Increase your online sales with abandoned cart remarketing

If you’ve ever gone shopping at an online store, chances are you’ve added products to your shopping cart and then left the store without completing your purchase. In fact, experience and statistics from a multitude of sources show that most ecommerce websites have a cart abandonment rate of anywhere from 50% to 75% – and sometimes even higher.

Whilst it’s hard to buck a trend like that, there are still things you can do to improve your odds. What if you could convince the owners of 20% of those abandoned shopping carts to come back and complete their purchases?

Abandoned Cart Remarketing refers to the process of sending a follow up email to shoppers who abandoned their cart at some point during their visit to your online store. Depending on the site, it’s not unusual for abandoned cart remarketing to see conversion rates of abandoned carts of 30%. In other words, 30% of the people who abandoned their cart the first time round are enticed to come back and finish their purchase using a simple follow-up email.

Abandoned Cart Remarketing – how it works

Here’s the general process that an abandoned cart remarketing campaign will follow:

  1. A shopper visits your online store.
  2. They add products to their cart and then enter the checkout process
  3. During checkout (sometimes before), they are prompted to provide their email address and maybe their first name
  4. After that, but before they complete their purchase, they leave the site.
  5. After a pre-determined time their cart is considered to be inactive, or abandoned.
  6. Some time later, you send them an email asking them to come back.
  7. The shopper returns to your online store to find their shopping cart is still there with the products they selected.
  8. They proceed to check out and complete their purchase.

At this point, you’re both happy. You’ve made a sale, and they’ve bought something they wanted. And all because you emailed them and reminded them that they’d left their shopping cart at the checkout.

Abandoned Cart Follow-up Strategies

Of course, reality isn’t always quite so simple, especially once you reach steps 6 and 7.

  • For example, what about the shoppers who ignore or don’t receive your email? Should you send them another follow up email later? Or just give up on them?
  • What about the content of the email – how do you know you’re enticing rather than repelling them? Do you need to make a special offer to convince them to come back?

There are no right or wrong answers – the best approach is to decide on a strategy that will work with your target customers, and then test it.

Once you have the technology in place to manage your follow up emails, you’ll have plenty of data to analyze and figure out what’s working and what’s not. As long as you’re able to make adjustments to the settings of your abandoned cart remarketing campaigns, it’s easy to try different things and quickly see what works and what doesn’t.

Why shoppers abandon their carts

Studies show that the majority of abandoned shopping carts exist because of shipping costs. Common shipping-related reasons given for abandonment include:

  • Shipping was too much
  • I didn’t have enough in my shopping cart to qualify for the free shipping offer
  • I didn’t find out the shipping cost until too late in the process (i.e. I wouldn’t have entered the checkout process if I’d known sooner what shipping would cost.

Given this fact, it makes sense to look closely at how you calculate and communicate shipping on your site. It may well be that you could reduce the abandonment rate by improving how you handle shipping on your site. Check out out post on Shipping Considerations for ecommerce stores to find out more. Once you’ve done that, then you can focus on how abandoned cart follow-ups could bring back some of those shoppers to complete their purchase, such as by offering them free shipping if they return within 24 hours.

Other reasons that customers may abandon their shopping cart can include:

  • The checkout process is too complex (or simply doesn’t work).
  • I had a coupon for a discount that had expired (or simply didn’t work).
  • I was distracted by something else, or ran out of time to complete my purchase.
  • I found the product cheaper somewhere else.

With the exception of the last point, where the customer has probably purchased the goods somewhere else, these reasons are all things that you can address through an abandoned cart remarketing campaign.

Abandoned Cart Campaign Optimization

With that in mind, here are some things to test when optimizing your abandoned cart campaigns:

Try asking for the shopper’s email and name at different times during their visit.

  • Asking too early (e.g. when they first arrive on the site) is likely to scare people away.
  • Asking too late in the checkout process means you’re missing people who already abandoned their cart. For example, if you ask after they’ve seen the cost of shipping, you’ll miss out on all those shoppers for whom shipping was the reason they left.

Vary the time between them abandoning their cart and your follow up email.

  • A lot of ecommerce sites report that 30 minutes is about right, in terms of the conversion rate they achieve.
  • You might find that your customers respond better to the email reminder after a longer period of time.
  • You might also find that your ecommerce platform won’t send emails in real-time, and will send remarketing emails in batches every hour, regardless of when the customer abandoned their cart during the previous hour.

Try sending a second follow-up email (and maybe a third)

  • There are lots of reasons why the first follow-up email might be ignored. A second email may well hit the mark with some shoppers. Some sites find that even a third, sent several days later, will bring some shoppers back to purchase.
  • You should also experiment with the timing of subsequent emails. The second is typically sent the following day, with the third being sent 2 or three days later.
  • Test different times of day to send the second and third emails. You can use the times when your site is busiest as a good starting point, and test other times from there.

Experiment with the content of the email

  • Personalising the email for the individual shopper will pay dividends. Too much personalisation might raise privacy questions in the shopper’s mind.
  • Include the contents of their shopping cart. Experiment by only one or two key items from their cart to see if that makes a difference.
  • The language you use should be friendly and welcoming. Phrases like “did you forget something?” help remind them without trying to make them feel guilty about leaving.

Consider including special offers as an enticement

  • If shipping cost is a common reason for cart abandonment, offer discounted or free shipping if they come back to complete their order.
  • Alternatively, offer special discounts (e.g. 10% off if you come back and complete your order within the next 24 hours).
  • Some customers will realise what you’re doing, and deliberately abandon their cart in order to get the special offer. How you deal with that is up to you. For many online stores, a sale is a sale, and this scenario is built into their margins.
  • You might also consider saving the special offer for the second or subsequent follow-up email, especially if you find that a lot of your shoppers simply need a reminder to come back.

Segment your abandoned shopping carts.

  • If you have the technology available to do this, consider using different remarketing strategies with different shopper segments.
  • For example, visitors who spent more than 15 minutes on the site before entering checkout might prove to respond better to remarketing emails than those who spent less time on the site.
  • Or, you might send different emails to visitors from different sources, e.g. Search, Referrals from affiliate sites, Adwords or Email Marketing campaigns. It is highly likely that you’ll see different conversion rates for visitors from these different sources, and you may wish to target your remarketing email followups accordingly.

Remember that on any ecommerce website, testing is the key to ongoing improvement and success. Remember too, that some experiments fail to deliver. This is to be expected – the key is to figure out why your test scenarios fail, and act accordingly in future.

Pitfalls to avoid in your abandoned cart remarketing campaigns

There are a few things to watch for when setting up abandoned cart remarketing in your online store.

  • Test, test and test again
    • In this context, I’m referring to testing that your email remarketing process actually works.
    • Write down what is supposed to happen, and then have multiple people go through that process to confirm that the process is working as expected.
  • Make sure your checkout works on mobile devices
    • More and more people are using their smartphone or tablet to read their email, which means they’ll use those devices to come back to your store. If the site doesn’t work on a mobile device then you’ve lost the opportunity to convert them to customers.
  • Don’t nag, and don’t annoy people.
    • Follow up emails are likely to bug some of your shoppers regardless of how you do it.
    • At the very least, try not to be obnoxious, and be prepared to tweak your campaigns based on feedback you receive.
  • Don’t double-dip.
    • If someone visits your site after receiving a reminder email but then leaves again, don’t put them back in your remarketing queue and send them the same email 30 minutes later.
    • If a shopper does complete their purchase, make sure they won’t get any more reminder emails.
    • These are obvious points but they often get missed, especially in a custom ecommerce platform where this functionality is developed from scratch.
  • Make sure you don’t break the law.
    • Most countries have anti-spam laws which dictate the use of customer emails in marketing campaigns.
    • At the very least, it’s a good idea to include something about abandoned cart remarketing in your Privacy Policy.


As I said at the start, abandoned cart remarketing has the potential to increase your sales by convincing the owners of up to 30% of abandoned shopping carts on your online store to come back and complete their purchase.

The strange thing is, considering the high potential payback, relatively few ecommerce websites (fewer than half in the US) are utilising abandoned cart remarketing. The time will come when most online stores are doing it – and customers are therefore wise enough to manipulate the system to get better deals. In the meantime, you can get ahead of your competition by implementing abandoned cart remarketing on your site.

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