Remarketing vs. Retargeting: What’s the difference?

Mike Arsenault
July 15, 2021
minute read

There’s a lot of technology out there right now around marketing to people who’ve already come in contact with your brand. Whether they visited your site, saw an ad someplace else, clicked on a PPC ad, or filled out a form on your site, you now have the capability to market to them again.

The great thing about these tools is they give marketers the ability to target users already interested in your product or service. You can market to customers already in the buying cycle (and that have expressed a high level of purchase intent) and since these tools are typically pretty inexpensive, you can create some incredible ROI.

Remarketing vs Retargeting

There are two main terms you hear when talking about this approach; Remarketing and Retargeting. Since they pretty much sound the same, let’s explore the differences between the two, the various tools that are available to execute these campaigns, and talk about the use cases in which each tactic is useful.


Retargeting is most often used to describe online ad placements and display ads, served based on a user’s activity on your site. A user comes to your site, a cookie’s set and you can now target ads to them on other sites they visit, hence the term retargeting. What makes retargeting so appealing is that it’s done through third party networks like AdBrite and the Google display network, giving you the opportunity to reach users wherever they are, on millions of sites.

Within the realm of retargeting, marketers can choose from a variety of different channels/targeting strategies as well. This great infographic from Chango summarizes the 7 different types of effective retargeting available:

Compared to non-retargeted display campaigns, retargeting campaigns can have significantly higher engagement. A recent MarketLand article explained, “It’s not uncommon to see amazing CTRs with retargeting, anywhere from 0.30-0.95% – which is 3-10x higher than the industry average.”  As a frame of reference, the chart below shows some regionalized click-through rates for different kinds of banner ads:

Marketers just starting out with retargeting should also be aware of some common pitfalls. Mainly, the possibility that your retargeting efforts could annoy or create feelings of mistrust with some customers.

InSkin Media recently surveyed 1600 UK adults, equally represented by gender, age, social class, and region regarding their feelings about display retargeting. Here’s what they found:

  • A slight majority of respondents (53%) find online ads ‘interesting and useful’ initially, but become irritated if repeatedly exposed to the same ad. 55% reported that they are less likely to buy products or services if they see the same ad online multiple times:
  • Retargeting consumers with ads on sites unrelated to the advertised product or service results in negative sentiment. The data below suggests that the negative impacts start to occur after the third ad view:
  • 12% of respondents said they had approached an online advertiser directly to complain because they felt they were being too intrusive.

It’s not all bad news for retargeting, of course:

  • The respondents aged 20-29, who’ve grown up with digital commerce, are 60% more likely to find online advertising ‘exciting’ and different to other forms of advertising.
  • Consumers are 4 times more likely to be encouraged rather than discouraged to buy something if they see a relevant ad during their research on it.

The last point is important, as it emphasizes the notion that display retargeting is a great way to support the research phase of the buying process.  Early in the buying cycle, the intent may not be as high, and the marketer is really just trying to stay top of mind, as evidenced by the data below:

In terms of measuring ROI, retargeting presents some challenges there too. A recent study by Marin Software reported that 43% of marketers say understanding and attributing performance across different channels is one of their top challenges with retargeting.

This is largely due to the fact that it’s impossible to measure the true impact of a display campaign if the user doesn’t click on anything. You could argue that the these campaigns will generate “view-through” traffic and conversion, but its tough to quantify.

Here’s some data on the other challenges survey respondents reported:

So here’s the bottom line on retargeting:

Its an important part of the marketing toolkit, but we need to pay special attention to the frequency, context and recency at which ads are served to our customers. If done well, retargeting will have a positive ROI and will keep your brand top of mind with customers in the early stages of the buying cycle. There are some great tools out there to help you do just that including AdRoll, Retargeter, Perfect Audience and Google Adwords “remarketing”.


While you may hear retargeting tools referred to as remarketing tools (ahem, Google), “remarketing” is typically the term used to describe re-engaging customers with email.

In our world, remarketing is used to describe shopping cart abandonment email campaigns, upsells/cross sell emails (think those very personalized Amazon emails you get after you’ve bought a product) and lifecycle marketing emails.

Here’s an example of an Amazon upsell remarketing email based on your browsing history:

And another example cart abandonment email from Cole Haan:

OK, so we’ve established that “retargeting” uses display advertisements as the primary medium and that “remarketing” uses email. That is, unless you’re Google. Larry & Sergey, FTW.

It’s not just Amazon who thinks email remarketing is a sound strategy. 25% of the Internet Retailer 1000 (the top 1000 retailers in the world by revenue) send shopping cart abandonment email to their customers:

Similar to the data we outlined for retargeting, AgilOne surveyed 3,000 US & UK and released a study called “Marketing Personalization Preferences of Shoppers Worldwide”.

Part of the study was dedicated to understanding which marketing tactics people actually appreciate, not just tolerate. Here were some of the findings:

  • Among U.S. shoppers, the most popular personalization tactic was an alert email for when appealing products were on sale (58 percent).
  • The second most popular was VIP customer appreciation emails with 51 percent of those surveyed saying they appreciated the outreach.
  • Cart abandonment reminders were most popular with those aged 25-34, with 41% saying they appreciated the follow-up.

The insight here is that the most appreciated personalization tactics from the report, all revolved around email.

Remarketing Drives Higher Conversion

A study conducted at MIT shows significantly lower engagement rate for outreach that occurs more than one hour after a visitor has left your site. The data indicates that your chances of re-engaging a lead drop by as much as 10x, if you follow up more than an hour after your first interaction with a potential customer:

If you’re sending something like a cart abandonment email campaign, the recency of the interaction the customer had with you is critical. We’re talking about a customer who is expressing the highest level of buying intent and who has made it to the very bottom of your marketing funnel.

You could certainly retarget the customer with a display ad too, but there is no guarantee that the customer will see or be influenced by it within that one hour window where you have the best chance to convert them. A better bet is try and reach the customer through their inbox.

Here’s a chart from SeeWhy, recently acquired by SAP, showing the revenue and conversion rate for shopping cart abandonment emails vs. other types of eCommerce email:

A Retailer’s Perspective on Retargeting vs. Remarketing

Adam Saraceno is the Vice President of Marketing at Peak Design, a manufacturer and retailer of innovative DSLR accessories who raised $364,698 for their first product on Kickstarter (full disclosure: Adam is a Rejoiner customer and uses AdRoll for display retargeting). Here’s his perspective on the differences between remarketing and retargeting:

“They’re for different segments. For Remarketing (email), it’s literally people that…you can’t do more to express interest in buying something than adding something to a cart. It’s people we have every reason to believe are super interested in buying our stuff.
The reason they didn’t…We want to know why. We think that it’s probably it’s something we can get them over that hump. With Remarketing, we engage really heavily. What can we do for you? What can we do to get you to make a purchase?
Retargeting (display ads) are for people who have expressed interest in our stuff by viewing our site. Retargeting is about keeping our brand in the minds of people who have already bought it. Repetition of messaging. It has a positive return on investment from a click-through perspective. When someone comes and checks out our site, they click, they browse, we want to periodically remind them that we exist. When that person finally says they’re ready to buy a DSLR and re-trigger their initial need, we want to be top of mind. Retargeting has also created an increase in media review requests. Not necessarily from the biggest of players, but a general uptick in people saying, “I saw your product and have a blog and would like to review it.” People feel like once they’ve seen a few remarketing ads, it feels like they’re hearing about Peak Design an awful lot lately. It makes the customer feel like it’s more than a one-time experience.”

Or, Use Both

There’s really no reason to choose. In you follow Adam’s lead, it’s clear that display retargeting and email remarketing actually play really well together. Use display retargeting to nurture top of the funnel interest to keep your brand fresh in customer’s minds. Use email remarketing to convert the customers who’ve reached the very bottom of your funnel and are giving you the strongest signals of buying intent.

What to do next

If your eCommerce company is interested in using email remarketing to grow revenue, request a free ROI report and calculate your revenue from email after switching to Rejoiner.

Frequently Asked Questions


Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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