When a buyer stalls at the checkout process, it’s never a good thing for an ecommerce site.

That’s why creating urgency around cart abandonment is so important. Sending a targeted email is one of the best ways to get customers to revisit abandoned merchandise and complete a purchase. But when it comes to creating urgency around an abandoned cart, the majority of today’s online retailers aren’t able to increase conversion rates, and therefore fall into two camps:

1. Those that don’t bother to send any type of cart abandonment incentive, but instead send a run-of-the-mill “Oops! You Forgot Something” email.

2. Those that do try to create urgency around an abandoned cart, but are unable to send the kind of incentive that makes shoppers want to rush to respond.

If you have a high cart abandonment rate, it may be because you’re not thinking like the customer. Maybe your shipping costs are too high; maybe your checkout process is confusing; maybe you need better payment options; or maybe they’ve just changed their mind.

Many marketers who are trying to incentivize returning to an abandoned shopping cart aren’t doing so in a way that actually speaks to what shoppers need or want in that moment. We’ve had the opportunity to see the good, bad, and ugly of what today’s marketers are doing to try to drive urgency around shopping cart abandonment, and here’s what we’ve found.

GOOD: A multi-touch approach to cart abandonment

A retailer specializing in kitchen appliances sent multiple cart abandonment emails to try and understand exactly what was preventing us from completing our purchase. When we left a set of ice cream bowls in a shopping cart, the retailer:

1. Sent a traditional cart abandonment email, with the subject line “Don’t forget! Items remain in your cart… (Complete your purchase).”

2. Saw no movement from us to complete our purchase, so sent an email with the subject line “Regarding Your Recent Visit, Here’s Our Most Popular Bowls” and a selection of other bowls for us to consider instead.

3. Still saw no movement, and finally sent a last-chance email with the subject line “Check out NOW and get 20% off + Free Shipping,” which included both a coupon and a ticking clock that urged us to complete our purchase ASAP.

By sending multiple cart abandonment emails that each offered a solution to one of several problems that cause customers to walk away from merchandise, the retailer showed a dedication towards understanding exactly what went wrong. With every email, they tried to solve our cart abandonment issues with a reminder, product recommendations, and a discount during the checkout process.

BAD: Good message, wrong medium

One of the ecommerce stores we created an account with specializes in selling trash bags, garbage can liners, and contractor bags at wholesale prices. We abandoned a package of gallon-sized garbage bags in our shopping cart, and the retailer sent two cart abandonment emails in response:

1. A friendly but standard email with the subject line “Did we mess up?” and an invitation to revisit our abandoned cart product pages.

2. An email offering us 10% off our final order if we checked out within 24 hours.

This second email was delivered to us a week after the first, but the problem was that we didn’t actually see the email until 2 days after the send date – meaning that the 10% off coupon had expired by the time we opened the message and the email was rendered irrelevant.

The retailer’s heart was in the right place in terms of creating urgency around our merchandise and incentivizing us to return to our shopping cart. But by using email to deliver a time-sensitive message, they failed to account for the fact that it could be hours or days before an online shopper checks their email. The marketer should have considered coordinating their email send with a message on mobile or web push so the chances of us seeing the message and finishing the checkout process in time were higher.

UGLY: Don’t threaten your shoppers!

One would think that the above message goes without saying, but online shopping is a strange world. A retailer that sells craft supplies and cutting tools for DIY art projects surprised us with their “aggressive” approach towards combating cart abandonment. We abandoned a set of cleaning sponges in our shopping cart, after which we received no cart abandonment emails from the brand. Why? Because, upon being taken to our cart, the brand flashed a message on the screen saying that the items in our cart will automatically be removed after 24 hours.

This was, in a sense, an attempt to create urgency, however poorly-executed. But marketers need to make sure that the potential customer needs are at the forefront of every decision they make. Sending a warning on the checkout page that threatens to empty a shopper’s cart if they don’t come back quickly enough isn’t the way to do it.

What should marketers do instead?

Marketers need to keep in mind that cart abandonment is an opportunity to fix a problem in the shopping experience. There’s a reason that your customer walked away from their purchase – whether it’s as benign as planning to come back later or a bigger problem like unexpected costs. Your cart abandonment messages should not only recognize these different possibilities but seek to fix them. Marketers need to think about:

1. Personalizing cart abandonment campaigns to speak to each shopper’s unique needs – and solve their unique problems

2. Driving urgency in a way that doesn’t sacrifice customer experience (like in our “Ugly” example, and even in our less ugly but still “Bad” example) but that seeks to improve it wherever possible

3. Communicating with shoppers in real-time to leverage urgency effectively (and not risk missing key opportunities by using email instead of web push or mobile push)

The key is to not only give shoppers a concrete reason to return to their shopping cart and complete their purchase but to make sure that your messages are accessible, customer-centric, and relevant.

The best way to create urgency is to speak to what your shopper’s most immediate needs are and make a promise to meet them, whether that’s an improved checkout experience, a discount, or even free shipping.

By focusing on creating a great customer experience, you can actually fix the problem of cart abandonment for your brand and improve conversion rates across the board.

Sruthi Narayanan

When Sruthi's not writing and editing marketing content, Sruthi spends her time volunteering for a Cambridge-based arts organization, singing in a post-collegiate a cappella group, and reading novels to her cat, Monty.