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Monday, May. 18, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Can Bad Assumptions Lead to “Gorilla Marketing”?

By Jeff Sexton
May 18th, 2009

In the offline world, have you ever been chased by retail staff because you opted not to buy something at their store?


You mean no one has ever blocked the exit and said something like, “Hey, I saw you put that bottle of wine in your cart, why didn’t you buy it?”

It sounds funny until you realize that most online remarketing services offer to do exactly that to your website visitors.  They’ll pester them with e-mails, pop-ups, and phone calls should they have the bad fortune of visiting your site, adding something to your shopping cart, and then not buying it.

Why would otherwise sane e-tailers revert to such uncivil, gorilla-like tactics?  Really bad assumptions about both human nature and the nature of online shopping.  They simply haven’t compared what they’re doing to that kind of offline analogy.  So here are the bad assumptions, along with a few suggestions on how to correct them and what to do instead:

Assumption #1: Everyone is a late stage buyer

Related assumptions: Everyone who puts something in your shopping cart has a full-blown intent to purchase that item, and it was just chance or a shopping cart flaw that caused them to “abandon” your cart.  Cart abandonment is caused within the cart itself.


  • Lots of people research and comparison-shop before they buy.
  • Adding an item to cart is often a means of comparison shopping
  • Adding an item to cart is often the only way to get important information for making the buying decision – stuff like shipping costs, whether express delivery is available, gift options etc.
  • Most lost sales are caused by a lack of information and persuasion on the product page and the rest of the website – not by the cart itself.

Assumption #2: Long-term effects will parallel short-term gain

Related assumptions: sales that you recover from abusive or annoying tactics are easily tied to increased revenue and therefore are more important than the much-harder-to-measure ill will and annoyance created by those same techniques.  That the successes are as cumulative as the ill will generated.


  • “He who would run his business with visible figures alone will soon have neither business nor visible figures to work with.”  -    W. Edwards Deming
  • Don’t mistake a lack of hate e-mail or complaints as a lack of passionate response.  Or at the least, find out a way to measure the offense or annoyance you’re causing amongst the visitors who you don’t convert through your remarketing efforts.    If more people are converted than are pissed off, and the converted become repeat buyers, then keep doing what you’re doing.  But have the discipline to find out for sure.
  • Pissed off people are a lot more likely to share their experiences than a visitor converted through remarketing tactics.  And even the converted visitor will be less likely to do ANY further early stage shopping from you now that they know what to expect from putting an item in your cart or visiting your checkout page.
  • Ask any remarketing service what the longer-term trends for their customers have been.  If they can’t tell you overall impact on their clients conversion rates for periods of at least 1-2 years, you should be very, very suspicious.

Assumption #3:  It never hurts to ask.

Related assumptions: that the mere form of a question /offer renders it impossible to offend visitors’ sensibilities or violate their sense of privacy and online safety.


  • Read this Seth Godin post
  • Imagine that you had only started to fill out a check-out form, had not ever hit any kind of “submit” or “enter” button before closing out, but now have that website e-mailing and calling you because they pulled the info off of their server in real-time, as you typed it into the form.  How do you feel about that?  Think this thing doesn’t happen?  It does.
  • A website forces you to create an account in order to checkout.  You create one.  Then you see that they gouge their customers on shipping charges.  You close out of the process and now you’re receiving spam from that company/website.  Are you EVER likely to do business with them in this or any other lifetime?

So are all automated responses and attempts to “save the sale” a bad idea?

Absolutely not.  Just let your offline sense of what’s appropriate guide you in your applications of this online technology. Pushy sales clerks can kill brick and mortar sales just as easily as over-aggressive re-marketing techniques for the simple reason that human nature doesn’t change just because a person goes online.  In fact, I frequently recommend Why We Buy to Web optimization specialists and online copywriters for exactly this reason.

So to use that offline analogy, let’s say you are looking at a more expensive bottle of wine and that the store owner sees you put it back on the shelf to grab a few other cheaper bottles.

Would it be ok for the clerk to approach you, mention that the bottle you were looking at is one of the best buys he has in the store, guarantee you’ll love it, and offer to give you a discount to get you to try a bottle?   Or for him to show you similar bottles closer to your price range?

As long as the clerk was respectful and took “no” for an answer, there’s no problem with that at all, right?  So how could you do it online?

  • You could show special offers on previously-deleted-from-the-cart merchandise during the checkout process
  • You could have a button on your product page that says “alert me to any specials or discounts on this product,” and then follow-up with a special e-mail offer AFTER the visitor has given you permission to contact them.
  • For completed sales – and completed sales ONLY! – you could send a follow-up e-mail with special deals on previously-deleted-from-the-cart merchandise
  • And a few other techniques that I’m sure you’ll come up with yourself if you spend some time thinking about it.  I don’t want to give away all my secrets without exacting any mental work from my readers ;)

All of these things work just as well online as their offline counterparts, which is far more than can be said for most “gorilla” (re)marketing tactics.

P.S.  Before going through all this trouble to remarket, why not make sure you’ve fully optimized your checkout process to begin with?  Bryan Eisenberg’s initial and follow-up blog posts on this are a great place to start.

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Comments (24)

  1. “Hey, I saw you put that bottle of wine in your cart that you ended up putting back. We’re having a 25% off sale tomorrow on all wines if you’re still interested.”

    I’d be sold.

  2. Shock Marketer,

    Useful information/offers that is provided in a non-confrontational and non-invasive format – similar to your message about a 25% off sale – probably would work online as well.

    Translating that to an online experience, imagine a pop-up that occurs either at the moment that the item is deleted from your cart or the moment you proceed to check out, which advises the visitor of the sale.

    That’s quite a bit different than preventing me from leaving the site or contacting me through e-mail when I have not given the company permission to contact me.

    Oh, and 25% sales are worth hearing about while most 5-15% sales really aren’t (or at least not to most shoppers). Give ‘em a real savings / discount / special offer, as opposed to a transparent excuse to pester them into buying.

    As I said in the article, I think remarketing can be done well – I’ve just seen quite a bit of it done poorly.

    - Jeff

  3. I’ve never been approached about not purchasing a product at a retail store, but this type of Gorilla Marketing happens all the time at the local flea market, what a turn off!
    Cheryl Beckham

  4. I was contacted by one of these service recently. It was tastefully written and offered a 1st time customer discount of 10%, not enough to entice me to buy, but interesting anyway.

  5. “find out a way to measure the offense or annoyance you’re causing amongst the visitors who you don’t convert through your remarketing efforts”
    Any hints on how to do this?

  6. Mark,

    You can start by measuring how many people are NOT converted by your remarketing techniques.

    If you have their IP addresses, you can come up with a measure of how many these unconverted visitors don’t come back to the site (over a 2-3 month timeline).

    You can take that list of e-mail addresses and check them against your list of repeat customers / accounts and see how many of your formerly repeat customers drop out.

    You can search your company / website name on twitter, FB, blogs, etc.

    Will you arrive at super-accurate figures? No. But you’ll end up with some rough percentages that you can work with. If only 5% of the remarketed people convert, and of the remaining 95% about half never come back to the site, and of that 42.5% about a fourth are (or were) repeat customers. You can at least crunch some rough numbers on whether the added sales are worth the erosion to your loyal customer base.

    - Jeff

  7. I’m a believer in the cart abandonment email when done right. Right means the right permission, a soft message, an offer and enough time lapse (not 30 minutes). Right also means not pushing a sale but rather reminding value. Just like Shock Marketer said.

    Of course these emails can and should go further. Why not try asking consumers why they left with a simple survey. Those learning’s could easily be translated to identify issues (like an account barrier, high shipping, etc…) and to help you tailor an offer for future, opt-in abandons.

  8. Interesting assumptions. I can’t understand why people would make them, though… But I’m glad to see a post that’s to help correct, not simply bash these assumptive tactics.

  9. Jeff, very funny image of gorilla, thanks for the laugh.

  10. The thing about special offers (e.g. % off items deleted from the cart, etc.) is that you need to be careful not to train the consumer to expect those offers. Frequent shoppers (and friends) will quickly realize that the way to save money is to add and then delete things from the cart.

  11. I love the comparison between the offline front store owner and the online shop.

  12. [...] my last post, I made use of a brick and mortar analogy to the current online behavior of some e-commerce [...]

  13. Thanks for covering this topic. I mentioned it in my own blog a few weeks ago in reference to poor usability practices (

    I like the way you really got your hands dirty analyzing the poor reasoning that goes into a marketer’s decision to “block the exit” so to speak. To me it seems like common sense, and it astounds me that marketers think their buyers are so dumb/gullible/intimidated by these tactics.

    I also like the way you humanized this by applying it to a brick and mortar store. Funny but poignant.

  14. quoting from Cheryl Beckham:

    “I’ve never been approached about not purchasing a product at a retail store, but this type of Gorilla Marketing happens all the time at the local flea market, what a turn off!”

    Then the WorldWideWeb is like a giant flea market. ;) even mega companies resort to this kind of tactic..

    And it annoys me a lot.

  15. Thanks for the good post… you make some very valid points.

    One tactic that really turns me completely away from a marketer is the “Hey, wait a minute. What if we let you buy this right now for 50% off?”

    That makes me feel like their original price was a rip-off and that therefore THEY are rip-off marketers.

    I’ve even had some sites hit me with TWO markdowns when I try to leave.

    Often, the only reason I went to the “buy” button was to find out the price – which should have been on the sales page.

    Now, if there’s no price on the sales page, I leave without satisfying my curiosity.

  16. Really interesting topic. How would it be policed?

  17. This is a really bad approach from the etailers. I still get emails in my junk mail from some stores. Do they really think I will go back and buy?

  18. interesting Assumption
    i have never had this idea
    And i like the comparison between the offline front store owner and the online shop.

  19. Gorilla marketing, I love it :)

  20. a really interesting function i found when surfing an ecommerce site was – i had successfully added items to my basket and i left the website without checking out – 24 hours after abandoning the checkout i received an email to say if i went back to purchase the good the would offer me 10% off – so that was pretty cool

  21. I love Gorilla picture above and agree with all assumption.

  22. monkay!!! 55555

  23. At first glance, an online store and brick and mortar store don’t seem to have much in common. The way you offer comparisons with the above examples make me realize the buying experiences are more similar. It’s just more difficult to see in an online environment.

  24. I’ve never had an online store email me because I did not buy something that had been put in my shopping cart. If I ever had I can tell you for certain that site would be on my ‘do not shop here’ list forever. I can’t imagine a more intrusive and obnoxious behavior from an online store.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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