How Red Balloon convinces you to buy – Facebook retargeting for shopping cart abandonment (Part 1)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the internet
All the servers were stirring, not even a crash.
The events were hung by the tag manager with care,
In hopes that the customer soon would be there.

My lame attempt at a Christmas poem, remixing “Twas The Night Before Christmas“. Firstly Merry Christmas all and happy new year!

I was inspired to write a blog post about an experience I had with Red Balloon website whilst shopping for a Christmas present. I do like the idea of giving out experiences which money can buy via Red Balloon. Also thanks to Murray Hurps from Fishburners who posed the question “what is the best Facebook ad you’ve seen at Christmas?”

Here are some observations and analysis I’ve made about how Red Balloon convinces you to buy. Its the first company I’ve seen that has used Facebook retargeting ads for shopping cart abandonment. I’m going to show you how it works and how you can implement it.

1. Browsing the Red Balloon website

I was about to buy a Red Balloon experience for my girlfriend before Christmas. I had filled out the shopping cart to buy a 1.5 hour spa & massage experience. However, before entering the checkout process, I ended up abandoning that purchase. I bought something else from another website.

I want to point out that its quite normal for a consumer to abandon a shopping cart. A consumer starts going through the process to buy an item. Before they check out and buy the item, a number of things can happen to cause them to not continue. They may get distracted, their credit card details might not work, they decide that its not what they want, they want to do some more research, they go to another website. For whatever reason, the consumer decides not to purchase.

I’ve looked at google analytics for various websites. I’ve seen statistics that show that the majority of consumers that complete transactions are ones that revisit. Its possible that they find exactly what they are looking for and buy the first time. If they are like me, they’ll go there several times, particularly if its an expensive purchase. In this case, I was looking at an item that was $185. For the bulk of the transactions & goal conversions I have seen, its on a repeat visit.

2. RedBalloon’s Facebook retargeting ad

The next day, I was on Facebook and noticed this Red Balloon ad in my news feed.

red balloon retargetting ad

Now I don’t “like” Red Balloon on Facebook. As in I haven’t clicked the “LIKE” button for the Red Balloon Facebook page. However, its managed to appear in my feed. What Red Balloon has done is retargeting or also known as remarketing. I hovered over the URL on the Facebook ad and then I clicked on it. I noticed it said “custom audience” in the URL. It looks like they have used Facebook custom audience tool which is for retargeting. I’ll explain below how it works.

After I click on the Facebook ad, it takes me back to the Red Balloon shopping cart page. Its been pre-filled for the spa package I had looked at previously and had in my shopping cart.

RedBalloon Shopping Cart abandonment page

This is why I thought the Facebook retargeting ad is brilliant. I had already spent a lot of time on the Red Balloon website but I didn’t checkout. The Facebook ad convinces me to come back with the discount and the messaging. Then it makes it really easy for me to continue my purchase because its the same checkout page I had abandoned earlier.

Red Balloon has to pay for the retargeting ad on Facebook. But its a much smarter & more effective way of advertising to me. As I’ve already been to the Red Balloon website previously. I’ve invested time and effort into perusing the website and was looking to make a purchase. I had spent several hours on the Red Balloon website. Red Balloon wants to re-engage and convince me to complete my purchase.

I’m going to show you how it works.

2. Retargeting customers using Facebook custom audience

Facebook custom audience is a relatively new feature for Facebook advertisers to do retargeting. Facebook gives advertisers a special tracking code to install on their website. Facebook will recognise that a user has previously visited your website and/or visited specific pages on your website. You can add these users to an audience group known as a “custom audience”. Then the user will be retargeted with a specific ad for that custom audience enticing them to come back.

Previously this feature was only available using external retargeting tools such as Perfect Audience and AdRoll. It uses Facebook ad exchange program and these were official partners of the program. These external tools can also do retargeting across the web, mobile and on twitter. Facebook custom audience now allows you to do this directly within Facebook and in the Facebook Power Editor for advertisers.

3. How to do retargeting using Facebook custom audience

I did some investigation to understand how it works. I’ve worked with Google remarketing tag, Facebook ads and the Facebook conversion pixel. It looks like it operates in a similar way. This is the process for setting up Facebook Custom Audience.

Getting Started With Custom_Audiences From Your Website

If you are a Facebook page admin, you go to your Facebook page. Then you do the following steps: Build an audience > ads manager > audiences

facebook custom audiencesYou will be presented with several options. We want to select “custom audience” which is the first option. “Lookalike audience” is an audience similar to people that like your Facebook page, that have visited your website or an existing custom audience. We’re only after the first one which is “custom audiences”.

create a custom audience vs lookalike groupIn the next screen, it says we can create an audience for everyone that visits the website or for those that visit specific pages on your website. To do the shopping cart abandonment, I would include the Shopping Cart URL but exclude the confirmation page for the purchase. This way I can target those who specifically do not complete the purchase.

After you select “create web remarketing pixel”, it generates some specific code for your website. You will need to get a developer to install this. Its a similar process to installing the Facebook conversion pixel for tracking Facebook ads.

create custom audience

The custom audience pixel code looks like this:

custom audience pixel

There are several ways to create a custom audience. These are:

  1. Using a customer list: Uploading a list of customer’s email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook ID’s, importing a list of emails from Mailchimp. 
  2. Website traffic 
  3. Mobile App activity: There’s some code you can install in your mobile app. You can create events such as “reach level 3” in your game or “added item” to shopping cart in your eCommerce app.

website traffic

We want to select the option for “website traffic”.

On a side note, for option 1, create a customer list – its scary that an advertiser can upload your email, phone number, or Facebook User ID to Facebook for advertising purposes. I presume what happens is if they upload your email address, it matches the email you use to login via Facebook. Then it matches to your Facebook User ID. Then they can serve you very specific advertising just for you (and that audience group). Lets not even get into the privacy concerns of uploading your info to Facebook by an advertiser! I read that Facebook does anonymise your email using hashes but still a bit concerning.

Create audience
In the screenshot above, I’ve chosen the option for “people visiting specific web pages but not others”. I’ve included the URL for checkout, but excluded the thankyou confirmation page. This way I can isolate those that have been in the checkout page but not reached the thank you page. This is how I can create an audience for those that have abandoned their shopping carts.

I’ve used the URL contains “/checkout” as an example. Red Balloon uses, so they would use “/cart”. I never made it through to the Red Balloon confirmation page. But lets assume your website uses “/thankyou”. We put this as the exclusion URL.

Another method to create a custom audience is to create two website custom audiences. One for those that have been to the checkout page, and another for those that have been to the thankyou confirmation page. Then you can exclude users that are also in the second group.

You need to give the audience name a title, so I’ve just used “WCA – Shopping cart abandonment”.

3. Breaking down Red Balloon’s Facebook ad

The retargeting ad that Red Ballon showed me was very clever. I’ll break it down below for you.

Red Balloon Annotated Facebook  Ad

1. Relevant text – “your cart is waiting”

They recognised that I had previously placed an item in their shopping cart. I was literally about to enter my credit card details but after reading the reviews, I decided that particular experience wasn’t ideal. It is very relevant to the last action I look on the website and speaks to me. They could have also used “Your experience is waiting”. They know I was going to buy and want me to come back.

2. Offered discount to incentivise purchase

This was what drew me to the ad. An offer of a $15 discount when I spend over $69. Its also a specific code “CTAB1214”, so they can match this to the completed purchase. Its probably not a unique code for me, but a code for the custom audience group. They probably use separate codes for different audiences. If they have several ads within the same audience group, they will have a different code for each ad. This will let them know which retargeting ad is more effective to that custom audience.

3. Call to action for “Shop Now”. 

Facebook has specific calls to action (CTA’s) available for ads. These range from “enquire now” to “shop now”. These CTA’s can’t be text that you write but are a set from which you can choose from. “Shop now” is the most relevant one for eCommerce websites. We use “enquire now” for the Tapmint website since its a consulting business. No one wants to “shop now” for a $50,000 mobile app. We wish!

4. Facebook graphic with FOMO text

I like the “Don’t miss out” text. I do like FOMO type text (fear of missing out) as it can be quite effective in advertising. I mean they’ve practically used it just not the “fear of” part!

Since you have already left previously and here’s an incentive to purchase, “don’t miss out” probably means “don’t miss out on this experience”. My guess is that its a generic reference to someone purchasing for themselves, not as a gift for someone else. Either way, the text is still pretty good.

If they could recognise my prior click stream was searching for “gifts for her > girlfriend”, and use the phrase “Don’t let your girlfriend miss out” that would be incredibly spooky & even higher converting. You could potentially create a custom audience for those that have visited “girlfriend” page and “cart” page.

5. Facebook graphic with product image from cart abandonment

In the right hand corner, there is a woman getting a massage. Now the purchase I was about to make was a spa and massage experience. I don’t know if they have a specific ad for this product since they have a number of different images and massage might just be a popular one. They could go to that next level of customisation / creepiness if they had just the massage graphic. This is possible as you can create a custom audience based on visiting a category page.

4. Link returns to shopping cart checkout page

After I click on the Facebook ad, it takes me back to the Red Balloon shopping cart, pre-filled for the spa package I had looked at previously. This is why I thought the Facebook retargeting ad is brilliant. What they have probably done is taken me back to It has recognised that I was there previously and had filled out the shopping cart.

RedBalloon Shopping Cart abandonment page


One thing that they could have done was include the discount or the promo code on this shopping cart page. Hence, I could see that the price had been discounted by $15 from $185 to $170. I did some digging around and went through the checkout process. Based on their checkout flow, the ability to enter a coupon appears several steps later in the checkout process.


I was really impressed with how Red Balloon did their retargeting on Facebook for shopping cart abandonment. Hence I wanted to do some more investigation to see how it was done. So I went through it step by step so you could implement it.

You could also go to that next level by creating custom audiences for each stage in your website conversion funnel.

I hope you like it and if you want to hear more, sign up to my email list to hear more updates. I’ve also written a Part 2 – How Red Balloon builds credibility and trust on the website to convince customers to buy. I’ll post it up tomorrow 🙂

I’m out like 2014,

Matthew Ho