Many online marketeers will recognise this problem: despite filling up their digital shopping cart, more than half of customers leave without making it through checkout. Besides remarketing with search and display advertising, a so called Abandoned Shopping Cart (ASC) email program can persuade a portion of those visitors to return to your webshop and finish their order. Last year, Vodafone started a pilot with an ASC program. I’d like to share the most important learnings.

Customer centricity

The principle behind the abandoned shopping cart program is simple: visitors who leave the website during checkout and who already filled in their email adress, will receive an email. This email will give them the opportunity to finish their order. Like any conversion optimalisation process, the ASC-program moves over 2 effect-axis:

  • Increase desire
  • Decrease effort


A no-brainer, but as we soon discovered during the pilot, personalising e-mail templates increases success. Not just using a personal title, but also showing the abandoned shopping cart and auto-filling the previously entered data, can positively affect the results.

With this extensive personalisation, you make it as easy as possible for your customers to finish their order. Well executed, an ASC email can be interpreted as a service by your customers. A clear example of how decreasing effort can lead to higher conversions.

However, it’s wise to keep a generic template at hand. Despite the higher conversion ratio for personalised e-mails during the Vodafone pilot, you can increase your reach considerably when you add ‘plain’ emails. If you can’t capture all dynamic content correctly, it’s desirable to send a generic e-mail, instead of an email with missing data. That is killing.

Always be testing

A strong ASC program is more than just personalising emails. There’s a great deal to be gained by structurally testing emails. A test with two subject lines showed that Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion are of added value in email marketing as well. The scarcity-based subject line ‘Don’t miss this temporary offer’ increased the open rate by 7 percent, compared to the more service-minded default line “Is there something we can help you with?”.

This principle of scarcity was applied to the content of the email in a subsequent test. In the visuals below, you’ll see how we created a sense or urgency by changing the text and using a more striking visual in the header. This lead to a 30 per cent increase in customers returning to their shopping cart.

In this example the other effect axis, increasing desire, is used effectively. But the goal remains the same: increasing the amount of customers that return to their shopping cart to finish their order.

Timing is essential

Not just the content of the email determines the result; the frequency and timing also have an impact. To prevent sending an email while the visitor is still in the checkout process, it’s smart to wait an hour before sendin the first email. If this email doesn’t persuade the customer to return, sending a reminder can pay off.

Although the conversion ratio of the first email is, on average, significantly higher compared to the second email, the reminder still contributes substantially in absolute numbers. It would be a shame to waste that opportunity. But track pixel loads to make sure that the customer didn’t finish their order in the meantime. This prevents unneccessary calls to the customer center by customers who worry that their order didn’t come through.

Volume for impact

In order to contribute to the sales results notably, you can’t limit your efforts to optimising open and conversion ratios. You should also focus on volume. To succesfully set up a high-impact ASC-program, you need email addresses.

The amount of email addresses you can collect depends on the location of the email field in the checkout process. For instance, don’t put this field in the final step. But here again, start testing! Collecting emails isn’t supposed to comprimise your initial conversion.

This is literally what happened during an a/b-test for another customer. Bringing forward the email field resulted in a 4 per cent increase of collected emails, but it also decreased the amount of orders by 7 per cent. That’s why it’s always important to look for the right balance: get as many email adresses without decreasing your website’s conversion ratio.


By aiding your customers, finding the right dosis of personalisation and thoroughly testing your email templates, it’s possible to convert a considerable part of previous dropouts. During the end of our pilot, the conversion ratio of visitors from the ASC program was 3 times higher than the average website conversion.

A downside of ASC campaigns is the limited scalability. You can increase the percentage of email adresses that you collect by optimising, but you will always be dependent on the amount of check out dropouts.

Of course there are other important things to note. For instance the cannibalisation of organic and other campaign traffic. But down the line, ASC programming still offers a significant contribution. “A strong ASC program provides us with extra orders on an ongoing basis. An absolute must for every e-commerce website.” – Christiaan Holman, senior manager consumer online sales & crm at Vodafone.

==This post has been previously published on Marketingfacts. ==

This post was translated by Siebe Hiemstra and written together with Luuk Janssen..

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