later, adds an incentive of $50 off your purchase of $200 to get the business. Both include a toll-free customer service number and state that: ‘Your satisfaction is VERY important to us,'” according to the report.

  4. Deploy a mix of merchandising tactics. The report states that 1-800-flowers uses a colorful presentation that “features an array of tactics from what's new to a corporate account tout to a free reminder service, all to engage customers who have left items behind with out completing their purchases.”

  5. Consider branding as a secondary objective for each email sent to abandoners. The survey advises e-tailers to entice recipients of their follow-up e-mails to become further vested in the site. A stellar example of this is the strategy used by SmartBargains. “It followed up with this personalized e-mail entitled, ‘Don't lose the bargains in your shopping cart' to remind shoppers: ‘We typically sell out of over 1000 of items every week….Our personal shoppers find stellar brands for up to 70 percent off retail but only in limited quantities.' Of note, the initial e-mail was sent two days after we abandoned their cart and resent 16 days later.”

Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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