Amazon, what were you thinking?


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Amazon is well known for its personalized recommendations, both on the site and delivered by email, but they don’t always get it right.

Take a look at this browse abandon email I received from Amazon on my PC and on my phone:

Amazon Remarketing Email Amazon Remarketing Email - Mobile

There are some things about this email which are best-in-class:

  • Amazon personalized the email by prominently featuring the image of the product I had previously evaluated
  • They used responsive design, delivering an email perfectly sized for my mobile device
  • They suppressed the secondary call to action so my attention is drawn to the main activity they would like me to pursue

However, Amazon also made a major mistake with this email that plagues many companies who build their remarketing tools in-house: they are out of step with the visitor!

You see, in the Amazon example above, I have already purchased and received a PC headset from Amazon, just a few days before I got this email.

I only have one pair of ears, so exactly what was Amazon thinking? Perhaps through some super-advanced profiling they were able to determine that I have a dog, and that I might need an extra headset for him? I can tell you that I tried it on him and he didn’t like it very much…

On a more serious note, out-of-step problems like this hurt a retailer’s relationship with their customer. By sending an email that is no longer appropriate, they make the customer:

  • Question if their purchase actually was completed with the retailer
  • Feel like perhaps they made a bad decision and purchased the wrong product
  • Wonder if the brand has a disorganized and inaccurate tracking and recommendation system

In a nutshell, sending promotions for an item that the customer has just bought will betray your brand and could potentially lose you a customer for life.

Staying in Step

The point that this makes is that you have to be vigilant in your marketing communications to ensure you stay in step with your customer. In practice this means tracking customers in real time, and using sophisticated suppression logic to ensure that your abandoned shopping cart emails and your browse emails are all in synch.

There is a tendency to think that sending triggered emails is a simple process. After all, email service providers have auto-responders that let you automatically email website visitors or leads based on certain actions, right?

The problem with this approach, and just about all attempts to build a remarketing capability in house, is that is seriously underestimates the task.

So what do you need to do to stay in step with your customer and avoid the same type of negative customer experience that Amazon just created with me?

  1. Implement a real-time feed which is continuously monitoring customer behavior, 24x7x365. That means that there can be no batches of data in your system, no lists, but a continuous stream of customer events. With 90 percent of abandoned shopping carts going cold within an hour, this system must pull information from across multiple channels and always recommend an appropriate “next best action” for each individual in real-time, at the moment when your opportunity to win them back is the greatest.
  2. Personalize your emails. The average time delay between first visit and purchase is 19 hours, but 72% of visitors will buy in the first 12 hours (Data SeeWhy). If you have a real-time system in place, you have the added advantage of always having the most current information about your customer and their buying and browsing activities. Incorporate this information into your browse abandonment and shopping cart abandonment emails and open rates for your emails can increase to hit 40% – 50%, with some campaigns getting an astonishing 80% open rate on their emails.It’s worth mentioning that if you don’t put a real-time system in place, then don’t personalize. As we saw in the Amazon example personalization will backfire if you are even just a few hours out of step with a customer .
  3. Use multi-stage campaigns. According to a recent Forrester’s study, 88% of U.S. online customers abandon shopping carts each year. The single largest reason why customers are abandoning in 2013 is because they are not yet ready to buy. It’s a timing problem. To combat this, many retailers who have real-time systems in place can send a sequence of remarketing emails sent at carefully optimized intervals. As we have seen with our clients, these multi-stage campaigns will recover up to 50% more lost sales than a single email blast.

Without real time visitor tracking, however, you should not send multiple remarketing emails. Being out of step once is pretty bad. Doing it multiple times is unforgivable.

Staying in step with your customer is critically important but often difficult to implement. Trying to implement these techniques without real-time analytics, like we saw with the Amazon example, means that you often can’t address the true causes of abandonment and risk alienating the very customer you are hoping to win back. If you are looking to reengage with customers that browse then abandon, or abandon their shopping cart, then the #1 thing on your shopping list should be real-time monitoring.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls is a social commerce expert and board advisor to several e-commerce startups. He founded SeeWhy, a real-time personalization and machine learning platform, which was sold to SAP. Serving as SVP of product, he built SAP Upscale Commerce, an e-commerce platform for direct-to-consumer brands and the mid-market. Today, Charles serves as chief strategy officer for SimplicityDX, a commerce experience company. He has worked on strategy and projects for leading ecommerce companies worldwide, including Amazon, eBay, Google and many others.


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