What do marketers and therapists have in common?

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They both regularly have to deal with their customers’ abandonment issues.

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Across every industry, from the largest online players to fresh, edgy start-ups, every brand has its fair share of shoppers who, for whatever reason, abandon their shopping cart during the checkout process.

So if you’ve been scratching your head, wondering what’s happening, know that you are not alone! In fact, the most recent statistics suggest that 70% of shopping carts are abandoned.


It’s interesting to note there’s been a 20% increase since 2006. With more choice available, and new brands springing up all the time, abandoned cart emails will continue to play an increasingly vital role in recovering lost sales.

Why do customers abandon online carts?

This is the million-dollar question. Literally. 

If you could solve the issue then you’d generate a lot of additional revenue.

As we’ve seen, 70% of shopping carts are abandoned. That’s an astonishing figure when you really think about it. The most commonly cited reasons are listed below.


If you read the small print at the top of the chart, which I’ll wager you ignored, you’ll see that these figures are excluding a very important segment of responders! 

“Answers normalised without the “I was just browsing” option”. 

This segment accounts for 59% of the total number surveyed.

I draw attention to it because you’ll see the other reasons and the percentages on that graph thrown around online in isolation, without that crucial piece of context.

So before we dive into strategy, best practices and tactics, let’s be honest. You aren’t going to recover every abandoned cart, not even half, no matter how timely, clever or compelling the message is.

But you can recover a healthy percentage of them, so let’s get into how you can create better campaigns.

Abandoned Cart Email Strategies

As we’ve seen, for those shoppers who are genuinely interested in buying the most widely cited reason for cart abandonment is the additional or “hidden” costs like shipping and taxes.

Now, it may not always be possible to offer a discount or free shipping on every order, but it’s worth considering it for totals over a certain amount. 

A discount code sent as part of the email can certainly be enough to re-ignite the sale, but be sure to make it unique to the recipient to avoid it being shared around and used repeatedly. 

It can also help to add a sense of urgency by imposing a time-limit on the offer; “Valid for the next 12 hours” and so on.

If your brand is not in a position to offer discounts or free shipping then another tactic is to recommend similar, less expensive products alongside the original order.

You don’t need to draw too much attention to the fact that they are “cheaper”, just casually present them as alternatives.

Classic abandoned cart email tactics

  • Offer a discount
  • Free shipping 
  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Recommending similar and or/ less-expensive products

The value of customer segmentation

Segmentation has a role to play here too; the email you send to a regular customer should be different to one that goes out to someone who’s never bought from you before.

And then there are those customers who are repeat abandoners! They may have realised that if they leave their cart at the checkout they will receive a discount code or get free shipping.

By creating a segment of users based on their previous behaviour or known attributes, you are better prepared to personalise the strategy and protect your brand’s interests at the same time.

How to write an abandoned cart email

The key thing here is to keep your message very simple.

The emails have a clear goal; recover a lost sale. There’s no need to pretend otherwise or get too clever.

You don’t want to obscure the email by mentioning something else; just focus the messaging on what’s in the basket.

At the same time, be wary of a “hard sell”!

Your copy should be friendly. Think of the email as a reminder to the customer that they haven’t completed their purchase. Clearly, they have some level of interest in the items; there was something about them that appealed initially so all you’re really trying to do is re-ignite that desire.

Classic examples of subject lines include; “Did you forget something”?, “We’ve saved your basket for you”, “Your shopping cart is waiting for you”. If you can actually include a specific reference to items left behind (using dynamic content) then that’s going to make it even more compelling.

This is another aspect that needs to be a/b tested to find the right message or your customer base, so don’t be afraid to try something a little bolder. Clever puns or unexpected phrases can work very well to grab the customer’s attention.

When it comes to designing your Call-To-Action (CTA) button, we recommend bright, high-contrasting colours to make it stand out.

And again, keep the messaging simple; “Complete your purchase” or “Return to basket” are commonly used because they work!

Tips for writing an abandoned cart email

  • Friendly tone
  • Clear message
  • Include images of the products
  • Obvious and simple CTA

Abandoned Cart Email Timing

So, when should the email actually be sent? That’s a good question and is undoubtedly a huge factor in its success or failure.

As ever, it’s important to a/b test the timing of the emails.

Naturally, it will depend on the industry you’re in and the nature of the product, but we would typically recommend to our clients that the email is sent within an hour of the customer exiting your website or mobile app.

However, we advise that you test this against an email sent 24, or even 48, hours later to find the optimal time. It often depends on the size of the ticket; a customer may need some time to think about a relatively expensive product.

It’s also possible to use machine learning to determine the perfect window to email individual customers. This is called Send Time Optimisation and is based on the analysis of each customer’s historical behavioural data.

Are abandoned cart emails GDPR compliant?

The short answer is yes, but it isn’t clear-cut. Abandoned cart emails can be seen as something of a grey area. 

They represent a “transactional” message, triggered by the action of the consumer. This is as opposed to a “commercial” message, which is initiated directly by the marketer.

In this way, the email falls under the category of “legitimate interest”, which is one of the seven legal bases for processing data*. Specifically, we’re referring to recital 47 of GDPR, which reads “The processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest.”

Now, let’s be clear, this isn’t saying that legitimate interest should be assumed, simply that a direct marketing message can be justified under it.

It could be argued quite strongly that the act of adding items to the online cart is a clear indication that the consumer is interested in hearing from you about them. Personalisation plays an important role here too, as you are not sending a generic blast email to every user who has abandoned their cart.

The easiest way to both cover yourself from a compliance perspective and create a better relationship with your customers, however, is to get their explicit consent in the first instance.

Be sure to name-check cart recovery emails as part of marketing communications to avoid any confusion or displeasure in the future. 

Read more about our tips for growing your email list under GDPR.

Tips to ensure GDPR compliance when sending a cart recovery email

  • Get the customer’s explicit consent
  • The content of the email should focus primarily on the items that have been left in the cart
  • Personalise the email and avoid generic blasts
  • Include an unsubscribe button or link as part of the email.
Are there alternatives to abandoned cart emails?

Shopping carts are more likely to be abandoned on mobile devices than they are on desktop. Typically, 10-15% more likely.

Given that the use of mobile devices is growing year on year over desktops, does that mean that marketers should brace themselves for even more baskets being left at the checkout?

Not necessarily. Mobile devices have historically been used mainly to browse, but this is changing. 

It does mean that mobile-optimised email design is non-negotiable.

And it also means that you should consider some alternative, mobile-centric engagement channels to be used alongside email.

Push notifications, for example, are fantastic ways to re-engage website browsers who have never bought from you beforehand can’t be reached by email. If you have a mobile app then they are an absolutely essential tool to drive engagement and, alongside in-app messages, can be very effective ways to recover carts.

For those without an app, the good news is that web browser push notifications, sent from your website, work as well on mobile devices as they do on desktop.

Taking the next step

If you are considering switching email service providers then talk to us. We’d be happy to give you some advice and talk to you about the benefits of our industry-leading platform and service.