A killer abandoned cart email strategy is critical if you run an e-commerce store. By consistently convincing customers to return to your website to complete their half-finished purchases, you’ll see a big jump in sales.

Unfortunately, crafting an email sequence which entices people back to your site time and again is harder than it looks. You might get customers to open your emails, but convincing them to take action is hard for many reasons:

  • Inboxes get flooded with sales emails.
  • People are used to receiving generic cart abandonment emails.
  • It takes effort to return to a website and complete a purchase.

To research what kind of emails businesses are sending, I’ve abandoned hundreds of online shopping carts to trigger their abandoned cart sequences. After analysing these emails, I can tell you that the bar has been set very low.

With only a few exceptions, e-commerce stores are sending one to two boring emails with little more than a link back to the abandoned shopping cart.


Typical format for an abandoned cart emailExample of a typical cart abandonment email


Emails like this are extremely common and dull. There is more potential for creating engaging emails which lure your customers back to complete their purchase. You just need to put the effort in.

I’m going to take the guesswork out for you and give you an easy to follow strategy for creating your own ‘cash cow’ of an abandoned cart email sequence. I’ll also use real-life abandoned cart email examples so that you can easily understand all the principles.


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if you’re not familiar with cart abandonment emails the idea is pretty straightforward. A customer comes to your online store and puts something in their shopping cart, but leaves before completing their purchase. If you captured their email address before they left your site, you now have the opportunity to send them a series of automated emails to convince them to return to your site and complete their purchase.

Cart abandonment emails are extremely powerful because they’re a direct line of communication with someone who has come extremely close to buying your product. You might only need a reassuring word to alleviate their fears or a small discount to convince them to follow through with their purchase.


Your abandoned cart email strategy

There are 3 main phases you need to think about if you really want to nail your abandoned cart email strategy:

  1. Capturing the email address
  2. Structuring the email sequence
  3. Optimising the email sequence


Capturing the email address

Capturing the email address is often overlooked, but it’s one of the most important parts of your entire abandoned cart email strategy. Let’s take a look at two examples where emails are captured in the checkout process.

First up we have the department store Myer. When I visited their website, added an item to my shopping cart and proceeded to the checkout I was confronted with all these fields on the first page of the checkout process:


Myer have a confusing checkout process

Myer asks customers to fill in lots of fields on the same page


Talk about overwhelming! Not only did I have to enter all my details and payment choice, I also had to consider their loyalty program and think about if I had a discount coupon (many savvy buyers would leave at this point to try and find discount codes floating around somewhere on the internet).

The likelihood that a customer would get overwhelmed with all these fields and abandon their shopping cart before submitting their email address is very high.

Next up we have the online clothing store Asos. The first step in their checkout process is to enter your email (My delivery country was pre-set to Australia):


Asos capture customers email addresses early in the checkout process. This is a good start for their abandoned cart email strategy

Asos asks for their customer’s email address before asking for other information


They didn’t give me the option to get overwhelmed with multiple questions, they went right for the kill and grabbed my email address. Well played Asos!

You can take a guess who out of Asos and Myer are going to have more email addresses to push through their abandoned cart sequence. It’s a no-brainer. Keep the first step of your checkout as simple as possible and remove all distractions from your customers entering their email addresses.


Structuring the email sequence

Now that you’ve ensured you’ll have a healthy list of email addresses to start your abandoned cart email strategy, it’s time to think about how to structure your email sequence.

The major choices you will have to make are:

  1. Timing – How many emails will your customers receive and how often will they receive these emails?
  1. Offer – How can you provide value to your customers? Can you offer them a discount or free shipping? If you can offer them something, at what point do you unveil this offer?
  1. Format – Will you dynamically pull the products into the emails you send so each customer can see the products they left in their cart? (this can be simply set up with most email platforms). Will you use image-based emails, text-based emails or a combination of both?


Email Timing

The timing and length of your cart abandonment email sequence is going to depend on your product, brand and market fit.

In my experience businesses think they will be harassing their customers if they send more than 2 emails in their abandoned cart sequence. This kind of thinking is usually unfounded. You can easily validate that a longer email sequence is being received well by your customers by keeping a close eye on open rates and unsubscribe rates.

When deciding if your abandoned cart email strategy should include 2 emails sent over a span of a few days or 10 emails sent over a month, you need to think about the purchasing decision time for your products.


The purchasing decision time for different products

Purchasing decision time is largely related to the value of the product


This is a concept which pops up time and again in digital marketing. The time frame that your customers take to consider if they want to purchase your product (after their first interaction with you) is related to the monetary value of the product, their perceived value of the product and the need for the product to solve an immediate problem.

If it’s a product with a small purchasing decision time, you’re only going to have a short window of time for your cart abandonment emails to be effective. If it’s a product where people take more time to decide whether to buy, this window is going to be larger.

For example, if you’re selling luxury watches at a high price point, it’s unlikely that someone who has abandoned your cart is going to jump across to another retailer and buy an alternative straight away. It’s a big purchasing decision, so your email sequence can span weeks and still be effective.

However, if you’re selling flowers, your customer who abandoned their cart probably needs those flowers fast for a special occasion. In this case, you’re only going to have a 24 to 48-hour window where they will return to the cart and complete their purchase.

Think about what your product purchasing decision timeframe is, and structure the length of your email sequence accordingly.

Here’s an example of the email timing for an e-commerce store who sells a product with a purchasing decision time of around 2 weeks (say for example a T-shirt store) :

  • 1st email – Sent within the first hour of the cart being abandoned
  • 2nd email – Sent the day after the cart was abandoned
  • 3rd email – Sent 2 days after the cart was abandoned
  • 4th email – Sent 5 days after the cart was abandoned
  • 5th email – Sent 10 days after the cart was abandoned
  • 6th email – Sent 2 weeks after the cart was abandoned

Keep in mind this is an overly generic example. You’re going to need to play around with your abandoned cart email strategy and keep a close eye on open rates to find your ideal timing.


What is your offer and how can you provide value?

With the flowers example above, you’re going to need to cut to the chase and get your sales pitch across in an email or two. For most e-commerce stores you’ll be able to structure your offer across multiple emails.

The basic structure I follow for clients cart abandonment email sequences is:

  1. Help them
  2. Remind them why you’re awesome
  3. Entice them with an offer and show scarcity
  4. Escalate


Help them

It’s difficult to know why customers abandon their shopping carts. Some are busy people and may have just been distracted from completing their purchase. Others may have had an issue with the payment options, shipping, the UX design of the checkout or other aspects of the purchasing process.

By structuring your first email as a genuine outreach to provide customer assistance, you can remind people to return to your site and also discover the pain points that your customers experience with your checkout. Aim to have this first email go out within an hour of your customer first leaving their shopping cart.

Here’s an example from Chubbies Shorts which humorously provides assistance and a link back to the shopping cart. It’s just a simple text email, but it’s still engaging.


Chubbies first email

Chubbies use a humorous and simple email to kick things off

Remind them why you’re awesome

Now it’s time to shift into more of a sales tone and remind your customers about the unique benefits of your product. This phase can also be combined with the next steps in the strategy (Entice and Escalate).

You can convey this information through longer copy, or more visually using text and icons to show these benefits. Different length emails are also great to split test, which I’ll talk about later.

Remember to focus on how your products will affect your customers emotionally and socially rather than just being factual. Using customer testimonials to communicate value also works great during this phase.

Here’s an example from Koala which does a great job of conveying the benefits of purchasing their mattress, while appealing to the emotions of their customers:


Koala list out all the benefits of their mattress

The unique benefits of the Koala mattress brand are clearly displayed


Just a note for e-commerce stores selling lots of different products. It’s going to be harder to focus on unique product benefits because these will change with each product. Instead, focus on overarching unique benefits of your brand and make sure you display the specific products that were in the abandoned shopping cart in the email.

For example, your store might be able to use some of the following:

  • Locally made products
  • Free and easy return policy
  • Ethically sourced materials
  • Fast shipping & free shipping

Here’s a stylish and simple abandoned cart email example from fashion rental site Glam Corner that does a great job of portraying a fun vibe. They use the unique benefits of providing stylist advice, adding backup dresses and having an easy returns process.


Glam Corner promote their unique benefits in their email

Glam Corner’s email draws customers back to the cart and promotes their unique benefits


Entice them with a special offer

If reminding your customers about the benefits of your product isn’t enough to convince them to complete their purchase, it’s time to resort to some good old-fashioned bribery!

An offer of free shipping or a time-sensitive discount works well. If you’re offering a discount It’s important to limit the time that this offer is available. This gives a sense of scarcity to the offer.

You can even throw in a free product to sweeten the deal like Birchbox does here:


Birchbox use free products to entice customers

Free product included from Birchbox


Escalate the offer

This is the part where things get really interesting. Word of warning, if you are going to escalate your offer to provide an increasingly larger discount you should have an understanding of your average customer acquisition costs and lifetime customer value. This will allow you to offer an enticing discount to your customers without having to declare bankruptcy. 😂 

Here’s an example of three emails taken from a larger Brooklinen abandoned cart email strategy. These show an escalating offer (free shipping and then $15 off) with scarcity (expiration timer) while showing some great social proof (featured in Vogue, GQ..).


Brooklinen first offer free shipping

Brooklinen offers free shipping to start with

Brooklinen use a discount in their email sequence

They then upgrade customers to a discount

Brooklinen promote scarcity with a countdown timer


Email Format

The third part of structuring your abandoned cart email strategy is the format of your emails. Text-based emails, image-based emails, GIFs, pulling through the contents of the cart into the email. All of these are worth testing. Personally, I like to start with a text-based email to offer customer service like the Koala example above. I then use combined image and text emails for the remainder of the sequence.

When choosing the format of your emails it’s really important to make sure they first reach the inboxes of your customers and don’t end up in the junk folder. Make sure that Images are compressed as much as possible without the quality becoming visibly low.


Optimising the email sequence

Now that you have a better idea on how to create your abandoned cart email strategy, it’s time to launch and optimise. This means split testing.

I start with split testing subject lines to improve open rates of the emails. I then move onto split testing the content and format of the emails to improve the percentage of people who return to their shopping carts.

This might sound complex to set up, but it’s actually very simple in email programs like Klaviyo or Mailchimp (shown below).


Example of the split testing options in Mailchimp


When split testing the email content here’s some ideas for what you can test:

  • Long versus short content
  • Image heavy versus purely text emails
  • Text in your call to actions

Keep in mind that any split test requires enough data so that you can make an informed decision. So don’t jump the gun and go crazy testing everything under the sun. Start with testing out 2 subject lines for each email until you have an obvious winner.


Abandoned cart email strategy conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, good work! There’s been a lot of information to digest. To summarise the main points of creating a killer abandoned cart email strategy, think about the following:

  1. Make sure your site is set up to capture emails as soon as possible during the checkout process.
  2. Think about the purchasing decision time of your product and choose your email sequence length accordingly.
  3. Structure your sequence with the Help > Remind > Entice > Escalate model
  4. Be open to using different formats and email structures
  5. Although the email campaign is ‘automated’ your work is not over after you launch. Therefore Test, test, test!

This only scratches the surface of automated email campaigns. There are more complex strategies and ideas that you can implement such as segmenting emails and using supporting remarketing campaigns. Finally, if you’d like to discuss any of these with me, shoot me a message here.

Mitch McCormick

Mitch McCormick

Mitch is a Co-Founder of Clicktribe. He loves digital marketing, drinking Kombucha and inappropriate memes.
Mitch McCormick
Mitch McCormick

Mitch is a Co-Founder of Clicktribe. He loves digital marketing, drinking Kombucha and inappropriate memes.