How Online Merchants Can Reconnect with Shoppers Who Browse and Leave

by   |   February 5, 2014 5:56 am   |   0 Comments

One way Merriam-Webster defines “abandon” is “to leave and never return to (something),” but many of today’s e-commerce firms don’t seem interested in embracing such a bleak definition. Instead, many are viewing so-called “browse abandoners” – those who have looked at items online but left a site before putting them in a cart – as opportunities. They’re betting that with a little friendly nudging, visitors can be persuaded to re-engage and take the next step in the buying process.

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Although one way to reel back visitors is through retargeting with online display ads that feature abandoned items, it’s not the only option. Companies can also send browse abandonment emails that, used alone or in conjunction with retargeting ads, can keep the dialogue rolling with visitors who have at some point provided an email address.

Because you can have more content in an email than a display ad, you can converse more deeply, says Angel Morales, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Smarter Remarketer, which helps companies build and automate remarketing campaigns. “It’s not a superficial, ‘Hello, how are you?’ It’s a ‘Let’s really have a conversation.’”

To target browse abandoners through email, companies need to put tracking code on certain Web pages that will be integrated with their e-commerce and email platforms, says Laurie Hood, vice president, product marketing at Silverpop, a digital marketing technology provider. “What you’re doing with the tracking code is looking at the cookied [browser] information and saying, ‘Do I have a match with an email I already have permission to send?’” she says.

A Further Step After Abandoned Online Shopping Carts
Browse abandonment email campaigns employ a similar tactic as cart abandonment campaigns, which target visitors who have put items in a cart but did not complete the checkout process. Hood, however, recommends companies launch browse abandonment programs only after they’ve established programs for those who have left items in their carts.

Laurie Hood of Silverpop

Laurie Hood of Silverpop

“Cart abandonment is where you’re going to start. Then it’s kind of like, ‘If I’ve got a cart abandonment program in place, what’s the next frontier?’ And that logically takes you to browse abandonment,” Hood says. “Somebody was interested enough and engaged enough to be on the pages on your site, so how can you potentially recapture them?”

To be sure, cart abandonment is still gaining traction, so browse abandonment – which Hood named as one of the key tactics of 2014 in a December webinar – is being used even less by marketers, she says. To give some perspective, research conducted by email marketing firm Listrak in 2013 found that only 24.5 percent of 1,000 top retailers sent at least one remarketing email after a cart is abandoned.

It’s also worth noting that browse abandonment emails tend to perform worse than cart abandonment ones but better than emails not triggered by a particular action. “You’re not going to see the high dollar values that you would see with cart abandonment because you’re in a different stage in the process, but you’re going to see a better return than with a typical blast email program,” Hood says.

One example she gave in the December webinar showed browse emails from a 2013 program from the online retailer UncommonGoods saw a 2.2 percent conversion rate versus a 1.6 percent rate for broadcast emails. “While we’re not necessarily talking about massive shifts, we are talking about a simple way to continue to contribute additional revenue,” Hood said in the webinar.

The Importance of Communicating with Context
Some browse abandonment emails – like the one this reporter received recently from Target – have a similar look and feel to a typical cart abandonment email. In my case, I had been looking for a brown t-shirt for my son, and though Target had a large assortment of $6 t-shirts in its Circo brand, none were in the color I needed, so I left the site.

Five days later Target sent me an email with the all-lowercase subject line “thanks for clicking. shop again.” Copy inside the email said, “Still thinking about this item?” next to a picture of the tees in multiple colors and a link to the product page. The message also included the words, “there’s more where those came from. Check out these other great items,” and showed an assortment of products that included a treadmill and a side table.

But certain purchases – especially high-priced ones like a cruise vacation– would likely require more purchase consideration than a t-shirt. So unlike cart abandonment emails that are more about selling, Hood says browse abandonment emails should generally focus on educating and building relationships.

Tips to Address “Browse Abandonment”

Laurie Hood, vice president, product marketing at digital marketing technology provider Silverpop shares these tips on launching a browse abandonment program:

Start simple: Don’t put tracking codes to trigger browse abandonment emails on every Web page but rather insert them on a handful of popular pages from which people could fill a cart.

Feature educational content to push conversion: Include calculators, wizards, buying guides, customer testimonials and how-to videos.

Test for timing: For some companies, sending emails to browse abandoners quickly can win a sale, but there may be less of a sense of urgency for those researching, say, a cruise.

Maintain consistency across channels: Browse abandonment programs can work well with online display retargeting, but make sure you’re communicating the same message.

That requires more than simply reminding customers of items they perused. “You can’t send [visitors] an email and go, ‘Hey, saw that you were on my website looking at Caribbean cruises, buy one from me,’” she says. Instead the cruise site might want to send a Caribbean cruise planner wizard with elements visitors would need to consider before purchasing. That kind of play would require companies to create the right content as well as understand elements like buying indicators, buying intent, and how to bring someone from a browse situation into a buy situation, she says.

For retailers, Morales says browse abandonment emails need to offer an educational experience like one customers would get if they were speaking with an associate in a physical location. “If I’m engaging with technical products or products that are higher cost, so there’s a little bit of trepidation there, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that and put me into a drip-style [email] communication that talks to me about the really unique things about 3D LED TVs,” he says. “Reinforce that value message and push me, coach me through that purchase process digitally the same way we would do it if we were in a store.”

Marketers should also use data they have about visitors to individualize a message. So while a company may not generally want to give an offer in one of these emails,

Angel Morales of Smart Remarketer

Angel Morales of Smart Remarketer

Morales says it may choose to send one to a good customer whose relationship is in jeopardy. “It’s so important to realize and respect the concept of ‘Who is this person who is browse abandoning?’ If it’s a high value, disengaging customer, you bet there’s a lot more urgency for me to get a message back in front of them and have that dialogue,” Morales says. “If I can keep them buying from me, it’s a lot more cost effective to keep an existing customer than try to find a new one.”

Mindy Charski (, a contributing editor for Data Informed, is a Dallas-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @mindycharski.

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