*Spoiler alert* There is no difference. Let us explain why.

Our recent Remarketing Report highlighted the challenge of cart abandonment. More than 75% of people who add an item to their shopping cart don’t complete their purchase in that session.

Now, the first thing to say is that some of these people are likely to never buy…. Or certainly not anytime in the near future. I love looking at – and speccing out – my dream Bugatti car… but sadly, it’s a way off for now.

But, for the majority of the people who abandon on your website – they are putting their hand up and confessing to an interest to your offering.

That kind of real behavioral data is the stuff of marketer’s dreams, which is why so many brands use remarketing and retargeting campaigns to reconnect with people who haven’t purchased yet.

As the market develops, it’s at risk of becoming more complicated… with email retargeting and display remarketing… and email remarketing and display retargeting… but what’s the difference?

Well, the two terms (remarketing and retargeting) have been confused over the years.

Some have sought to define remarketing as email-based, while retargeting refers to the use of display ads, but in truth there are no obvious distinctions. Both terms refer to the targeting of shoppers who abandon purchases, using behavioral data from their site visit.

The term remarketing covers more than just abandoned cart emails, while even Google refers to its own product (which uses display) as remarketing.

In this blog I will attempt to end the confusion and argument between the difference between remarketing and retargeting. For the sake of repetition (and typing pain), I’ll take Google’s lead and call it remarketing.

So, what is remarketing?

Put simply. Remarketing is the process of re-engaging with visitors to your website who show an interest in your products, service or solution.

The basic premise is that having spent a countless amount of time, money and effort getting people to your website, it makes sense to engage the 95-99% who don’t convert on that visit (stats below).

After all, and forgive me for using SaleCycle’s tagline here, ‘they came to your site for a reason.’

So, allow me to introduce you to the remarketing toolset to re-engage with visitors to your website. I’ll start with the most commonly associated type:

Display Remarketing (aka Display Retargeting)

Display remarketing is the process of showing ads to people who have visited your website and leave without buying.

These shoppers can be shown display ads showing the product viewed, sometimes with a discount or special offer, to tempt the customer back to the site.

Here’s an example from Virgin Atlantic, where visitors who have left without booking are shown ads on third party websites.

Banner/display ads have a bad reputation, but retargeting increases their effectiveness, thanks to the relevance of the product shown.

The average click through rate for display ads is around 0.07%. For retargeted ads, it’s 0.7%.

Email Remarketing (aka Email Retargeting)

Email remarketing is the process of reconnecting with someone via email, once they have abandoned your website.

The most common use-case is cart abandonment emails, providing a handy route back to customers who add items to their shopping cart and then leave without completing their purchase.

The concept works equally well for non-traditional shopping carts too, be it an abandoned credit card form, or abandoned booking.

Sent an hour after a booking is abandoned, it reminds customers that they are ‘so close’ to finishing their booking and makes it as easy as possible for them to secure their seat.

With a 59% open rate and $29 generated from every single email sent, these are not your average fire and forget bulk email send.

On-Site Remarketing (aka On-Site Retargeting)

On-site remarketing is the process of identifying the moment someone is about to abandon while still on your website; and displaying a message to either tempt them to stay right then, or come back in the future.

For the ease of continuity, I’m going to use our friends at Virgin Atlantic as an example again.

Triggered by mouse movements exiting the website frame (desktop) or a 60 second idle time (tablets and mobile) the message you can see below tempts customers to either ‘Relax’ and continue where they’ve left off – or enter their email address and receive a handy reminder for when it’s more convenient (remember those email stats?).

Virgin Atlantic have increased their online sales by 5.1% by combining these on-site remarketing and email remarketing strategies. Pretty good revenue if you can find it.

SMS Remarketing (aka SMS Retargeting)

Much like email retargeting, SMS Remarketing targets shoppers who leave without completing a booking or purchase. The difference is that these messages are delivered by SMS.

With so many people now wedded to their mobile phones, SMS is a highly responsive channel, which can out-perform email in terms of CTR.

SMS remarketing messages are opened within 90 seconds on average, compared to 90 minutes for email. These messages have an open rate of 98% with 90% of messages opened within three minutes.

By sending SMS messages 30 minutes after an abandoned booking, Thorpe Park increased its online sales by 5%.

32% of SMS recipients clicked on the messages, and almost 7% returned to complete their purchase.


When done well, remarketing can be a pretty damn effective technique and form an important part of the customer buying journey.

Whatever you decide to call it.

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