Using Marketing Automation to Retrieve Abandoned Shopping Carts: Do You Know These 4 Best Practices?

With e-commerce hosting services like Shopify, Magento, or Bigcommerce, almost anyone can open an online store with just a few clicks. To protect their market position against ever-growing competition, companies need to constantly be on the lookout for the most effective ways to convert visitors into buyers. But even if they invest heaps of time and resources in getting more leads into the top of their sales funnel, it's likely that more than 66% of their shopping carts will be abandoned.

And guess what. This problem isn't new. And it's unlikely that the situation will change in upcoming years

So instead of lamenting, let's consider this. What if there were a way to retrieve some of those lost sales? What if you could reach more than 40% of those who leave your online store and talk to them again? What if you could get more than 10% of them to click your offer one more time?

And what if, once set up, the whole process would run automatically, with no extra work?

Why don't we skip the chit-chat and dig into the “hows” of using marketing automation to retrieve lost sales due to shopping cart abandonment.

Why do people abandon shopping carts?

Let's start by trying to understand the cause of the problem. In your local mall, you never see shopping carts scattered around, filled with products, with nobody there (unless you're Woody Harrelson in Zombieland). Yet this is an everyday situation for most e-commerce companies.

But why? Aren’t there distractions in a store? Won’t your husband or wife call to remind you that you were supposed to pick up your kid from baseball practice an hour ago?

Or maybe it's something else. According to a study by Statista, there are many reasons why online shoppers leave without paying.

Why do people abandon shopping carts?

And here are the findings from a study conducted by Visual Website Optimizer

Why do people abandon shopping carts?

If you look at the above graphs closely, you’ll realize that most of these situations wouldn't happen in your local mall. Nobody would unexpectedly charge an additional $20 for delivering the groceries to your car. You wouldn't need to pay more for using a credit card or be asked to fill out numerous forms before leaving the store.

Yet these are the obstacles marketers put in front of their users daily. This is easy to fix unless you want to trick your customers (I don't think I need to say this, but I will anyway — don't try to trick customers into paying more, period.)

So let's see how can you go about the sales retrieval process.

Best practice #1

Pop up with the right incentive

Nobody likes unexpected costs. Especially if they've already decided when they plan to wear that new jacket, only to find out the final price has gone up. They were already there — rocking their new outfit, all happy and confident — and now the mood is gone because they feel like they've been lied to.

Online stores often hide the unpleasant part — the additional handling and shipping costs — until the last moment. Now name one person in the world who would be happy to learn that their order will cost more the moment they take their wallet out and are about to enter their card details?

Being up-front about all the shipping, handling, and return costs is a foolproof strategy. But if you don’t yet follow this path, I assume there's a reason for it.

Perhaps you prefer to give the impression that your prices are the lowest, and once you convince your visitors to say "yes" a few times (btw, here's a great article on micro-yeses), and get them to click, it'll be OK to present the full-price. I can't say this is the best approach for growing a loyal customer-base

So what else can you do if you don't want to be up-front about the costs? Perhaps provide free shipping? Of course, that will reduce your margins, so you may not want to offer that to just anyone.

How about offering free shipping only to users that sign up to your mailing list and spend more than $50 in your online store? Or provide an additional $10 credit if they add one more item to the cart or make another order in the future? In other words — offer a benefit that will increase the average order value and customer lifetime value. Your margin won't fall significantly. And in the long-run, you're better off having these customers by your side.

And you don't need to offer this to everyone if you don't want to. Just show it to shoppers that are about to leave your page, using an exit-intent form. This way, if someone hasn't provided their email address yet, they'll see a prompt that may convince them to do so. And you'll get the chance to retain and upsell them in the future using newsletters and automated emails.


  • Present the right incentive. It means you should use gut feelings, A/B testing, and analysis to determine the perceived value and return-on-investment of your incentive. You can read more about that process in this Marketing Experiments article.
  • Present it at the right time. If you can't be up-front about the costs and can't make it free for everyone, find a way to show the incentive before your visitors abandon the cart. Use an exit-intent form like the one below, used by The Next Web. If you want to read up on how and why exit overlays work, just check out this article.

Best practice #2

Welcome series with an incentive

Getting audience email addresses is just the first step in reducing lost sales. Even if they submit the form, there's still a chance that some won’t place an order.

The reasons may not be related to negative emotions. It could be that something interrupts your customers, or they are unsure about whether they really need that product. If you present the code only on the form or thank-you page, you might lose the sale. And that's where email comes into play.

The aim of a welcome series is to onboard your prospective and newly acquired customers. It has to demonstrate that it was the right choice to join the team and that they'll be happy about future updates. It should also answer common questions or doubts new customers may have.

On top of that, welcome emails help you increase sales. It's likely that your onboarding emails will get an average open rate of above 50% — so why not make use of it? How, you ask? Simply add a discount code or another incentive to the message as a reminder. This way you'll get another chance to get them back on your site with a clear intention to make a purchase.

To ensure that your incentive is effective, consider adding a time limit during which the new subscriber can redeem the reward. Give your coupon an expiration date of 72 hours or 14 days, as in the Adidas example below, for an extra sense of urgency customers may need to make the final decision.

That's not all, though. If the subscriber doesn’t use the coupon, why not send another reminder after 48 hours? Just use dynamic content to provide unique discount codes and sync it with your e-commerce platform and CRM, so you can distinguish subscribers who fall into this group. You can then tag them appropriately and send them an automatic email to inform them about the limited time they have to take an action. If, on top of that, you have their phone number, why not follow it with a text message as well?

Try various approaches and see which ones work best for your audience. And if you're seeking inspiration, you can find some good examples of welcome emails in this article by Pam Neely: 7 Welcome Emails That Set the Standard.

Img. 2 - Adidas newsletter that welcomes new subscribers and rewards them with a discount code valid for 14 days only
Img. 2 - Adidas newsletter that welcomes new subscribers and rewards them with a discount code valid for 14 days only

Best practice #3

Abandoned cart autoresponder series

Naturally, the most popular solution for retrieving abandoned carts is the cart abandonment email — an action-triggered message that reminds customers about the items they've left in their shopping carts

To be able to use action-triggered message, make sure the shopper has signed up for your list. Then, once you see them browsing your store, adding items to the cart, and leaving without placing the order, you get a chance to reach out and bring them back to your site.

Abandoned cart emails work great because they are:

  • Highly relevant – showing the exact products the shopper was looking at
  • Timely – sent within a short time after the cart is abandoned

On top of that, cart abandonment emails use momentum. When shoppers leave items in the shopping cart, they were in the mood to make a purchase. They may need only a small nudge to complete the purchase.

Here’s a best practice for the cart-abandonment retargeting process. Plan a series of 2 to 3 messages. Send the first email within a couple of hours after the shopper leaves the site. Send the second after 24 hours. Send the final one 3 to 5 days later. As you can read in this article, a similar strategy has worked well for brands such as Dot & Bo.

As you'll see in the examples on the next page, brands often go to great lengths to make their cart abandonment emails appealing. These messages typically include:

  • Great persuasive copy
  • Emotional imagery, such as a sad person waving goodbye
  • Humor, such as funny animals guarding your products
  • Psychological triggers, such as fear of loss and social proof

The issue with cart abandonment emails is that they rarely solve any of the problems mentioned in the studies by VWO and Statista. Unless they provide an attractive reward (like a free delivery), they usually work only on people who are truly interested in the offer. That’s why you need a good incentive to retrieve those potentially lost sales.

Abandoned cart autoresponder serie

Best practice #4


A process similar to cart abandonment emails can be achieved using retargeting. Instead of relying on one medium, you can increase your chances of reaching your audience by following them with ads as they surf other websites or use other services and apps

When creating your retargeting ads, think about what you already know about your audience and their behavior. Did they leave the basket in step one or step four of the check-out process? What micro-conversions did you observe along the way? Use the information to formulate the best possible message.

In your ads, you could place one of the following messages:

  • A notice that the products will sell out soon
  • The quantity of those specific items left in stock
  • A reminder that if they order now, they'll receive the product before a particular date, such as Christmas
  • 10% discount if they order now
  • Free delivery on their order
  • Special coupon for orders placed within the next 12 hours

Of course, there are many more ways to create messages, depending on your type of business. For example, if you're a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company offering a free trial, you could try a retargeting message inviting them to upgrade now for instant access to all the amazing features or remind them that in X number of days, their account will expire.

It's worth noting that retargeting can be done across many platforms, not just Google AdWords and Bing Ads. You can also use social ads on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And there are retargeting platforms like AdRoll that can improve your retargeting efforts.

Summing up

Cart abandonment is among the top challenges e-commerce marketers face. Although some problems lie beyond your power, most can be fixed with a solid communications strategy.

To reduce cart abandonment problems, be up-front about the price of the product (including delivery, handling, exchange rate, etc.) For other situations, use the best practices above.