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Leaving Items in Your Online Shopping Cart to Get a Coupon - Does This Trick Still Work?

Everyone likes a good discount when shopping and one way to get those discounts is to leave items in your shopping cart at an online store for a few days. By doing this, the retailer will assume you are having second thoughts about pushing through with your purchase. In order to encourage you to complete the checkout process, some retailers may send you a discount coupon or voucher as an incentive. We’ve probably done it a few times as online shoppers, we visit an online shop, where then we toss an item into a shopping cart, and then casually walk away without checking out, expecting that, in a couple days, the retailers will email or text a discount code. In the earlier days of e-commerce, and especially in the heyday of email marketing, this was a surefire way of getting some nifty savings, especially on items you weren’t in any real hurry to purchase.

Nowadays, this tactic doesn't work all the time, nor does it work for every online seller.

Cart abandonment has been an issue for online retailers from the very start of e-commerce. With 7 out of every 10 carts abandoned, it’s easy to see why online merchants are looking for strategies to recover these lost sales. But as retailers analyze the reasons why a customer might abandon their cart, there’s one question that consumes the conversation around cart abandonment—whether or not to incentivize the purchase.

Savvy customers noticed that if they leave an item in their cart, the store will usually attempt to engage you into pushing through with your purchase by sending them three (3) abandoned cart emails via email automation (assuming the customer has already registered an account with the store):

The first email is a reminder letting the customers know that they abandoned the cart. The second one adds a sense of urgency, stating that the item may be running out of stock or may change price soon. The third email, finally, offers an incentive, giving a one-time, usually time-sensitive deal to entice customers to complete the transaction.

Naturally, with cart abandonment emails following this pattern, many keen customers would tend to wait until the third email with the included discount voucher before they check out the item.

The online stores, however, have wised up to this game, and nowadays, instead of sending cart recovery emails with incentives all the time, they do it rarely—only about 20-25% of the time.

Furthermore, sophisticated email marketing AI is implementing smarter triggers. Their software can now keep track of the customers who received incentive offers in the past and identify those who were more likely to take advantage of the offer, resulting in those higher-value customers receiving more emails with incentives compared to others.

So, does this mean that the days of leaving an item in your cart in order to get a discount are over and that waiting for an email offer from an online seller is futile? Not necessarily. While many of us think about incentives as monetary discounts, they don’t have to be limited to only those. While customers usually expect discount coupons during the abandonment stage, there are other types of incentives retailers can offer customers.

Shipping Vouchers

In a world of Amazon Prime and next-day shipping, competition can be fierce. Sometimes, if customers abandon their carts due to shipping costs—a very common reason—discounted or free shipping vouchers can be just the thing to bring them back.

Shipping vouchers are becoming an increasingly popular incentive for customers, especially those who don’t meet a seller’s minimum shipping requirement. It is, however, negligible for those who have already reached the shipping threshold. So, online shoppers should take note of the “Free Shipping” offer on the retailer’s website. Shipping vouchers may be offered to you through email if the item in your cart falls below the minimum purchase total.

Loyalty and Rewards Points

Receiving rewards or loyalty program points is predicated on the assumption that you are already a regular customer of the online store, have voluntarily joined their program and, therefore, a natural trigger for their promotional emails. Offering loyalty and rewards points as an incentive are an innovative way to bring a customer back to purchase.

For example, the retailer can notify the customer how many points they’ll earn by completing the purchase (“You’re this close to earning 150 points/$15 off your next order. Check out now!”)

Alternatively, some retailers will automatically apply the points you’ll earn from a purchase as your discount, adjusting the price of the abandoned cart product to reflect the earned points factored in.

Free Gift with Order

Freebies are a sure-fire way to close a deal. Whether it’s free makeup samples, free gift wrapping, or an accessory to a popular product, free gifts offered through abandoned cart emails are a great way to make customers feel like they’re getting more value for their purchase and the likelihood of them completing the checkout increases.

For example, if you’re dithering on whether or not you should go ahead with buying that eyeshadow palette, chances are, if the seller sends you an email offering a free tube of lipstick along with your purchase, you will go ahead with the order.

On the other hand, there are exceptions in which certain retailers are virtually never going to offer you a discount or free gift just to entice you to push through with your purchase, no matter how expensive the item in your cart is. These exceptions include:

Luxury Brands

Luxury retailers don’t typically discount, and if they do, it’s rare. After all, discounting a luxury item not only takes away the exclusive perception of the brand, but if you abandon your cart, the retailer doesn’t consider it a loss to them as they are almost guaranteed to have another customer coming along who is more than willing to pay full price for that luxury item.

Premium Quality Items

Similar to breaking brand image, most retailers want to avoid offering incentives with quality-based branding because the premium quality of the item is in itself the incentive offered.

Retailers that sell a product that is considered the highest quality in the market are likely not competing on price point. It doesn’t make sense for retailers to diminish the quality and premium rate of their products in the eyes of their customers by discounting it after several emails begging them to reconsider. Such a move would indicate a degree of desperation and would suggest that the product isn’t of competitive enough quality to sell easily at full price.

So, does the smart shopping practice of leaving items in your online shopping cart to get an incentive to continue with the purchase still work? Absolutely. But not as often as in the early days of e-commerce and certainly the incentive is not always a discount coupon. With almost all online retailers still using email marketing for promotions and deals, obviously they still think that discount coupons, shipping vouchers, and freebies are effective ways to recover a sale that might otherwise be lost. For others, like luxury brands, offering incentives is not practical at all.

Thus, the short answer to whether you should or should not abandon your cart in order to wait for an email offer is “Go ahead” but with a caveat—it depends on the retailer/brand, type of products, messaging, and you—the customer’s—purchasing habits.
Mel Oct 20, 2022