Written by Jim Babb

In our Hidden Marketing series, we reveal lessons from e-commerce market leaders by becoming their customers. We go through the shopping and checkout process step-by-step, record our observations, then analyze the strategies behind our experience.

In this edition: Are targeted emails the key to recovering abandoned carts?

It’s a frustration brick-and-mortar store owners know all too well: A customer wanders around for half an hour adding items to a basket, only to drop it at the end of an aisle and drift out the door. What went wrong? Was it the packaging? The prices? Did she take a second look at a display and notice something she didn’t like? Was a salesperson too pushy? Was the checkout line too long?

IRL retailers will never know what happened in these situations, and they definitely can’t chase the customer down the street to bring them back. In e-commerce, however, we can use data—and modern marketing insights—to explore solutions to the problem of abandoned carts.

For this investigation, we shopped 50 popular DTC brands, including Everlane, Casper, Glossier, Bonobos, Peloton, Native, Away, SmileDirectClub, and more. This allowed us to analyze their checkout processes, email capture strategies, and responses when we stopped short of making a purchase.

In retail and fashion, approximately 74% of online shopping carts are abandoned.

In other words, converting every single abandoned cart would quadruple revenues overnight. Now, the odds of doing that are about as high as the odds of being struck by lightning while winning the lottery, but it is possible to convert some carts—enough to make a real impact on your bottom line.

Nudging shoppers with an email increases your chances of closing the sale. In order to do that, however, you need the customer to complete two actions:

  1. Add at least one item to their cart.
  2. Submit a valid email address before abandoning the checkout process.

The second step is where many online retailers struggle.

How can you secure an email address from someone who’s already on the verge of bailing?

Of the sites we shopped in this experiment, 16 out of 50 asked for email addresses before moving into the rest of checkout. Some used a sign-up form, while others went with a simple email capture. Either way, they made it quick and easy for people to share information that can be used for retargeting.

80% of the brands we investigated sent an abandoned cart email.

Sounds good, but that’s actually a lower number than we expected, because we always submitted an email address when it was possible to do so before purchase—even when it meant going through extra checkout steps. Yet 20% of the brands we shopped never emailed us about our abandoned cart. We see three reasons why this could have happened:

  1. There was a technical problem that prevented our email submission from going through.
  2. The brand didn’t have a strategy for nudging customers about abandoned carts.
  3. The brand made a calculated choice not to send an abandoned cart email.

Let’s talk about that third reason.