After years of studying the online purchasing journey, I have a theory that when making an important purchase shoppers draw up a shortlist of four desirable items and/or four retailers to buy them from.  

In her book, The Art of Choosing, Professor Lyengar reveals that too much choice renders us overwhelmed to the point of indecision – so it makes sense that we would limit our choices in order to make the decision process simpler for ourselves.

Think about the last time you made a considered purchase, such as a car, new phone or mortgage. How many different items and retailers made your shortlist?

I believe it’s no coincidence that any given market has four major players in it. Look at supermarkets: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons share approximately 75% of the market. Lloyds, RBS, HSBC and Barclays dominate the banking market and this is mirrored in many other sectors. 

If shoppers are shortlisting four retailers then three stand to lose out on the final sale. With cart abandonment rates averaging at 75%, this certainly seems to make sense. 

If, as a retailer, you are part of this final decision-making shortlist but miss out on the final sale, this is no bad thing. It’s actually a great achievement as you’ve already generated interest in your product from a consumer and they will likely keep you in mind for future purchases.

Broadly speaking there are three types of consumer: browsers, buyers and repeat customers. We’re interested in buyers: people actively visiting your site looking to buy a specific product or service.

They’re definitely going to make a purchase, and have the second highest conversion rate among these three consumer types. Providing you don’t do anything wrong, it might well be you that gets the sale.

Enter email marketing. Research by See Why found that 58.8% of traffic arriving at a shopping cart is driven there by email and additionally, 67.7% of conversions are attributable to this channel.

For an online retailer email is a powerful tool when used correctly.

Here are three quick tips for online retailers to consider when using email marketing:

  1. Personalisation is key to customer engagement. In the US a study found that 81% of customers said that receiving emails personalised based on their preferences and shopping behaviours would make them more likely to make additional purchases. More and more data is available to aid retailers in learning as much as they can about their customers, now retailers need to make sure they’re making the most of these findings.     
  2. Email frequency can directly affect customer attitudes towards a retailer. As a consumer, being bombarded by emails would make me less likely to open them, let alone make more purchases. Industry standard currently stands at 2-3 emails a week, any more and you risk annoying your customers, any less and you risk being forgotten about.
  3. Make sure that your primary call to action is clear and prominently placed within the email. Don’t let it get lost under a flurry of product images – it should be front and centre, with a clear explanation of why the customer should take that action.

It’s not an exact science of course and there are lots of factors that can affect abandonment, from average basket value to the sector you retail in. For example, the travel sector experiences abandonment rates of up to 95%. 

But by ensuring your customers are reassured and well informed at each of the ‘danger’ points, you can expect to see an increase in conversion rates. You might even start to see high abandonment rates as an opportunity.


Published 5 June, 2014 by James Critchley

James Critchley is CEO and founder of cloud.IQ. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)



While I agree with the sentiment of this email - your 3 quick tips - I am in disagreement with your suggestion that "any given market has four major players in it." The suggestion that consumers don't consider a much wider number of retailers is wrong.

Not least in the example cited you have missed Santander (who notably spend close to £60m on ATL to drive awareness), Aldi and Lidl (who have clawed market share away from 'the big 4') todays savvy online consumer doesn't in fact limit themselves at all!

Finally with regard to your 3 quick tips and principally the first 2, think robust CRM system.

about 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Hmm I don't believe this for one second. But I have the data to prove or disprove your theory if you want to write a follow-up article about it.

You say, "If shoppers are shortlisting four retailers then three stand to lose out on the final sale. With cart abandonment rates averaging at 75%, this certainly seems to make sense."

A corollary would be that an average customer who we have seen abandon her cart is only worth 25% of a "totally loyal customer", whereas an average customer who we have never seen abandon her cart is worth a larger percentage and hence buys more.

Want to run the figures and see what the actual result is?

about 4 years ago

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