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Jan 21, 2005
Case Study

How to Drive Shoppers Back to Abandoned Shopping Carts with Email

SUMMARY: Way back in days of yore, Jody Sterba was the marketer behind Pottery Barn's very first catalog. Now she's applying her direct response experience to the house list email program at b- to-small-b eretailer, As you might guess, she's testing her brains out. Frequency, "from" lines, subject lines, multiple versus single offers, etc. If you like email test data and creative samples, this is the Case Study for you. Includes a clever campaign that drives more than 10% of shopping cart abandoners back to complete their check-out:

How do you use email to reactivate shoppers who have abandoned your website shopping cart? sells business supplies and printed stationery and cards to a SOHO (small office, home office) audience. Their site lets shoppers design their own stationery and business cards, using on-line templates. While the functionality was popular, the marketing team was finding that many shoppers would visit, design their letterhead, and then leave in the middle of the checkout process.

“A lot of people come to because you can play and not order, and that’s a prospect we wanted to take advantage of,” says Letty Swank, CEO.

Because is an online-only vendor, marketing found that direct-mail didn’t work as a reactivation tool. “It’s hard to drive people from a printed piece to the net to order,” says Jody Sterba, Marketing Director. had been gathering opt-in email names since 1996, and had amassed quite a list. But knowing exactly what messages and frequency would work with the different segments of its audience required nearly constant testing.


The concept was simple: offer users the opportunity to save stationery designs on your site. They may not be ready to buy, they may want to share the designs with colleagues or friends, or they may want to do some comparison shopping.

The time that prospects invest in designing on the website is a valuable commodity, one that management was determined not to squander. They also wanted to increase opt-in rates. “In the mid-90s, you could just ask for an email name and people would sign up,” says Sterba. “But they’re on to that little trick these days.”

Once a prospect clicks on the “Save Design” button, he or she is taken to an opt-in page, and offered a form to fill out. “We will email them to remind them of that they have a saved design with us, and actually show them a picture of what is in their shopping cart,” says Sterba.

More than a year ago, started splitting the opt-in process, offering users the option of receiving the reminder emails without other marketing materials.

“We do include some marketing messaging in the email reminder about your saved design,” Sterba adds.

The team then tested every variable of their email program they could think of, including:

Offer tests

o Price-based offer ($12.97 for a pack of 10 personalized Post-It notes) vs a discount offer (40% off the same Post-Its, which came to exactly $12.97, but was worded differently)
o Storewide discounts vs individual product discounts
o Sale alerts alone vs sale alert reminder emails

Creative tests

o Urgency in the subject line vs a non-urgent subject
o An “ weekly specials” from line vs an “” from line
o Sale reminders that announce the date of sale end vs announcing the day of the week the sale ends
o Emails offering three-product pictures vs one-picture emails

Worth noting -- aside from relational messaging,'s campaigns don't differentiate between customers and prospects in their copy. “We address them all as customers, and they respond as customers” says Swank.

Frequency tests

o four times a month vs eight times a month for hot prospects and customers
o twice a month vs once a month for people who have *not* been customers for longer than two years
o sales alerts alone vs sales alerts followed by reminders three days before sale ends

Deliverability test

In 2004, the team discovered they had a problem with AOL filtering. “We realized we had a problem, got ourselves white-listed, and kept the same vendor, but changed to our own IP address,” says Sterba.


A full 40% of shoppers who save designs in their shopping cart now opt-in to receive emailed follow-ups. Of these, an average of 10-15% return to the site and purchase when they get a personalized "this is what's in your cart" reminder email.

Splitting the marketing opt-in from the saved-design option increased not only the saved-design registrations, but also, surprisingly, the marketing opt-ins. This shows the importance of trust in an email relationship. Likewise, when let shoppers know it had stopped renting out its names, “the opt-in rate went up.”

Here's more data on tests to customer and saver house files...

-> Offer tests

Price-based offers in the headline did twice as well as discount (percentage) offers, even when they were announcing a product selling at exactly the same price.

-> Creative tests

One of the most striking creative results was in the “from” line. “The first time we switched from ‘ weekly specials’ to ‘,’ we had a 20% increase in response rate. The next time, there was a 40% increase,” says Sterba.

As you might expect, a named deadline "Order by Friday" in the subject line outperformed subject lines without deadline, resulting in 53% more revenue.

Emails featuring three products did significantly better than ones with only one product. “This may have to do with our product line,” says Sterba. “People like to get a sense of everything we have to offer. We even take people coming from search engines right to our home page, because if we take them too deep, they don’t really understand the full range of what we offer.”

Sales reminders that announce three days till the sale end date are’s best-performing emails. Recipients don't seem to mind at all that they've gotten two announcements (the original and the reminder) for the same sale in a matter of days.

-> Deliverability’s dedicated IP address seems to be making a difference. The team report a stable delivery rate since adopting it.

-> Frequency and List

Another surprise was frequency. The most successful email frequency to hot prospects is eight times a month (a sales alert in the beginning of the week, and a reminder later). In fact, doubling frequency from four to eight times a month doubled response rates and revenues from those prospects. “Up to eight times a month, if we send an email, people respond,” says Swank.

For prospects and customers who haven't purchased in more than two years, though, moderation is key. “The most we can email these folks is once a month,” says Sterba.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of many of the campaigns above:’s email vendor:

See Also:

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