Turning Abandoned Carts into Sales: Getting Started With Remarketing


If you’ve been shopping on a large eCommerce website recently and placed an item in your eCommerce shopping cart and then not checked out, you may have noticed that you started suddenly seeing that item advertised all over the web. What you were seeing is called remarketing, and it’s among the most effective ways to advertise online.

Remarketing is a marketing strategy whereby a company whose website you’ve recently visited shows you targeted advertisements in an attempt to get you “over the hump” of completing a purchase.

Remarketing has grown exponentially over the last few years because it’s one of the most cost effective ways of increasing sales. Despite its effectiveness, however, many small and mid-sized businesses don’t use it at all, largely because they don’t understand it.

In this article, we’ll explain the basics of why and how retargeting works, and lay out a few tips for businesses just testing the waters of retargeting for themselves.

Example of Retargeting

Caption: An example of Cole Haan using remarketing on Facebook to a customer with an abandoned shopping cart.

Image Credit: Wordstream.com

Why Remarketing Works

Every marketer knows that delivering ads to an audience that is already ‘warm’ to your product is a more effective use of marketing time and dollars.

That’s why, for example, you won’t see many products that are targeted to female purchasers marketed on the ESPN channels on TV, as their viewing audience is overwhelmingly male.

In the online marketing context, the first level of paying for ads that more directly reach your target audience is to just place banner ads on websites whose demographics match your company’s demographics.

Or, better yet, to show Google AdWords ads to people whose internet searches have demonstrated an interest in your category of products. Each of these approaches takes you one step further towards identifying the individual person who is most likely to make a purchase from your website, and targeting your ad spend to reach that person.

That same idea is taken to an extreme in the remarketing context. That’s because an individual who has visited your website, selected an item from your site and placed it in their shopping cart (or taken any step to indicate their interest, e.g. started an application) has demonstrated on an individualized basis through their own actions their ‘warmth’ to your company’s products or services.

Therefore, better than broadly trying to target men by buying ads on ESPN, and even better than spending Adwords dollars to show your ads to visitors who have searched for generic phrases related to your product or services, you can get a much higher ROI by targeting your advertising spend precisely to those unique individuals who have already demonstrated an interest in your specific product, via Remarketing.

What Is Remarketing?

Remarketing can take a variety of different forms, but at its simplest, remarketing starts with a pixel tracking code tied to an Advertising Network.

That pixel tracking code is then added to your company’s website. When a visitor navigates to your website (or, depending on preferences, to a particular page on that website such as the shopping cart) the pixel is placed on the visitor’s computer.

Then, if the visitor doesn’t complete the checkout process, when he or she goes to another site that is in the Advertising Network, the visitor will see ads by the company for the company’s brand. Or, depending on how sophisticated the remarketing setup, the visitor may see ads marketing the specific product that was in the shopping cart when it was abandoned.

Remarketing Process

Image Credit: RoarLocal.com

How to Get Started

Implementing a remarketing campaign has gotten increasingly easy on a technological and logistical level over the past few years. Taking the basic steps outlined below, you can be up and running with a simple remarketing campaign in as little as a couple of hours.

Step 1: Pick a Platform

The first step in getting started with Remarketing is to pick a platform(s) to get started on. There are two types of platforms, third party platforms like AdRoll or Perfect Audience, that enable you to advertise across a number of ad networks, or direct platforms like Google Retargeting or Facebook Ads.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each ad platform but the essential point of all of them is that the platform provides:

(a) the technology for you to place the pixel on your customer’s browsers,
(b) the ability to determine the criteria under which your ads are shown,
(c) provides access to their network of websites where your ads can be shown, and
(d) manages the payments and display for your retargeting ads.

Step 2: Determine Your Customer Segmentation

Getting Started with Remarketing

Caption: Example of Customer Segmentation based on those who began an online application.
Image Credit: SoarPay.com

Once you’ve determined what platform you want to use and what ad network you want your retargeting ads to show up, you should take a few minutes to consider to which of your potential customers you want your retargeting ads to show.

The first answer that everyone considering retargeting says is that they’d like to segment their users as narrowly as possible (e.g. by the specific product that the customer added to their cart) and show the user customized retargeting ads based on their specific shopping cart.

But remember that complexity is the enemy of execution, so start as simply as makes sense for your business.

Consider creating a single segment for people that abandon the shopping cart, another segment for people who merely visit the site who meet your primary demographics (e.g gender, geography) and a third segment for those that have visited the site but who don’t meet your primary customer demographics.

This will give you three very manageable customer segments to start following and setting up unique ads, bids, and display criteria for.

Step 3: Determine Your Ad Criteria

Now that you’ve divided your retargeting customers into manageable segments, you’ll need to determine the criteria that must be met to display your retargeting ads.

Here the goal is to maximize the ROI of retargeting, which means maximizing the effectiveness of your ad budget by considering the frequency you’re willing to show your ads, the timetable upon which you show them, the total number of times a customer will see your ads, how much you’re willing to pay per impression, etc.


Depending on your product or service type and the length of the average customer purchasing horizon in your industry it may make sense to show retargeting ads to customers for weeks or even months after their initial visit. In other industries, a customer that hasn’t completed a purchase a few hours after their initial visit are likely not worth aggressively pursuing. Consider starting with a relatively short time horizon and expand it over time, as you’re paying per impression.

How Many Times:

Everyone who is age 30 or over can remember a time in the 90s when they received not 1, not 10, but dozens of annoying AOL free trial CDs in their mailbox each month. A retargeting campaign that isn’t properly calibrated to show only a reasonable number of times is similar.

Instead of encouraging the visitor to return to complete a sale, it creates a bad impression of the brand in the consumer’s mind.

So initially, consider setting reasonable limits based on your industry type as to the total number of times and the frequency with which you will show a potential customer a retargeting ad.

How Much to Spend and When to Spend it:

Budget For Remarketing

Caption: Setting your daily budget and ad schedule.

Image Credit: Facebook.com

One of the first settings you’ll need to adjust to set a daily budget, and daily schedule for your ads. As for the budget, this is simply an internal calculation based on your overall ad budget.

When it comes to your ads schedule, for most online businesses a 24-hour schedule is appropriate. If, however, you provide a time sensitive service, for example, then having your ads show only when you have the staff available to satisfy those customers makes sense.

With respect to setting up your ad bidding, just like with all adverting, the ad platform is a medium in which the market forces of supply and demand are at play.

There are a limited number of ad spots to reach a potential customer, and the ad platform wants to make as much money as possible, meaning the highest bidder will typically get to show their ad to the customer first. So, as with most online advertising caution is the better part of valor, start your bids low and move up slowly.

With retargeting, you are paying per impression, which means you’re paying for an ad every time a potential customer sees it. And while, in general, the click-thru-rates and conversion rates for retargeted customers is significantly higher than most other forms of online advertising (15 Mind Blowing Stats About Retargeting) you still need to run the analysis of how much each additional customer is worth to your company, and back into how much you can conservatively afford to spend per display ad by customer segment.

Step 4: Place Your Pixel

Setup of Retargeting

Caption: Installing your pixel tracking code is as simple as copying and pasting it onto your website.

Image Credit: Facebook.com

Now that you’ve laid out the basic contours of your initial remarketing campaign, it’s time to implement it. Remarketing technology has come a long way over the last few years. Today, placing the tracking code necessary to enable remarketing is as simple as adding a few lines of HTML to the appropriate pages of your website. Nonetheless, it’s an essential step that you must complete before you can actually start remarketing.

Step 5: Conclusively Track Your Performance

As with all marketing channels, remarketing ad networks will trumpet their benefits but rarely focus on the costs. In order to prove remarketing’s financial effectiveness for your business, you need to ‘close the loop’ on remarketing sales tracking and conclusively demonstrate how many (and which) additional sales are due to remarketing campaigns.

Depending on the remarketing platform you use, that may be as simple as using the built-in conversion tracking that is included in many retargeting platforms. But given the incentives to over attribute any sale to their platform, however, it might be wise to track customer sale attributions via a third party system like using UTM tracking.


This introduction to remarketing is designed to just get you started helping your company obtain additional sales at a lower price point by reaching customers who have already clearly displayed an interest in your products and services based upon their previous visits to your website (and/or website’s shopping cart).

Once you’ve taken the basic step of enabling pixel based web retargeting and seen its potential, however, there are additional types of remarketing that can be integrated into your advertising such as email remarketing or even offline remarketing via physical mailers of coupons or customer phone calls.

In each instance, however, the overriding principle remains the same: creating unique ads targeted to individuals who have expressed a clear interest in your goods and products are some of the most effective advertising dollars your company can spend.

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