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Using email to address abandoned shopping carts

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Transforming abandoned shopping carts into completed sales is a classic conundrum for any e-commerce company, and it's one that had been troubling Rob Schmelz, e-commerce manager for Central Restaurant Products. The company, which sells cooking and serving equipment to restaurants, hospitals, schools and other institutions, was even more frustrated about the problem because, thanks to website and email analytics, it could tell exactly which customers were leaving before completing their sales. “If you've ordered or [signed up] on the site with an email, we know who you are via Omniture and [Central Restaurant Products' email marketing provider] Delivra,” he said. Hoping to reduce the number of abandoned carts, Schmelz, along with Delivra, implemented a triggered email program that would reach out to anyone who had filled a cart but left the site. The solution, which has been in place for three months, was custom-built for the company's shopping cart, said Carissa Newton, director of marketing for Delivra. Emails require a very light touch. “It's a friendly approach,” Schmelz said. The subject line—“Did you forget something?”—reminds them that the cart is still there. The text of the email includes information about the cart expiration, the company's toll-free number, its hours of operation and an invitation for the customer to give the company a call. The email program has frequency caps so customers won't be bombarded with messages. It also specifies that customers who have made very recent purchases—within a day or two—also be spared triggered messages. “We're very cautious because, if someone just received an email, they might opt out [of the email program] if we sent them another one,” Schmelz said. Most important, the triggered emails go out only to specific list segments (Central Restaurant Products segments its customers by category and subcategory; four main categories include restaurants, schools, institutions and other). School purchasers, Schmelz said, seem to prefer a more personal touch, calling in their orders rather than buying online. “We know a lot of schools visit the site, but the far majority [of school buyers] would prefer to speak to someone,” he said. “With a school, we're not going to send them an email because, by the time they get it, they may have already called and ordered, and that's not going to look good.” The results have been “better than expected,” Schmelz said. The company's open rate for the triggered messages is 72.6%; the click-through rate, 20.7%. Even more impressive, though, is the conversion rate, which is 333% higher than the overall site conversion rate. “We're not seeing an increase in our opt-out, and we're seeing such good results,” Schmelz said. “The program is working, and we're planning on continuing it in the future.”
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