What Exactly is the Abandoned Cart Problem?

Abandoned cart emails are a great way to stay top of mind for customers who dropped their shopping carts. In this post we will investigate why carts are abandoned, and how to use cart recovery emails, phone calls and SMS follow ups to recover more customers. Keep in mind there is a mountain of content online about abandoned carts and how to recover sales. This is because it's one of the biggest problems for every single online entrepreneur. Several posts from across the web will show you evidence of abandoned carts ranging from 67% in 2011 to 75% in 2017, you can see some of these posts here, here and here. These are huge figures. The main issue seems to be the fact that the problem is growing. A study by the Baymard Institute found that the abandoned cart rates over the last 9 years have either stayed the same, or gotten worse (see the chart below). Given that the same 9 year period has seen the most growth and improvements in digital payments, website user experience, and optimized checkout flows, this is shocking. How is it that even though the solutions are pouring in, the problem is actually getting worse?

Source: Baymard Institute Research
"Over the past 9 years abandoned cart rates have been going up despite the technological advances in online payments, website user experience, and optimized checkout flows."


But is it really that shocking? I'll discuss that in the "Why Visitors Abandon Carts" section below. The point I'm trying to make here is, there is a lot of good content online about what to do about abandoned carts. But this information was really only applicable from 2010-2015, so whatever you read is table-stakes in today's ecommerce playbook. The first half of this post is going to be a re-cap of everything you need to know in (2017 and onwards) about abandoned checkout email recovery, so you won't need to read another post about it ever again. The second half of this post is going to move into newer 2018 territory not yet discussed in detail. By the end of this post you will have a solid understanding of why visitors abandon their carts, what your abandoned checkout auto-emails should look like, and most importantly what Phone and SMS strategy you should embrace to skyrocket your recovery rates.


Why Visitors Abandon Carts

So first and foremost, I believe there is a misconception in new ecommerce entrepreneurs about the validity of their abandoned cart customers. Before you continue reading understand there are two kinds of abandons:

  1. The Abandoned Cart
  2. The Abandoned Checkout

Abandon carts are just carts that visitors created by clicking the "add to cart" button. Abandoned carts, especially on platforms like Shopify, do not have personal customer information attached to them. Abandoned checkouts are like carts but have the important distinction of having customer details like name, emails, and even phone numbers. This means those customers are way hotter sales leads than just abandoned carts because they took the time to actually click "checkout" and fill in their personal details, before closing the browser tab either on the payment details page, or the final order confirmation page. I have to make this clear because many new ecommerce entrepreneurs I've worked with, started off assuming Abandoned Carts and Abandoned Checkouts were the same thing. These merchants over-panic when they see such a high ratio of "carts created" to "orders" in their Shopify ecommerce dashboard.

So why is there such a high percentage of abandoned carts? Simple. Because they are free, fun and easy non-commital "bookmarks" for a product.

Neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky, who studies dopamine (the pleasure chemical in the brain) used monkeys to understand more about this pleasure drug. He trained the monkeys to press a button 10 times after they see the signal light turn on. After pressing the button 10 times, a food treat (reward) would appear. The commonly held idea was that the monkeys would do the work (press the buttons) in anticipation of the food, after which their brain would release dopamine. But in actuality, Sapolsky found that dopamine would start to release on the signal, and end when the last button was pressed. This goes a long way to explain why 75% of people might click "add to cart" but have no interest in buying. Because on seeing a product (signal) your brain has already started releasing dopamine, and clicking the "add to cart" button (work) is another free dose of non-commital dopamine (reward). No wonder why everyone clicks it.

Clicking 'Add to Cart' is fun because it's a free Dopamine hit


So yes, the 75% abandoned cart figure seems high, but it should not be a shocker to anyone. It's a natural part of the online shopping behavior. This is why this post will focus on real leads you can action on: Abandoned Checkout customers.

Best Practices for Abandoned Checkout Emails

When you get an abandoned checkout, your brand must to react to it. It's a gift from the ecommerce gods. These are customers who were interested enough to fill out between 7-14 form fields on your checkout pages. Not following up would be leaving money on the table. The easiest, cheapest, and most common way is the abandoned checkout recovery auto-email. Let's take a couple minutes to deconstruct the best recovery email practices.

The sole purpose of the first cart recovery auto-email you send should be to provide exceptional customer service. Use the opportunity to start the conversation, because this group of customers are extremely important to your business and their relationships should be a priority. First and foremost, DO NOT use a generic auto-recovery email just pointing them back at their cart. Your customers had unanswered questions which is why they abandoned, so acknowledge that you understand that and show that you're stepping forward to answer those questions.

What to include in your email copy:

  1. Images - Include images of the product they dropped, this visual makes it very easy for your visitor to recall what it was they wanted to buy.
  2. Reviews - If you have positive five star reviews, add one of them to the email to create social proof of the quality and usefulness of your product.
  3. FAQs - There are a handful of reasons why customers abandoned their carts; questions about shipping times, unexpected fees, return policy confusion are the most common. But there is a long tail of other reasons which will be unique store to store. For example installation support, kid friendliness, allergies, etc. Make sure you've spoken to enough of your customers to know what the common questions are specific to your product.
  4. Phone Number - Not including a phone number is the biggest and most common mistake I find on recovery emails. You have no way of knowing why someone abandoned their checkout. If their reason and your FAQ reasons above don't match, you need to make it clear they can contact you for answers.
  5. Satisfaction Reminder - Return policies, warranties, satisfaction guarantees, and any other customer perks you want your customers to know about.
  6. Your Why - Today's generation wants transparency and authenticity. Remind your customers why you do what you do, include a mission statement, tell your story in as few words as possible.

You might also want to consider sending a short and casual personalized email from the founder/owner of the business. Since these are extremely valuable customers to your business, so you should start the relationships with them on the right note and show that the head-honcho cares about their experience. Scout, one of the "tools for the job" listed below, makes this really easy to do.

In terms of when, and how many emails you should be sending, the quickness of the first email is key. Send the first email immediately after the abandoned checkout. The problem here is many email marketing platforms, including Shopify's own auto-recovery feature, only lets you configure email 1 hour after abandonment as the soonest. Your customer may have already bought from your competitor by this time. Email sequences are becoming increasing popular, and you should definitely experiment with these. A good sequence you start off with is the three-email sequence:

  1. The Immediate Reminder - Sent right away with the information described above. This should be a helpful message aimed at starting a brand-customer relationship on the right foot. Don't be pushy, just remind them of the benefits and make it easy for them to purchase with a direct link to their abandoned checkout URL.
  2. The Next Day Offer - If the customer doesn't convert within the next 24 hours, then send the second email with an offer inside. This could be a 10% discount code, free shipping, or a free sample of another product they might also be interested in. Regarding giving discounts, this is a very slippery slope in developing trust. Customers start to expect discounts very quickly, but they don't continue to expect "free."
  3. The Next Week Offer - If the customer still hasn't returned and bought in the next 7 days, send a bigger discount or extra free samples. Again, keep in mind people can get addicted to discounts and then decide never to pay full-price again.

Tools for the Job:

  • Scout - The free option (great for businesses who can count on one hand how many abandoned checkouts they get daily)
  • Conversio - $19 per month for full email marketing features, not just abandoned checkouts
  • Jilt - Ability to create sequence email campaigns, but charges by the email, so costs can add up

Examples of Great Abandoned Cart Emails

There is a great post by Shopify about this linked here.

Let's take a look at our first example from Ugmonk.

The first thing you feel with this email is the authenticity of the brand. The founder and designer seems to have reached out directly, made a real gesture to help with any questions, and even offered to recommend a different product. There is also a couple links in the email to make it easy for the customer to go back to what they had in their cart. It's true, this email doesn't include images, reviews, FAQs, and Phone numbers (but that's only because they are a big store that would probably get way too many calls then), but it fits the brand. Most importantly, it leaves an impression of the brand, which is one of the most important goals of the abandon cart emails.

Our next example from Fab looks very different from Ugmonk, but also very good:

This email does a good job in describing the personality of the brand. "Smile, it's still for sale." It also creates urgency with the subject title to encourage customers who are truly interested to act fast and confirm their order. But what I like best about this email is the prominent phone number. This product is not cheap, looks like it requires assembly, probably difficult to ship too. It's the type of product a customer would want to talk to a sales representative about before buying. The lesson from here is to understand the type of relationship your customer will have to the product. If it's a high touch relationships like a bed that is expensive, requires effort to construct, or have longer shipping times, you have to anticipate having a phone call about your customer about it. Additionally, the phone call is a great opportunity to learn more about the customer and potentially even up-sell other products they might also be interested in.

Next we have Casper's auto-email:

It's very basic, but what we like about it is the Review. Providing the social proof from other customers helps the abandoned customer trust your product will solve their need since it's solved it for someone else already. What I don't like about this email is the lack of phone number, or personalization. But then again, that could be because the product was just a pillow. I would image that if the checkout was a $200 mattress there would be a number to call, or FAQs to reach through.

The above three emails are vastly different from each other, but keep in mind that they work for their specific brands. This is why trusting other auto-email articles on the web might not be the best thing for your store. Even reading my post will only give you ideas on what you could do. The most important thing you need to figure out is what goes on in your customer's mind during their checkout process. This data will help you craft the best, most personalized, and most relevant email for them. I'll tell you how to figure that out a little later in the Phone Call section of this post.

Challenges with Email for Cart Recovery

Email is dead. This section might seem like a big downer, but it's a fact. Profitability from email campaigns, just like profitability of physical retailers, is going down year after year. The email inbox is over-saturated. Open rates are dropping hard! There is just too much competition in it.

I believe 2018 is the year where we see the decrease of importance in the email relationship between businesses and their customers. This is why I've chosen to do the job of non-email customer relationship management for your online store. There are many societies in the world where email has no penetration. Newly online societies have leap-frogged the email channel and moved direct to chat. Just like developing economies have leap-frogged landlines to wireless mobile phones, many are leapfrogging email and jumping straight to chat. WeChat in China is a great example of a new distribution model where emails are archaic, and phone numbers and pin verifications are the new standard of account creations and logins. This might still feel like a few years away from becoming the norm in North America and Europe, but rest assured that Facebook, Google, and/or Amazon are one announcement away from turning the tables on this overnight. So in anticipation of this future, let's get to the forward looking advice portion of this post. How to go beyond just the email in recovering checkouts.

Supplementing Your Auto-Emails with Phone Calls & SMS for Checkout Recovery

Let me reiterate. Cart recovery auto-emails are table-stakes. It's the default and you still need to do it. But what will really allow you to win isn't in the email, but what goes on outside of it. This is why I believe using the auto-email alongside a call or SMS recovery campaign leads to the best results. The first customer I helped develop phone tactics for saw their abandoned recovery rate hit 55%, and for another we saw an additional $15,000-$20,000 per month in revenue.

Why are Phone Calls & SMS's Important?

Emails being marked as SPAM or going to the promotions tab of Gmail. Banner blindness for emails and cart recovery emails. When deciding whether to Call or SMS, you can use the below considerations when trying to decide.

Calling or SMS'ing?

You shouldn't take the approach of doing all three; emails, phone and SMS, because that would be overkill. There are two categories when deciding which approach to take: Product and Personal considerations. I've drawn a quick chart to make it easy. When you're doing your own assessment, just use this as a guide to help you decide.

Below are the several Product considerations to make when deciding whether or not calling is important for your recovery strategy:

  • High Order Values - If your products are expensive, or big and heavy, people will be less likely to trust a faceless brand. If you were going to spend $400 on a bed, wouldn't you want to have trust in the business and the people behind the business? It's extremely hard to open your wallet for a high priced item, let alone if it's your first interaction with the brand. These people filled out all their information in the checkout but just got the last minute jitters and closed their cart. Make sure you call them and answer their concerns in as friendly and understanding manner as you can. Try to go above and beyond in your customer service because if they trust you with $400, it will be very easy for them to trust you with $300, and $200 orders in the future. These customers have the potential to become great long lasting customers.
  • Niche/Rare Products - The more niche the product, the more questions people will have. Since these products are hard to find, people have less experience with how they look, how they work, how to install them, etc. The range of different questions people have about these products is also vast compared to commoditized products like electronics, books, or apparel. Since the range is wider, you need someone on the phone with that customer to be able to answer even the most specific question. It's OK if you don't have the answer right away, just say "Good question. Can I find the answer for you and call you back?"
  • High Competition - If there are 50 other companies that sell the same thing you sell, and your customer has an option of who to go to, how many of them would be willing to personally call the customer? This will put your brand head and shoulders above the rest in your customers' eyes.

Personal considerations:

  • Need Feedback - If you are a new ecommerce entrepreneurs entering new markets and you are not an expert in the product or customer need. That's when you should be calling customers. As a new ecommerce entrepreneur you won't know what is good or bad about your website, what your customer values most in your product or service, even feedback like how they found out about your business and what impression your website gave them. This feedback will give you immediate steps you can take to improve your online property.
  • Time - It can be time consuming to make personal phone calls. Even though I've made this as quick and easy as possible with my Shopify app, some people will always be busy. I think starting your day with calling an abandoned checkout customer, or even a best customer, is a great idea. Do it if you have time.
  • Confidence - A lot of people will feel too shy to make the phone call. They may also question why someone would want to speak with them, afraid of getting hung-up on. With regards to the shy-ness, I would just say that's part of personal development. Our businesses are an extension of ourselves and so for our businesses to grow, we need to get out of our comfort zone first. But if you're a male who has a lingerie store, please do not make phone calls offering to help!

Great Example of Abandoned Checkout Phone Call Script

In your recovery email, make it clear to your customer you will try to call them personally to understand their needs and recommend a better solution. You should be following up with the phone call around six hours after you've sent the email. If in 6 hours the timezone your customer is in is past 9:00 PM, then call the next day sometime in the afternoon. Your customers will love getting a proactive phone call from you if you sound authentic and say you're calling to help them solve a problem. Remember, people either buy something to solve a problem, or cater to a passion. Approach the call from that perspective. Here is an actual script I've been coaching most of my clients with. If you want more I have a dedicated post on two alternative scripts here.

Example of a Great Abandoned Checkout Phone Call Script on Scribd

Examples of Great SMS Texts

As described earlier in this post, the SMS is meant to be used mostly for commoditized products, such as apparel, electronics, books, etc. Here are some examples of SMS texts that break the ice but still try to create a two-way conversation. SMS's should be brand friendly so you should tweak these scripts to make them sound like your brand.

Example 1:

"Hi [Customer First Name], this is [Your Full Name] from [Store Name]. Let me know if you want any help from me, like a personal shopper ?"

Example 2:

"Hi [Customer First Name], I'm from [Store Name] and my job is to solve [problem your product solves] for our customers. Can I help you with anything today? ?"

Example 3:

"Hi [Customer First Name], I saw you're interested in [Product]. My name is [Your Full Name] from [Store Name]. Do you have any questions I can answer? ?"

Example 4:

"Hi [Customer First Name], my name is [Your Full Name] and I'm the [Role] at [Store Name]. Is there anything I can help you with today? ??"

Tools & Resources for the Job

If you've made it this far you're probably wondering which tools you should use to best enable you to call and SMS your abandoned checkout customers.

  • Scout - Of course I'm going to promote myself again. My purpose on this earth is to help ecommerce store owners build bulletproof relationships with their customers (pre and post sale). I have the ability to alert you right when an Abandon checkout happens so you can send a casual personal one-click email right away. I can also prep you with the above call script we talked about, and dial the customer for you. In terms of SMS, I can't auto-magically send SMS's for you yet but I can tell you what you copy and paste for each customer so you can send them yourself.
  • ClubTexting - This service lets businesses text customers anything from alerts, promotions and reminders. It's kind of like email, but on text only.
  • Skype - This is a great Voice Over IP (VOIP) service that used by hundreds of millions of people. You can buy a plan with certain minutes for each country and use it like a phone number if you don't want your personal phone bill to get too large. Your Skype number could also double as your businesses phone number if you don't feel comfortable with customers having your personal information with them.
  • Google Voice (USA) - Voice is a cool service from Google because it's a free phone number. You will not be charged for the phone call you make using Google Voice. The only downside is it's only available to US residents. They have a great app too which just looks like a phone call app you can use to dial and manage your contacts.

Things to Always Keep in Mind when Calling & SMS'ing Your Customers

Be aware of their timezone.

  • You don't want to be calling or texting after 9pm in their local timezone. However, regardless of when they text you back, reply immediately to create a back and forth conversation. Also, getting an immediate reply from a business at 11pm shows you're dedicated to good service which will earn your brand trust points.
  • Below I've visualized the best times to call customers in their local timezone. This data is generated from about 3,000 of my clients across all industries and product types and price ranges. As you can see the afternoon is when people are most engaged with online shopping so try to call or text within these timeframes.

These are your best leads.

  • These customers filled out their full customer details before abandoning, which is why you have their contact information.

The phone is a personal space.

  • So don't abuse it otherwise you will cheapen your brand. Use it once per customer. If they don't answer or reply, leave them be.

Don't over-sell.

  • The point of these personal conversations is not to sell. This sounds counter-intuitive, but closing the sale is a secondary objective. The main objective is to get feedback form your customer and solve their problem (pre-sale customer support). If you do well at that, the sale will follow shortly after.