Relevance differentiates brands as shopping peaks – holiday flash report

As the 2015 holiday season chugs along, merchants are holding on to year over year gains, even as the season’s peak period of research and comparison has brought a slowdown compared with the highs of Black Friday weekend. As shoppers come to a decision point about gift purchases, a steady focus on serving relevant products and offers can win merchants sales and widen gains for the season overall.

Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index saw revenues for the week starting with Black Friday inch upward by 2.4% on a visit increase of 22.4%, suggesting that shoppers are intensively researching and winnowing down the list of potential finds during this peak phase of the season. The week’s gains put season-to-date revenue growth at 8.3% on an increase in visits of 19.4%. Happily, total order amounts remained high, with AOV for the week up 4.1%, bringing the season-to-date growth to 7.4%.

holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

As merchants move into the season’s final week before delivery cutoff dates begin to take effect, they should continue to put the focus on value and variety with relevant offers that reflect shoppers’ past interactions with the brand. Among the top options:

Up the abandoned cart ante. We’ve discussed before how abandoned carts are now a normal detour on the path to purchase, not a dead end — and that’s truer than ever during the holiday season, when shoppers are avidly comparing their options, considering and re-considering their gift lists, and consolidating orders to qualify for free shipping. Merchants should revisit and fine-tune their triggered email messaging to cart abandoners to ensure holiday relevance. Free shipping offers, cutoff dates for on-time delivery, and services such as gift-wrapping should be in the mix along with a SKU-specific list of items left in the cart.

Make the most of social messaging. Social media continues to play a relatively small role as a last-click source of visits and revenue. But in the week starting on Cyber Monday, social sites began engaging shoppers at a higher rate than in 2014, with social revenue up 114.5% and revenue as a share of the online total up by more than two thirds. Similarly, social visits for the week rose by nearly 50%, bringing the share of total traffic up by 66%.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

The data suggests that as shoppers intensify their research, they are engaging with brands via social media and exploring the content and offers merchants showcase. Merchants should take advantage of this pattern by showcasing the breadth and uniqueness of of their offering and proactively addressing customer service questions in the social environment.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds is engaging shoppers on Facebook with frequent posts that showcase the breadth of the brand’s selection in innovative ways. A recent trio of posts included a “regram” of a user-submitted photo with a link to the featured product, notice of exclusive “friends and family” discounts for the weekend, and a timely post connected to the announcement of Pantone’s “colors of the year” with relevant products on display.  The content is varied and engaging while maintaining the focus on selling.

Holiday social example from Helzberg Diamonds

Watch for more holiday results next week, and meantime visit MarketLive’s holiday resource center for a collection of best practices and research data.

Holiday Tip #8: Prioritize relevance to engage holiday shoppers via email

Email remains the favorite way for shoppers to learn about offers from the brands they follow — but with routine promotional emails, triggered messages, re-mailings, e-receipts and transactional messages in play, merchants must prioritize to ensure they don’t overload inboxes.

The facts

Old-fashioned email still tops the list of preferred methods for consumers to learn about holiday promotions, according to the 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey. Given consumers’ preference, merchants routinely ramp up email messaging during the holidays. In 2014, volume surged from an average of 18 messages per month throughout the third quarter to 28 in December, according to marketing services firm Listrak — and all indications are that merchants will repeat the pattern this year.

holiday email frequency data from Listrak

But shoppers’ welcoming attitude toward email carries a caveat. More than a third of consumers say they’ll likely discard the majority of emails sent by retailers as volume increases during the holidays, according to Listrak. As it turns out, the willingness to engage is directly related to relevance:

  • 20% say they’re willing to accept unlimited emails from brands they follow as long as they’re focused on holiday promotions
  • 12% say the emails must be personalized based on past buying and browsing behavior.
  • 11% say the emails must make holiday shopping easier.

The action item

Merchants must hold fast to a “less is more” mentality during the holidays and focus on maximizing relevance. That may seem easier said than done; for some merchants, different systems are responsible for different types of email — for examples, e-receipts are triggered differently than routine promotional emails — making it difficult to synch efforts across the organization. Among the goals to aim for:

  • Consistently promote holiday resources across all email types. Merchants should tweak email headers and footers to feature prominent links to gift guides, gift cards, and key customer service information such as delivery cutoff deadlines, and deploy them across email services to ensure consistent messaging.
  • Within email content, personalize to the fullest extent possible. Depending on the type of email sent, merchants should include relevant promotions, along with finely-tuned content such as usage guidance for the products purchased in transactional emails. And abandoned cart emails should display cart contents; doing so boosts performance 25%.
  • Untangle multi-touchpoint mixed messages behind the scenes — not in shoppers’ inboxes. As shoppers increasingly research and buy across multiple screens, merchants should build some critical cross-checks into their business rules. Before sending an abandoned cart email, for example, merchants should find a way to ensure that the shopper didn’t complete the purchase elsewhere.

An apparel manufacturer sent an abandoned cart email picturing the item under consideration, offering $10 off the threshold for free shipping, and highlighting the brand’s purchase guarantee — all solid tactics, except that the email was received 9 hours after an order confirmation message was sent following purchase completion on a different device.

abandoned cart emailtip8_orderconfirmation

  • Be transparent about layering promotions. With shoppers potentially receiving multiple emails from a single merchant within the space of 24 hours, message content should clarify whether offers can be used in combination, and whether certain discounts can invalidate other promotions. Such transparency can help set expectations about pricing in advance.

Watch for further holiday tips through Black Friday, and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest research and best practices.

Tilting at windmills: the hopeless but crucial quest to reduce cart abandonment

In our previous post reviewing first-quarter results from the MarketLive Performance Index, we discussed the performance impact of mobile’s exponential growth and showed how it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the numbers before blaming mobile for lagging KPIs.

While in that post we specifically addressed engagement metrics, the mobile performance gap that’s most widely lamented is cart abandonment. While the 70.6% cart abandonment rate achieved via computer browsers isn’t ideal, it’s far lower than on smartphones, at 84.6%. As a result, the overall Index abandonment rate rose 1.4% year over year to 76.0% — an all-time high.


It’s easy to blame these disheartening results on the growing share of shopping visits attributed to mobile phones. But, as is the case with engagement, a closer look reveals that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

The bad news: cart abandonment may never drop, regardless of how much optimization merchants undertake.  The good news: if handled right, abandonment can become a mere detour on the path to purchase, not an irredeemable disaster.

While the shift to mobile is an underlying factor, the rise in cart abandonment rate reflects a larger trend in consumer behavior. As increasingly-savvy consumers do more research for online and offline purchases, and as they continue to shop across a growing array of digital and offline touchpoints, their journey to purchase has become more circuitous. At one time, high shipping costs far outranked all the other reasons why shoppers left items in the shopping cart. Now, while shipping costs remain the top hurdle to purchase, causing 58% of shoppers to abandon sales, that percentage is followed closely by the 57% of shoppers who use the cart to research total order costs, and the 55% who say they just wanted to save items for later.   Indeed, a whopping three quarters of those who’ve abandoned carts say they actually intend to return to the same site to complete purchases.

Closing the gap between that intent and action is merchants’ new challenge, and one that’s formidable in its own right. In this light, optimizing sites to the utmost remains crucial, but as a way to facilitate — rather than prevent — come-and-go activity, and to ensure that once ready, consumers encounter no obstacles to closing the sale.

Among the measures to deploy:

Support researchers with “save” tools. Given the rising rates at which shoppers use the cart as a research tool, merchants should adopt an “if you can beat them, join them” mentality and ensure that potential customers can easily pick up where they left off, across devices. Easing the wish list creation and sharing process can potentially divert would-be abandoners into using an alternate tool for saving items of interest. But merchants should also consider implementing an explicit “save cart” feature within the shopping cart itself, tying it to a painless signup process — ideally featuring social login — that presents a swift way to access saved items later via mobile or computer.  “Email cart” and “print cart” functions can provide further alternatives for shoppers to store and retrieve product information.

Merchants who optimize their wish lists and shopping carts for researchers should promote the amped-up features — especially a few months from now, when the holiday season begins to ramp up. In 2014, MarketLive merchant Nancy’s Notions promoted wish list creation in an email that asked, “You know what you want. But does everyone else?” The message additionally highlighted top wish list picks — both encouraging shoppers to use the tool and displaying items they might want to add right away.


Personalized remarketing email. Merchants are increasingly employing remarketing tactics to entice back shoppers who’ve left the site without completing purchases. In 2014, more than a third of merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and Second 500 used abandoned cart emails to recover sales – a 36.7% increase over 2013, according to Listrak. These campaigns are effective, enjoying an average conversion rate of more than 20% — five times higher than a standard promotional campaign.

In order to maximize their effectiveness, abandoned cart notification emails should be as personalized as possible.  Messages that picture the exact item(s) left behind in the cart had a 25% higher transaction rate than those that merely employed a text link back to the brand site, according to Experian. If possible, merchants should include SKU specific images and product details, and personalize messaging further by letting shoppers know whether items are available at nearby outlets. Regardless of personalization capabilities, all merchants should use abandonment emails to message any free shipping offers or free site-to-store services, as well as customer service contact information and value-added content related to the product or the category.

Social media for retargeting. We’ve touched before on the effectiveness of retargeting campaigns that “follow” shoppers across the Internet after departing from a brand’s Web site. While there’s a tricky balance to achieve to avoid seeming creepy, these ads can be effective — and social media presents a low-pressure way to spur further engagement when shoppers are likely at leisure, catching up on the latest news from their feeds and receptive to reminders about shopping they have yet to finish. Although less than half of marketers currently use social retargeting, more than two-thirds say they plan to increase investments in the coming year, according to Marin Software.

MarketLive merchant Intermix invites past browsers to connect with the brand by displaying previously-browsed items and reinforcing brand messaging with text that promises followers will have access to “exclusive designer pieces.”


A relentless focus on lowering *checkout* abandonment. While reducing cart abandonment may not be possible, checkout abandonment is another matter altogether. After all, by entering checkout, shoppers are signaling a clear intent to purchase, and any deviation from the path merchants lay out for them should be studied closely. To ensure the order process is frictionless, merchants should give their analytics tools a workout by creating fallout reports by device to gain insight into which steps present hurdles on mobile devices as well as on computers. In their analysis they should include secondary checkout paths, such as those for registered users and those employing alternative payments.

As we’ve written previously, checkout is an area where mobile is, indeed, lagging. In the latest Performance Index, checkout abandonment on smartphones was a whopping 59%, compared with 36.6% on computer-based browsers — a significant gap. To improve, merchants should incorporate proven best practices into their mobile offerings, including guest checkout, alternative payments and ample customer service messaging, and do their utmost to streamline the number of steps and required text input fields. Using responsive design to deliver a uniform experience across touchpoints can help merchants significantly improve mobile checkout usability.

How are you combating abandonment?

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. 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

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 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, 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?