Product Launch Advice, Part 6: How long should I leave my cart open?

The series keeps going – catch up with part one, two, three, four and five if you’re new on the scene.

The length of time your cart is open is the length of time a customer could theoretically take advantage of your offer. We’ve seen launchers go as short as a few hours and as long as forever. This naturally leads to a lot of confusion in those trying to reverse engineer the process.

The amount of time you leave your cart open during a product launch generally has to be decided on a launch-by-launch basis.

Sometimes this has to do with a carefully orchestrated plan – a certain type of launch dictates whether your cart is open for a short time or a long time – and sometimes your timeframe is decided on the fly by a number of reasons that fall under the heading of “Crap, I can’t launch in the regular window I was planning to, so I have to pick X.”

So let’s talk a bit about the different timeframes you might choose to have your product available for sale during a launch and why those choices might be made.

Let’s start with a pretty standard launch window.

If you don’t want to think about it too much, and you want to just run a very simple launch, you can go with a pretty basic sequence. Just have the cart open from four days to seven or eight days. Do your pre-launch content to warm your list, and once you open your cart just spread out your pieces of launch content throughout your window.

So on an eight day window, with four pieces of launch content, you can release them (and email your list to tell them it’s available) on day 1, 3, 5, and 7, and do a “last call” email on day 8.

On a four day window, you can release your launch content on days 1, 2, 3 and 4, and just make sure you make it very clear to your list that the day you come out with the last piece of content is the last day the cart is open.

(To boost conversion, many launches have an extra day tacked on to the end to draw attention to the fact that the cart is closing. So you could make it a five day window and just send a “last call” email on day 5).

Now, if you’re running a launch where you are not releasing content during the cart open time, you can still do everything we described. Your emails will just be straight sales emails. So you just email with “You can buy now” on day 1, “You can still buy now” on day 3, “Don’t forget you only have a few days left” on day 5, and “Time’s about up” on day 7.

One is not better than the other. We tend to mix it up and rotate how we do it each time, and our launches perform pretty much just as well. It’s good for the list to have some variety, though, so you’re not running the exact same launch over and over again. (This goes back to being and staying noticeable.)

But not all launches go off in such a tidy manner.

The reason we usually tell people to go with the four to eight day window is because it’s easy. You don’t have to think too hard about it, and everything has its place.

But there are a lot of things that can throw off the neat and orderly system we just described. This is the “Crap, I can’t do what I originally intended” part of the process. So we’re going to talk about a few of those scenarios and give you some thoughts on how to handle them in terms of how long your cart is open.

When you might need to go shorter.

You might need to have your cart open for a shorter time simply for a timing reason. If your launch is occurring before a major holiday or event, you might simply not enough time to run both your regular batch of content and have the cart open for as long as you’d like.

This can also happen when you need to run another specific promotion very soon after your launch, and one has to kind of shake up the schedule for another. Tightening up your launch window can help you have more breathing room in between promotions.

So if any of these scenarios apply to you, your preferred seven day window might have to shift to five, or you might have to change a 4-day plan to a 3-day plan, just so you’re not opening or closing on a weird day or a day that screws up your upcoming plans too much.

Two other reasons you might need to go shorter:

1) You just came up with an idea and have to (and can) execute it fast because it’s very timely or catching a trend, and

2) Your launch is centralized around the theme of a certain day or event, like Black Friday. Going too long before and after the event can potentially look a little weird.

Now, Black Friday isn’t the greatest example, because it’s very common for sellers to turn it into a week-long event. Because thousands of retailers are doing this now it doesn’t seem weird. But if you’re the first, it can raise a few eyebrows.

When you might need to go longer.

If you’ve got launch content that is significantly more substantial than your regular content, you may need to keep your cart open longer so that your audience has a chance to digest your content.

In its simplest form, we could just be talking about long content here that takes a long time to go through. A one-hour video, or a 30-page download or a really, really long blog post. Dave used to write 6,000 word blog posts as launch content. It can work very well.

But if you’ve got pretty big chunks of launch content, you may want to spread out the schedule a little more to make sure you’re a) not overwhelming people and b) giving people who miss one piece of content in real-time a fighting chance to catch up.

This could be the case if you’re running something like a series of webinars that fall into the educational category. (Incidentally, “Let me tell you all about my exciting new product” doesn’t count as education. “Let me explain a new concept or walk you through a process you’re not familiar with” does.)

Additionally, if your launch content involves any kind of “homework” or introspection, having a few days between installments can be a big help. Those 6,000 word blog posts Dave used to run? Each one had a 25-page workbook attached to it. That’s a case for having a long launch window where people can actually make use of what they’re downloading.

Longer cart open times can also be better for your affiliates, if your launch plan is designed to make heavy use of them. Your affiliates have their own marketing and promotion calendar to think about, and just because you’re going to release content on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to mail on those days. They may already have a standing newsletter that comes out on Wednesdays. So having a little extra cushion between releases helps them time things better.

You might also need to go longer if your price point is particularly high.

If your price point is a) very high, b) out of your audience’s comfort zone, or c) out of their expectation zone compared to what you usually sell, you have two approaches you can consider.

One approach is to make the biggest hoopla for the longest time you can and then open the cart for a very short time, sometimes only a day or a few hours. That’s not what we’d advise you to do, but some people have success with it, especially if the cart open time being very short has a plausible reason (and those are generally hard to come by).

The other way – the way we do it – is to give a significant chunk of time for people to get accustomed to the price point. Your potential buyers may need to think about this purchase for a while. They may need to discuss the payment with a partner. They may need to see a nice big helping of your launch content before they’re good to make the purchase from you.

So if you’re selling something relatively high-ticket, a longer cart open time may work to your advantage here. It lowers the pressure to buy on impulse. That may go against what you’ve heard elsewhere – that the impulse buys are where the money is – but the impulse buys are also where the refund rate is.

We are very known for teaching low-pressure launches for that reason. Our refund rate tends to hover around 3% in an industry that easily averages 15% – 20%. There’s a lot to be said for giving people time to think intelligently about whether they want to buy or not. You end up with smarter customers, which become happier customers, and that only works to your benefit.

There are also times when you have to make adjustments just to survive a surprise.

Sometimes you are well and truly screwed by the calendar. You’re all set to launch and you realize there’s a holiday or an event that makes your pre-planned sequence of content and email release less than ideal.

You end up having to figure out how not to have your sequence mean that you’re mailing part of it on Christmas – or Christmas Eve. Same goes with American Thanksgiving – there’s the day itself, and then there are the before and after days when people are traveling, so that’s going to have an impact on open rates and click-throughs for those in that country.

Sometimes you are well and truly screwed by outside events. Something prevents you from promoting when you wanted to and you have to shift to a non-ideal time. Or you’re all set to launch the second week of February, and at the end of January you discover a competitor is releasing a similar product around the same time. So you’re scrambling to move your launch dates and the calendar isn’t doing you any favors.

Sometimes that’s just the way it is. And all you can do there is discover what kind of launch window and cart open window you’re forced to have, and then decide how to tweak your content in order to be most effective for a particular timeframe.

In our upcoming launch class, we’ll talk more about how to do that. But for now, know that sometimes you get to choose how long your cart is open based on your personal preference, sometimes you have to make something fit the calendar, and sometimes you just have to run damage control when something throws a spanner in the works.

We’ve had times when we wanted the cart open for seven days and had to turn it into three, and vice versa. And we can tell you that it doesn’t necessarily hurt your launch, as long as you adjust your launch content so that it doesn’t seem out of sync with the timeframe your cart is open. But you’ve just got to be careful and think that part through carefully.

This is part six of our launch advice series. Stay tuned for part seven. It’s a good one.

Tomorrow we’re going to answer the question “Do I even need to launch?” Keep an eye on the blog or sign up for The Letter and we’ll email you when new posts are out.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.