Businesses are leaving money on the table, and the fix isn’t new. In fact, you might have tried it once before. It’s time to come back to the abandonment email campaign.

As of March 2020, global brands saw carts abandoned at an 88% rate.

At SpyFu, we had been testing different offers, language, and timing to see if an abandonment campaign was right for our business. With most marketing practices, anecdotes are only as good as what you want to take away from it. Data holds up, so that’s what we act on. And now, after months of running the campaign, we can pass along this whole-hearted recommendation: Abandonment campaigns are effective.

Here’s what we learned.

1. They work.

Abandonment campaigns include emails that target visitors who have started to sign-up or purchase but never finished. It’s a nudge toward completing the conversion. These kinds of campaigns aren’t new or novel. Businesses have been dabbling in them for years.

Dabbling isn’t enough, though. If you fully commit, you are more likely to test deeper offers, test the timing, and gather enough valuable data to see exactly what to adjust.

Just dabbling might be what’s kept people from fully seeing the benefits of these campaigns. As much as marketers are familiar with the concept, few report that they are currently running cart abandonment campaigns. That alone could be what’s keeping them from higher acquisition numbers. With the right commitment and strong execution, these campaigns work.

There are some practices that can tip your campaign from mediocre to successful. That leads us to the second takeaway.

2. Act Fast. Be quick.

The best advice we can give you toward execution is to act fast. You have momentum. This isn’t like an unqualified lead. These shoppers were primed enough to edge toward a conversion. Leads like these are hot within the first couple of minutes, so we hit them right away.

We tried different waiting times and opted for speed. Our first email goes out after 5 minutes.

Email #1: 5 minutes after cart abandonment

That email has earned a 48% open rate during the campaign, surpassing open rate trends from past tests where we sent emails with longer waiting periods.

In our campaign, we sent 3 emails total. Since we learned from past tests to send early and often, we pulled up the next two emails to hit before the full 24 hour mark since abandonment.

Email #2: 2 hours after the first email

Email #3: 22 hours after the second email

At 38% and 37% (respective) open rates, we’re seeing a slight slip from the first email’s rate.

A note about emails: when you mention open rates, you have to consider subject lines. That can be one of the biggest drivers of open rate. We never hid the offer. Our subject lines revealed exactly what we were ready to give them for completing the purchase. The content itself helps drive click-to-conversions, and we will dive into that later in this article.

These open rates remain strong compared against other waiting times that we had tested in the past. This gives us the confidence to keep sending these quickly after abandonment.

It also gives us an idea to step up the offer to fight any further downward slide in engagement. That brings us to the next lesson.

3. Turn up the intensity.

As hot as these leads are, they also cool off fast. Dropping out of a shopping cart is probably the clearest tipping point between hot and cold. These visitors reached their peak when they decided to add to cart, and they started losing steam from there. Our second and third emails compensate for that with strong offers.

Our offers grow more aggressive (heavily discounted) with email #2 and #3. It might seem counter-intuitive at first. It feels like we’re incentivizing shoppers to hold out for the best deal.

However, as far as shoppers know, we haven’t said that more emails are coming. They don’t know when the last deal will be--or what it will be. What we know is that after the first email, engagement levels drop off. Our best move is to bolster the offer.

From the first email to the second, our engagement was sliding down. Fortunately, the stats show that we pull out of that pattern for emails #2 and #3, and that downward slide starts to level off.

Our open rate holds steady on the last two emails, and we can thank the strong offer for driving up the click rate.

Combine those strong offers with tight timing (leads are still warm), and we see a jump in the click-to-conversions by the time we get to the third email.

We can look backwards and deduce that without those aggressive offers, we would have seen our stats nosedive on the second and third emails (dotted lines, below), giving us very little chance to save sales through just a modest discount.

That final click to conversion relies heavily on the strength of your product (or service) along with how customers perceive the offer you’ve given. The entire “offer” includes details like urgency and your call to action (CTA).

This successful campaign ran its course. Just because it worked doesn't rule out testing for something better.

Try all types of big offers

Once you’ve mastered those main takeaways, it’s time to fine tune what you offer as well. You don’t have to assume that an aggressive offer is a deep price discount. Think about why your shoppers might have abandoned your cart/funnel, and that can guide you to other offers to test.

Shoppers drop out of the checkout process for many reasons:

  1. They’re still shopping. Your cart is a bookmark.
  2. They’re looking for better deals.
  3. They had second thoughts.
  4. They had to resolve payment issues.
  5. They don't like the shipping costs or timing.

The first two reasons should help you remember that they might have done the same thing at your competitors’ site. If the competitor’s abandonment email lands first, your potential customer might assume that you aren’t sending an offer.

It’s one more reason to act fast. It’s also a factor to consider toward offering something your competitor can’t give them. Highlight a special feature of yours or play with a bonus add-on that is specific to you.

For ecommerce businesses, take a look at your shipping policies, costs, and partners. When asked why they abandoned their carts, shoppers cited "shipping" as two of the top 5 reasons. This might be a signal to you to overhaul your practices. In the meantime, test a user-friendly shipping promotion that a majority of your shoppers can use. (Hint: it's not "free shipping with orders over $100" if 75% of your sales average $40 or less.)

Take a look at these different offers.

Examples of Cart Abandonment Emails


I'm posting two abandonment emails to show their mastery of relevancy. The first one is your standard "you left this behind" reminder.

I would not have made an example out of them if not for this second email. More than just the "what you left behind" email, this one is hyper-relevant. It even feels more personal than a discount.

That item you wanted is now on sale. Boom! It's a great use of relevancy as though they were looking out for me, not just trying to entice me. It was so well done (and well-timed) that I thought this was their abandonment campaign disguised as a sale.

I figured that they “faked” the sale when it was actually a spot discount. However, I opened the site in a private window and saw the item discounted. Well done, team. You’re sending relevant updates based on what’s in my cart.

Thrive Cosmetics

For those of you who don't have much price flexibility, try free shipping as a carrot.

That one could make for an interesting conversion test.


I wanted to find an offer that wasn't a physical product. I looked at subscriptions like Hulu and HBO Now, but with free trials on the front of those, they emphasize the "risk-free" aspect of coming back from abandonment.

Malwarebytes, virus protection software, uses the cart abandonment email to restate their case. As mentioned earlier in the article, it's one more shot to protect against losing business to competitors.

The email reminds me of a landing page. They remind me of what benefits I will see if I complete my order. It's a perfect opportunity to include the 60-day money back guarantee and trust indicators.

Another thing they use that fits with any business models is the help offer. "Need help with your choice?" Malwarebytes doesn't know what caused your abandoned shopping cart, so they will take a shot at removing any obstacles through hand-held service.

Try it yourself

This campaign worked well for us. We saw an uptick in potentially-lost conversions, and we could file a clear "win" in our testing. Success like that is worth showing you a bit under the hood.

We are happy to share stories and examples like these if it inspires you to try your own shopping cart abandonment emails.

Most large-scale email providers have this kind of functionality built it. You should be able to launch an abandonment email campaign with little technical work. Check with the platform you're already using so you don't have to add a new tool. However, if you are starting from scratch, you can try any of these email platforms that carry you through the steps:

  • MailChimp
  • Constant Contact
  • Aweber
  • Get Response
  • Drip

Don't forget to test and measure. Know where you stand know and compare it to what happens after you launch your shopping cart abandonment campaign. This is no time for a gentle nudge, either. You've already lost this customer. Take your shot at recovery by going big with your offer.