How Reflect.com Turned Browsers Into Buyers

Picture yourself, for a moment, the owner of a traditional brick-and-mortar store, say a clothing outlet or supermarket. Consumers come in, browse the aisles, pick out some items, and place them in shopping carts. Then, while waiting in line, 8 out of 10 customers walk off, leaving their full shopping carts behind.

And you do nothing about it.

That’s right — nothing. You don’t ask them why they’re walking out. Or why they bothered picking out items if they didn’t want to buy them. Or what you could have done to make them satisfied enough to complete the purchase.

As absurd as this scenario seems, it’s remarkably similar to what happens online. Depending on whose stats you believe, between 75 and 90 percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts. And that translates to retailers losing big bucks.

A Customized Approach to the Problem

Reflect.com, an interactive boutique where women customize their own beauty products, is trying to come in significantly under the industry average for abandoned shopping carts. By partnering with e-marketer Digital Impact, which provided the necessary technology, Reflect.com tested a series of email messages to shoppers who abandoned customized cosmetics, shampoo, and other beauty items. (I’ve written in this column about other testing efforts Reflect.com has made in partnership with Digital Impact.)

Starting in July and continuing through October, the company sent out a test message to many first-time Reflect.com shoppers. Roughly 70 percent of recipients received an email in HTML, 20 percent received an email in clickable text like this one: AOL, and the remainder received an email in plain text.

The first set of emails asked, in effect, “Oops — forget something?” and encouraged the recipient to head back to the site. It offered a free customized lipstick to those who followed through with their orders. The message also provided assurances: It mentioned that the site was completely secure (while noting that paying by check or money order was an option) and emphasized that all products are sold with a money-back guarantee.

The second set of messages, sent out to another group of consumers, was product specific. Say a shopper had selected a lipstick but didn’t go through with the purchase. The message she received said, “We noticed that you left a lipstick in your Reflect.com shopping bag.” The message offered this lipstick for free if she bought another customized product and provided the same shopping assurances the first message did.

The results?

The conversion rate among those who received the second message exceeded by one percentage point the conversion rate among those who received the first.

This boost in conversions is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s when we look at the results of the third set of messages that things start to get really interesting. In this batch, sent only to customers who had left shampoo in their carts, not only was the product mentioned, but an image of the product appeared in the email message — with the recipient’s name on the label. In this case, the free gift was more closely tied to the product: Shoppers who went ahead and purchased the shampoo were given a bottle of conditioner.

Conversion rates skyrocketed. Recipients of this third message converted at a rate more than twice that of those who received the first.

But…

Now I’m betting you’re wondering about a few things, one being backlash. Is it really a good idea to remind people that someone is monitoring their shopping trips? Hannelore Schmidt, Reflect.com’s director of marketing, said that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many customers replying that they were confused about the checkout procedure and thanking Reflect.com for following up with them.

You might also be asking yourself, isn’t this really a way of rewarding bad behavior? After all, we wouldn’t want to encourage consumers to pick up items and abandon them in the hopes of getting some free goodies. That’s why, Schmidt says, Reflect.com focused on sending messages out to first-time purchasers to get them over the hurdle of buying from the site.

Plus the tests involved several variables, and you may wonder how this affected results. For instance, the first message was sent to shoppers who had abandoned a range of items, whereas the third was sent to those who’d abandoned shampoo. The gift offered in the different email messages varied as well.

Schmidt says that continued testing is demonstrating that conversion rates aren’t much affected by which products were abandoned. What does consistently result in stronger conversion rates is the offer of a free product related to the abandoned product.

But Reflect.com finds the most important factor influencing conversion to be the image of the personalized product in the email message. This is a company built around the concept of customization, and the messages Reflect.com sends to those who failed to complete a purchase really reinforce this core identity. As you consider efforts your company might make to reduce the number of shopping carts abandoned, think of how its identity can be leveraged in an email.

Who knows? You might strengthen your conversion rates and your brand’s identity!

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