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Shopping Cart Abandonment: A Secret Weapon for Creating More Sales

Posted by Jeremy Smith on Mar 9, 2014 3:37:46 PM

Shopping Cart Abandonment

There’s this belief about shopping cart abandonment — that it’s really bad, that it’s an unavoidable part of the e-commerce struggle, and that it means the permanent loss of customers. You see an abandonment, and you think, “They were right there — AGH! — so close to buying, yet so far away. And now, they’re gone. The shopping cart abandoned. The sale forsaken.”

Wail. Gnash teeth. Take sedative.

Now, I agree with that belief on only one point. Shopping cart abandonments are indeed an unavoidable part of the e-commerce struggle.

But they are neither bad nor a permanent loss of the customer. In fact, I’ve discovered that shopping cart abandonments are a sales channel in themselves. When I look at a shopping cart abandonment, I think — “I’m about to make a sale.”

I’m not kidding you.

You can regain sales you lose by doing shopping cart abandonment recovery. This is a totally different way of doing sales and gaining conversions. It’s a back-door channel, an unknown way for snatching back money from the jaws of death. It is the secret weapon for gaining more conversions.

Let me explain.


The Big Idea

Baynard’s awesome report on shopping cart abandonment pegs the current abandonment rate at 67%. I don’t dispute their metrics, but I propose that we rethink that number.

Why? Because simply counting an abandonment doesn’t take into consideration the myriad of factors that affect sales — serial abandoners, returning visitors, intent to buy, position in the buy cycle, etc. That depressing 67% is skewed downward. If you follow my suggestions at the end of this article, I think you can recover a lot of those abandoners and watch your conversion rate soar.

The idea behind this article is simple. When a customer abandons a cart, you haven’t lost the sale. Instead, you’ve launched a new process that can lead to a conversion. Shopping cart abandoners aren’t faceless metrics that crush your conversion rate. They are an untapped source for more sales.

We need to start looking at shopping cart abandonment as simply part of the sales cycle rather than lost sales. My research below will prove this.

First, I’ll explain why abandoners are a conversion source, and, second, how to get them back.


Why Are Shopping Cart Abandonments a Source of Conversions?

Why am I making such a bold and outlandish claim that shopping cart abandonments are a source of revenue and additional conversions? There are several compelling reasons for this. Statistical, research-driven, and psychological factors play into this. Here they are:

99% of customers won’t buy on the first visit. But they’ll buy later.

Most of your site visitors will not buy at first — 99%! But, 75% of them will return for a second time, reducing the chance of a second abandonment. This research, turned up by SeeWhy.com, reveals that basically every customer who visits your site is going to leave, and maybe abandon a cart in the process.

This isn’t a lost sale. This is a warm lead. Instead of groaning at the devastating 99% no-sales, you can grin at the 75% returners.


Image from Seewhy.com

Every time you get a visitor, even if that visitor is an abandoner, you’ve gained one more chance at a conversion. And when that visitor returns, he or she is more likely to make a real purchase.

The first visit is usually a “consideration” visit, while subsequent visits push the customer further down the conversion funnel.

We e-commerce number watchers tend to look at things way too segmented. We think, “Shopping cart abandonment. Bad. End of story.”

The organic truth behind statistics is far more nuanced.

Let’s put flesh and blood on this statistic. Let’s say we have a target audience member — a young, fashionable mom. She’s considering buying the sweater you’ve featured in your Spring Sweater Collection.

She puts the turquoise turtleneck into her shopping cart, then goes part of the way through the checkout, just to see if she’s going to get dinged with some shipping charges. She sees it:  Low shipping fees. Good. But her birthday is coming up in two weeks, so she’s going to first see if her husband might take a hint to buy her the sweater.

When he comes home from work at 7 p.m., he’s tired and a bit testy. She makes some hints about her birthday and turquoise sweaters, but her husband just isn’t getting it.

She knows that he’s going to forget everything she said as soon as they sit down to watch House of Cards. So, she goes back to your website — she’s totally going to buy the sweater for herself. She gets halfway through the checkout process, but just then, her baby starts crying in the other room.

She abandons the shopping cart again. But she still plans to buy. So, early next morning when she finally finds a few quiet minutes, she finalizes the purchase. She orders the sweater.

That’s what a shopping cart double abandonment might look like. It’s not as malicious as you may have thought. The poor mom had a tired husband and a crying baby.

The initial abandonment may be from a potential customer who was completely positive and determined to make a purchase. It might just take them some time. As Seewhy.com puts it, “Most visitors don’t buy immediately, but require a series of visits and abandons over time while considering their purchase.”

I consider each abandonment to be simply a nudge down the conversion funnel. Each abandoner is actually a considerer, making a careful choice to buy your product. They’ll come back. They’ll buy.

There are things you can do to spur this process along, but we’ll get to that later.

The more often a shopper abandons the cart, the more likely they are to make a purchase.

Research has revealed the following fascinating information about abandoners:

  • 43% shoppers abandon the shopping cart once. You have an 18% chance of recovering this shopper.
  • 42% of shoppers abandon the shopping cart twice or more. You have a 48% chance of recovering this shopper.

Look at those numbers. Higher abandon rates result in higher conversion rates. This is counter-intuitive, but crucial.

Some of your abandoners are actually return shoppers.

Don’t forget about the fact that some of your shopping cart abandonment angst may be caused by your own very loyal shoppers. Seewhy.com calls this group “recent goal abandoners.” They make a purchase. Good. Then they come back later to sniff around your site, only to abandon the cart.

These are another prime target for salvaging from the yawning cavern of shopping cart abandonment. The recovery rate for such shoppers is 57%, which is higher even than the serial abandonment group mentioned above.

Your return customers — abandoners though they may be — are too valuable to neglect. E-commerce return shoppers will spend an average of $52.50 as opposed to the new-customer average of $24.50.

The statistical chance of selling to a new prospect is anywhere from 5-20% — slim pickings. However, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. Many of your so-called shopping cart abandonments come from this group of warm-and-ready-to-buy repeat customers.

They’re primed and ready to convert.


How to Get Abandoners to Convert

I think I’ve proved my point that abandoners are mostly just shoppers looking for the right chance to buy. Your job as an e-commerce maven and master marketer is to coax the conversion along, and even convert some who are on the fence.

It is possible.

There is a two-pronged strategy. The first of these is retargeting, conducted through a strategic AdWords campaign and placement targeting. The second is email. The email approach is obviously for abandoners who proceeded through the checkout process to the point where they submitted an email address. The first three points below deal with AdWords retargeting, and the final one discusses email recovery. Finally, I have two concluding points on additional strategic maneuvers.

1.  Engage a thorough retargeting campaign.

The master plan is called retargeting. This is the safety net that will catch a swath of those 99% of visitors who don’t buy or even the 75% who bounce.

Retargeter.com displays the concept of retargeting simply:

rt core

Image from retargeting.com

AdRoll displays a similar model to explain retargeting:


Image from AdRoll.com

This article is not the place for a detailed instruction on setting up a retargeting campaign. You can use a service like Retargeter, Bizo, AdRoll, Fetchback, or Chango. These companies cost money, but it’s money well spent if it snatches some of your customers back from the brink of permanent abandonment.

I’ll mention briefly that self-service retargeting is really tough, time-consuming, and potentially aggravating.

If you’re a full-time corporate marketer who dreams about AdWords at night, go ahead and give it a go. If you’re considering a full-service retargeting approach, keep in mind that these services require some pretty big spend thresholds in order to qualify. It’s a tough choice that you’ll have to face. At the very least, it’s worth the time to research some of the retargeting services to see what you can gain.

2.  Emphasize your advantages in retargeting.

Simply presenting your brand again in retargeting usually isn’t enough to get top abandoners back into your conversion funnel. Usually, it takes a stronger approach. Here are some options that you could highlight in your retargeting campaigns.

  • Stunning Customer Service. When you retarget, point out how awesome you treat your customers. According to Bain.com customers are four times as likely to buy from a competitor if they aren’t getting the service they want. Price and product selection take a back seat to the quality of service. Accenture’s report revealed that customers are going to bail if you don’t treat them right; they don’t care much about the price. Customer service is probably the No. 1 highlight point that you want to push when you retarget your company.
  • Free Something. Customers are suckers for free stuff. So, give it to ‘em. Retargeting is the perfect place to dish up your perks. Here are two things you should try:

○      Free shipping. I’ve researched free shipping enough to make Stephen Hawking admire my intellectual mastery of the subject. The conclusion I’ve come to is that free shipping is a very strong and very viable persuasion technique, as long as it makes sense for your business model. For retargeting, it’s clutch.

○      Free product. If you can afford it, throw in a little sumpin’ sumpin’ to lasso your abandoner back. It can be a keychain, a flashlight, or a lens cleaner. Heck, you may even want to give them an iPad mini. I don’t know, just give them something that makes sense for your audience, your product, and your budget. Free anything is a hook.

3.  Retarget your existing customers, too.

Companies spend more of their marketing dollars on gaining new customers. According to McKinsey,  55% of marketing spend is designed to attract new customers, while a paltry 12% of the budget is spent on customer retention. However, as we discussed above, your existing customers are the real revenue source.

Since these repeat shoppers are abandoners, too, you should tilt some of your retargeting efforts toward them as well. They are the low-hanging fruit. They have the highest likelihood of coming back for a purchase, and they are more likely to make bigger purchases.

4.  Launch a recovery email campaign.

Retargeting is the foremost strategy, but don’t neglect the power of email. MarketingSherpa reports that triggered emails after an abandonment can recapture 29% of the visitors who abandoned!

Obviously, in order to email a visitor, you need to have their email address. A solid checkout strategy includes harvesting the shopper’s email address before anything else. Without this crucial step, this entire point will be meaningless to you.

How would you like to recover nearly a third of all shopping cart abandonments? Just launch a simple three-email recovery campaign. In the MarketingSherpa study with Smileycookie.com, the open rates and CTRs were very good for such recovery emails.

They sent three emails. Here’s how they did:

Email No. 1:  "Oops ... Was there a problem checking out?"

  • Sent immediately
  • Open Rate: 54%
  • CTR: 28%

Email No. 2:  “10% discount”

  • Open Rate: 50%
  • CTR: 16%

Email No. 3:  "Come Back and Save 20% Off Your Order"

  • Open Rate: 23%
  • CTR: 6%

Vero and SalesCycle can help you with powerful tools for your shopping cart recovery through email marketing.


Final Advice

I’ll share two final points on regaining those abandoning shoppers.

1.  Improve your mobile presence to capture email addresses or improve checkout processes.

Retargeting is fine and good, but its potential is limited in the case of mobile visitors. This is a problem.

More than 40% of your traffic is from mobile visitors. (You may want to check your Google Analytics on this sometime. You may be surprised.)

How many of your customers are visiting on mobile devices? Many of these visitors could be shopping cart abandoners because mobile shopping carts are notoriously difficult to navigate. What’s more, many shoppers don’t want to make a purchase on their mobile device due to inconvenience and skepticism of the platform.

You may not be able to retarget these users, but you can do your best to obtain their email addresses for email marketing.

Here’s what needs to happen:

  • Make sure that your website is fully mobile optimized.
  • Make sure that your checkout process is mobile-friendly.
  • Make sure that you have a tactical focus on mobile email addresses harvesting.
  • Make sure that the mobile shopping cart entry point has an email address requirement.

With a huge percentage of your visitors coming from mobile, and maybe abandoning their shopping cart, it’s essential that you face this problem head-on, and do what you can to regain them.

2.  Remarket as soon as possible.

Studies have shown that the first 12 hours after a first abandonment is the most crucial for that customer to make a purchase. In fact, 72% of visitors will return to buy within 12-24 hours. For this reason, your retargeting campaign should start immediately.

Also, you need to go ahead and send a recovery email as soon as possible.



Shopping cart abandonment is just the beginning of a beautiful saga of sales, conversions and higher income. I’ve seen too many corporate marketers stare in bewilderment and frustration at their awful conversion rate, as they think evil thoughts and mutter naughty words.

I know this can change. Shopping cart abandonment isn’t easy to deal with. It’s not easy to recover abandoners either, but it is possible.

When you start putting some of these strategies into play — retargeting and email recovery, you’re going to win back lost sales.

I promise.

Topics: Conversion Optimization, e-commerce, Web Psychology

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