Years ago when online was new, we all fretted about basket abandonment rates, convinced that they highlighted horrific flaws in our checkout processes, and we all went chasing usability as the route to reduced basket abandonment

Then we all watched our own behaviour and realised that basket abandonment was perhaps not a “bad thing”, but just a reflection of the shopping process, as you dropped items into your basket as part of the consideration process; comparing options, looking at shipping costs and delivery dates etc.

So we reached a level of calm, where we perhaps let the abandoned basket lie…

More opportunity than failure

But in recent times we have all realised that while an abandoned basket may not be a sign of failure, it is almost certainly the signature of an opportunity. The visitor who picks up, inspects and drops an item in their basket is certainly demonstrating a level of interest in the item.

Back in the old-time high-street store one might hope that an on-the-ball shop assistant might have seen such behaviour and say something like “suits you Sir”, or “also available in blue” or “on offer this week”, and converted the casual browser to a customer.

So online we should try to do something similar…

Personal service: the gift of online business

One of my passionate beliefs is that the online channel allows this village store and customer service mentality to re-emerge; re-injecting that “personal touch” into the shopping experience, that the out-of-town outlet/mall removed.

This is because the marketing systems available today are quite capable of remembering every individual they see, and speaking to them about things they (personally) are interested in, via real-time personalisation. Something that even the best assistant in a superstore is never going to manage.

Here’s a cute video explaining this idea well and it includes nice striped unicorns…

Actually this opportunity to rekindle personal service and brand loyalty has many implications that we’ll address in future blogs, but it really does mean we can react to the humble dropped/abandoned basket.

Addressing the opportunity

We have worked on abandoned baskets with our customers, and discovered some amazing results, these prove that the abandoned basket is a real opportunity to increase revenue and improve conversion.

The first step is to come to the conclusion that the basket has in fact been dropped

Some systems come to this conclusion after a fixed time. They say “if someone has not completed a purchase within an hour of dropping something in their basket then it’s abandoned”.

This is OK, except for the fact that browsing sessions can go on for an entire evening, with customers comparing brands, styles, and product options. So we have found that the right answer is not to go off too soon.

We normally wait until the visitor has stopped browsing the site for more than 25 minutes, and then target them.

The second thing is to figure how to best target them

We have tried three approaches:

  1. You can target them in the page on their next and subsequent visits. This certainly works, and in one example we looked at recently increased conversion rates for targeted visitors to 8% (against the control group figure of 7%). The good news about this approach is that you can target anonymous bag droppers this way.
  2. The second approach is to use email. This consistently delivers really great returns. In the same example as above, we saw conversion rates averaging 45%  for the targeted audience, and increased basket sizes too.

    This is quite remarkable performance. Our conclusion is that the email lingers in their in-box, tempting them over and over to return and buy – and this is why the conversion rates are so good.

  3. If you are dealing with high-value sales, then calling the telesales team into action can make sense. We have seen this work for complex items (like technology) where a well-timed and targeted call can help answer questions for the customer and make a sale. In a specific case one of our insurance customers used exactly this approach to target customers who abandoned quoting processes, and achieved a 30% conversion rate for the targeted customers.

The third thing is message

  • Really quite small offers can make a big difference. Free post & packing is an almost guaranteed winner for small to medium value products – and of course a discount always makes people feel special!
  • Don’t get too complicated. We have seen campaigns that ensure that the email contains the exact basket the customer abandoned, so they can “buy from the mail”. But, as we discussed above, if they are browsing and comparing products, its probably not the whole basket they were planning to buy – so the cost and complexity of linking basket content to email is just not worth it.
  • Get them back to the site. If you do not take the “buy from the mail” approach a well timed and targeted email will prompt them to return to the store to cash in on your offer… The side benefit of this is that the site’s merchandising might well persuade them to add other products to their free P&P basket, and so you will see bigger baskets too! (less cost and more revenue – yes please!)

Don’t train your customers to look for deals

One really important thing to remember in this process is that you are talking to people, smart, thinking people. So don’t let them dupe your technology into providing unneeded discounts, by always dropping a basket to get a deal…

If you choose a marketing automation solution that really does do proper lifecycle marketing, then it will be able to limit the offers, so (for example) you can choose to only allow one abandoned basket offer every three months, or no more than two per customer or…

Actually remembering this point is really important with all your campaigns. Something you can obtain at will stops being viewed as “a treat” and will lose its impact.

Six key points to remember

While not all abandoned baskets are equal, you really can make them work for you. Here are the key points:

  1. Don’t target too early: wait for them to finish on the site before deciding to target.
  2. Decide how to target them: in site for anonymous visitors – email for top returns – telesales for high value items.
  3. Little offers make big differences:  think about free Post and Packing or a 10% discount.
  4. Don’t get too complicated: simple messages work and are cheaper and faster to implement.
  5. Get them back to the site: simple discount codes will bring them back to the site to buy the dropped item and you will get bigger baskets.
  6. Don’t train your visitors: Use lifecycle marketing to avoid making the same offer to the same people and training them to try to con discounts out of your marketing machine.

 …and if the picture at the top touched a nerve, then why not visit the NSPCC and make a donation!