Abandoned carts are annoying. Really annoying. They’re the sinking souffle of eCommerce, sat deflating into nothingness as you sit at the dinner table. Though much like the doomed dessert, you can sugar the sides and use a few old eggs to ensure that your sale is much likely to succeed.

We recently conducted an investigation into abandoned carts for a publication on digital marketing and uncovered some truly mind-boggling statistics. Chief amongst which was that the average cart abandonment rate is around 68%.

Sixty-eight percent. Over two-thirds of all online shopping carts are left to peer through their digital cages for eternity. Ok, maybe we’re making it seem a little too dramatic, we do understand why users abandon carts.

Shipping costs and bad checkout procedures are amongst the worst culprits. And there are some terrible ux designers who should hang their heads in shame. But in a lot of cases carts are abandoned because the user was just window shopping. Perhaps they wanted to check out the prices, or simply indulge their urges for a while.

Although they had no intention of making a purchase then, this doesn’t mean that they never want to make that purchase. They just weren’t ready. The reasons for this are as complicated as human nature, but one thing we know for sure is that they were, at a bare minimum, interested in the products they put in your cart.

So what can we do with this information?

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How to optimize abandoned carts

There are fundamentally 4 major techniques that eCommerce businesses can use in order to do this:

  • Persistent carts
  • Exit-intent technology
  • Abandoned cart emails
  • Remarketing

All of which come with their own particular pros and cons, and all of which are used to varying degrees by the UK’s top online retailers. Let’s take a little look at each of them.


Persistent carts

Persistent carts are practically ubiquitous with online retailers. This is due to the fact that they are extremely easy to implement and require nothing to maintain. Simply, carts are stored as cookies on the user’s browser so that the next time they land on the website, their cart contains the same goods.

In this way persistent carts are great because they make it extremely simple for returning customers to make their purchase, but they do require that the customer actually comes back to the website.

For retailers like Amazon this is practically a given, but for lesser known shops, the likelihood of the customer returning of their own free-will is considerably lower.

When investigating the top 50 clothing retailers, we found that 94% were using abandoned carts to store customer data, whilst 90% of the top eCommerce SMEs employed the same technique. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no excuse for not using cookies, but how they’re used is equally as important.


According to a survey by Monetate, 56% of website visitors planned to save their carts for later, with 28% taking more than a day to complete their order, 21% taking 3 days and 18% taking over a week.

However, with online retailers storing cookies for mere hours, and 31.7% storing them for a couple of days, we can see that sales are bound to be falling through the cracks.

Exit-intent Technology

If you’re already a fan of Sleeknote, you’ll already know what powerful exit intent technology can do for you. For those uninitiated, exit-intent technology monitors mouse movement and velocity and uses predictive algorithms to detect when a user is about to leave your website. Then, just before they do, it sneaks in a little message just for them.

In most cases, eCommerce businesses are using this to grab the sale with a quick offer of 15% off, or free delivery. Not a bad technique if you’re trying to clear your stock, but as a long-term strategy, we would urge caution. Why you ask?

The Damage of Discount Culture

Discount code usage is growing exponentially and changing the way users shop online. A recent study of consumers has shown that 33% of online shoppers frequently seek out discount codes, with 17% of those surveyed saying they ‘only ever’ made a purchase when they had a code (a 70% increase from the previous year).

Consumers are getting savvy to the tricks of online retailers as an article entitled, “The trick to bagging cash off your online shopping? Abandon your virtual shopping basket to unlock secret discounts” shows.

Commenters on the site have even gone as far as saying, “Please don’t tell everybody! I was clever enough to work this out. If everybody starts doing it, they will stop doing it.” And, “[I] Do find it annoying as shops should just reward regular customers rather than having to play these games.”

Looking at the numbers, if we are to take the average discount code to be 15%, the value of the UK eCommerce market to be £52.25 billion and the ‘only-with-discount’ purchasers to constitute 17% of the market, we see that discount culture is costing a £1.33 billion loss in direct profit to online retailers.

With this trend set to increase, we suggest you err on the side of caution with the number of discounts you offer before customers come to expect them from you. ‘But then what do I do with my exit-intent popups?’ we hear you ask. Well, we’d suggest combining them with the following…


Abandoned Cart Emails

Sent to remind visitors that they have left items in their basket, abandoned cart emails (ACEs) require that customers are signed into an account with their personal email address.

During our investigation, we found that 26% of the top clothing retailers and 34% of the top 50 SMEs sent emails within two weeks of a customer abandoning their cart. A rather disappointing show given the following statistics from Econsultancy:

  • The average open rate of ACEs is 44.1%
  • The average CTR is 11.61%
  • The average leads to sales rate is 29.9%
  • The average order value from ACEs is increased by 14.2%
  • The average ROI of an ACE sequence is £5.20

When you consider that ACEs can be automated and optimised to run based on purchasing patterns and user behaviour, it seems absurd that every company isn’t sending them.

Of course, they do come with their own pitfall – namely that you need the user to be signed in with their personal email address in order to save the cart. But this is where exit intent tech and ACEs combine.


Exit-Intent and Emails

Rather than offering a discount for that quick sale, we suggest creating an extremely simple sign-up form when the customer moves to leave the website. Two fields max – name and email address, though really we’d suggest you use just the email. And copy along the lines of:

“Would you like to save your basket?”


“Save these items to your inbox.”

Something very uncomplicated in order to ensure that the customer signs up. Trialing this with a client of ours, we had a signup rate of 9.43% and an email open rate of 68% – higher than the average ACE open rate.

In turn, we had a CTR of 22.05% and a lead to sale rate of 10.2%. Interestingly the CTR rate is higher than average, whereas the sale rate is lower. However, this can be explained away by the nature of our client’s business – they are high end, specialist manufacturers of athletic products. Purchases are far more considered.


In the end, the total signup to sale rate was 1.53%. Now, this isn’t something that’s going to completely revolutionise your business, but it’s also not gonna damage your profits like offering discounts will. And in addition, you now have more emails to add to your mailing list and future marketing campaigns.


Traditional PPC adverts tend to provide a CTR of between 0.05 – 0.1%, whilst retargeted adverts average around 0.2%. This isn’t surprising, the customers already know your brand and trust your advert a lot more than those seeing it for the first time. What is remarkable is the increase in conversion rate that you can expect from running a well executed remarketing campaign.


This case study from Adroll outlines how they delivered 39% of Gant’s overall conversions through remarketing. And this separate case study from Merchanta (a retargeting software company) shows how they managed to increase the conversion rate by 53% through retargeting, delivering a sale value 98% higher than their offline average at the same time.

Of those we investigated, we found that 42 of the top 60 online retailers had the Google remarketing pixel installed, whilst only 6 of the same companies had the Facebook Exchange (FBX) pixel there. Twelve of the top 50 clothing retailers had the FBX pixel, with 39 of the same companies using Google remarketing.

Whilst the ROI from the FBX may not be a complete dead-set (though Lays Poland produced a 4.5x return on their investment), we find it curious that so few companies even have the pixel installed. With the FBX offering access to 936 million daily active users (and that number is growing!), the opportunity for retargeting is truly great.

In Summary


There’s no way that you can recover all of your abandoned carts, and to think so is ridiculous. But to think that there’s no way you can recover any of them is equally as foolish.

From our results, we can see that many of the top retailers, and SMEs alike, are ignoring some of the most successful techniques to reclaim their abandoned carts. With certain options such as abandoned cart emails being so dramatically underutilised (when they offer such a great return), we have to wonder whether they even know about their existence at all.

Utilising all the tools at your disposal should be the modus operandi for any ecommerce company, especially when the cost of their operation is considerably lower than real world advertising, and so much more effective.

Remarketing should be used in conjunction with persistent carts (which have a shelf life of longer than a week!). Exit intent tech can be married with abandoned cart emails and they can all live happily ever after. Just remember to test, retest and optimise.

If you would like to read about our full results, you can download our case study for free here: The eCommerce Abandoned Cart White Paper.

Free Downloadable Bonus: Download a PDF file of the entire blog post and save it for later.

Sebastian Paszek
Sebastian is the director of the digital marketing agency Spot Studio. Working with eCommerce stores, Spot Studio develop marketing strategies and custom websites in order to maximise sales.

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