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How retailers can reduce cart abandonment rates

Rita Braga Martins, senior CRM strategist at Ometria

Covid-19 restrictions have radically altered consumer shopping behaviours over the past year. While brick and mortar stores used to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds, e-commerce is now the first point of contact for anyone looking to shop. According to research, digital sales in 2020 accounted for a third of total retail sales in the UK for the first time ever. By comparison, digital sales only represented a fifth of retail sales in 2019. 

For retailers, the growth in digital shopping, albeit welcome after the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions around brick and mortar stores, comes with challenges. For one, as people use digital platforms in greater numbers, cart abandonment rates have increased as a result. Research from Barclaycard Payments has found that shoppers abandoned £39.4 billion worth of items in online “fantasy baskets” in the past 12 months – this represents more than doubling in cart abandonment rates since 2018. 

While the rise in cart abandonment may seem like a minor problem, the increase represents a possible loss in hundreds and thousands of sales. For retailers struggling to navigate the current economic landscape, engaging with shoppers in effective and personal ways is crucial to success. One key part of a smart and engaging automation strategy is, of course, cart abandonment tactics. Turning those abandonments into purchases could mean the difference between hitting targets and falling short for struggling retailers. 

Knowing when to message customers 

Retail marketers looking to turn empty shopping baskets into sales may be tempted to bombard customers with marketing messages. However, bombardment over multiple channels about empty baskets rarely leads to results. Instead, it can cause consumers to feel overwhelmed and annoyed by retailers. In some cases, it could also cause a detrimental effect to brand loyalty, with consumers feeling that the retailer has become a nuisance. 

With Barclaycard Payments finding that Brits abandoned carts due to easily fixable issues such as lengthy payment authentication processes and high delivery costs, it stands to reason that marketers can solve the problem with a series of personalised marketing messages over email, SMS and social, that show understanding of why the customer has abandoned their cart. 

Retailers need to consider how their communication with customers plays into an overall enriching experience with their brand. A follow up email to remind them of the products they left is the natural first step. Research finds that by sending a cart abandonment email, retailers can increase reconversion rates by as much as 10%. This should focus on urgency and what was left in the basket.

However, it’s what comes next that is really critical to the brand experience. A follow up email should take into account the wider preferences of the individual, using personalised product recommendations to explore a purchase they may be more tempted to follow through on. Optimising the time and date of this secondary email is important. AI can play a role here in ensuring the individual recipient is contacted at the time they’re most likely to engage with the email.   These more rich and curated emails are therefore more of an opportunity to reflect the brand and engage the customer as part of a holistic and personalised engagement strategy.

Context is king 

Customers are used to being asked where they disappeared to – it’s a hard space to differentiate in. Retailers need to understand why consumers aren’t following through on a purchase, and whether it may relate to the purchase journey. They need to figure out whenever a customer is browsing or seriously considering buying a product.

A person with a basket with lower ticket items like a belt or socks will need less consideration time than someone with a series of expensive items such as a 4K flat-screen TV and a leather sofa. For customers looking at high value items, basket abandonment campaigns should be less about urgency and more about providing helpful content to help on the decision and highlight the value add of the purchase, helping the customer to decide in the bigger picture sense. 

For lower ticket items, marketers can rely more on creating urgency. With the item less likely to break the bank, retailers can encourage consumers to shop by cutting delivery fees and sending over time-limited discounts and bundles. If the customer is also a loyal customer, then the retail brand can drive a sale of a low ticket item by acknowledging who they are and letting them know they appreciate their continued loyalty through one-off promotions or loyalty-based rewards. A cross-channel approach is crucial here, with app notifications stepping in where email has been ignored to ensure the customer sees their chance at a reward.

Of course, retailers are keen to avoid bombarding customers. Cart abandonment should be a high priority message, given that the recipient has shown interest in a purchase, and this may mean they would see this combined with a generic newsletter as bordering on ‘spammy’. Key to conquering context in this sense is using a technology solution where the entire customer journey is orchestrated from one platform rather than using separate solutions to send messages on different channels.

As e-commerce continues to grow, a holistic, joined-up view of the customer experience is key to success – and cart abandonment tactics must be part of a customer experience that puts their needs first. Retailers that are able to send the right message at the right time will find that they are turning abandoned baskets into sales and getting an upper hand on competitors. While retail brands won’t be able to turn all abandoned carts into revenue, the process of contact should also help increase a brand’s visibility among customers in a positive way. 


Rita Braga Martins is senior CRM strategist at Ometria

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