October 17, 2006
Case Study

How to Run a Complex Auto-Email Program to Reduce Abandoned Carts for High Consideration Purchases

SUMMARY: Last week, we told you of an easy way to start an auto-email program to your shopping cart abandons to prompt belated conversions.

However, if what you're offering is not an impulse buy, how should your cart abandon emails differ? Today, we look at a more complex system used by an ecommerce site with far higher-priced products that consumers mull over longer before purchasing.

Discover the results of their tests, including best email timing, offer and whether sending two emails in a row works better than one (without annoying people):

“You are never going to get 80% or 100% of the people to stay in the shopping cart until they complete the purchase,” says Lara Stache, Ecommerce Marketing Manager at Limoges Jewelry, an ecommerce site and cataloger in business since 1895.

Stache’s team had heard ideas about emailing people who abandoned their carts. Limoges Jewelry tried pop-ups after shoppers moved on to other sites, but Stache didn’t want to be seen as a pest, especially with the site's fairly high price points and high consideration purchase items.

How do you send an email that won’t bother potential customers who are taking their time mulling over an important jewelry purchase? Which timing works the best, and should you send a discount coupon?

Putting together the email abandon program was more complex than you might think, which is why Stache and her team tested it over the slow months this summer.

Also, because their internal team was busy with other work, she hired an outside vendor who agreed to be paid on a commission-only basis (link to vendor below). This added some complexity to the campaign due to privacy and list management considerations -- but CPA was a lot easier to get management to sign off on than an in-house R&D project for a test.

That done, here are the three specific steps the team took to implement and test the email project:

Step #1. List management and privacy concerns

As noted above, the biggest drawback to using a third party vendor for a part of your in-house email program is handling privacy and list management. Stache took the following steps:

A. Legal -- She checked with legal to make sure the site's privacy policy clearly covered the fact that opt-ins email addresses would be revealed to this third party for the purposes of reminder messaging. (If you simply state, "We'll never share your email address with anyone," you'll be in trouble.)

B. CAN-SPAM compliance -- Stache made sure the creative complied with CAN-SPAM, including offering two separate opt-out hotlinks. The first link allowed recipients to opt out of just the cart reminder file. The second allowed them to opt-out of all promotional email from Limoges Jewelry. (Note: This is very smart.)

C. Service management -- All emails were sent with a reply-to address of Stache's in-house service team (whom she carefully pre-warned about the campaign.) That way, any customer who did reply to the email with questions, concerns or feedback wasn't wandering in a never-never-land of a third party vendor's reply system. Also, hard bounces were taken care of on both lists.

D. List updating & maintenance -- The problem with sending two or more cart reminder emails in a row is that you don't want people who ordered after getting the first email to still get the second one. So, Stache’s team built a triggered system to communicate between their ecommerce database and the email vendor's list file. Any names who bought were automatically removed from the list for the second send.

Step #2. Testing timing and number of emails to send

Because consumers may take days or weeks to make a buying decision about an expensive piece of jewelry, Stache worried that if she started sending reminder emails too frequently or too relentlessly it could bother recipients and lose the sale. On the other hand, less frequency could lower impact.

Therefore, her first order of business was to run a few test campaigns to determine the best number of messages and the best timing. The team tested:

o Sending a "Shop Now" reminder message three hours after the cart was abandoned and then a free shipping offer 24 hours later

o Sending a "Shop Now" reminder message six hours after abandon and then a free shipping offer 48 hours later

o Sending only one message -- a free shipping offer six hours after abandon

Step # 3. Creative

Creative for all tests was as similar as possible, so the lessons learned were focused on timing and offer. (See below for creative samples.) All emails were in HTML and copy began with a salutation using the recipient's first name (e.g., 'Dear Bob,").

Both emails featured Limoges Jewelry's logo and an unusually large click button.

Unfortunately, these buttons all lead to the Limoges Jewelry home page. Stache would have vastly preferred to send these abandoned shoppers to a special landing page or perhaps directly to their cart, but her back end wasn't able to manage it at the time. She worried, would sending shoppers back to the site’s home page work?

Stache gives an ROI thumbs-up to the sales conversion they’ve seen in two months of testing emails to cart abandons -- and, strikingly, results have risen as summer has moved into fall season.

In August, 13.5% of cart abandon email clickthroughs converted into purchases during that visit. This rose to 16.54% in September and to 28.77% for the first nine days of October.

Stache thinks (and we agree) that the Limoges Jewelry brand name strength has helped these clicks over the hump of landing on a less-than-optimal page for their return visit. This might not work for a less beloved brand.

Timing and offer test results were fascinating. Key conclusions:

o The faster you get your first abandon email out, the better the conversion rate.

o Consumers don't mind receiving two messages, especially if they are slightly different messages. There's been no negative feedback. However, customer service has had a slight increase in work due to questions that come back in the replies in the abandon emails. It's a wonderful way of getting shoppers to hand raise with questions that might have kept them from converting.

o Free shipping offers get 5%-9% higher clickthrough rates, but slightly lower conversion rates than straightforward shopping reminders. So, if you're going to send only one email, rather than a series, you might stick to a reminder versus an offer. (Or at least A/B test both against each other.)

Useful links related to this article

Creative sample of auto emails to shoppers who abandon their shopping carts:

Case Study: How to Use Auto-Emails to Lower Abandoned Cart Rates

Second Bite -- Limoges Jewelry’s vendor for the abandon recovery email program:

Limoges Jewelry

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