14 Tips for Cart Recovery & 10 Emails Deconstructed

Last post we discussed cart abandonment email timing and strategies, and as promised, today we’re going to examine the content of recovery emails, using examples from the Internet Retailer 500.


Image credit: Marketing Sherpa

Dell blends a bit of urgency with a helpful, customer service oriented message. The headline “Your saved cart is about to expire” coupled with the screenshot of the checkout gives the gist of the message without the need to read any text. The copy expresses a “quick and easy” message, promising it won’t take too much time to take care of, and the customer can get “right back to work.”

Dell also links directly to the saved cart, and offers a click to call option which can track the conversion back to the email. My only concern is the click to call button and checkout graphic are more prominent than the white “Retrieve Your Saved Cart” button. Ideally the graphic would also be linked in case the recipient assumes it’s clickable.

Additional links to Subscription Center, Dell Financing, Resource Center and Services & Warranties do not compete with the main calls to action, but are still clearly visible. Links to manage email preferences, unsubscribe option and privacy policy are all easy to spot.

Dell could take it to the next level by personalizing its cart recovery emails with a first name when possible, and testing short and long copy/instructions.


Image credit: e-tailing group

HSN also creates urgency with the line “our inventory sells out quickly” – but the email has a more company-centric tone than customer-centric. The emphasis is more on “order today” than concern for the customer – something Dell did well.

Points for personalizing the message, making the call to action clear and including a phone number and email link for customer service.


Image credit: Get Elastic

Drugstore.com creates urgency that the cart is at risk of being wiped clean, and wins points for signing off the customer service oriented copy with a personal salutation. Showing value propositions for shopping with Drugstore.com is also strong. However, the image choice should be carefully considered. The “d’oh” girl suggests the customer is doing something stupid to forget items in her cart.

This email does not link directly to the cart, there is no call-to-action that relates to the email subject line or body. Rather, there is a banner link to “start shopping.” Also, there’s no indication of how long the items left in the cart will be held. There’s a bit too much going on in this message.


Image credit: Practical Ecommerce

S&S screams “Courtesy Reminder” in the headline, and stays consistent throughout the body. “We thought this might be important to you” sets the tone. “We have reserved these items for you” makes it sound like a special service. This approach may create a feeling of obligation for the customer – if an item is reserved, it’s not available for anyone else. One might feel guilty if they didn’t respond.

The message is personalized, includes images and prices of items left in cart and is streamlined, without any distracting offers or links. Including the offer code helps S&S track conversions from this program, even for telephone completions. The free shipping offer also addresses the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about shipping charges – one of the top reasons for cart abandonment.

Great job by S&S, I actually have nothing to critique. This program has been very successful for S&S, with a 25% conversion rate and 33% of email revenue coming from cart recovery efforts.

Neiman Marcus

Image credit: DoublePlus Ecommerce Blog

Similar to S&S, Neiman Marcus does a great job with a bold headline that creates urgency, with a customer service focus. It includes images of what’s in the cart. However, the call to action “Place your order soon” does not appear clickable (pink text) and the white rectangular button is hard to spot at the bottom.

There’s also a disconnect between the image of the girl staring straight ahead and the rest of the message. You may recall from previous posts that a model’s eye gaze affects where the customer looks.

Pottery Barn

Image credit: Big Fat Marketing Blog

Pottery Barn smartly includes the address and phone number of the closest retail store, should the customer be researching online to purchase offline.
might know this from email signup information, account info, city/state entered in checkout form or geotargeting from the cart.


Image credit: Get Elastic

Cafe Press makes use of pre-header text “We’ve saved the items in your shopping cart” to give the recipient the gist of the email in a preview pane. It also has a customer service tone, personalized with the item in the cart, but it’s missing price information and messaging that creates a sense of urgency.


Image credit: ProImpact7 Blog

Cooking.com also makes use of pre-header text “Your shopping cart is waiting for you at Cooking.com.” Merits for linking directly to the cart, showing a thumbnail image, and addressing the common reasons why one abandons a cart in the text area: interruptions, checkout trouble or confusion, and using the cart as a “wishlist.”

Cooking.com also does a good job in the post script, describing why the customer is receiving the message with an unsubscribe link. This would be an especially good idea for customers who have not opted in to email, but are receiving the trigger because they provided their email in the checkout process. (Though anyone who’s initiated checkout and provided an email address likely isn’t using the cart just as a wishlist).

I’m not crazy about “Why wait?” – it sounds like marketing fluff. Rather, something that would create a sense of urgency like “your cart is about to expire” or “items in your cart are at risk of selling out” would be more persuasive.


Image credit: Minggie.com

Walgreens gets gold stars for personalization (first and last name), repeated calls to action (both a big shiny red button and a text link) and evoking curiosity with the text “some of the items in your Shopping Cart or Saved Items list are eligible for additional discounts.” Notifying a customer when an item in the cart has decreased in price, is about to sell out or is about to increase in price is a great idea.

My only critique is this email is busy – there are so many links competing for attention. Only about 15% of the page is dedicated to the real purpose of the email – the rest is navigation and secondary calls to action. Walgreens could test a more streamlined version vs this control, or work on pulling the actual cart contents into the email like Neiman Marcus and others do.

Bass Pro Shops

Image credit: Listrak

Offering incentives to complete checkout is territory you should tread carefully. Bass Pro offers a whopping $20 reward for cart abandonment (on orders over $100) – this may condition customers to simply abandon carts to get a discount every time. However, this strategy warrants testing because it may be a more profitable strategy (more incentive, higher average order value) than a reminder without an incentive. The subject line “Come back and save $20″ should also be tested, as it’s not explicit that this is a message regarding an abandoned cart.


Image credit: SeeWhy Blog

Proflowers also plays the discount card, offering 10% off an order. Including “Maybe you didn’t notice weekday shipping costs less” adds additional incentive to click through (ideally such an email would be sent early in the work week). I imagine emails for flowers should be sent as quickly after the abandonment as possible as they are usually ordered very close to the event.

I like how Proflowers merchandises its recovery email. The item that was abandoned includes a large image, full description and price after discount, along with alternative product suggestions.

14 Tips for Cart Recovery Emails

  • Craft a subject line that makes it clear the email is about items remaining in the cart.
  • Make use of pre-header text. Again, make it clear the email is about items remaining in the cart. (Don’t put shipping offers, generic copy or unsubscribe links up there).
  • Don’t be salesy. Keep your copy friendly, customer-centric and customer service oriented. Bonus points for creating a sense of urgency (cart will expire, product is about to sell out, price has dropped, etc).
  • Include contact information for phone and email (click to call if you offer it).
  • Personalize with name and if possible, show which items are in the cart along with current price information.
  • Link directly to the cart.
  • Make your call to action as prominent as you would on your website. (Big, shiny buttons!)
  • Tell your customer when his / her cart will expire (if relevant).
  • Include store value propositions, but don’t let them overshadow your main calls to action.
  • Test product recommendations. They may be effective, they may also be too distracting, create “choice paralysis” or make your email too salesy.
  • Avoid superfluous navigation, links and calls to action (don’t clutter your page).
  • Consider the emotional impact of images (like the woman smacking her forehead). A quick and cheap way to gauge customer sentiment is to submit your images to 5 Second Test, which will expose them to users who will provide feedback on the impression they give.
  • Explain why the customer is receiving the email (post-script is fine), and include an opt-out link if you plan on running a series of triggered emails.
  • Use caution with discounts and other offers – they may teach the customer to abandon every time. Some experts suggest sending incentives in a 3rd or 4th email (if you’re sending a series) to win non-responders.


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10 Responses to “14 Tips for Cart Recovery & 10 Emails Deconstructed”

  1. Russ says:

    Some great techniques employed here. How does the retailer navigate the anti-spam laws though? I’m assuming that the user has to either created an account or has given their permission to receive emails?

  2. Hi Linda,

    As always, your advice is sound. I implemented a workflow regarding Abandoned carts earlier this year, and have had excellent results.

    Our abandoned cart rate has dropped from 71% to 60%.

    We send a series of three e-mails to people who have abandoned their carts; the first when the cart has a maximum latency of 2 hours, the second 24 hours after the cart was first built, and the third at 48 hours. The 24/48 hour laps is based on our desire to make contact at roughly the same time of day that they initiated their cart (i.e. during lunch, etc).

    We use a combination of incentivized cart reminders having the incentive increase with each e-mail (10%, 15%, 20% depending on the time of year).

    Customers who use the incentive are flagged, and incentives for future abandoned carts are suspended for a period of time (configurable in the system, and changed at different times of the year). Customers who have suspended cart reminder incentives continue to get cart reminders, but without incentives (until their suspension expires).

    We do NOT send any cart reminders to customers who have opted out of e-mail.

    All cart reminder e-mail are sent with opt-out facility.

    We capture the customer’s first and last name along with their e-mail address at the first step of the checkout process (as Guest). Existing customers merely log in so we know who they are. We also use cookies to tie back into our database so customers re-visiting our site have their carts auto-loaded when they return.

    Our cart reminder e-mails are totally “apologetic”, assuming the “bail” happened because of problems. We also provide the customer with reassurance that we are there to help.

    The e-mails include images and names of the items left in their cart.

    The incentives are limited to items left in the abandoned cart at the time the e-mail was sent.

    The incentives expire in sync with subsequent reminders and express a minor sense of urgency.

    We enjoy the following conversion stats:

    72% of customers that receive the first reminder complete the sale
    32% of customers that receive the second reminder complete the sale
    3% of customers that receive the third reminder complete the sale

    We get a high volume of calls from customers when they receive their cart reminder e-mails (not sure of the %, we encourage them to call) and we use the opportunity to up-sell them, occasionally extending the expiration date of e incentive and allowing it to apply to products not left in the cart.

    Overall, the experience is great and our bottom line has increased significantly since we implemented this.

    We use this in-house for GlammaTOYS.com (results mentioned herein are from that site), and our e-commerce clients are enjoying similar results after implementing similar workflows.

  3. I like S&S email the best. It’s amazing that they have a 25% conversion rate for this email. I also like Pottery Barns strategy of including nearest store info. Great post.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article. The examples with real screen captures are excellent.

    Cart recovery is a solid strategy, but you have to be careful not to “train” your customers to expect better deals when carts are abandoned. I admit to using this approach in the past because I know it works. I simply load up my cart, abandon, and wait 24 hours. At that time, I can expect a coupon code for a further discount. I’ve even taken this a step further. I realized that abandoning a second time will get me an even greater discount.

    Merchants should be creative and test carefully. I don’t think anyone wants a cart recovery strategy that unintentionally increases the abandonment rate.

  5. Nick says:

    I think a lot of these are alright, but as Eckler said, if customers become trained to adding to cart and leaving a tab open, that they will receive 5 dollars or 10% off, they will likely do it often, and on many websites.

    I think people are more ‘sold’ into purchasing or finalizing their abandoned cart, using the drugstore.com screenshot as reference, they essentially bring the customer back to the product page with ‘free shipping, 5% back, safe and secure, easy returns’. To me this stands out more than the save 5 dollars off of 50 dollar or more order, as it’s very personal and listing reasons why to shop with drugstore.com, not why they can save money by not purchasing initially.

  6. Hi Nick,
    To avoid training customers to take up incentive simply offer the incentive to first time abandoners only, repeat abandoners then get no incentive

  7. Siebe Wolter Bos says:

    I noticed that none of these reminders offer the ‘no, thanks’ option for customers to click on.
    Ofcourse this option is the negative, which retailers seem to avoid at all cost. But on the other hand it seems like a missed opportunity. Customers could be requested to give feedback as to why the cart was abandoned in the first place or why the reminder would be unsuccesful. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to incorporate this into the workflow as a pilot.

  8. Jason says:

    I’m not sure if these comments are still active, but I came across this post looking for info about building a custom cart abandonment/recovery system. My challenge, similar to the first comment by Russ, is regarding the customer email, but not necessarily the privacy/opt in issue, but how and when in the process you actually get their email?

    Based on our checkout process steps, actually marrying the cart contents to the customer in order to email them if they bail, seems like it cant work unless they happen to have logged in from “registering” to your site from a previous order

    A couple points about our site to help understand what I’m asking…

    1. Our checkout process has borrowed a lot of ideas from the single page checkout you guys did for the Vancouver Olympics discussed here http://www.getelastic.com/single-vs-two-page-checkout/ (This was awesome btw!).
    From cart to complete I guess there are technically 3 steps/pages but the checkout is one page:

    Shopping cart page (review of items in your cart) –> Single Page Checkout –> Order complete/Thank you page

    2. So without a stepped or wizard style checkout process, which can get the customer email early on in the process, and no registration required, we actually have to wait until the customer either logs in (from registering after a previous order) or they enter their email as a new customer (the 3rd input field after first/last name).

    If customers leave the site with items in their shopping cart, but have not even made it to the “checkout”, and if they are not already logged in, then although this is technically a cart abandonment, we have no way to know who this customer is and therefore no info/email at this point to potentially re-market to them with a cart recovery.

    So based on this scenario, we can only email them a cart recovery if they actually made it to the checkout and logged in or started to fill out the checkout form. This is a much smaller percentage of actual abandonment than people who bail before even getting to the checkout process and losing the ability to remind all those who left with items in their cart seem to miss the vast majority of people we would want to email.

    Long story short. No email = Can’t recover cart!

    I imagine this issue is the same whether you have a stepped or one page checkout process. Barring asking the visitor to give us their email address on or before the shopping cart page (which seems presumptuous and bad taste), I can’t wrap my head around how to get around this issue. I feel like this issue has stopped my custom cart recovery system before it’s even started. Anyone have any tips on how to help with this or have experienced the same concerns?

  9. Sharron says:

    Hi, I found this article extremely interesting. As I am new to the online business scene I am wondering how will I know the email address of visitors to the site (not customers) All I know is that there is an abandoned cart and the article/s that are in it. Nothing else. If the customer registered prior to checking out, then I do send them an sms as well as an email But so far they haven’t come back!! I will however try to use your strategy of 3 followup emails and see how I go with that,

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