How to recover 'lost' sales with abandoned cart emails that work

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
2 Sep 2013

All eCommerce websites experience abandoned shopping carts. A well-designed eCommerce site will experience fewer abandoned carts than a badly designed one, but across the industry recent research showed the average rate is between 67% -75%.

That’s an awful lot of people who showed enough interest in what you sell to spend some time selecting products and putting them in a cart. So what do you do when they don’t complete the purchase? Forget about them - or try to recover the sale through carefully targeted emails?

The statistics above were based on established and well known online brands. The familiarity of these brands will have created higher levels of trust, which is an essential element in persuading somebody to complete a purchase. If you’re a less familiar business, your shopping cart abandonment rates may well be higher.

Online sales growth

Research shows that a well-designed and executed campaign of cart abandonment emails could recover over 5% of those potentially lost transactions. I’ll leave you to do the maths about how much revenue you could be missing out on but potentially you could increase your online sales by 10% just by tracking abandoned carts and sending follow up emails. In fact with one client we recently achieved a recovery rate of 18.6% from abandoned shopping carts just through the use of a single abandoned cart email.

There are many causes of abandoned shopping carts and we covered the most common in a recent article. Sometimes people simply get distracted or run out of time, and sometimes they were using the cart to compare prices and didn’t intend to complete the purchase at that time. Understanding the reasons why people abandon their carts helps when it comes to retrieving those lost sales. 

As always, making certain your cart abandonment emails are as effective as possible will require rigorous testing and analysis but here are a few of the main things you need to think about that we’ve found from our own tests.


For many products it seems that emails sent within an hour of the cart being abandoned deliver the best conversion rates - peaking at over 5% after around 20 minutes and tailing off to around 2% for emails sent after 24 hours typically. That doesn’t mean that all businesses have to send an email within an hour. It’s possible that people considering more expensive purchases might see this as intrusive and unwelcome. A carefully worded message a day later might be more appropriate. Methodical testing is the only way to get this right but make sure whatever you do, that you’re appealing as relevantly as possible to your customer base.

Some people advocate sending a series of emails but we find that, in practice, a single, well-constructed email usually delivers the best results in terms of completed sales and longer term customer relationships.

Subject lines

As with any email campaign the subject line is critical. What’s going to stand out in a crowded inbox and entice your customer to open the message? Subject lines can be the hardest thing to get right and you have to test them to see which achieves the highest opening rate. It might help to include the customer’s name or the product they were looking at and you might want to experiment with different tones based on friendly customer service or on creating a sense of urgency.


The emails are an extension of the online shopping experience and need to reflect the branding of your eCommerce site. They must always look attractive and remind customers of their previous visit to your site. Including pictures of the products in their cart is almost always a good idea - hopefully reminding them of why they chose the items in the first place. 

Calls to action need to be clear and prominent with the principal one being something like ‘complete your purchase’ with a direct link to the abandoned shopping cart.


Delivering the right message will also make a big difference. If you know that somebody is a new visitor to your site you might ask them whether they need some help to complete the transaction. Reminding people that they have ‘left something behind’ or that you are keeping their products for them until they are ready to claim them generally sets the right tone and provides an acceptable reason for sending the email.

Finding the right tone is critical. Here’s an example from of the abandoned cart emails we use on Gadsby that have worked really well.

The positive points are:

  • The tone is friendly and not pushy
  • The call to action is clear but in friendly language: ‘When you’re ready to complete the purchase’
  • There’s a prominent customer support number in case the customer has unresolved queries about the product or purchase. Remember, if you have a phone number for customers to contact you on then you have another channel to potentially recover your sales.
  • There’s a small amount of additional content addressing typical concerns such as security.

The secret is in understanding your customers as well as possible and targeting your message appropriately.

Great eCommerce Abandoned Cart Email

Closing the deal

Think about how you can encourage your customer to complete their purchase now rather than later. If you’re already offering free delivery then remind them of this - if they’ve been on a price comparison exercise they may have forgotten who was offering what. If you don’t offer free delivery as standard think about offering this as a special deal. You could also provide a unique discount code for a limited period as a further incentive.

Deals like this will make your customers feel special and create a lasting positive impression. They could also be the final thing that tips them over to making the purchase.

Letting people know that the items selected are very popular, likely to sell out and can’t be kept aside for too long will also encourage them to complete the purchase.

Offer an alternative

Perhaps somebody changed their mind and decided the product they selected wasn’t what they wanted after all. Again I would say, don’t give up. You could use your follow up email to show a small selection of similar products or provide a link inviting customers to view new arrivals or your latest special offers. Take the opportunity to maintain your relationship and encourage further visits to your site.

Abandoned shopping cart emails - your checklist

  • Make sure your shopping cart design captures email addresses as early as possible
  • Experiment with timing - first emails within 60 minutes are usually most effective
  • A/B split test different subject lines
  • Make your emails look great and reflective of your eCommerce site
  • Include pictures of the items in their cart
  • Make calls to action clear but not pushy and offer a direct link back to their abandoned cart
  • Consider offering free delivery or discounts to close the deal
  • It takes time to achieve the ideal content - modify, test, evaluate… and then do some more testing.