How to Send Perfectly Timed “Abandoned Cart” Emails

Email Marketing


The holiday season is a “make it or break it” time of year for many retailers, which is why I’m baffled when online retailers don’t have an abandoned cart program. If customers add items to their virtual shopping carts, but never make a purchase, why not follow up?

Shopping cart abandonment affects both the seller and the buyer. For the seller, it means lost revenue. For the buyer, it means a lost chance to experience and enjoy your product. While retargeting ads can be used to combat abandoned carts, an email campaign is an alternative way to make these purchases complete.

It takes a lot of marketing dollars to get a shopper to your checkout page, and it’s a marketer’s duty to ensure those dollars don’t end up wasted. To send a successful abandoned cart email, and recover your customer’s interest in your product, timing is everything.

Here’s how to send perfectly timed abandoned cart emails:

Determine When Your Customer Left

First, determine how far along your customer was in the ordering process. If your customer  was finished browsing, and had started to input information, what turned them off? Did they abandon their cart after entering an incomplete billing address, or was it after your website revealed the shipping fees?

Once you have this information, you can tailor your message. You can also adjust your website, if you notice a trend that might be solved by a slightly different ordering process. But to understand where the customer left off, you need analytics. You can glean these from your eCommerce platform, or you can find this data using a web tracking solution.

Send Your First Email Right Away

Regardless of the reason your shopper left the cart, you probably only have few hours to win them back. Your first email should be sent within an hour of the cart abandonment. Ideally, it should be sent before the shopper walks away from their computer.

This is why asking for an email address as soon as possible is crucial. Without a valid email address, there’s no way to follow up.

The First Email – Helping, Not Selling

Your first email should be anything but pushy. By sending an email right away, you’ve already risked irritating your potential customer, and creating negative associations with your brand – the opposite of your intention.

Because of this, your first email should aim to help the customer, not sell to them. Perhaps they had technical difficulties? Was the process taking too long, or was their payment declined? Present alternatives and solutions, and ask for feedback. Any responses you receive will help you tailor your purchase process and messaging in the future.

The Second Email – A Sense of Urgency

After you’ve sent your initial email (within an hour of the shopping cart abandonment), take a breather before sending any additional emails. Wait at least 24 hours before sending a second email.

Your second email should create a sense of urgency. Let your shoppers know that their carts will soon expire, and that any discounts or availability won’t be guaranteed later.

The Third Email – Incentivize

If you choose to send a third email, it should be delivered after 48 hours have passed. Remember, if you send too many emails, your irritated future-customers are likely to mark them as spam. The third email should incentivize the shopper to complete their purchase: why not offer a time-limited discount, or free shipping?

That said, you don’t want your savvy customers to hold out for an offer every time they receive an email. Send incentivizing offers rarely – maybe 20% of the time. You can also use more sophisticated logic to trigger incentives. If the shopper is a high-value customer, but hasn’t redeemed an incentive in the last month, you might want to try a third, incentivizing email.

Mobile Optimization

Your follow-up emails must be mobile friendly. By the end of this year, more than 25% of all global internet traffic will be mobile, making mobile-optimized marketing more important than ever. Since the second and third email should be sent well after the original shopping session, it’s likely that your shopper will read your emails on mobile devices. Make it easy for them to convert in real time.

What would you add to these guidelines? Marketers, do you send follow-up emails when shoppers abandon their carts? Shoppers, do you find these emails helpful, or annoying? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Fab Capodicasa works for Hoosh Marketing, a Marketo agency partner specialising in online retail.  Fab has delivered abandoned cart programs to some of Australia’s best known retail brands.