Email marketing

How to use abandoned cart emails to improve sales: strategies, examples, and expert advice

Alexandra McPeak, June 2nd 2022
An employee wearing a denim button-up looks up thoughtfully from working on a laptop.

Over half of U.S. shoppers abandon their online cart because they’re either “just browsing” or not ready to buy, according to a quantitative study by the Baymard Institute.

That means no matter how attractive your store or how flawless your product, the majority of your customers will likely abandon their online shopping carts.

Cart abandonment is a real problem for online retailers and marketers around the world. But the good news is that there’s a simple fix.

Abandoned cart emails can help you turn what might otherwise be lost sales into loyal customers.

Curious to learn how?

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is an abandoned cart email?

An abandoned cart email is an email used to re-engage shoppers who add products to their online cart but leave the site without purchasing them. Abandoned cart email automations remind shoppers about the products in their cart and entice them to complete their purchase.

Customers often visit ecommerce businesses and browse products they like. But when they add a product to their cart, they take one important step beyond that: they demonstrate a desire to buy it.

A well-written abandoned cart email helps you tap into that desire and encourage visitors to return to your online store to complete their purchase. It also empowers you to build relationships with your customers and improve their online shopping experience with targeted discounts.

There are different ways to use abandoned cart emails to recover lost sales. You can send one-off cart abandonment emails or create a series of automated emails (just be mindful of volume if you choose the latter route. Too many emails can come across as spammy and push customers away).

A common misconception about abandoned cart emails is that they’re illegal and don’t comply with recent data privacy changes.

But instead of third-party data (consumer information you collect indirectly from a variety of sources, such as marketplaces and ad networks), abandoned cart emails use Customer-First Data™—data you source directly from your prospects and customers (information they proactively give you, or information you observe about them on your owned channels and website).

Marketing to customers using data collected with their consent, such as the information they offer up when they sign up to your mailing list, is legal and compliant with data privacy requirements.

Do abandoned cart emails work?

Yes, abandoned cart emails work. They minimize friction in the sales process so you can remarket products to interested customers and increase sales.

Customers who add products to their cart demonstrate a strong purchase intent. When something creates friction in that process, they’re more likely to give up.

That friction can come from something unrelated to your business, like a call from a friend or a funny cat meme. Or it can come from something related to your website, like high prices or a tedious checkout process.

Think about the last time you were forced to solve a CAPTCHA before visiting a site or completing a form. How many images with a bus did you identify before giving up?

Forcing customers to jump through hoops before they check out is almost guaranteed to lead to cart abandonment. But if your checkout process is frictionless, chances are the customer abandoned their cart for a different reason, and you might be able to win them back with a cart reminder email.

Your customers are busy. When they abandon their cart, they forget about the product and what attracted them to it in the first place. Sending them a gentle reminder can rekindle that desire.

Abandoned cart email benchmarks by industry

Email benchmarks can help you measure success—and identify what’s working and what isn’t—by comparing your performance against industry standards.

We examined data gathered from brands using Klaviyo in Q1 2022 and compiled industry-wide shopping cart abandonment rate benchmarks. Here’s what we found:

  • Abandoned cart email flows generated average revenue of $3.42 per recipient—the highest across all email campaigns and flows.
  • The average shopping cart abandonment email open rate across all industries was 50%.
  • The apparel and accessories industry had the highest average open rate at 51.34%, and the third-highest average conversion rate at 3.90%.
  • The automotive industry generated the highest average revenue per email recipient at $9.52 per email, and the third-highest average click rate for abandoned cart emails at 7.85%.
  • The sports and outdoors industry had the highest average click rate at 8.26%.
  • The food and beverage industry had the highest average conversion rate at 4.03%.

7 steps to an unforgettable abandoned cart email

Statista estimates that the number of emails sent and received per day globally is set to scale from about 306B in 2020 to more than 376B by 2025. With so many emails exchanged every day, your abandoned cart email needs to stand out to succeed.

Here’s a 7-step process to help you design the ultimate cart abandonment email:

1. Start strong with an attention-grabbing subject line

The easiest way to grab customer attention is by personalizing subject lines using customer profile properties like their name, company name, or the products in their cart.

Something as simple as “Hey Alex, where’d you go?” or “Stay hydrated with the bottles you left behind” can work wonders for your marketing campaign.

And if you aren’t using profile properties for email personalization, you can use something simple yet conversational to grab customer attention instead. Here’s how artisan marketplace Bombinate uses an abandoned cart email subject line that reads like an email from a friend:

Abandoned cart email by Bombinate.
Source: ReallyGoodEmails

2. Tailor your copy

An abandoned cart email’s objective is to nudge shoppers into revisiting their carts. Keep your email copy short, limit punctuation, and stay on brand as you convince customers to recover their abandoned shopping carts.

Sustainable activewear brand Girlfriend Collective uses a minimalistic email template with clever copy: “Looks like you left something cute and sustainable in your cart. Don’t worry, we saved it for you.”

Abandoned cart email by Girlfriend Collective.
Source: Girlfriend Collective

“This abandoned cart email from Girlfriend Collective is *chef’s kiss,* says Alex McPeak, content strategist at Klaviyo, on Twitter. “I love the deviation from ‘you forgot something/left something behind’ with ‘you dropped this’ and how they hammer home the sustainability aspect, which is core to their brand.”

3. Mix in some social proof

Social proof can influence buying decisions by communicating your products’ value through user-generated content (UGC). More importantly, it can help you earn the trust of shoppers who aren’t familiar with your brand.

Customer testimonials and reviews are a great place to start. But you can also include star ratings and even social media mentions to convey authenticity and build trust.

For instance, here’s how Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand, SKIMS, uses both star ratings and customer reviews in its cart abandonment email:

Abandoned cart email by SKIMS.
Source: Skims

4. Feature the abandoned product

By the time shoppers see your email, they’ve probably forgotten what they were shopping for on your site. Keep the abandoned items front and center in the email to remind them what they left behind in their cart.

In their cart abandonment email, Apparel brand Alex Mill uses most of the available real estate to highlight abandoned items with high-quality product images, then complements those with an enticing discount to drive conversions:

Abandoned cart email by Alex Mill.

Source: Alex Mill

5. Offer discount codes

Personalized and limited-time discounts are a timeless strategy for creating a sense of urgency and increasing conversions. After all, who doesn’t love a good bargain?

The added benefit of offering a coupon code to abandoners is that it doesn’t reduce the value of your brand upfront.

It’s worth pointing out that offering discounts to repeat cart abandoners can work against you because it can train them to become price sensitive, or unwilling to buy without a discount. One way to overcome that is by providing one-off discounts like health and beauty brand Golde does for new customers:

Abandoned cart email by Golde.
Source: Golde

6. Use a convincing CTA

The call to action (CTA) is one of the most important parts of your cart abandonment email. It gives your customers clear instructions about what they need to do next—return to their cart and complete their purchase.

Move beyond the traditional “Buy now” and “Add to cart” buttons. Try something different like “Take me to my order!” the way UK-based seltzer brand Gerry’s does in its cart abandonment email:

Abandoned cart email by Gerry’s.
Source: ReallyGoodEmails

7. Optimize for mobile

Insider Intelligence forecasts that retail mobile commerce sales in the U.S. will double from about $359B in 2021 to about $728B by 2025. Optimizing your cart abandonment emails for mobile devices is an easy way to nudge your customers back to their online carts while capitalizing on this growth.

Make sure everything of value is above the fold on mobile, so shoppers don’t need to scroll down to read your copy and CTA.

Athleisure brand Public Rec does this well. Its abandoned cart email uses a minimalistic design to showcase the abandoned product and keeps everything above the fold:

Abandoned cart email by Public Rec
Source: ReallyGoodEmails

5 abandoned cart email strategies

A killer email is only the first step to winning your customers back—you need to implement a thoughtful marketing strategy to effectively re-engage shoppers.

Here are 5 abandoned cart email strategies you can implement to improve your bottom line:

1. Create customer segments

Segmenting customers into groups using metrics such as purchase history, cart size, and product preferences can help you target them with personalized abandoned cart emails.

The challenge with segmentation is that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy that you can use. The most effective customer segments are often unique to a business and its goals. So, we recommend that you analyze your segments periodically to find the best ones.

2. Create a series

A cart abandonment email doesn’t have to be an isolated message. You can also create an abandoned cart series.

For example, a simple abandoned cart email sequence might look something like this:

  • Email 1: Remind customers about the products in their cart.
  • Email 2: Send a follow-up email with a discount.
  • Email 3: Share a product recommendation or ask for customer feedback.

Even industry veterans recommend using abandoned cart flows to increase conversions and sales. Email marketing pro Chase Dimond shares that in his experience “Having multiple abandoned cart emails results in 69% more orders than a single abandoned cart email.”

Put simply, if you aren’t using abandoned cart flows, you’re leaving money on the table.

3. Time it right

Timing your cart abandonment email is crucial to its success. Don’t send an email immediately after your customer abandons their cart. Whatever distracted them from their purchase might still exist. And if it does, your email might end up buried deep in their inbox or straight in the trash.

Send your first reminder 2-4 hours after abandonment. More importantly, keep it simple. You want it to feel organic and friendly.

If your customers don’t engage with your first email, send another reminder 24 hours after that. You can make the second reminder a bit more salesy. Maybe work in a personalized offer to amplify its impact.

If shoppers don’t respond to 2 emails, they’ve likely completed their purchase somewhere else or abandoned it entirely.

At this stage, sending a third sales-oriented email might not help. Instead, send an exploratory email to suggest popular items or related products and lay the foundation for a future sale.

4. Look beyond emails

Email is cost-effective and scalable. But there are other ways to improve abandoned cart recovery rates. Our analysis of 400 Klaviyo customers using email and SMS reveals that SMS automation is the second-highest revenue-generating abandoned cart flow.

And it’s no surprise why: 37% of Americans prefer receiving brand communications via text over email. That means complementing abandoned cart with SMS can help you target a third of your audience through their preferred mode of communication.

If you’ve collected your customers’ phone numbers and SMS consent, send a quick text reminding them about the products they left behind. That might be the push they need to follow through with their purchase.

5. Run A/B tests

Sending the same emails over and over won’t improve your conversion rates. You need to run controlled experiments with different copy, creatives, and calls to action to find the best fit for your audience.

A/B testing is a reliable marketing strategy for making data-driven decisions that boost your abandoned cart email conversion rates. You don’t need to guess why things didn’t work. Instead, you can use data to find out.

Before you start running A/B tests, make sure you outline a hypothesis and set a clear goal. After that, run your test for at least 1-2 weeks to gather statistically significant data.

5 abandoned cart email examples—and why they work

Data collected by IRP Commerce shows that the average ecommerce conversion rate decreased from 1.98% in March 2021 to 1.68% in March 2022.

If you’re using last year’s same old tactics, you’ll struggle to get the best value from your remarketing strategy.

Here are 5 real-world examples to inspire your next abandoned cart email campaign:

1. Beardbrand

DTC grooming brand Beardbrand does a great job of using personalized copy and a friendly tone to inspire shoppers to “reclaim” their cart. The brand keeps its product front and center and uses distinct CTAs to draw the recipient’s eye:

Abandoned cart email by Beardbrand
Source: Beardbrand

2. Only Curls

Curly hair care brand Only Curls incorporates all the elements of a winning cart abandonment email and backs it up with a personal touch from their founder. The email feels like a conversation and invites potential customers to reach out to the Only Curls team with questions:

Abandoned cart email by Only Curls
Source: Only Curls

3. Whisky Loot

Whisky subscription brand Whisky Loot deviates from the “typical” abandoned cart email by highlighting the value of its products instead of forcing a sale. The brand communicates the value of its products and includes a helpful FAQ section to address common purchase barriers:

Abandoned cart email by Whisky Loot
Source: Whiskey Loot

4. Sunday Citizen

Home goods brand Sunday Citizen knows how to use puppy dog eyes to capture customer attention. Sunday Citizen uses UGC from its Instagram feed to help shoppers visualize products in their homes.

Abandoned cart email by Sunday Citizen
Source: Sunday Citizen

5. The Bali Market

Turkish bath towel brand The Bali Market puts the customer experience at the forefront of its abandoned cart message. This email—the third in the brand’s abandoned cart flow—lets shoppers know that help is just an email away.

Abandoned cart email by The Bali Market
Source: The Bali Market

10 abandoned cart tips from experts

Learning to get the best value from your cart abandonment emails takes time—a precious resource that you might not always have.

We asked industry experts to share their top abandoned cart email tips to give you a head start. Here’s what they said:

Ben Zettler, digital marketing and ecommerce consultant at Ben Zettler Digital

“Not all customers should be treated the same. Has someone purchased before? If they have, tailor messaging to them. If they haven’t, tailor messaging to them, too, but consider how discounting plays a role in your strategy and put an offer in front of users that have yet to make their first purchase.”

Christopher Maroney-Petitt, owner of Ecom Growers

“Keep it simple. Simple design and simple copy. Don’t overthink it, don’t over-design it, don’t overcomplicate it. The only goal of this flow is to remind people that they like your brand and to answer your most common objections. You can leverage offers and inventory scarcity, but the biggest lever will simply be to communicate the features/benefits of your product/brand and communicate directly with the person about the items they were looking at. Talk to them like a person would and if you were recommending a product to your friend.”

Katherine Burlock, CLV strategist at &BAM

“Test the timing of your first message, and also make sure you don’t have more than 1 flow that could be competing at the same time (for example, a browse abandon and abandoned cart flow both with a 1-hour delay). You can also separate out flows based on first-time vs. returning users, number of items in the cart, [and] cart value. There are so many ways to personalize and segment these emails, so your customers feel special when they receive them.”

Alexa Engelhart, vice president of client strategy at Power Digital

“Don’t distract users from the abandoned cart journey. If I’ve learned anything in digital, it’s that people are very easily distracted online. Don’t give them a reason to be distracted. Remove any links that point away from the abandoned cart journey (including navigation, social links, etc).”

Belle Murray, ecommerce senior strategist at SmartBug Media

“Introduce a free shipping offer toward the end of your abandoned cart automation(s). Shipping cost is a very common reason customers leave before completing their purchase—a one-time free shipping offer is a great way to give them a nudge to place their first order. Keeping it at the end of your automation with engagement filters will help target engaged subscribers that are still on the fence about purchasing.”

Brandon Matis, owner of Luxor Marketing

“Keep your abandoned checkout emails straightforward. Your goal should be making the checkout process as simple as possible, so no need for long emails here.”

Morgan Mulloy, associate director of retention marketing at Avex Designs

“Answer the question of why. Why should that customer purchase it from you? You should be highlighting value props such as return/exchange policies, shipping incentives, quality callouts, etc.”

Christine Watson, director of CRM and email at Tinuiti

“If you have both SMS and abandoned cart emails, make sure you aren’t using the same strategy and messaging in your touches, which will cause fatigue. Think strategically about your timing for each channel (SMS is typically better for more urgent messaging, while email is good for a follow-up). If you are using the same system to deploy, put in place suppressions if someone is converting off one or the other. If not, ensure you aren’t blasting the same messaging at the same time. This will cause your contacts to get fatigued and potentially opt out. Best way to do this? Suppress out converters and stagger send times.”

Brittany Rycroft, director of marketing at GhostRetail

“Oftentimes, people can abandon a cart because they just don’t have enough information—something no amount of automation can fix. Invite customers in your abandoned cart emails to hop on a live 1:1 video shopping call to get tailored service and questions answered, including even showing a product in real-time.”

Sharon Goldstein, CEO at LimeSpot

“Sometimes, the best way to turn a missed sale into a conversion is by highlighting items a shopper may have missed. Including personalized product recommendations in an abandoned cart email can turn heads and drive way higher click-through rates as shoppers investigate new finds that align with what they’ve already shown an interest in.”

Ready to give your abandoned cart emails a boost?

Insider Intelligence predicts that U.S. retail ecommerce sales will top $1T for the first time ever in 2022. And abandoned cart emails can help you tap into that growth.

It’s important to remember that you might not get it right the first time—and that’s OK. Keep experimenting with your copy and creative until you find what works best for your audience.

Learn how Dana Rebecca Designs leverages cart abandonment flows.
Read the case study
Alexandra McPeak
Alexandra McPeak
Content strategist
Alex McPeak is a Content Strategist at Klaviyo. She helps entrepreneurs and small businesses grow. Before joining Klaviyo in 2020, Alex spent several years writing, editing, and podcasting throughout the Boston tech scene. Alex graduated from Emmanuel College. Outside of work, Alex enjoys traveling to warmer places, reading mystery novels, and eating sushi.