Often when we think about email marketing we’re considering the proactive angle, such is email’s power as a direct marketing tool to drive sales. 

But it’s equally powerful as a reactive channel. How it’s used for those who are buying, or thinking about buying, is a crucial part of the purchase journey. It can be the dividing line between whether customers buy from you again, or buy from you at all.

We recently purchased items from 40 of the top online retailers in the UK and the US, marking their performance for use of email throughout the purchase journey.

Here are a few of the things we learnt.

1. Almost no one is automating email from browser sessions

In all 40 of the retailers we initially benchmarked, not one sent us an email based on a browsing session. We had to go and pick one we knew did, Alex and Alexa, just to find an example. 

This is a real missed opportunity. You know what your customer is interested in by their browsing behaviour, so why not entice them back to the site to purchase?

Retailers may use retargeting, but we know this doesn’t have the power in sales conversion that email does. 

Browsing data may already be driving your recommendation engine, but that only helps once the customer is already on site, how are you going to get them there in the first place?  

Expedia email 

2. Email for abandoned cart recovery is another huge miss

Any ecommerce business knows the tightest section of the sales funnel is the checkout. Conservative estimates pin checkout abandonment at an average of 67.45%.

That’s more than two thirds of your customers who may be saving items for later, have been put off by delivery costs or just had second thoughts. 

It makes no sense at all to just let these customers go, never to remember the item they so nearly purchased again, when a nudge with a promotional offer or one off free delivery could be all that’s needed to seal the deal. Yet we found only one in five retailers were making any attempt to do this. 

Here’s another stat: click through rate on recovery emails is around 13%, with a 36% purchase rate after click through. So with those two thirds of potential sales you’re losing, email is your best bet at bringing them back.  

Neiman marcus recovery email

3. Branding and clarity shouldn’t stop once you’ve made the sale

Use of images, clarity of information and general design (particularly mobile optimisation) all went downhill once we’d made a purchase, practically across the board. 

Only a quarter attempted to cros- sell, many were just plain text, and only one included a phone number to contact customer services. 

To a customer, this can feel a bit like you’re saying: ‘right, we’ve got your money, now we don’t care.’ It’s important to remember that this is your customer, and the purchase confirmation is a fantastic opportunity to drive loyalty while they’re feeling good about your brand.

Thank them, encourage them to like your Facebook page, follow you on twitter, send in feedback and so on. Tell them about other related products.

Finally, don’t leave them with a negative message like: ‘Please do not reply to this message’, as Joules did, below. 

Joules email

4. Details, details, details

As a customer, online shopping is fantastically convenient. You can sit at home, click a few buttons, then all you need to do is wait for it to show up. 

But this convenience over shopping in real life is sort of negated if you’ve got no idea when your purchase is going to arrive. That period between purchase and delivery can make customers feel almost nervous, a bit like you’ve paid for something you haven’t received.

Which is why it is so important to be clear with the customer about delivery details. When exactly can they expect their purchase to arrive? Where is it being dispatched from? How do they get in touch if they have any issues? 

The more detail the better here, and we did see some great examples, such as Crocs and Very. Others didn’t even give us an estimated delivery date. 

5. Bring them back

Post-purchase is another opportunity to drive loyalty and engagement. We saw 28% of retailers send an email after the process was complete asking for a review or feedback. This is a great way to bring the customer back to the site, as well as giving you valuable insight into how you’re doing. 

Possibly the biggest lesson we learned overall is that there is no substitute for great customer service.

Once the customer has left your site, whether they’ve just been browsing, left something in their cart, or have made a purchase, email is your best way to communicate with them and working on your tone and content will polish up the customer’s experience. 

You might assume that a big shopping spree like this would be fun, and it might have been had we not come up against so many customer service failures. But when it was done right (LEGO, we LOVE YOU), it made us want to buy again.  

You can see the full retailer league table by downloading the Email Marketing Through The Purchase Journey report
Tink Taylor

Published 16 October, 2013 by Tink Taylor

Tink Taylor is founder of dotmailer and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (7)

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Can you explain #1 further? I don't understand what you mean.


almost 5 years ago

James .

James ., Director, Digital Strategy & Optimisation at Personal

Great article. have been working recently on scoping cart abandonment configuration - rewards even on securing 10% additional conversion can make big changes to a business.

point 1 has certainly given food for thought on real time targeting through tracking and automation. What time delay for such automation do you believe to be optimal?

almost 5 years ago

Mike Austin

Mike Austin, CEO at Triggered Messaging

@Stephanie, #1 refers to use of browse abandonment. Alexandalexa.com use our system to send an email to people who browse a number of products but don't purchase or put anything in their cart. The email contains pictures of the products and descriptions, with links back to them, to help shoppers find them again.

It's a great technique, and improves conversion rates compared to just using cart abandonment. We published stats on this here:


almost 5 years ago

Mike Austin

Mike Austin, CEO at Triggered Messaging

@James We recommend a delay of 15-30 minutes for browse abandonment follow-up

almost 5 years ago

James .

James ., Director, Digital Strategy & Optimisation at Personal

Hi Mike,

Thanks very much.

almost 5 years ago


Jennifer Law, Digital Strategy Manager at National Pharmacy Association

thehealthcounter.com use browser abandoment email automation too. If you have logged into your account, added to your basket or just browsed they will send a triggered email after session offering a 10% discount off of your next purchase to entice you back.

almost 5 years ago

Mike Austin

Mike Austin, CEO at Triggered Messaging

Offering lead incentives may work well in some cases but will often cannibalise margin and can train customers to abandon. We recommend offering incentives in certain situations, e.g. for people who have not bought from you in the past, or for people that are known to be discount sensitive and have bought only with discount codes in the past.

I wrote a blog article on use of incentives in cart abandonment emails, which I would expect to apply here too:

Happy to chat through some ideas with you if you like.

almost 5 years ago

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