Winning sales from abandoned carts, 2: Retargeting

As discussed in the prior blog post, there’s huge sales potential in the pool of shoppers — 88% of all U.S. online consumers — who report having abandoned an online shopping cart without completing a purchase. While most merchants have been reluctant to pursue cart abandoners so far, the ongoing need to target marketing for maximum results means that 2012 may see renewed focus on this audience segment — and the good news is that the latest marketing tools make it easier than ever to reconnect with shoppers and serve them irresistible offers.

One of the most powerful such tools is retargeting, also called remarketing. Broadly, retargeting refers to techniques for reminding shoppers about products they’ve already viewed on your site. The term can be applied to email campaigns, but more commonly retargeting refers to Web site display advertisements that deliver messages attuned to sites shoppers have recently visited.

Adroll and Google — whose display ad offering spawned the term “remarketing” — are only two players in an increasngly crowded field of vendors offering behavioral retargeting services. Most of these services rely on a cookie that tracks shopper activity on the merchant’s site; merchants define which actions shoppers can take that put them in the target pool for later advertising on other sites. For example, shoppers who visit an outdoor outfitter’s winter sports category may later see retargeting ads featuring the merchant’s top-selling skis.

Retargeting tops the list of advertising techniques in terms of boosting awareness, according to a recent study conducted by online measurement firm comScore and marketing service provider ValueClick Media. The study tracked how much search activity was generated for a brand using a number of targeted display advertising techniques, and found that remarketing produced a lift of over 1000%.

Statistics on retargeting from comScore

Retargeting can be used for all kinds of campaigns — but it’s particularly apt for capturing cart abandoners. Not only do retargeting ads remind shoppers of products, but merchants have an opportunity to use the ad creative space for additional persuasive content.

But retargeting cart abandoners isn’t quite as simple as simply displaying the product they left behind. Researchers at MIT found that less specific information can sometimes be more effective, depending on how close to purchase the shopper really was.

This finding goes hand in hand with research on abandonment behavior, which has found that many shoppers use the cart for research and abandon because they simply aren’t ready to commit. For example, industry researcher Forrester found that 41% of cart abandoners weren’t ready to buy, 27% intended to research prices on other sites, and 24% merely added items to the cart for reference later.

The upshot? Merchants need to strike a balance with their retargeting campaigns to cart abandoners, strengthening the overall brand message without overly limiting the product selection on display. To craft an effective retargeting message, consider these techniques:

“Customers like you liked these items.” Consider showing cart abandoners the product they considered — along with other items shoppers who viewed the same product ended up buying. This technique broadens the range of products on display without resorting to a generic ad. Zappo’s employs this technique for its remarketing campaigns. In the ad below, the featured shoes are products other shoppers who viewed the abandoned cart item went on to buy. The three offerings are at different price points, giving the ad viewer further options according to their budget.

Retargeting example from Zappos

Spotlight service for shoppers who tripped up in checkout.  The potential for specificity in retargeting means you can serve ads only to shoppers who initiated checkout but didn’t complete orders. For those would-be buyers, consider a branding campaign that puts an emphasis on customer service and price and product guarantees, and prominently features customer service contact information.

Discounts: proceed with caution. While retargeting ads can seem random enough to shoppers to make “gaming the system” unlikely, don’t automatically offer a discount just because someone added an item to the cart. Instead, use discounts wisely by focusing ad delivery to repeat visitors or cart abandoners whose potential order size is above a particular threshold. But while you should target the ad specifically, the offer itself can be broad, such as the 15% order discount offered by MarketLive merchant Design Toscano. Such offers motivates cart abandoners to return to the site, even if they decide they don’t want the specific items they originally left behind.

Retargeting example from Design Toscano

Are you using display ad retargeting to recapture abandoned cart orders? How effective has retargeting been for your business?

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