How to Use Email to Capture Abandoned Carts

Debra Ellis President, Wilson & Ellis Consulting

Posted on July 26th 2013

How to Use Email to Capture Abandoned Carts

abandoned-cartExecutives often ask me how they can eliminate cart abandonment. They receive reports that show thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars left sitting in online carts. The reports mislead them into thinking that if they stopped people from abandoning carts they would make more money.

It’s easy to eliminate cart abandonment. Create a carting process so demanding that only the most committed customers will complete it and the problem will go away. A better approach is to focus on capturing abandoned carts instead of eliminating them.

People abandon carts for a variety of reasons. The three that matter most to ecommerce companies are:

  1. Distractions – Life happens and when it does carts are abandoned. People intend to come back to it when things settle down but the best intentions can be forgotten.
  2. Wishful Thinking – People put items in carts that they would like to have but don’t have the resources to purchase at this time. The cart becomes a working wish list. Offering an option to keep a running wish list reduces the abandoned cart rate and provides an opportunity to convert wishers into buyers.
  3. Pricing – Your shoppers want to know that they are getting the best price possible. They populate carts and then shop around for better pricing or coupons. Abandoned cart programs that rely on discounts to capture sales have trained people to place items in the cart and wait for the coupon. Don’t fall into this trap because most people who abandon carts for this reason fully intend to buy at any price.

Best practices for capturing abandoned carts begin with getting the email address. Try to get it as early as possible in the buying process without requiring people to create accounts. Forcing account creation increases cart abandonment. According to Forrester, 14% of shoppers report abandoning carts because there isn’t an option to checkout as a guest.

Start remarketing within 24 hours of the abandonment. A study by SeeWhy Research of 65,000 shopping carts sampled from a broad cross of ecommerce sites found that 54% of the shoppers who are going to buy do it within the first 24 hours. An additional 10% buy within 48 hours.


Remarketing is a multiple level process. Like everything else in the marketing world, testing is the best way to find the optimal solution for your company. I recommend starting with a three email campaign that focuses on customer care with a sense of urgency. The data acquired from the test can then be used to expand your cart capture program.

Offering assistance in the first email helps foster trust while reminding recipients that they still have items in their cart. The following email from leads with an offer to help and quickly follows with a sense of urgency. Noting that product availability cannot be guaranteed if the cart isn’t completed encourages people to act now.


The email makes it easy to contact them by providing an 800 number or the option to reply to the email. One downside is that there are two different telephone numbers provided. Be sure to double-check your emails to insure that the number you want people to call is the only one presented.

Alloy’s simple reminder has a sense of urgency too but it doesn’t have the same emotional pull as the one from “Your shopping bag will expire in a few days” isn’t as effective as telling people that someone else may get the items they want.


Emphasize why the customer should buy from your company in the second email. If customers are price shopping, they need to know the benefits of ordering from you to make an intelligent purchase decision. Boot Barn includes a highlighted sidebar to insure people don’t miss it:


The third email is a final notice. Reiterate special benefits to ordering now like free shipping or fast delivery and provide another opportunity to contact customer service if there are questions.
When used wisely, offering discounts can help capture carts. Reducing prices should be a last resort, not a first offer. If discounting is part of your strategy randomly generate the offers so people don’t receive them every time. This keeps people from being trained to wait for the best deal. 

This post is an excerpt from 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.


Debra Ellis

President, Wilson & Ellis Consulting

Debra Ellis is a business consultant, author, and speaker. She specializes in showing companies how to improve customer acquisition and retention using integrated marketing and service strategies. Her latest marketing guide, 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing, is a practical resource for marketers seeking better results with minimal investment. Her engineering background provides statistical insight to finding actionable data that can be used to grow companies and reduce costs.

She is recognized as an expert in marketing from direct mail to social media, customer behavior, and strategic planning. Her expertise is often tapped by media sources including: The New York Times, CNN/’s Small Business Makeovers, Target Marketing, Multichannel Merchant, and MarketingProfs.

Her marketing guides include 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing, Social Media 4 Direct Marketers, and Marketing to the Customer Lifecycle.

Debra loves the art and science of multichannel marketing. She is a student and teacher of the methods that transform shoppers into buyers and buyers into lifelong customers. In 1995, she founded Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in creating strategies that make channels and departments work together to optimize the customer experience. Since then, she has worked with over a hundred distinguished clients such as Costco, Edmund Scientifics, Jacuzzi, Ross-Simons Jewelry, and The Body Shop.

Prior to founding her firm, Debra was instrumental in the record growth of Ballard Designs, Inc. while serving as Chief Operating Officer. Today, she uses her experience and expertise to show executives how to successfully navigate marketing channels and integrate activities to profitably grow their business. Her practical approach maximizes the return on investment.

She can be reached via email at [email protected]. She blogs at

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Posted on July 26th 2013 at 9:37PM

Great article