eCommerce strategies for abandoned baskets

15 minute read

With more and more of us failing to check out our online shopping baskets, strategies to optimise conversion are increasingly important for eCommerce businesses. It’s estimated by eCommerce platform Shopify that around 67%  of online shopping baskets are not taken through to a completed purchase. Others feel that this figure is conservative, some reporting that 70-75% of online shoppers are routinely failing to complete their transactions.

Abandoned basket

Either way our online shopping obsession is a valuable market. Industry watchers Econsultancy recently reported results showing the UK online shopping market is worth over £52 billion, that’s around 15% of all retail sales, and rising at over 16% in recent years, with abandoned baskets almost doubling since 2006 – a rate of increase much higher than the effect caused by the increase of online shopping itself.

Position any of the market valuations against the high levels of basket abandonment and it’s easy to see why for any eCommerce business, incomplete transactions are both a big problem and a big opportunity. Abandoned baskets represent £billions of potential spend left incomplete, so even if achieving moderate levels of improvement the effort is definitely worthwhile.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why online shopping baskets are not completed – summaries below taken from market research conducted by Statista and (below) leading payment services provider WorldPay. They are interesting reading and probably strike a chord with many of us as consumers.

WorldPay - abandoned basket reasons

From this we can see that the abandonment reasons range from digital interruptions like complete internet or computer failure, or even a slow page loading experience, to more physical distractions. According to WorldPay 75% of online shopping, observed throughout the world, takes place between midday and midnight, with 44% happening in the evening, peaking between 8-9 pm. Around half of activity takes place either in the bedroom (54%) or the living room (43%), both places where other more practical distractions are likely to also be high. Curiously, around 2% of online transactions are reported to take place from a shed or garage?

Other common abandonment behaviour indicates that we treat online shopping carts in a subtly different way to physical baskets – we see them as a convenient place to store items of interest while alternative competitive suppliers are investigated and comparisons are made. In some respects there was never a firm intention to take these (or at least all of these) items through to a purchase.

However, possibly the biggest cause of abandonment is the discovery of unexpected pricing or purchasing conditions or requirements after items have been already selected, but before the transaction is completed. Again, Econsultancy estimate this as the cause of 40% of checkout walk-aways, while WorldPay report this as high as 56%.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that as online shoppers we certainly feel inherently comfortable to load up our online baskets without the same level of reluctance to walk away as we have on the high street.

What can be done? – Conversion Rate Optimisation

Conversation Rate Optimisation (CRO) is a big subject which covers many aspects of the online shopping experience. CRO efforts can either be ‘proactive’, that is attempts to avoid abandonment in the first place, or ‘reactive’, that is attempts to recover an abandoned basket after it has occurred.

Proactive CRO – reduction

Proactive CRO efforts primarily focus on improving the online shopping experience so that abandoned baskets are a less likely occurrence. This therefore reduces the need for and dependence on post-abandonment recovery tactics.

Firstly there’s the incentive into the buying process in the first place. Econsultancy and SeeWhy report that 99% of web visitors don’t make a purchase at their first visit, so either enticing them into a purchasing frame of mind or encouraging a quick and effective return path is a good first step.

Once in buying mode we’ve already seen that reducing pricing surprises or the introduction of unexpected obstacles once inside the checkout process can have a major effect on smoothing the way to a completed transaction. Consequently, significant pro-active CRO effort is spent adding intuitive logic and transparency – especially early on in the purchasing process. Lengthy checkout processes requiring registration or account creation before a purchase can be made are also likely to have us looking for the back arrow. That’s why many online retailers seek to simplify our lives with simple one click purchasing.

Speed (more precisely, lack of speed) in the process is also a common obstacle. Our digital impatience is well documented in many forms of online activity. KissMetrics and others report that just a 2-3 second delay in page loading is enough to detour around 50% of browsers. Optimising page loading during the checkout process therefore has a large part to play in improving completion rates, especially when it comes to integrating third party applications like secure payment and verification.

Reactive CRO – recovery

Reactive CRO focusses on recovery – that is what can be done to bring a shopper back to resume and complete a previously abandoned purchase. Retargeting advertising is one recovery technique, but let’s focus on how email can be used.

Basket recovery through specifically targeted email is a relatively easy and effective reactive tactic. It can be done manually, but bearing in mind the unsociable hours of online shoppers and for any meaningful scale of business it generally needs to be an automated process. Automation is beneficial both in terms of reducing the effort involved and adding consistency to the process. It also allows a high level of personalisation of the email itself, resulting in relatively high open and engagement rates.

It’s effective too. From our own email performance benchmark research  automated emails typically generate opens and click-throughs at 4 or 5 times the rate of normally scheduled campaigns. In their remarketing study SalesCycle report open and click through rates for automated abandoned basket emails of 44%  and 11% respectively. They also report that 29% of received clicks result in the completion of a purchase and that the order value is 14% higher than the original interest. Others report typical recovery of up to 30% of abandoned baskets, so although it’s far from complete it’s a potentially large source of additional revenue for a relatively small outlay in terms of tools and effort.

How to go about it

There are a few essential steps in a basket recovery email strategy. Firstly capturing the information pertaining to the shopper and their incomplete purchase. Secondly making that information available for use in a recovery email campaign. And finally designing and implementing an automated email process to incentivise shoppers to return and complete their purchase.

eCommerce applications

Many online businesses will already be familiar and using eCommerce applications like Shopify, Magento and others to drive their websites. Datanyze have a nice reference showing the major players in the eCommerce environment.

eCommerce apps

Implementations differ in scale and complexity but all of these systems will capture essential information like a buyer’s name and contact details, their shopping basket interests and pricing and incentives.

Integration with an ESP (Email Service Provider)

The next key step in an email recovery process is to make that information available to an email marketing platform, like This is normally done by creating an integration – essentially establishing a data connection and transfer process between the two applications.

Most of the commonly used eCommerce and email marketing platforms are designed with such an integration in mind. As in the case of you’ll either find a dedicated plug and play connection already pre-built, a general purpose integration tool (like Zapier) or an API (Application Programming Interface) through which a customised connection can be created. The API is a collection protocols and tools through which applications can be connected. Connections with are made via the Permission Marketing API or PMAPI for short.

For example let’s look at the integration between and the popular eCommerce application Shopify – this is one of the integrations which is directly available as a plug and play app within the platform.

Shopify integration

Installing the app automatically creates a folder and list specifically for the contact and other details returned from abandoned Shopify purchases. Captured details are updated automatically so that they are readily available to be used to drive recovery campaigns.

Creating the email

The emails themselves are created in the normal way using the responsive editor. Depending on the complexity required relevant content can either be included in the email copy via the merging of simple profile fields or by a more complex technique like Dynamic Content. The scheduling is controlled using a series of simple marketing automation rules – as soon as a subscriber is added to the abandoned basket list a single or a series of recovery emails can be automatically triggered at appropriate intervals.

There’s more detail in our Knowledge Base Guide.

Designing an email recovery strategy

Capture – its sometimes overlooked but capturing the shopper’s email address at an early stage in the eCommerce process will ensure that the essential piece of contact information is available should the purchase not be taken further.

Subject line – a compelling subject line is especially important for a recovery email. It’s the gateway between you and an open, and potentially an action to return and complete the purchase. With this objective in mind, adding a degree of personalisation and a sense of urgency into your subject line can also help.

Content – like all email campaigns, once opened, short, crisp copy with engaging images is likely to capture the attention and encourage engagement. With recovery emails it’s important to include as much relevant information as possible – at minimum the details of the shopping items selected. These will be available from the integration with the eCommerce application which captured them. Together with a simple call to action link back to the point of purchase this will have a significant impact on driving people to return and complete their purchase.

Timing – this is the subject of much debate – from a single email fairly close to the point of departure to a series of messages (three is common) over a more extended period. It’s generally clear that interest and therefore the likelihood of a successful recovery diminishes, fairly rapidly, with time. Opinion varies but SalesCycle report that an initial contact with 20 minutes of detection results in a 5.2% chance of conversion. After 24 hours this reduces to just 2.6%.

Some other things to consider

Reservation – including a provisional, but time limited, reservation on basketed items can be a nice tactic, as can the inclusion of further reassuring information like a review or the confirmation of easy payment or delivery.

Incentive – some will include an additional incentive to complete (like a discount or voucher) although if implemented as a standard approach this can have the counter-productive effect of encouraging abandonment behaviour in savvy shoppers.

Review – finally, as with all automated campaigns the final step is to monitor how your basket recovery emails perform when in use, using the response metrics to further refine your timing and content. There’s no such thing as an optimum strategy for all but understanding which aspects of your strategy have which effect will help you get to a solution that works best for your business and your audience.