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What’s the Difference Between Cart Abandonment and Checkout Abandonment?

In ecommerce, we talk a lot about abandonment –– browse abandonment, search abandonment, cart abandonment, etc.

But you may not know that what you think of as cart abandonment may actually be checkout abandonment. Not sure about the difference between the two? You’re not alone.

One requires you to be almost fully checked out and about to buy, while the other just means you dropped an item in your cart and left. Clearly, one happens all the time, while the other indicates more buying intent, and is much closer to the final purchase.

But more importantly for your business, if you’re only doing checkout abandonment, you may be leaving a ton of money on the table. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between cart abandonment and checkout abandonment, and why it matters to your ecommerce business.

Cart Abandonment vs. Checkout Abandonment

What’s the difference between these two terms? Here are the technical definitions:

Checkout abandonment refers to when a customer has put items in their cart, started the checkout process by completing an action like signing up or entering their email address, and then left your site before completing the final steps to purchase.

Cart abandonment refers to any customer who has added an item to their shopping basket and then left the site (without removing the item). This can be at any point in time –– after 30 seconds on your site on their first visit, or after 20 minutes browsing your site on their 10th visit. The key here is that they have not started the checkout process or shared their email with your brand yet.

Unfortunately, most ESPs only offer the ability to trigger emails when a customer has nearly completed the checkout process. This means that most brands today are only really doing checkout abandonment, not true cart abandonment.

But cart abandonment has a far wider reach. If you use a B2C CRM to send out behaviorally-triggered cart abandonment emails to every buyer who added an item to their basket, you can reach a larger percentage of people who come to your site, browse, add to cart, and then leave.

Why does cart abandonment matter?

Before we get into how you do true cart abandonment instead of just checkout abandonment, why is cart abandonment so powerful? There are tons of stats out there on checkout abandonment rates. You can even calculate the rate for your own website to see how your online store is performing. But do you know why customers are abandoning their carts? According to Statista, 40% of people are just browsing while 38% are still researching.

These customers may not be ready to buy at that exact moment, but they have shown purchase intent. That means it’s still important to engage with them to nudge them further down the sales pipeline towards a purchase.

If you remind customers of the products they have in their basket through a cart abandonment email or retargeting ads, they may return to complete the purchase when the time is right. You can also choose to offer them a discount or perk such as free shipping to give them an incentive to return.

Bad site navigation and poor user experience are other common reasons for cart abandonment, so it’s important to make sure you monitor where exactly your users drop off. A/B test your entire website and checkout process and even send buyers surveys asking what they do and don’t like about your site. Once you know it’s not a technical issue causing users to drop off, you can focus on creating the perfect cart abandonment strategy. 

How do I send out true cart abandonment emails?

Since you’re not reaching all your potential buyers with checkout abandonment, you clearly want to start doing true cart abandonment emails. But you may be wondering how you can send out cart abandonment emails if the customer hasn’t already started the checkout process and share their email. 

The answer is identity resolution, which recognizes returning customers and stitches together data from all their visits to build up a complete customer profile. If they’re a returning customer, you likely already have their email address from past interactions with your brand. You just need to be able to piece together all of their different visits from different devices and locations so you can use this to send a cart abandonment email.

If you don’t have their email address, another option is to display an exit intent popup triggered by user behavior, such as moving their mouse towards the close button on their browser. You can then capture their email address, which enables you to add them to your list. Below is Zaius’s exit intent popup as an example.

Once you’ve got the customer’s email address, you can send them a series of two or three cart abandonment emails to try to win them back. And if they don’t share their email, you can also try retargeting ads with a personalized graphic for exactly the product they viewed. Combined, all of this should gradually entice them to return and complete the purchase.

Examples of great cart abandonment emails and retargeting ads

Now that you have the right data to be able to track actual cart abandonment, you have to send the best possible message to win your buyers back. Here are four examples of cart abandonment emails and retargeting ads that do a great job of luring the buyer back with customized messaging, personalized product features, and more.

In Whisky Loot’s cart abandonment email, it gives (funny and serious) reasons why you should return to complete your purchase, as well as providing more information on the service and clearing up any obstacles to completing the purchase. The copy is strong and engaging, including the subject line: “Your cart is sobering up”, and it provides strong incentives to buy.

Saatchi Art uses its email copy to create a sense of urgency. It also offers a 10% discount coupon to further entice the customer to return to its site. If you’re going to offer a coupon, make sure it’s part of a carefully planned discount strategy.

Makeup brand Glossier uses retargeting ads to tempt customers back to buy products they have previously put in their basket but not bought. The ad displays the products you were interested in, all while linking directly back to the page on the site to view the exact product again before you buy.

Premium watch retailer MVMT uses a sponsored Facebook Carousel ad to target customers who have put items in their basket but not bought them. It also offers free shipping on each item as an incentive.

And while these examples are great for winning back buyers, it’s really all about achieving true cart abandonment. The difference between checkout abandonment and cart abandonment may seem small, but it can make a massive difference to your marketing ROI.

Because you’re reaching far more people who were on the precipice of buying, you have a much higher chance of bringing them back to buy. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to implement true cart abandonment for your brand.

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