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Email A/B Testing Best Practices

Email A/B Testing Best Practices


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In this post we’ll be looking at five A/B tests which could optimise your cart abandonment emails and ecommerce customer journey, along with some tried and tested tips to help you along the way.

According to the results from our latest 2022 Ecommerce Stats & Changes In Consumer Behaviour report, 83% of mobile baskets are abandoned by your customers, alongside 76% of desktop shoppers.

With such high cart abandonment rates, it’s clear that you need to be doing the most you can to get opens, clicks and conversions from your abandoned cart emails. Using various A/B testing ideas & strategies (also known as split testing), you can experiment with areas of your emails and see what works best with your audience to recover sales without reinventing the wheel.

What Is A/B Testing?

A/B testing, otherwise known as split testing, refers to an experimentation process which takes place on a platform (such as a webpage or email template), and tests different variables of that digital space for the best impact. It is the visitors that determine which version of the platform works best after gathering the most successful results from their actions.

Here are five examples of tests which could improve the click and open rates of your cart abandonment emails, and we will explore how some brands did just that. 

What Should Be In An AB Test Email?

SaleCycle helps brands explore intelligent marketing through the use of impactful cart abandonment emails to help you discover how to kickstart your ecommerce customer journey from their inbox into the checkout process. There are a selection of A/B testing or ‘split tests’ you can run in your emails to help achieve the most impact. Here’s some A/B testing ideas and strategies to include in your next test:

Subject Lines

The subject line is something to consider when looking at what should be in an AB test email in order to increase your open rates. Whether this is personalised to the shopper or the product, or reminding customers of your current online promotions.

In the time between browsing and receiving their abandoned cart email, customers may have forgotten about key messages from your website. Below is a great example of how a large ecommerce company tried to tackle this problem, and overall push their promo code with attention grabbing lines.

Hunter were running a 10% off promotion online, so decided to do an A/B test of their regular subject line against one which included the online promotion message. 

When the promotional message was included, email open rates improved by more than 52%.

Copy Testing

Email copy can be the difference between your customer successfully responding to your call to action and purchasing – or your email going straight in the trash. 

Depending on what product you’re selling, a more direct message could be more effective; while on the other hand, your audience may feel more engaged with in-depth copy, depending on the product and the information you are trying to provide.

Here we see Giffgaff testing the two sets of copy. In this particular instance, a phone had been refurbished and therefore had a lower transaction value. 

Giffgaff tested a more direct and ‘’to the point’’ copy against an email containing a longer copy. 

The first version of the email with reduced copy saw an increase in click rates of more than 14%. In this case, the consumers were more interested in being offered straightforward information when it came to purchasing technology.

Discount Codes

How do you know when to discount your products? We have explored this topic at great length in a SaleCycle report on How Retailers Can Use Discounting Without Harming Their Brand

We are aware that discount codes can be highly effective in improving email click rates when used correctly and sustainably in accordance with your business. 

We can see here in the example below how other businesses have used discount codes to their advantage.

The Body Shop used split testing with discount codes by including the discount message in the main header of their email. Because of this, The Body Shop has created urgency, or a call to action, by offering the discount for only 24 hours. By including the message, they saw an increase in email click rates of more than 89%.

How Can You Improve The CTR Of Your Emails?

Making your emails attractive to increase your CTR is a key concept for any brand looking to increase conversion rates. Below we’ve included a number of A/B testing ideas and email marketing strategies to increase CTR.

Personalise Your Emails

You can further target consumers with the content of your email by including elements of personalisation – this can be tested in the subject line of your email, as well as the copy. 

Personalisation in emails use subscriber data to make the content feel tailor-made for the individual. It is proven to increase open rates and drive revenue because it helps marketers give subscribers more relevant, individualised content.

Part of effective lead nurturing is knowing how to segment your customers via behavioural segmentation, as in your prospects’ and customers’ purchase history, download history, satisfaction score, and website activity. This will allow you to provide the most relevant offers that will receive more click-throughs due to the targeted nature of your email.

Idle Time

Delivering your cart abandonment email at the perfect time can be a great way to increase your open rates. Delivering too soon and your customer will still be in the mindset of leaving your website; and too late means they could have purchased elsewhere. 

Unfortunately, there is no magic number for when it is best, as this all depends on the value of your product vs. an individual customer’s shopping behaviour. For example, high order values generally take a little longer to think things through for the average shopper. But can retailers help customers decide on a purchase using timing techniques?

Matalan increased their open rates by testing the idle time: the time between the basket being abandoned and the email dropping into the inbox. The test period was set, and some emails were received after 45 minutes and the others after 30 minutes.

The result was an uplift of more than 10% in open rates from those who had received the email after 30 minutes – so the change was made from the original idle time of 45 minutes, down to the lesser time of 30 minutes.

Call To Action

As mentioned in this article, a clear and powerful call to action could be the key to increasing your click through rates.

Cart abandonment emails should always go back to the original cart, but there are a number of wording options when calling for action. You can word the action differently for the same result – for example “Keep Looking”, “Buy Now” or “Complete Your Purchase”.

In this AB test, GHD were looking to improve and increase click through rates from their cart abandonment emails, so therefore tested their call to action with different wording.

GHD trialled two calls to action: ‘Continue Shopping’ and ‘Return to Basket’; they found that the latter CTA increased click rates by more than 56%.

Include Social Link Options

Encouraging your audience to visit a link to a webpage or social platform version of your email can be effective in getting your customers to explore your business and potentially add more items to add to their baskets. 

Be sure that your links are relevant and compelling to the audience and choose your social platforms carefully depending on the email’s content. For example, for fashion e-commerce, links to a certain category of clothing (e.g. women’s dresses) and to Instagram may be the most appropriate.

Take a look at our article on social proof to learn more about consumer behaviours when a social situation is added to an ecommerce experience.

How Do You Test Email Performance?

After all that we’ve learned from this article on Abandonment Email AB Testing Best Practices, the ultimate question is how do you test email performance overall so that you know you’re getting the best outcome? Remember these crucial steps:

  • Don’t run just one AB test – take your time and run a few variables. 
  • Collect the data. Make good use of the results and track your analytics to be able to compile a full review.
  • Use the data. Once you have seen the various stats from your email’s performance, take your combined data and use them to your advantage.

Real A/B Testing Results 

It’s important to see real results from real brands. Below we’ve collected data from some of our large retail brands to show how A/B testing ideas and strategies helped their overall marketing performance.

Cath Kidston

Fashion and home retailer Cath Kidston wanted to test a 1 day idle time against shorter timescales to see how their customer base behaved and interactive with their abandonment emails.

Cath Kidston tested sending their emails at 24 hours, 12 hours, 6 hours, 4 hours and 2 hours, and here’s how the results shaped up:

Cath Kidston Split Tests - Open Rates

Cath Kidston Split Tests - Conversion from Click

The results demonstrated a pretty clear uplift in Open Rates as the idle times got shorter as it was closer to the time of abandonment when the customer was still within their shopping mindset, and while it was interesting that the open rate did drop a little towards the 4 and 2 hour marks the conversion rates were considerably higher at this point.

The difference between the default of 24 hours and 12 hour test was striking enough with an 11% uplift in the open rate and a 45% increase in the open from send. However the shortest idle time of 2 hours was the clear winner overall with a 13.7% increase in the open rate and a whopping 38% increase in the conversion from click.
Based on the strength of the conversion rates, Cath Kidston have set the idle time for the campaign at 2 hours and continued to achieve steady and impressive results.


Fashion retailer Monsoon ran a series of A/B tests to optimise the subject line performance on their campaign. They were looking for the impact different subject lines could have, not only on open rates but also what customers did once they opened the email – here’s what they tried:

“Your Monsoon Shopping Basket”

“Your [item] from Monsoon”

“Can we help?”

Pulling through the name of an item within their abandoned basket had a really positive impact with customers – a 16% increase in the open rate with a whopping 20% increase in the click through rate, and most importantly a 50% increase in the conversion from send rate.

By contrast the customer service focused “Can we help?” had a negative effect on performance, despite seeing a 5% increase in the open rate we then saw a 2% drop in click through rates and a 1.5% drop in the conversion from send – and all this using the same creatives for all variations!

Monsoon Winning Subject Line


Tesco Broadband

Tesco Broadband wanted to test the layout of their emails to see how a shopping cart focussed email performed against customer service content promoting their USPs.

The SaleCycle design team produced a slightly different template to include 5 bullet points highlighting the benefits of switching to Tesco Broadband. The assumption was that a softer, customer service lead approach would work well given the nature of the service the customer was looking to sign up for but the test results were surprising.
Interestingly the open rates and the click through rates were higher on the USP template but the conversion from send dropped by 14% with the conversion from click dropping even further by 16% when compared to the standard short text with shopping cart format.

Testing on this is on-going with the ultimate aim perhaps being a combination of the two styles to compliment both Tesco’s great products and the USPs that make them special.

Tesco Creative Split Tests

In Summary

Whatever your goal is when optimising your cart abandonment emails remember, the customer is always right – so give them the chance to show you what works for them.

Always keep in mind to only test one thing at a time, over a large group of data to make sure your tests are significant and you can clearly see what works.

Reviewed by Brad Ward
Written by Casey Turnbull
— Updated on 12/05/2022


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Casey Turnbull

Casey is a Fashion Journalism graduate & ecommerce marketing executive at SaleCycle. Casey is committed to producing high quality content backed by in-depth research and data. She has experience developing content in a range of sectors including fashion, ecommerce and sports.