The shopping cart: Popular vs. overlooked features

As our prior post on the MarketLive Performance Index revealed, merchants need to optimize their sites to the utmost to improve performance in 2014 — especially when it comes to converting engaged shoppers who’ve added items to the cart into committed buyers. A survey of sites reveals one area to prioritize when it comes to fine-tuning: the shopping cart itself.

The importance and function of the cart has changed since the early days of e-Commerce, when featuring complementary items as upsells was considered cutting-edge cart technology. Features such as estimated shipping costs are more or less considered standard. At the same time, as we chronicled in an earlier post, the very path to purchase has changed, so that only 22% of shoppers now proceed to the “cart page” of old after clicking the “add to cart” button; on some sites, it’s possible to skip the cart altogether and proceed straight to checkout from the drop-down global cart display or a pop-up window.

But with consumer research activities more intensive than ever, there’s no denying the importance of the cart page — which we define as being the page preceding the first step of checkout that’s accessible from the “cart” link in global navigation. The cart can both serve as a comprehensive order information resource, and offer enticements to spur shoppers onward into checkout and purchase. In short, it remains a vital decision point on the path to purchase, and one merchants should ignore at their peril.

Our survey of some 70 sites from among the top 100 merchants on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 list revealed how the biggest brands with the biggest resources at their disposal are positioning their shopping carts for maximum sales. Even among these cutting-edge brands, some information was being effectively conveyed — while some surprising areas were overlooked.

Shopping cart feature survey by MarketLive

Specific contrasts that caught our eye:

Shipping vs. promo codes vs. tax. Merchants are rightfully catering to consumers’ obsession with shipping. As we’ve detailed on numerous occasions before, shipping costs are the prime cause of purchase abandonment, while free shipping promotions are by far the most popular discount shoppers seek, especially during the crucial holiday season.

As a result, merchants are doing well when it comes to using the cart to convey shipping costs and free shipping opportunities. Close to three-quarters of the carts we viewed include an estimated shipping cost, while 60% display the free shipping threshold, free shipping promo codes, or even the amount shoppers should add to meet the threshold.

Fewer merchants, however, back up these two key pieces of information with a description of timeframes for each tier of delivery service; just 54% list the options or even link to them via a popup window. While that’s still over half, there are plenty of carts displaying shipping costs without letting shoppers know what, exactly, the charge buys them. More merchants, 56%, are enabling shoppers to enter promo codes and view the associated discounts in the cart — a welcome feature, but one that serves just a subset of shoppers. Shipping, by contrast, is a universal concern, and one merchants should address with details that should be relatively straightforward to display.

Similarly, whether sales tax will be assessed is a question affecting every potential order — yet just 43% of merchants display this information, with most sites stating tax will be calculated iin checkout (or, worse, failing to mention it at all). While implementing estimated tax by ZIP code within the cart requires more technological moxie than displaying a table of shipping timeframes, the information is a crucial component  of the total order costs, and therefore should be a priority.

Convenience boosters vs. basic customer service vs. in-store shopping support. The good news is that merchants are responding to shifting consumer behaviors and implementing key features that smooth the path to purchase, especially across touchpoints. We’ve long recommended implementation of alternative payments, as they’re increasingly popular (and downright crucial when it comes to mobile). So it was a relief to see the sites we surveyed positively festooned with alternative payment buttons, with close to 60% of merchants highlighting the availability of Paypal or another service enabling shoppers to skip entry of credit card data and other checkout steps.

Similarly, it was gratifying to see that more than half of merchants enable transfer of items from the cart to the wish list or other repository of saved products. This functionality not only caters to researchers who would otherwise use the cart — and likely abandon it at some point in their travels — but it signals an attempt to cater to cross-touchpoint activity, such as researching online and then looking up products selected earlier via smartphone while in-store to complete purchases.

But when compared with the startlingly low percentage of merchants displaying the most basic customer service information, these innovations seem like putting the cart (as it were) before the horse. Fewer than half of merchants displayed an 800 number or chat link within the main cart content area (as opposed to in global navigation) — and less than 40% included links to product guarantees or information about returns, information consumers deem crucial to the purchase decision.  As with delivery timeframe details, this information requires little technical prowess to incorporate, and should be a priority for every merchant to display at the cart level.

Similarly, while not every merchant can offer site-to-store shipping, it’s relatively easy to provide a “print cart” link so that shoppers can carry product information with them — and yet fewer than one in five merchants offer it.

The upshot? When it comes to optimizing the cart, there’s some low-hanging fruit even the largest merchants have yet to seize — and small- to mid-sized merchants should follow suit. In an upcoming post, we’ll survey how the cart experience appears on mobile devices. But meantime, tell us: what cart features do you deem essential, and which are merely nice-to-haves?

Performance Index: Cyber Monday week sees major gains

As the short holiday season hits the halfway mark, the news is encouraging for specialty and niche merchants. According to weekly data from the MarketLive Performance Index, Cyber Monday and the week that followed continued the Thanksgiving weekend trend of increased traffic and improved performance metrics, driving overall revenues 32% higher compared with the same week last year.

Furthermore, the data suggests that even amidst heavy discounting, merchants are making strong gains. For one, while traffic for December 2 – December 9 grew by 17%, revenue grew even more substantially, suggesting that individual buyers are purchasing more than last year.  The conversion rate increased by 2.4%. Meantime, the average order size compared with last year held steady, suggesting merchants are successfully wooing shoppers without necessarily discounting steeply.

MarketLive Performance Index data

The only performance challenge merchants face is with the add-to-cart rate, which plummeted nearly a full percentage point, by more than 8%, compared with the prior week. With offers flying fast and furious, shoppers are comparison shopping and waiting for the right deal to entice them to finalize purchases. While overall the add-to-cart rate for the season is up by 11.3%, merchants should redouble their efforts to convert shoppers to buyers. Among the quick tactics to try:

Promote limited-time offers beyond the obvious spots.  Merchants should include notices about free shipping offers or price discounts in the cart, whether via a global banner or a promotional fill slot. But even before shoppers reach that milestone on the path to purchase, merchants should flag promotions and direct shoppers to relevant information. Locations to consider include:

  • The drop-down global cart. As we’ve noted previously, graphics or images in motion are more likely to capture our attention than static site content, so including promotions in this automated display stand a better chance of being seen.

  • In secondary navigation. When used, a left-hand column usually exposes the depth of products on offer, whether via  a detailed sub-category list or by using a guided-navigation-style list of attributes shoppers can access to resolve problems. But it’s also an opportunity to reiterate the latest promotion and its end date, so that shoppers can access details from wherever on the site they roam.

  • On product pages. With consumers increasingly accessing eCommerce sites via interior pages after being directed there from search engines, it’s crucial for merchants to feature deals right alongside product content.MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange highlights current discounts in red on the product page, calling out the free shipping thresholds and “deal of the week” merchandise.

Promotion example from Armani Exchange

Fine-tune triggered emails. As we’ve reported previously, nearly three-quarters of merchants don’t yet have a triggered email program in place to attempt to recapture sales after consumers leave the site.  While it’s too late to institute such a program from scratch right now, merchants with existing abandoned-cart triggered emails should consider revamping them slightly. The messages should include:

  • Plenty of product content. Merchants should incorporate more than just the image of the product the shopper left in the cart, but should take the opportunity to provide a longer product story. A comprehensive description, paired with how-to videos demonstrating usage and even a buying guide matching the product category, can win over hesitant shoppers by helping them envision how the product might fit or feel.

  • Abundant customer service links. Merchants should put contact information front and center in cart-recovery messages, with links to product guarantees and delivery timelines that help shoppers what they need.

  • Social connectors. The ability to connect to communities of followers on social outposts may help shoppers find lifestyle content that convinces them to commit to a purchase from the brand.

Clothier French Connection puts it all together in its cart abandonment email. In addition to displaying a picture of the abandoned item and the means to link directly to checkout, the message includes a sizable section describing customer service and displaying contact information. A series of links at the bottom of the message directs shoppers to connect via social media.
Abandoned cart email from French Connection

What tactics are you using to drive continued engagement through the holiday season?

Webinar preview: Reducing cart abandonment in an omni-channel world

As the holiday season revs into high gear, it’s sobering to recall that more than two out of three potential eCommerce transactions will not be completed. Cart abandonment is higher than ever, with 70% of shoppers exiting sites after selecting items for potential purchase, according to third-quarter data from the MarketLive Performance Index.

The reasons for such a high abandonment rate are more complex than ever. Far from representing a leak at a single point in the linear “purchase funnel,” abandonment is a reflection of the challenges facing merchants as they attempt to present relevant offers and products to consumers across a growing array of touchpoints. During this holiday season alone, 80% of shoppers say they plan to shop on two devices at once, and 84% say they’ll start shopping one one device and finish the transaction on another, according a Google/Ipsos survey; nearly half of smartphone owners say they plan to use their devices to research prices and then purchase in a physical store. When it comes to abandonment, such a bevy of potential touchpoints looks less like a funnel than a sieve.

But the good news is that the very multiplicity of touchpoints that complicate merchants’ strategies can also be a boon to closing sales — giving brands more opportunities than ever to engage (or re-engage) shoppers and convince them to purchase. On Friday, MarketLive Founder and CEO Ken Burke will deliver a webinar hosted by the Association of Strategic Marketing on tactics to combat abandonment, with a focus on how best to marshal myriad touchpoints to convince shoppers to complete purchases. Among the topics Burke will discuss:

Email techniques for recapturing sales. Triggered email messages to cart abandoners can be effective, with click-through rates above 14% and purchase rates after click-through of more than 42%, according to real-time marketing firm Triggered Messaging. But while the percentage of merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 1,000 who send post-abandonment emails has grown,  three in four merchants still fail to do so , according to marketing firm Listrak. Burke will examine not only why this practice is so important, but also the ideal messaging content and timing.

Social media as a bulwark against abandonment. Social media’s reputation as an experimental touchpoint with no tangible ROI is quickly becoming outmoded. Increasingly, merchants are harnessing the power of social networks to create highly engaging communities, where shoppers can gather around lifestyle topics and related products. By integrating social interaction throughout the shopping experience, merchants can keep consumers engaged and encourage purchase completion.

Much more is in store for the webinar, so register today and tune in Friday at 10 a.m. PST. Meantime, what tactics are working for you to stave off holiday abandonment?

Pre-empting the craze for free holiday shipping

The importance of free shipping promotions for the upcoming holiday season can’t be overstated, as new data from measurement firm comScore demonstrates. While merchants are well aware that free shipping is shoppers’ top-sought discount, it’s still impressive to see just how thoroughly the availability of free shipping — or lack thereof — affects purchase outcomes. To begin with, fully 51% of eCommerce transactions in the second quarter of this year involved free shipping — and the holiday season will likely see that percentage surge even higher.

Data on free shipping from comScore

Additionally, two of the top five reasons for abandoning carts are directly related to free shipping: 48% of comScore survey respondents who’ve abandoned carts said they did so because no free shipping was offered, while 45% said purchases stalled when their orders failed to qualify for the free shipping threshold.

Some larger mass merchants have responded to consumers’ demand for free shipping by lowering or even eliminating altogether the threshold for qualifying for the discount. For most merchants, though, the cost of offering free shipping across the board is too great of a burden to bear.

The good news is that consumers are willing to consider alternate routes to free shipping. And with six weeks still to go in the third quarter, merchants have time to promote these services in an attempt to pre-empt the mad rush for free shipping discounts once the peak holiday buying period begins. Consider these strategies:

Showcase the shipping benefits of loyalty club membership. Nearly half of all consumers have signed up for a retailer rewards or loyalty program, according to the comScore report, and 10% have committed to a paid membership that delivers an array of perks, with free shipping usually chief among them. Additionally, more than one in five consumers say they would consider paying for such a program — suggesting there’s an opportunity for merchants to devise and market meaningful incentives for their target audience.

As discussed in a previous post, blanket free shipping needn’t be the default for rewards club members. But the perception that free shipping is just as available without membership is a key reason consumers avoid loyalty programs, according to the comScore study: 42% of those who wouldn’t pay to join a rewards club say they can get free shipping anyway. So merchants should ensure that club members get the best possible shipping deal at all times — and that may well include holiday free shipping or free upgrades to expedited delivery. And they should explicitly and prominently highlight those shipping benefits in their loyalty club promotions, so shoppers know members get access to discounts found nowhere else.

Road Runner Sports promotes its VIP program with global banners on the eCommerce site and a dedicated page on Facebook, along with a YouTube video that promotes “free shipping every day” and “warp speed” expedited order fulfillment offered to members.

Loyalty club example from Road Runner Sports

Highlight free site-to-store options. More than half of all consumers have used “ship-to-store” services when shopping online, and 38% report selecting that option because it’s free, comScore found. Merchants who have physical store outlets and offer site-to-store services should therefore highlight availability as the holiday season approaches, letting shoppers know they have an alternative to shipping fees.

Ace Hardware promotes its free store delivery service in a global banner, then reiterates the message on product pages. Shoppers checking availability can view whether an item is currently in-stock or, if not, how long delivery to the local store will take.

Free site to store shipping example from Ace Hardware

Reach out to cart abandoners. Since the lack of free shipping and the inability to reach a free shipping threshold are top reasons for cart abandonment, merchants should reconnect with these would-be customers and entice them back to the site with ways to save. Rather than automatically offering a free shipping discount for order completion, though — which might “train” users to abandon carts — merchants should consider alternative messaging, such as:

  • sending an abandoned cart reminder displaying the items left behind, along with complementary items that would bring the order total to above the free shipping threshold.

  • triggering a message to recent cart abandoners the next time a site-wide free shipping offer is, indeed, in effect.

  • promoting free site-to-store delivery services.

  • offering an alternate discount or a gift with purchase.

MarketLive merchant Totes/Isotoner follows up with cart abandoners via  a series of emails, the last of which offers a 10% discount for order completion.

Cart abandonment example from Totes

How are you gearing up for the onslaught of free-shipping-seekers this holiday season?

Webinar recap: Three ways to take email to the next level

Last week’s webinar on optimized email presented a range of strategies, but one clear theme emerged: merchants must do more to move beyond the “bast and blatch” mentality and boost relevance of messaging — and doing so needn’t involve complex, resource-intensive processes.

The webinar detailed how email continues to be an ROI winner for merchants, garnering a whopping $40.56 per dollar spent, according to the Direct Marketing Association. But that number has dropped 22% since 2006, and is forecast to drop even more in the coming year — suggesting that merchants must do more if they want to reverse the trend.

The webinar revealed that there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit still to be plucked. As our preview post mentioned, fewer than one in five retailers even cull bounced email addresses from their lists — suggesting that for many merchants, even very basic improvements may reap stronger performance. Winning strategies needn’t require a technology overhaul or increased staff resources to execute sophisticated personalized messages. Just three of the simple ways the webinar suggested stepping up email finesse:

Let shoppers self-segment on signup. According to industry researcher Forrester, just 6% of merchants use the email signup page to allow shoppers to self-select topics or categories of interest — and yet this method is among the simplest for boosting relevance of messaging. Rather than needing to cull behavioral data from analytics, merchants can simply ask up front for some guidance. The key is to strike a balance, labeling clearly that it’s optional for shoppers to indicate their gender, geography, favorite product categories (such as cycling or camping for an outdoor outfitter) or interest in sale items; otherwise, would-be subscribers who don’t want to share such information might be put off.

Old Navy makes tailoring email content easy by presenting subscribers a streamlined set of options on the thank you page immediately after signup. Subscribers can select what categories of apparel interest them based on gender and age, and can opt to supply their birthdays to receive a special discount. They can also navigate away from the page without taking further action.

Email segmentation example from Old Navy

Treat loyalty club members like VIPs — and let everyone else know what they’re missing. Subscribers who are members of the brand’s loyalty or free shipping club should receive targeted messages that take into account their special status. These tailored promotions are proven to earn results, with a 40% higher open rate, a 22% higher click-through rate, and 11% higher revenue per email than non-targeted email content, according to Experian.

Furthermore, messaging about the loyalty club to non-members using a “show, don’t tell” approach — displaying the potential savings and benefits to the general list — is also a winning technique, garnering a 25% lift in revenue per email than non-loyalty content, Experian found. Footwear retailer Nine West spotlights the opportunity to earn double points on shoes from a particular manufacturer, and also includes a free shipping offer and a discount to entice purchase.

Segmentation example from Nine West

Institute an abandoned cart recovery plan ASAP. As discussed in an earlier post, emails sent to shoppers who abandon their carts before completing purchases are effective and can be automated — and yet the percentage of merchants using this triggered-email program is shockingly low. Fewer than 1 in 5 of the largest merchants in the Internet Retailer 500 use abandoned cart emails, and fewer than 1 in 10 of medium-sized merchants in the Internet Retailer Second 500 do so, according to Listrak. With cart abandonment rates still hovering above 50%, recovering even a small percentage of these sales could make a huge difference to the bottom line — so it’s crucial for more merchants to institute a triggered email program as soon as possible.

For more strategies and examples, download the webinar replay. Meantime, what simple but effective email tactics have worked for you?

Target researchers to combat cart abandonment

We all know that shipping costs are a huge contributor to cart abandonment.But many shoppers also abandon carts because they simply don’t intend to buy in the first place, according to recent data from online measurement firm ComScore.

As presented below in an infographic by local shopping services provider Milo, shipping costs take second place to research as the top reasons shoppers abandon carts, with 57% of consumers saying they place items in the cart even when they’re just just window shopping and 56% saying they use the cart to save items for later.

Research on abandoned shopping carts from ComScore in an infographic by Milo

Concerns about shipping expenses round out the top five reasons shoppers abandon carts, so clearly merchants should still fine-tune their shipping policies, spotlight delivery timelines and offer free shipping discounts during the upcoming holiday season. But the data suggests merchants should also cater to the research-oriented shopper who may not buy on an initial visit — but could be convinced to finalize the sale soon online or in a store. To do so, consider a two-pronged approach: assist research behaviors while at the same time highlighting incentives to buy immediately. Try these tactics:

Streamline the wish list. The fact that shoppers are using the cart, rather than the wish list, to save items for later suggests that wish list features are too much of a hassle to use. Merchants almost always require shoppers to register for an account before setting up a wish list — but technically, there’s no reason to do so; items could be saved to a wish list the same way items remain in the cart for a set amount of time between visits. Apparel merchant Abercrombie & Fitch allows shoppers to save items to a wish list with comments, to email the list to a friend and to share it socially — all without forced account creation.

Wish list example from Abercrombine & Fitch

Spotlight research-oriented cart features. If toying with wish list functionality isn’t feasible, then consider making explicit to shoppers the fact that their items will be saved in the cart using a “save for later” link. Similarly, consider offering a printer-friendly version of the cart contents so that shoppers can take the list with them to physical store locations. Manufacturer Dell allows shoppers who have stepped through the process of customizing a computer’s components to save the information, explicitly stating that unsaved carts will expire in 30 minutes, as well as to print the cart or email it for future reference.

Shopping cart example from Dell

Highlight urgency. If an item in the shopper’s cart is sought-after and going fast, flag it to give them incentive to buy now. Similarly, if items need to be ordered soon for delivery in time for a key date or because they require special handling, spotlight the message in the cart so shoppers are aware of the contingencies and can act immediately.

Incorporate free shipping messaging. Free shipping is the top incentive merchants can offer to spur purchase completion, so let shoppers know what it would take for them to get it. Use a banner at the top of the cart content to message current shipping promotions or, if your technology allows it, display exactly how much more shoppers need to add to their carts to qualify for the discount. Backcountry.com displays a free shipping offer, how much more the shopper needs to add to the cart to qualify — and even spotlights recently viewed items to spur an extra cart addition.

Cart example from Backcountry.com



What cart tactics have worked for you to spur purchasing — whether on the spot or on subsequent visits?

Winning sales from abandoned carts, 3: Email best practices

In the past couple of posts, we’ve looked at how techniques on the eCommerce site and retargeting advertisements can recover sales from visitors who’ve abandoned their shopping carts — a potentially lucrative audience that includes 88% of U.S. consumers, according to industry researcher Forrester.

But the most commonly-known technique for reconnecting with cart abandoners is via email — with merchants sending follow-up reminders to shoppers to entice them back to the site and complete their purchases. Although well understood, this tactic still isn’t widely-used: a recent study by email services firm Listrak found that just 18.5% of merchants in the Internet Retailer 500 — that’s less than 1 in 5 — use email to reengage with cart abandoners. The number is even lower for merchants in Internet Retailer’s Second 500 ranking of smaller merchants, Listrak found — just 10.7%.

For merchants who do deploy cart-abandonment recovery campaigns, the payoff can be significant. Food purveyor SmileyCookie.com reported recapturing 29% of abandoned carts — nearly 1 in 3 — with a targeted series of three emails. And remarketing services company SeeWhy found that abandonment email campaigns recover more than 20% of sales on average, and generate a whopping $17.90 per email sent — much higher than typical non-targeted email promotions.

With results like that, merchants should make deploying cart recovery emails a top priority for 2012. To implement effective an effective program, consider these tactics:

Collect email addresses early, but avoid forced account creation.
In order to send cart abandoners a targeted email enticing them back to the site, merchants need to have captured their email addresses in the first place. Increasingly, merchants are attempting to collect addresses via forced account creation — but with 14% of shoppers reporting that a lack of guest checkout drove them to abandon carts in the first place, according to Forrester,  we don’t recommend resorting to such extremes. Instead, use subtler methods to capture this information:

  • Link abandoned carts to email subscribers. Use behavioral tracking technology to flag when a shopper who’s signed up for email updates, then goes on to abandon a shopping cart.
  • Ask for an email address in the very first step of checkout, and explain why. Collect an email address on the initial checkout screen, and clearly state it will be used to contact shoppers if there is a question about their order. Include links to privacy information to boost trust, as Walmart does on the first step of guest checkout.

Email collection example from Walmart

Send a reminder immediately, then follow up.
Fully 54% of cart abandoners who intend to buy will do so in the first 24 hours after leaving the site, SeeWhy found. Another 10% will act within 48 hours; within a week, 82% of those who intend to buy will have pulled the trigger. With the gains after the first 24 hours being incremental, it’s crucial to trigger follow-up emails promptly — sending the first within an hour or two of cart abandonment and the second within a day.

In the case study cited above, SmileyCookie.com sent its first email within 30 minutes of abandonment; the second 23 hours later; and the final message four days later. The first email garnered the highest open and click-through rates.

Message content: don’t default to a discount …
When sending shoppers abandonment email offers, the temptation is strong to offer a discount, such as free shipping, to help close the sale. But such immediate payoffs can “train” shoppers to abandon carts in anticipation of a discount. Instead, experiment with the following messaging:

  • Stress service and convenience. With 11% of cart abandoners reporting they found the checkout process confusing and 10% saying they didn’t have enough information to complete their purchases, offering customer service assistance is a smart strategy to win sales.
    • Phrasing such as “can we help you complete your order?” puts the emphasis on service.
    • Include email, phone and live chat options as available.
    • Spotlight available alternative payment methods such as Paypal, which can save time in checkout.

Sears sends abandoners a service-oriented message that displays how shoppers can “buy your way” (via phone or using a personal online shopper), “pay your way” (using alternative payments), and “deliver your way” (with site-to-store and home delivery options) — thereby addressing a series of potential checkout stumbling blocks.

Abandonment follow-up email from Sears

  • Give shoppers product alternatives. Many cart abandoners are “window shopping” by adding items to the cart, without necessarily being enamored enough of the chosen product to commit: Forrester found that 24% of abandoners added items to the cart just to be able to consider them later, and 41% weren’t ready to purchase. So give these ambivalent shoppers a sampling of alternative products that might better suit their needs, as Urban Outfitters does in the message below, showing not only the abandoned item but others “you may also like.”

Abandonment follow-up email from Urban Outfitters

… but do clearly reiterate standard promotions.
If you normally offer free shipping above a threshold, or free site-to-store delivery, do spotlight these policies in your abandonment messaging; cart abandoners may have missed such offers while shopping the eCommerce site, and a prominent reminder of potential savings can trigger them to return and commit to buy.

In the examples above, Sears highlights the availability of free site-to-store delivery, while Urban Outfitters reminds cart abandoners that shipping is free with a purchase of $150 or more. Neither merchant is creating a new discount to lure abandoners back — merely restating sitewide policies the recipients may have forgotten since leaving the site.

For more examples of abandonment emails, view Listrak’s Abandonment Look Book. What messaging and timing strategies have worked for your brand to recapture abandoned carts?

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?

Winning sales from abandoned carts: on-site techniques

For all the progress online merchants have made in recent years winning new customers and growing revenue, one metric refuses to budge: cart abandonment.

According to industry researcher Forrester, in 2010 fully 88% of shoppers reported abandoning a shopping cart without completing the transaction — the same percentage as in 2005. And quarterly MarketLive Performance Index data for the past two years shows that progress on cart abandonment is mixed, with merchants seeing improvements of less than 5% year-over-year, depending on the quarter, and never dipping below 50%. In the first quarter, year-over-year abandonment has actually risen — suggesting that seasonal deal-hunting will make the next few months particularly challenging for merchants combating abandoned carts.

MarketLive Index data on cart abandonment

These shoppers are potentially low-hanging fruit: after all, they’ve already found their way to your site, and they’re interested enough in products to place them in the cart in the first place. In some cases, they’ve even started the checkout process before stalling out or leaving the site.

Merchants have been slow to pursue these almost-customers. Fewer than 20% of Internet Retailer’s Top 1,000 merchants pursue cart abandoners with email campaigns, email service provider Listrak found, while Forrester found that just 7% of merchants use remarketing, also known as retargeting — a genre of display advertsing that targets shoppers as they browse elsewhere with reminders about the products they viewed on your site.

But with the continued focus on effective use of tight marketing budgets, 2012 may be the year when abandoned carts get serious attention. And the good news is that merchants have a number of tools they can use to win back cart abandoners — not just email.

For starts, there’s plenty merchants can do while shoppers are still on-site to help them  return to the path to purchase. Consider the following tactics:

Use dynamic messaging to promote free shipping qualification thresholds. Shipping costs remain the number one barrier to order completion, Forrester found, with 44% of consumers saying they abandoned their carts because shipping costs were too high and another 27% saying shipping costs were revealed too late in the checkout process.

Not only should shipping costs be accessible in the cart — and even on the product page — but merchants should take a further step and message shipping promotions prominently as shoppers add items. Amazon.com calculates how much more shoppers need to add to qualify for free shipping and messages the amount in the cart.

Dynamic free shipping message on Amazon

Even if you can’t dynamically promote the amount needed to qualify for free shipping, position shipping messages so shoppers can’t miss them, regardless of how they deviate from the path to purchase. Just a few places to flag shipping promotions

  • On product pages
  • In the drop-down display of the global shopping cart, as Macy’s does with its banner featuring a promotional code

Free shipping promotion in the global cart from Macys

  • In global banners at the top of the center content area
  • In the shopping cart
  • At the beginning of checkout

Assuage privacy fears. Forrester found that 12% of shoppers abandoned carts because sites asked for too much information, while 14% balked at setting up an account with a password in order to be able to purchase. As discussed previously, we don’t recommend forced account creation in most cases; but merchants should go further to ensure shoppers don’t abandon purchases because of privacy concerns.

  • Examine analytics for checkout pages to determine where shoppers drop out. Identify the roadblocks and then alter those checkout steps to improve the flow.
  • Message privacy and security prominently throughout. Include certification badges from third-party providers and links to the site’s privacy policy, along with reassuring customer service information such as product guarantees.
  • Offer alternative payments. Services such as PayPal or Bill Me Later are widespread, with nearly 60% of merchants in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 offering at least one type of alternative payment. These services are not only quick, but enable shoppers to skip entering credit card information on individual merchant sites — thereby boosting confidence that their data will remain secure.

Trigger proactive live chat to re-engage stalled shoppers. Fully 57% of consumers said they’re likely to abandon their purchases if they don’t find quick answers to product questions, and 44% said the ability to get live help while browsing a site is crucial, according to Forrester. Merchants can address these needs at crucial points on the path to purchase using proactive chat sessions, where a chat window opens and invites potential customers to ask questions. Dell triggers a proactive chat window if shoppers perusing laptop options become inactive on a page during the configuration process.

Proactive chat example from Dell

 

The trick is to exercise discretion. Forrester found that despite the desire for instant answers and live help, 71% of consumers also said they prefer to initiate live chat help on their own. Start conservatively by triggering proactive chat if shoppers

  • stall for a specified length of time on a product page or the shopping cart page
  • begin checkout but then either stall or backtrack to another part of the site
  • browse customer service pages for a specified length of time

For more chat best practices, see the post “Three Key Live Chat Strategies.”

Consider dynamic personalization to serve targeted offers. Services that empower merchants to target shoppers using past purchase history in combination with site behavior can be powerful allies in the fight against abandonment. Some services can even tailor site offers based on shoppers’ current browsing session — enabling merchants to target top loyal customers who hesitate during checkout with a free shipping offer in real time, or to offer a price guarantee to first-time buyers who’ve stalled on a particular product page.

In coming posts, we’ll examine strategies for combating cart abandonment once shoppers have left the site — but meantime, what tactics are you using to win cart abandoners?