Why Victorias Secret Lost A $350 Sale

Empty Shopping BagLast weekend I decided to take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar and head cyber-South to Victoria’s Secret’s online store to spoil myself with some stylin’ sweaters. I spent over 2 hours comparing items, and shortlisted about 12.

Even though VS has a wish list feature, I admit that I used the shopping bag as a holding tank for products I like. I had two good reasons for this. I had an intent to buy, not dream, and I wanted to save the hassle of transferring wish list items to the bag.

After 2 hours, I needed a break and closed all my open tabs. I’ve been conditioned (or spoiled) by other online shopping experiences and I expected VS to remember my items when I came back. But alas, when I returned to Victoria’s Secret my shopping bag was empty! I fully had intention to buy multiple items (I had given myself a $350 budget), but my visit will ever be recorded by web analytics as an “Abandoned Shopping Bag.” Because the thought of starting over again is daunting, I just gave up.

How could my sale have been saved?

In this case, I would have come back and checked out if only my items had been held for me. Had I signed in to my account (which I happen to have from my welcome email research) there would be no problem, right? Not necessarily. About 29% of online retailers surveyed by The Etailing Group report that they don’t hold merchandise in carts (whether logged in or not). 27% hang on for 3 months, and the rest for as little as 30 minutes to indefinitely. It’s possible that I could have come back an hour later to an empty cart.

Other sites like American Apparel don’t require you to be logged in at all to save items or check out. This approach combined with a longer holding period would have saved this sale.

Another assumption I made was that I was logged in. I recently signed up for an account with Victoria’s Secret and expected them to remember me (I never logged out).

Every user scenario is different, as is every user’s mindset. But I’m not alone. The Etailing Group surveyed 950+ experienced online consumers and found that one in three are like me and assume their schwag will be saved for them.

There can be many reasons for the dreaded abandoned cart — site bugs, sticker shock at checkout, difficult site registration processes, shipping destination issues, buyers remorse or maybe your “customer” is an ecommerce blogger or researcher *wink*. Regardless of the why, every online retailer wants to save as many sales as possible. Using a follow up email can be very effective, but this means you need to capture at least an email address early on in the process.

I posted a few months ago about a Marketing Sherpa study on the importance of capturing email addresses in order to follow up on abandoned carts. The Etailing Group recently did a similar study and
tested over 100 checkout processes
From August 15th to October 1st, dropping out just before completion. Follow the link and find a number of great examples of real retailers who do the follow up emails well.

Drugstore.com Email

Here are some highlights of best practices on shopping cart abandonment strategy from the report:

1. Establish a strategy for saving items in your cart. Let the customer see right up front what your policy is. Nordstrom does this well: “The items in your shopping bag will be saved for 14 days, but merchandise availability is not guaranteed.”

2. Follow up abandoned carts with an email message. Using an image of the product in the reminder email is a bonus.

3. Send a second reminder email if the first one is not responded to with an incentive to complete the order. Ideas include offering conditional free shipping, a discount on future purchases or a gift with purchase.

And for the IT and usability team:

1. Ensure that real-time inventory messaging is found at the product page and shopping cart
2. Message cart strategy to ensure customers know when and if their cart will be cleared
3. Review abandonment opportunities
4. Understand current technology’s ability to trigger abandonment email
5. If abandonment is due to out-of-stocks, consider a stock alert capability

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13 Responses to “Why Victorias Secret Lost A $350 Sale”

  1. Trouble is, how do you get the email address early on in the shopping process?

  2. @Jack,

    When the first item is added to the cart, require an email address (in a popup?) and explain that you are asking “In case there’s a problem.” The customer can refuse to provide an email address, but just a one-field form that is quick and tells the customer WHY you’re asking is not too obtrusive, and you can ask for more information in the actual checkout process.


  3. @Linda – Hmm…never been on a site that does that. I suppose some people might believe it!

  4. I would definitely test the effect of such a request on conversion. If there is a hit, I would not do it.

    People enter their email address prior to the final checkout submit page typically. That is a natural, unobtrusive method.

  5. Linda, great post, but I have to emphatically disagree with the recommendation to send, not one, but TWO abandonment reminders.

    Users may add products to the cart without intending to check them out for any number of reasons (comparison shopping with other sites, in lieu of using a product comparator, etc)

    In these scenarios, an e-commerce retailer can easily antagonize a customer by spamming them with multiple unwanted reminders to return to the cart. And that should be at least as much of a concern as preventing cart abandonment.

  6. @Jack

    If I find an example, I’ll post.




    Excellent point. Actually that’s #7 on Marketing Experiments’ 10 Cart Recovery Techniques. Their studies have found 2-3 emails to be optimal but yes, spam is a concern.

    Personally, I’ll risk looking like a spammer if I can save some sales. You can’t please everybody. But I’d pay close attention to (and test) subject lines for this type of email.

  7. Marketers should also consider sending Site Abandonment emails, not just cart abandonment. See the ProFlowers example in my post at


  8. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for pointing out your blog. Subscribed!

    That’s an interesting example from ProFlowers…personally I would find the “would a free vase help?” offer desperate and spammy if I was just poking around a site and had no intention to buy. I see big “Pros” and big cons for ProFlowers’ approach…risky.

  9. Ravynia says:

    Why is this Victoria Secrets fault? Seems to me, you could have taken a break without closing all your windows, or even better yet, simply finish your purchase before you walk away.

    VS may have lost a sale, but the reason for their loss was actually not the website, but realistically… user error.

  10. Hi Ravynia, thanks for stopping by our blog.

    I agree with you, of course this is the user’s fault. Usability problems often occur because a user doesn’t see something, can figure out how a feature works, doesn’t read instructions, makes assumptions based on experiences with other sites and so on.

    This is a scenario to illustrate how making a simple change to your site programming can accommodate customers and maximize/recover sales. Cart abandonment is one of the biggest pains for ecommerce managers. What if this could help recover just 2% of abandoned carts, would it be worth it?

    Often people are shopping from work on their lunch break and cannot keep all their tabs open, or whatever the reason. Like I mentioned, in my case I expected the items to stay in the cart because other sites had done that for me.

  11. brina says:

    I have had the entire shopping cart contents of Victorias Secret dissaper, however logging out and logging back in to the site fixes that and makes the cart re-appear.

  12. Jean says:

    After adding items to your wishlist, you can simply select ‘add all to basket’ from your wishlist page. I completely understand your frustration, and I’ve actually had the same thing happen to me. But for one extra click, ‘add all to bag’, you could have saved yourself a hell of a lot of aggravation, AND you’d be the owner of some stylin’ sweaters. Plus, I’m not even including the time it took you to draft this well-written rant. Just sayin ~

    • Hi Jean, actually it’s the cart that wipes out after the session expires. So I still would have lost the contents. 5 years later, Victoria’s Secret still times out after X minutes.

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