Automation Update: Dust off your Abandoned-cart Emails

First-Person Marketers have built up a strong portfolio of marketing automation programs.

Automated programs, whether transactional emails or triggered messaging, account for a large percentage of email revenue because they’re highly relevant and valuable to recipients.

Automated programs also free you up for other work because they run in the background. You don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. But that also can be a negative because some marketers take this “set it and forget it” mindset to the extreme.

This makes me cringe, because you don’t want to forget about any piece of your email program. You must go back and review your automations periodically to make sure they still work the way they did when you launched them. Maybe you need to refresh them with new logos, branding or copy.

Your abandoned-cart program is a prime example. These reminders that a customer didn’t finish a process, such as paying for a cart, booking a trip or completing a download, are mainstays of an effective email program. But, if you haven’t changed your approach in the last few years, you’re probably missing out on a lot of opportunity.

That’s because the world has changed since we first began sending cart reminders. Early on, reminder emails were pretty simple to launch – one email, batched every 24 hours, or once a week and you were in business.

Then companies like SeeWhy (now part of SAP Hybris) changed the rules with their research that showed how many carts you could redeem if you sent your reminder email within hours of abandonment instead of waiting days.

Example: American Airlines’ abandoned-cart email

I’m a road warrior, on the road for work many weeks out of the year. So, the way I research and book flights is really different from the way casual travelers operate. I change my mind a lot. I check out flights and prices and sometimes choose my seat but then back out before buying.

While looking for flights to Las Vegas recently, I once again got as far as seat selection when I had to break off my session to take a phone call. Not long after that, this email popped into my inbox:

It’s a fairly simple email – no animated GIFs or videos, no interactive content – but I found plenty to like in this message. It shows that American has thought long and hard about what it should put in its abandoned-cart messages.

Here’s what I like about this email:

1. It waits for the right point on the journey

If American sent me a reminder email every time I checked routes and fares on the site, my inbox would be even more jammed than it is now. But, American waited to send me a reminder until I showed intent by picking a seat.

2. The message uses contextual marketing for pinpoint relevance

The hero image shows the instantly recognizable Las Vegas Strip, not just a stock pretty travel picture. It also reminds me about the dates and fare I had chosen.

3. It offers me money-saving options

Besides reminding me of my price point, the email also shows me a lower price if my flight dates were flexible.

4. The call to action is “Search Flights on,” not “Book now”

What’s the difference? American recognizes that people break off transactions in the middle for lots of reasons. It doesn’t ask me to make a big commitment. If I weren’t ready to book from that email, I might just delete it and forget it.

Lessons from American’s abandoned-cart email

American clearly put a lot of thought into this email about customer behavior, interactions on the website and what motivates customers to act. Here are two takeaways from the experience:

1. Use service-oriented copy in your email messages instead of a hard-sell conversion request

People abandon processes for many reasons, not just because they didn’t want the product they were scoping out. Your abandoned-cart reminders must reflect that. People get distracted by phone calls, text messages, real-life emergencies, urgent instant messages, Slack texts and crying babies.

I didn’t buy the American ticket I was looking at because I got interrupted by a phone call, and then I started cleaning the living room.  (You work-at-home people get that, right?)

Many retail abandoned-cart programs assume that customers just didn’t want the products, so they throw in incentives to make the purchase more attractive. The best emails though, take a customer-service approach, sending a message that says “Can we help?” rather than “Come back and finish what you started.”

Look at your email content to see what message you’re really sending. Does it assume they don’t want the things they carted or does it ask, “Did something go wrong?” or “Do you have questions about this product?”

SeeWhy’s research supports this customer-service-focused approach over a conversion request.

2. Think twice about incentives

I like that American didn’t automatically send me a discount to get me to come back and finish booking but that it instead offered me pricing flexibility. That tells me, “If you can change your plans, we can change our price.”

Sometimes customers do quit on purpose, because they don’t want to pay shipping, or they end up buying from somebody else, or they don’t want to create an account and you don’t give them any other options.

And then there are the crafty ones who cart products and leave the site without paying for them on purpose, just to get a discount, free shipping or other sweeteners. And that’s our fault. We have trained our customers to be patient and wait for that incentive.

Wrapping up

Dust off your abandoned-cart emails if you haven’t looked at them in a year or longer. See what message you’re sending. Is it “Can we help?” or “Finish what you started.”? Look at your creative and see where you could add in some integrations to make them more helpful and meaningful to your customers.

A little fine tuning might be all you need, but a complete update could help you redeem more carts and retain more customers without sacrificing your margins.

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