May 03, 2011
Case Study

Shopping Cart Recovery: Triggered emails recapture 29% of abandoned carts

SUMMARY: Website visitors who place products into shopping carts and leave before purchasing are very hot prospects. Sometimes, all they need is an additional touch or a small incentive to finish the purchase.

Check out this three-part triggered email series that convinced 29 percent of a company's cart abandoners to return to the site to complete a purchase. Metrics are included for each email.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Website visitors who place products into shopping carts have expressed an interest in those products. Unfortunately, this interest does not always lead to a sale.

Customers can be interrupted by phone calls, persuaded to check a competitor's site or scared off by high shipping costs. These factors (along with others) cause would-be buyers to abandon shopping carts and leave without purchasing.

Adam Golomb, Director, E-Commerce,, aimed to win back more of these customers. He wanted to encourage them to return to the site and complete their purchases, and believed email marketing could help.

"Email is our number-one marketing channel," Golomb says. "It can generate 20 percent to 40 percent of our business."

The cookie-selling website’s customer base consisted of loyal customers who grew up with the brand in Pittsburgh, as well as women over 35 years old who shopped for gifts online. Without upsetting these customers, Golomb wanted to encourage people who abandoned shopping carts to return to to complete their purchases.


Golomb and his team crafted a triggered three-part email series that targeted customers who abandoned shopping carts. By clicking one of these emails, customers could return directly to their previously abandoned cart to complete a purchase.

Here are the steps they followed:

Step #1. Capture customers' email addresses

The marketers at wanted to send these triggered emails to as many cart-abandoners as possible. However, they did not have email addresses for every person shopping on the site. Here are three ways they captured shoppers' email addresses:

- Email newsletter subscribers features widgets throughout the site to encourage visitors to sign up for its email newsletter. An incentive is offered in the default copy of the sign-up tool: "Join Our Club to Save $5 On Your Next Order"

The website places a tracking cookie on the computers of visitors who sign up for the newsletter. Using website analytics, this cookie enables to track visitors' behavior while knowing their email addresses. If these visitors abandon a shopping cart on the site,'s system sends them a triggered email (described in step #2 below).

- Registered customers

Customers can also have registered accounts with Those who sign into their accounts also receive tracking cookies on their computer. As described above, the cookies associate these visitors with their email addresses. If one of these customers abandons a shopping cart, they will receive a triggered email from the campaign.

- Shopping cart opt-ins

Early in the checkout process, requires customers to provide an email address and asks if they would like to opt-in to the company's email newsletter. Customers who opt-in to receive emails but do not complete the checkout process can also receive triggered email messages from this campaign.

Step #2. Send first email immediately

If a visitor abandons a shopping cart on and the site is able to identify the visitor's email address, the visitor will then receive a triggered email within thirty minutes, Golomb says.

Research from our sister company, MarketingExperiments (see useful links below), and other organizations emphasize that this first triggered email should be sent as soon as possible. Waiting more than an hour to send an email in response to an abandoned shopping cart can harm your results.'s first email has a customer-service-oriented tone. It asks customers if there was a problem during checkout and if there's anything the company can do to help. The helpful tone begins with the subject line:

"Oops...Was there a problem checking out?"

The first email includes the following features:

o logo and brand colors
o Helpful, customer-service-oriented messaging
o Links to FAQs on ordering
o Customer service phone number and link to contact information
o Mention of 100% guarantee on all products
o Large button and text-link to return to the customer's shopping cart

By clicking the large button, customers return to a shopping cart containing the exact products they left behind.

Step #3. Offer a small discount in second email

If the first email does not persuade customers to complete an order, they will receive a second triggered email about 23 hours after the first.

This second email continues to use a helpful tone with copy such as:

"Thanks for browsing our online store recently. We noticed that you left something in your cart without placing your order, and we wanted to make sure that you didn't experience any problems with our ordering system."

This email has a similar look and feel to the first email, but has these key differences:

- 10% discount

Right from the subject line, customers are aware that this email offers a discount:

"10% Off Your Order"

This is emphasized in the email itself. Immediately under the header is a large graphic with the text: "Come back and get 10% off!" The graphic provides a coupon code for the customer to use, and is hyperlinked to the customer's abandoned cart.

- No customer service links
While it maintains a helpful tone, this email does not provide a phone number or a link to contact customer service. Three links encourage customers to return to the cart to complete their purchase:

o Discount graphic is linked to the cart
o Text link to the cart
o Large button link to the cart

Step #4. Offer slightly larger discount in third email

Customers who have still not converted will receive the third and final triggered email about four days after the second.

This email is nearly identical to the second email except it offers a 20 percent discount if customers complete their purchases. The discount is emphasized in the following areas:

o Subject line: "Come Back and Save 20% Off Your Order"
o New discount banner and coupon code
o Changes to relevant sections of the email's copy

- Do not condition customers

Be careful not to condition your customers to abandon their shopping carts. If they're expecting to receive emailed discounts immediately after abandoning, you might see your completion rates plummet.

Golomb's team debated this concern and decided to avoid offering discounts in the first email (which is delivered immediately) and instead only offer a small discount in the second email.

"This has been really effective," Golomb says. "When you look at the full cycle, it's a pretty strong program."

On average, the triggered email series recaptures 29 percent of the abandoned shopping carts it targets, turning them into sales. is able to identify the email address of about 40 percent of customers who abandon a shopping cart, Golomb says.

Here are the average metrics for each of the emails:

Email #1

- Open Rate: 54%
- CTR: 28%

Email #2
- Open Rate: 50%
- CTR: 16%

Email #3

- Open Rate: 23%
- CTR: 6%

The average open rate for's promotional emails is in the 20 percent range, Golomb says, making the emails in this series high performers. According to him, is not able to track the emails' conversion rates.

- No increase in abandonment

Although concerned that offering a discount might have conditioned customers to continually abandon their carts, this has not come to pass.'s abandonment rate has remained steady, Golomb says.

- Plans to expand scope

These emails are sent only to cart abandoners for whom is able to identify email addresses. Since the program performs so well, Golomb wants to improve's ability to identify visitors' email addresses to include more people in the program.

Useful links related to this article


1. Email #1
2. Email #2
3. Email #3
4. Homepage with email newsletter signup tools
5. Checkout form

Shopping Cart Recovery: How we refined our email messaging to achieve a 263% increase in the recovery of abandoned carts

Shopping Carts Optimized: How a few tweaks led to 12% more revenue across an entire ecommerce Website

E-commerce: How your peers optimize shopping carts and product pages

SeeWhy - Powered the team's triggered email program for shopping cart abandonment

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