To drive revenue, the construction of cart abandonment emails requires more thought and planning in three key areas:

  1. Email layout
  2. The ideal content recipe
  3. Content hierarchy

Before delving into the above let’s first understand the size of the problem.

Cart abandonment rates

SaleCycle produced a report in Q3 2016 which found the average abandonment rate from 500 leading global brands to be 74.4%:

And for lots more stats, see this post: Nine case studies and infographics on cart abandonment and email retargeting.

Consumer behaviour trends

Part of building more effective cart abandonment emails comes in a retailer’s better understanding and appreciation of today’s consumer, their behaviours, and what’s motivating him/her to take action.

In the context of cart abandonment, there are two consumer shifts retailers should take notice of:

  1. How consumers engage with email content
  2. Behavioural shifts because of too much choice

How consumers engage with email content

In a recent survey of US consumers, Mapp Digital found 72% of respondents regularly check their emails using a smartphone instead of a desktop or tablet. This figure rises to 91% for 18-24 year olds.

Regardless of content relevancy, consumers are unlikely to engage with email content if it’s hard to read, has a poor layout, and the actions are unclear.

Here are some tips on what to consider when planning the layout for emails for smartphone screens:

  1. As a guideline, stick with a wide single column format.
  2. Respect the “smartphone” fold. Be strategic in your content hierarchy. If the content above the fold is relevant, consumers are more likely to scroll down the page.
  3. Apply a large font.
  4. Ensure the images are large enough to be recognisable.
  5. Deliver white space to set off images and copy blocks.
  6. Ensure all calls-to-action are large “finger targets”.
  7. Ensure font and calls-to-action have strong contrast against the background. Email content will be viewed in environments with inconsistent and varied lighting.

The detail behind this guidance can be found in Econsultancy’s The Fundamentals of Email Marketing 2016 report.

Consumer behavioural shifts from too much choice

Consumers can struggle to make decisions due to there being too much to choose from. Two examples of what consumers face today and how it affects their decisions:

  1. If a consumer wishes to purchase a scarf, they now have over 200,000 to choose from in Amazon.
  2. In Christmas 2015, 7 out of 10 people received a Gift Card because of this inability to make a decision.

Retailers can capitalise on the effort required to make a choice by leveraging consumer “heuristics”.

A “heuristic” is the consumer’s approach to problem solving that employs a practical method to help make a decision to assist in achieving a goal.

Essentially, heuristics are mental shortcuts consumers use to ease the cognitive load of making a decision.

What is the “Best”?

The influence of too much choice combined with this development of “mental short cuts” can be seen in consumer search behaviours.

Consumers are now searching for “the best” of things – searches with “best” in the keyword phrase have risen by 50% year on year.

The question then becomes; what digital content, presented to consumers, contributes to having him/her think a product is “the best” amongst a large selection.

There are three primary content types:

  1. Customer reviews. In Christmas 2015, reading customer review content was one of the most popular actions consumers took while shopping online.
  2. Highlighting best sellers. This is another influencer, which comes from the roots of peer review. If other people purchased a product, the inference is it must be good.
  3. Presenting products in context. This is part of a merchandising strategy where retailers are helping consumers visualise the product adding value to him/her based on their need. 64% of women who shop for apparel agree seeing product images in context influences their purchase decision.

While retailers work hard to apply these above content types on their site, there is a clear absence of this content in cart abandonment emails.

Context: Why are consumers leaving?

Gaining an appreciation of why consumers are leaving assists in the planning to build effective cart abandonment emails.

The previously mentioned SaleCycle research analysed the most recent reasons consumers abandoned a purchase based on those same 500 global retailers:

One key point to make on the above graphic is about the 23% leaving due to issues with shipping (cost/time).

Don’t automatically assume this is a consumer leaving because the delivery time is too long, or the cost is too high. Many consumers leave because this content is not visible on the shopping cart page!

For more on this topic, see this post on 12 excellent ways to present ecommerce shipping information.

The ideal content recipe

Now that we have a better understanding of behaviours and there is context as to why consumers are leaving, the focus turns to the content required to meet these varied needs.

The content recipe can be broken down into two types: content that targets heuristics and content communicating support promises.

Take advantage of the heuristics:

This content helps persuade those consumers who are “just looking” or “researching”:

  1. Email subject title. Deliver a title that catches the attention of the consumer and presents a sense of urgency.
  2. Present a customer review (or multiple reviews) of the product. If the consumer is still in research mode, this content will help.
  3. Present other content to help merchandise the product.
  4. Emphasise the product is a best seller (only if it’s true).

Delivering on a promise:

This content helps to de-risk the purchase and deals with the other reasons consumers may have abandoned the cart:

  1. Present delivery times, delivery options, and shipping costs.
  2. Present returns content. This content is highly sought after and contributes to online purchases.
  3. Security symbol/message. Present a security symbol or message (“safe and secure shopping”) to deliver confidence.
  4. Support content. Offer contact information to the support team. Some consumers simply will not purchase online no matter how persuasive you may be. This content helps facilitate a purchase for this consumer type.

The email content hierarchy

It’s great to have a content recipe to facilitate the right actions, but the ordering of this content is crucial.

Once there is clarity on the right ranking of content, the email can be built and translated across all screen types.

Below is an ordering of content based on importance and impact, and when it should be presented. This ordering is less important for desktop but crucial for smartphone screens:

  1. Brand – logo
  2. Header – main navigation
  3. Intro – in brand voice
  4. Call to action (above the fold)
  5. The product thumbnail and title
  6. Heuristic content (whatever form this takes)
  7. Delivery/returns/support content
  8. Security statement

This ordering favours the heuristic content to persuade and satisfy the pain point of too much choice. Once satisfied, the support promises provide the assurances of getting the product in a reliable timely manner.

Here are some great examples of real cart abandonment emails in action:


The ASOS email is very simple with messaging in the brand’s voice (“Don’t Forget About Me..”) and clear messaging around free delivery and easy returns.


JOY introduces alternatives to the product not purchased. This is a different approach to merchandising the feature product in a cart abandonment email and may have come from testing.


Doggyloot does a fantastic job of tugging at the emotional heart-strings of pet owners with this email.

It introduces urgency and uses great language to keep in brand, “Lots of licks, Your friends at doogyloot”.


FAB is an example of multiple content recipe elements working together to prompt action:

  1. Great email title.
  2. “Free Shipping” and “Free Returns” content.
  3. A guarantee to further de-risk the purchase.
  4. Content reassuring the consumer the product in their cart is still on sale:  “Smile, it’s still for sale”.
  5. A contact phone number which immediately activates when on smartphone screens.

These emails have their own reasons as to why they are great, but imagine the impact if there were customer reviews intermingled within the above examples. There is opportunity to do more.

In conclusion…

When considering putting more effort into cart abandonment emails, don’t think about it as “capturing a sale”. Think about it from the perspective of the consumer and force yourself to ask the following questions:

  1. What information can I provide to help a potential customer feel confident enough this product is right for him/her?
  2. And if I can achieve this, is the action clear and obvious enough on the email for him/her to act?
  3. And, if I am fortunate in that the consumer is going to make the effort of coming back to my site, is the process to complete the purchase simple and obvious?

Think like this and you can’t go wrong.