Brett Thoreson shares his journey from successful e-commerce startup to solving the $10B lost bookings problem for hospitality
By Alan Young, Hospitality Industry Advisor, Influencer, and Co-Founder of Puzzle Partner
We’ve all been there. After many minutes, or perhaps even hours of combing through a website and painstakingly adding and removing items from the shopping cart, we glance at the proposed subtotal, rake our eyes back over the items in the cart, and decide we will ‘sleep on it’ before making a final purchase decision. That abandoned digital shopping cart often becomes a graveyard of almost-purchased items, long forgotten by the consumer but surely felt by the retailer upon review of their website analytics. If this scenario were played out in a dramatized cartoon, we would see the retailer’s sales team huddled over a screen that displayed every customer as their mouse hovered enticingly over the “confirm purchase” button, only to let out a loud groan of disappointment as soon as the customer’s mouse abandoned its trajectory to purchase.
As any retailer in any industry knows, the final portion of the sales funnel is critical. Without the purchase decision, revenue can’t be made, and a company’s bottom line can’t be protected. So the question is, what tools or processes can help streamline the buyer’s journey to mitigate purchase hesitation and capitalize on the revenue traditionally lost due to cart abandonment? This is precisely the question that Brett Thoreson, the CEO and co-founder CartStack and RezRecover, set out to answer when the company was founded in 2013. I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Thoreson and discuss his journey from a retail e-commerce technology expert to a key, and perhaps unexpected, emerging player in the hospitality industry.
With 2022 now well underway, CartStack has been regarded as a leading, best-in-class e-commerce solution for remarketing and cart abandonment for almost a decade. Before its inception, Thoreson explains that he and his now co-founder had the opportunity to work on the email marketing team for Best Buy, giving them a direct purview into the potential impact of a cart abandonment recovery campaign. “We saw how successful the cart abandonment recovery campaign was for bestbuy.com,” shares Thoreson. “So we wanted to create a similar solution for small to medium-sized e-commerce businesses that could be integrated into their website in as little as 10 minutes.”
At the time, Thoreson owned and managed a web development firm, which provided him with a launch pad for his budding idea. “We had a few e-commerce customers that were willing to test out the idea as early beta testers. After just a few initial tests, we realized we had something.” But what began solely as a retail e-commerce platform quickly exhibited the potential to become something more. “Shortly after launching, we started attracting the interest of hospitality agencies and independent hotels, even though we weren’t actively marketing to them,” Thoreson shares. “We hadn’t really viewed our platform as a hospitality solution, but once we started partnering with hotels, we couldn’t deny how great the results were for properties using our solution as an abandoned booking recovery tool.”
CartStack has been implemented across over 5,000 websites, with hospitality customers representing approximately 40% of that. The results, it would appear, speak for themselves. “While doing some customer analysis at the end of 2021, I noticed several things,” Thoreson explains. “First, our ROI for hotels was about 40×1 compared to 25×1 for our e-commerce customers, and click-through rates for our campaigns are 2-3x that of blast email campaigns, as our emails are personalized, and our deliverability rate is world-class (97%+). Second, our support team really enjoys working with people in the hospitality industry. Not only that, but the retention of our hospitality clients is exceptionally high, feedback is stellar, and the platform seems to market itself to this segment.” Lastly, Thoreson notes, booking engines and other hotel tech companies are very willing to partner with the CartStack team. “When they integrate with us, everyone wins.”
According to Thoreson, all of those indicators sent a clear message – it was time to become laser-focused on the hospitality industry. “One of the problems we ran into, however, was trying to make our product (CartStack) work for both e-commerce and hospitality customers,” he explained. “While trying to serve both customers, we sometimes had to make compromises with the interface, reports, and campaigns. So we decided, if we really wanted to serve hotels like we knew we could, we needed to launch a new product specifically designed for them.” With that, RezRecover, an application built specifically to help hotels maximize their direct bookings with a booking abandonment campaign, was born. “With this new product, we can make every product decision for our hospitality customers. Our mission is to be the world’s best tech solution to recover lost bookings for hotels, b&bs, and vacation rentals.”
Thoreson notes that when comparing RezRecover to competitor products on the market, being a “point solution” vs. an all-in-one tool is their most significant differentiator. “While most email marketing or automation tools try to do everything, we do one thing, and there is no denying that we are the best at it,” he shares. “We can also integrate with other email marketing or message automation software solutions to ensure our customers have the best of both worlds – for example, one tool to send out mass messages and one tool dedicated to recovering lost bookings.”
Looking at the current hospitality landscape and the ongoing success of their hospitality partners, Thoreson has observed a few mistakes that hotel brands should try to avoid making. “Don’t assume that if someone started the booking process and abandoned that, they were just looking without the intention to book. This is a big misconception; people abandon online bookings for a number of reasons, so it’s vital to make sure you remind them, handle any objections about their booking (through effective messaging), and give them a simple way to close that loop!” Thoreson also stresses the importance of optimizing booking abandonment recovery emails to convert at a high rate. “Website visitors that start the booking process but then stop are often extremely warm leads,” he says. “With that in mind, websites need to do everything they can to get this segment of users back to finalize their reservation. For example, our solution has a split testing feature that allows our customers to test different messaging and calls to action within the follow-up messages.” To this effect, RezRecover also includes a feature called conditional content that allows email templates to display dynamic messaging or images based on various booking attributes (e.g., trip dates, room types, availability, seasonality, price, etc.).
Notably, most RezRecover hotel clients recover enough revenue in their first 30 days to more than pay for the entire year of using the platform – which presents as a pretty attractive deal, especially with a 30-day free trial. The RezRecover platform also offers access to a managed service offering, where their team will manage campaigns for their customers, including email designs and updates, running split tests, and so much more. Using this feature, Thoreson notes that customer results typically increase by 50-200%.
As for the future, CartStack and RezRecover seemed primed for continued growth and widespread industry success. “We are growing our customer success team, which will help us offer even more one-on-one help optimizing conversion rates for our customers,” shares Thoreson, whose excitement for the company’s future can be felt by anyone in the room with him. “We are hoping to add a couple more positions to our team in the next few months, as well on the sales/account management and engineering side, and we have an aggressive product roadmap for new features and report development for our RezRecover product. Right now, about 90% of our resources are going towards our RezRecover product for Q3 and Q4 this year.”
Thoreson notes that the team is currently working on building out new and improved data analysis tools to make sure they stay ahead of the curve when it comes to industry optimization and performance. “I’m extremely blessed that I still wake up every morning excited to work on CartStack, with my team, and for our customers,” he shares. “The future looks very bright.”