Money and Markets

Want an extra online-shopping discount in South Africa? Try walking away for a day or three.

Business Insider SA
Abandoned-carts literature
Many e-commerce system providers are urging online retailers to work on recovering abandoned carts.
  • Online retailers are working hard to recover "abandoned carts" – and get shoppers who walk away at the last second to complete a purchase.
  • Shopping system suppliers argue this is a great investment for e-commerce sites, and say they have the numbers to prove it.
  • Discounts are one way to get such transactions back on track, and we are now seeing such discount offers in South Africa.
  • That means local buyers with a little patience could score extra price cuts, by manipulating the system that is supposed to manipulate them, though not without some risk.
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If you can afford to wait a day or three, you may just be able to score an extra discount, or free shipping, from South African online shopping sites.

And – though this system comes with no guarantees, and there is no way to tell what you might score – all you have to do is shop, and then wait.

Suppliers of the increasingly complex and sophisticated systems used to sell stuff online are currently heavily focused on the problem of "abandoned carts": shopping transactions very nearly but not quite completed. Just about all the work has been done to part those buyer from their money, proponents of abandoned-cart-recovery argue, so it is cheaper to clinch those deals than find new customers.

The statistics that accompany these pitches are compelling – apparently enough so for some South African websites to start implementing tweaks to their processes.

Abandoned cart Google ad
A Google ad served after we abandoned a cart – without providing an email address.

These methods are intended to make online retailers money, but with a little patience you can turn them to your advantage.

Here's how to get a discount, or extras like free shipping, by exploiting abandoned-cart recovery mechanisms now being implemented by South African shopping websites.

If you have the time, shop – and then wait for three days.

To create an abandoned cart, select stuff on an e-commerce website, go right up to the checkout stage – and then walk away.

You don't even necessarily have to register an account on that website, although it might help.

The most popular form of abandoned-cart recovery is by sending reminder emails, which means the site needs your email address. But we've seen a local example where a website targets those with abandoned carts via Google ads too. (Google has a specific method to combine tracking code dropped by the selling website with an auction-style system for who gets to show you ads that can lead to those creepy specific ads for, say, shoes that you start seeing after browsing shoes.)

So with or without your contact details, a website may try to track you down and convince you to take the plunge, and pay for those items you left in your cart.

But they may not necessarily offer you a freebie immediately.

In the rapidly developing world of abandoned-cart recovery, retailers are encouraged not to go with a discount offer immediately. Instead best-practice calls for first trying a gentle reminder, either via an email or a tailored banner ad that suggests you "forgot something", or asking if you need to speak to an agent.

If that doesn't work, you may get the hard sell: "We can't guarantee availability of this product much longer", or "Prices are about to go up".

Only if it becomes clear you are not going to budge comes the third phase, which can be a discount coupon for 10% or more off your basket, free shipping, or whatever other perk or freebie the site hopes will entice you to seal the deal.

As a rule of thumb, wait three days to see if that third phase kicks in, even if the second-phase offer contains a discount; there may still be a better offer coming.

And the same goes for paid apps.

Unlike retailers of physical goods, app makers have no hard costs to cover on your purchase specifically, so they can discount pretty deeply and still make money. We're increasingly seeing the same abandoned-cart type mechanisms in use by paid-for apps: if you download and register without paying, you start to get better offers than the list price.

Again, for the moment, the magic number seems to be three days to get the best available deal.

Be warned though, you may get nothing extra – and you may genuinely lose out.

Not all retailers considered abandoned carts to be a missed opportunity all the time. Whether or not they try to woo you will differ from seller to seller, and the same website can turn such offers on and off at a whim, or depending on how its marketing budget is looking.

Some sites look for "known buyers", those who have purchased from them before, while other sites may have a problem with people walking away because of trust issues, and so will target first-time buyers.

We're also seeing sites rapidly test and discard offers to get nearly-there shoppers back, as they search for the best results at the smallest cost.

And you are taking something of a risk. Many retailers try to optimise their stock-holding and pricing, and that warning of stocks running out or prices about to change could well be genuine.

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