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Guest comment: Boost turnover by following up on abandoned baskets

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By Matthew Kelleher

Research shows a tiny percentage, just 7%, of UK ecommerce retailers are using abandoned basket emails – one of the most basic forms of behavioural email marketing. Yet this is proven to be one of the most effective ways to boost return on investment and generate incremental revenue.

Every retailer in the IMRG Hitwise list of top 100 online retailers was tested by RedEye in November 2010 to see how they deal with new customers in terms of engagement, abandoned basket action and follow-up techniques. The results highlight what must be the largest sales opportunity for UK retailers, following up hot prospects that are ‘nearly-customers’.

As many marketers have indicated they will be exploring behavioural targeting in the coming 12 months, the next question is how do they start using abandoned basket email effectively? It is a shift from traditional segmentation and needs to form part of the overall strategy, so marketing communications appear seamless and relevant to recipients.

Tagging your site

To effectively collect behavioural data you need to tag your site correctly from the outset. Whether that’s via your email provider, or a third party, collected data is then combined with other data to drive behavioural emails. Getting this right is key to accurate data: you need to gather the right information about the visitor and what they are doing online and collect it correctly.

Also consider your objectives – ask yourself what data do I need to collect? If it’s just basic details, such as basket abandonment, you only need to tag the checkout pages. However, if it’s more complex – looking at gathering browsing and customer information – you must tag more intelligently and consider segmenting data using customer profiles. For example, if some customers are browsing high value/high margin items, concentrate on following them up, rather than using the same amount of effort trying to convert those browsing low ticket items.


Every organisation should have their own set of rules on communicating with customers. Agree the rules very carefully in advance (and stick to them). The segments should be agreed across the business well before the data starts coming through, remember that it’s part of an overall strategy and applying intelligence to each step works wonders. If the system is sending behavioural emails to recipients based on basket or browsing information, you may not want to send them the standard weekly offers/newsletters at the same time. Don’t annoy customers – getting emails from you saying different things minutes apart does not look great.

Also liaise with other marketing channels like search and offline to create an integrated approach. Consider potential follow ups at this stage, not after the first emails have started going.

Offline and systems integration

Consider if you need to factor offline completions, as the online channel is rarely isolated. If customers phone your call centre to place orders or book holidays, can you combine all the potential purchase channels into one? While it may be time-consuming and not straightforward to setup, combining them into a single customer view is key. It’s also useful to know if you’re engaged with the customer in one medium and not another, plus it helps with channel preferences.


Consider the tone (sales vs service) of each type of message. As a given, every communication should reflect your brand values and what you are about as a business. However, if you are operating in a heavily price-orientated market, then the emails need to be selling hard; if it’s a more consultative/service-led, or high-value proposition, they need a different tone. If emails are supporting your sales effort or focusing on service, rather than a direct sales channel in itself, it needs a softer approach. Don’t be seen to badger people into purchasing.


Creative is often the biggest blocker to producing campaigns quickly, so it should be considered early in the planning cycle. With basket abandonment creative, less is definitely more. It needs to be short and concise, preferably in a postcard format, with a very clear message and call to action. With other campaigns, such as welcome emails, you will typically be using lots of creative, with messaging focusing on thanking them for signing up, and explaining what to expect. Regular campaigns may warrant separate creatives which can be used to achieve different goals. Either way, all must meet the brand perspectives.

Getting the data correct

The key with behavioural email is the data, how you hold and manage it. If you can’t get the basics right, it’s impossible to use behavioural techniques. Full stop.

Behavioural can only work effectively if the data is in one place and not moving between multiple databases. To expand beyond the basics, you’ll need a single database that is scalable and holds not just some basic site information, but a full view of online analytics – from the customer’s first click through to their repeat patterns on the site. To interpret the data, it’s critical for companies to spend time really understanding their customers’ habits and expectations.


Benchmark the competition and see what they are doing. Learn from them, they may have already gone through the learning curve so you can catch up quicker. Ensure you don’t miss anything they are doing well, but then also identify the gaps and take the initiative. Along the way, look to learn what customers expect in terms of presentation, processes, products and services, in order to slot in with their behaviour patterns.


Basket abandonment email consistently provides emarketers with their most effective campaigns, giving the highest open and click rates and generating the greatest revenue. Taking the first step is relatively easy and fast – you could be seeing the results from otherwise lost sales in just 24 hours. With around 85% of customers routinely abandoning retailers’ baskets, 2011 will be the year that basket abandonment email really goes through the roof.

Top 10 tips for abandoned basket emails

Address the reasons why someone has abandoned the basket

The top three reasons why this happens are: an over-complicated checkout procedure/usability, the price or the fact that the person was comparison shopping. Which is the most likely to have occurred on your site?

Stick to the subject

Do not clutter the email with any other messages or confuse the consumer. Short, ‘postcard’ style creative addressing the potential problem is best. Keep the text clear, detailing the reason for the email and use white space to enforce the singularity of the message.

Get the call to action right

The call to action is as important, if not more so, on a basket abandonment email as on a ‘newsletter’ format. Keep it above the fold and relevant to the issue, such as “return to your basket here” or “Have you not you not found what you are looking for?”

Don’t send too many emails

If an individual abandons five times in 10 minutes, don’t send five emails. Set a rule that the individual can only receive one abandonment email per month.

Offer help and assistance

Offer help and assistance, for instance by publishing a telephone number, but don’t forget to make it a bespoke line so the value of the extra bookings can be attributed back to the basket abandonment email.

Reinforce brand value/USPs

Reinforce the reason why the individual chose your company in the first place. Clearly and succinctly state your brand values and USPs.

Remind the customer of the product(s)

Dynamically generate the content and the product sitting in the basket to remind the consumer of what they are missing out on.

Test timings

Test the timeliness – six hours, 24 hours, 72 hours. Very often this will depend on the type of product. Large ticket items encourage comparison browsing, so give the individual a few more hours to do their comparisons and to discuss the purchase with their partner or family.

Experiment with follow-up emails

Test a follow-up abandon basket to those who don’t open, or those who open but still don’t buy.

Don’t be too generous with discounts

Finally, don’t teach your best customer to abandon baskets by offering a blanket discount in the basket abandonment email. If you want to offer free P&P or a discount, either do it irregularly (eg every third time) or only if you are convinced that pricing is key and they are/are not a loyal customer.

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director at RedEye

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