Abandoned Cart Sequences—Should You Use Them?

Y’know those times when you get 75% of the way to completing your purchase, and then change your mind at the last minute?

…only to find your inbox pinging with a predictable sales message: “Did you forget something? Click here to complete your purchase.” If you’re patient enough – or ignore these emails for long enough – maybe you get a promo code.

That’s called an “abandoned cart sequence.”

My friend Ebonye loves these sequences. She’ll fill her shopping cart, enter her email address, then intentionally click away just to see what happens.

In the e-commerce world, I’m theoretically okay with abandoned cart sequences. I mean, who doesn’t want a cashmere sweater at 20% off. Yes, please! I’ve also noticed e-commerce companies tend to have better ethics around these sequences. They’ll email once or twice, then leave you alone.

The digital course industry? Not so much.

Let’s take it back to last Thursday.

I was scrolling my newsfeed when I saw an ad I’ve seen many times before. “You can sell $100K offers,” it says. Now, let me preface this by saying I have some feelings about this specific brand of coaching. It’s often women teaching women how to leverage their privilege to charge very high fees. Those who get results from this method are more often than not beautiful, thin, white, cisgender people, firmly belonging to the dominant culture. It doesn’t sit well with me.

Sidebar about selling high-ticket offers

I have zero interest in selling $100K offers. Not because I don’t think there’s any place for them in the market (though, admittedly I’m skeptical), but at the moment I’m intensely interested in being LOW-ticket and making my swipe files, templates, trainings and programs less exclusive and more accessible.

Let me also say, I have a huge level of privilege that allows me to make the decision to sell low-cost offers. My business is highly profitable. I have excellent cash flow. I have a decent-sized email list. (You can join it by clicking here.) I’m very good at sales, partly because I've been able to purchase many programs and mentorship. Lastly, should everything go belly up, I have a very good safety net of family, community and savings. That’s an enormous level of privilege.

It’s also a fact that most service providers I see in my programs aren’t charging enough and need to work their way up to higher prices.

Let’s return to the story.

Truthfully, I clicked on the ad partly so I could deconstruct the landing page, but mostly to hate on it and feel good about myself for being so woke. I know. I’m the worst. 🤦🏽‍♀

It was the usual, “You’re leaving money on the table by not charging enough” message I’ve seen many times before. And oftentimes that’s true! Often people drive potential clients away because they’re not charging enough. But the conversation has a lot more layers than just “raise your prices.” But I digress…

Now I was hooked and I wanted to know more.

What’s the strategy here, I wondered? Is this an opt-in page? A low-ticket offer? Does this person want me to book a sales call? I was confused because it was a long-form sales page without an actual offer.

Being well-versed in the female empowerment space and all the sales strategies that go along with it, it’s not often that I’m confused.

I clicked the button, with no idea where it might lead. (The copywriter in me wants you to note that anytime there’s friction or confusion around what happens AFTER a button gets clicked, that button is much less likely to get clicked. But as I said, I was curious so I kept going.)

I landed on a two-step checkout page. The kind where you have to enter your email and click through before entering billing information, or even seeing the price in some cases. This way the seller can capture your email address in case you don’t complete the checkout.

…and at this stage, since I didn’t even know the price – or indeed if there WAS a price – it was unlikely that I was going to complete the checkout.

(SIDE NOTE: I have to tell you that I find anything created in Clickfunnels a bit triggering. I recognized the software, and my hackles went up immediately.)

It turned out to be a $27 case study packet, with a $37 order bump that included a few extras. An “order bump” in case you don’t know, is when a little tick box appears on the checkout page, offering a (usually) small upsell. I don’t have a problem with order bumps—at least, not at the time of writing. I haven’t thought much about them, and I do use them myself.

Here’s where I abandoned my cart. My curiosity was satiated.

How Abandoned Cart Sequences Violate Consent

My hunch is that, for the seller, this isn’t a sales strategy, it’s a list-building strategy. It’s not intended to make money, it’s intended to collect email addresses and turn subscribers into buyers.

When I entered my email address, I knew exactly what was coming next. I understood that transaction perfectly. The trade-off was this:

ME: I give you my email address and you agree to satiate my curiosity

SELLER: I’ll satiate your curiosity, and I’ll also add you to my mailing list and send you my abandoned email sequence

Since I recognized the software and I’m hyper-informed on how this industry works, you could argue that I consented to be sent this email sequence. Sort of like when someone offers to buy you a drink, there’s a tacit agreement that you’ll talk to that person for at least 20 minutes.

…except now that conversation has turned into 3 hours! And while I always knew that was a possibility, I didn’t actually agree to it.

Can I unsubscribe? Sure. Some level of consent is built into every email. I could’ve unsubscribed at any time.

However, IMO it’s just bad form.

Is this how you want people to join your email list? With trickery? I don’t think so.

[ANOTHER SIDEBAR: Just by clicking the seller’s landing page I was opening myself up to retargeting ads – a practice that I actively consent to, since I chose not to turn off ads personalization. (If you’d like to do this, you can go to the hamburger menu on the top right > settings > ads > ads personalization > toggle off). But retargeting is a separate topic I won’t cover here.

Where Abandoned Cart Sequences Are Less Annoying

Let’s imagine another scenario.

You’re on my email list. I’m sending you a promo because based on past clicks and free offers you signed up for, I think you might be interested. You click through to my sales page. Even though you’re only semi-convinced, you click through to the checkout page. Just to dream. I’ve done that a million times.

In this scenario, theoretically it would be the time for an abandoned cart sequence. After all, you’ve already consented to getting emails from me, and you almost bought my offer. I’m in the clear, right?

But let’s back up a second. If you’re following the strategies I teach in Email Stars, then you’re already emailing subscribers every day of your cart open period, and every single day there’s a specific reason to buy. Maybe a bonus is expiring. Maybe you announced a new payment plan. Whatever.

If I interrupt this flow, I’m taking you outside the container of the launch. I’d probably have to stop sending you promo emails – the same emails that, very likely, help answer the question that stopped you from completing the checkout. If I don’t stop the promo emails, then you’ll be getting two sequences at once, which is messy and annoying.

All this to say, I’m not a fan of the abandoned cart sequence.

That’s just my two cents.

I’ll close this off by reminding you that many of the strategies we use in the online business game can be executed humanely, in a way that respects the customer, and the same strategies can be (and often are!) used to do harm.

Critical thinking is everything.

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