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Petco looks to save the abandoned

Petco combines Web site analytics with email marketing to solve cart abandonment problems.

Nothing frustrates an e-tailer more than an abandoned shopping cart.

Customers who log on to a company's Web site, browse its offerings, select one or more products and then depart before completing their purchase have long troubled online retailers. Petco Animal Supplies Inc., the San Diego-based pet store giant, has found a partial solution in what these days might be considered an unlikely place -- email marketing.

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Petco tracks customers who have abandoned their carts through San Mateo, Calif.-based Coremetrics Inc.'s hosted Web analytics tool, which passes that information to an email management system from Responsys in Redwood City, Calif. After three days, if the customer still has not purchased the product and is still subscribed to the email list, Petco sends an email offering them the product, plus two affinity products.

"The click-through rates are obnoxious; it's like 1,000% more than we normally see," said Heather Blank, director of e-commerce and business development.

Just six weeks into the project, Petco is also seeing a twofold increase converting click-throughs into orders, Blank said.

Meanwhile, Petco is the first to take advantage of the new partnership between Coremetrics and Responsys announced last week. The companies offer an integrated package to trigger email marketing campaigns from a customer's online behavior. The integrated application is available today, and both companies will begin by selling it to their existing customers. Coremetrics charges a monthly $3,000 fee to feed online historical and current behavioral data into Responsys, which then charges a $2,000 to $8,000 setup fee based on the number of campaigns.

With legislation such as the Can Spam Act and the waning effectiveness of email campaigns, organizations need to get smarter about email marketing, Blank acknowledged.

"There are challenges but it's still the No. 1 driver of sales with our program," she said. "Performance has decreased over the last year with bulk mails and spam blockers now prevalent on everyday home computers."

Blank said she no longer has confidence in list rentals and list acquisition. However, the company sends out more than 5 million email messages a month. Extending offers that the company knows customers are interested in, such as items placed in a shopping cart but abandoned, are helping to get Petco's other emails out of bulk folders and into inboxes, Blank said.

She hopes to expand the current email program to items that customers have browsed for, or to offer free shipping to customers who abandoned an order once they got to the shipping fee portion of the process. However, Petco is taking care not to push too hard.

"We don't want to make this too Big Brotherish," Blank said. "It's intended to be a little more coincidental. We are always looking for the seducible moment to put products in front of people when they can't help but buy."

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Have you been in a Petco? Or for that matter any store? In real life the abandoned cart only happens when a customer gets 2/3 the way through the store and finds that prices are too high, selection is too limited or the item(s) on the purchasing list are not available. The same presumably holds true online. It's not rocket surgery, just figure out what's in the abandoned carts - if anything - and see what you can do to solve the reasons carts are being left behind. It's actually more communications - and what a great opportunity to speak directly with a customer - and less analytics. Have at it and learn something about your audience.