Designing an email strategy for an eCommerce business is a big subject. There are some aspects which are generally applicable to all businesses and others which specifically relate to and benefit eCommerce applications. Either way if you are selling online here are 10 recommendations to help you build your email marketing strategy.
1. Create an online subscription form
Building a high quality subscriber database is going to be high on the priority list, and one of the best ways to gain permission is to use an online subscription form.
Make your subscription as easy as possible for your subscribers to find and complete. Even though you may want to collect all sorts of useful information about your new customer, resist the temptation to add lots of additional data capture fields to your form. Keeping it simple will encourage completion and you can always go back and collect further information as your relationship develops. Both static and pop-over forms work well. Here’s some more ideas how to grow your subscriber list.
It’s not a legal requirement but you might also want to add a double opt-in loop to confirm that subscription is really requested and that the data you are collecting is verified as genuine.
Once the form is completed the data you collect will automatically populate your associated subscriber list – ready for your next email campaign. Just as an aside – for people who are not subscribed but who may still order from your eCommerce website you’ll want to capture their email address early on in their shopping journey. That way if they abandon their online basket you’ll be able to send them a recovery email. More about this later.
2. Send an automated welcome email
Once you have a new subscriber you’ll need to act – quickly. A ‘welcome’ email is one of the best ways to acknowledge a new subscriber and to begin to develop your relationship. You can do it manually but automating this process means that you’ll never miss the opportunity and that your response will always be timely and consistent.
Simply set up a marketing automation rule so that when a new subscriber is added to your list they automatically receive a pre-written welcome email – immediately is good, but you’ll certainly want to do this fairly quickly.
Personalising this email with your subscribers name (possibly other information) will enhance the sense of a 1-1 communication and will increase engagement. Automated welcome emails typically generate considerably higher engagement rates (around 5 times) than standard news and promotional type campaigns, so it’s an opportunity not to miss.
3. Design a mobile friendly layout
With over 50% of emails being opened on a smartphone or tablet it’s highly likely that your email campaigns will be read whilst your subscribers are mobile. It may not be the only time that they read it but many will use their mobile device to preview and screen incoming emails to come back to later. If your email campaigns are not suitably organised and easy to read on a small screen then it’s likely that your message will be deleted.
Generally speaking vertical scrolling of content on a mobile device is OK, but the need to pinch and zoom, move sideways or negotiate complex navigation is likely to exceed the patience of your reader.
Multi-column layouts with lots of product images tend to work particularly well for the catalogue style campaigns favoured by eCommerce businesses. They encourage browsing and offer lots of opportunity to link through to your website for additional details. However, purely scaling your multi-column desktop layout for a small screen doesn’t work well.
Using a responsive design will ensure that your content is always optimised across a range of devices. The most noticeable effect is the intelligent collapsing of multiple columns into a single linear column layout, but there are other effects too which make the experience of a mobile reader more satisfying. The take home is always use a responsive design – if you’re not an HTML programmer familiar with CSS techniques, either choose a pre-built responsive template or create your email using an interactive responsive editor like the one in Sign-Up.to.
Understanding the purchasing frequency of your customers will allow you to design an appropriate communication strategy – one that suits their needs rather than your resources.
Luxury online items are not an everyday purchase. However carefully worded subject lines which still convey the essence of your message and consistent use of your ‘from-name’ will help ensure that your branding is kept in your readers’ consciousness for the time that they’re ready to buy.
For more frequent shoppers, many eCommerce businesses experience a high degree of seasonal variation – once a uniquely US focal point, a recent survey reported that now only 17% of UK shoppers aren’t aware of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The UK has seen a 25% increase in black weekend sales, with Cyber Monday now widely regarded as the busiest online shopping day of the year, with sales at around £1.3 billion (£470,000 per minute).
Not surprisingly many eCommerce businesses design their promotional schedules to take advantage of this surge. The result is email traffic at 3 times the normal average. Planning extra campaigns and the extra resources needed at times like black weekend, Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and other unusually busy periods is a valuable strategy. Automation also becomes increasingly important at these times ensuring that responses and fulfilment are executed at the normal or even elevated levels of service.
At a more granular level, the day and even the daily timing of campaigns can have an important effect. Peak email opening times for desktop and mobile differ significantly. If you specifically want to catch your audience as they leave work (for example to offer happy-hour drinks) then understanding and exploiting this behaviour may be a valuable strategy.
5. Implement an abandoned basket process
It’s estimated that more than 65% of items placed into an online shopping basket are not taken through to a completed checkout. There can be many reasons for this, from being distracted to leaving to investigate alternative suppliers. One of the most report reasons is the subsequent discovery of additional costs or obstacles once the buyer is already inside the checkout process.
With that level of abandonment it’s no surprise that eCommerce businesses put considerable effort into their CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) strategy. CRO is a big subject, and not just related to email, but one of the most common email strategies is an automated basket recovery campaign.
To do this you’ll need a couple of pieces in place.
Firstly, if you don’t already have it, you’ll need to make sure that you capture your shopper’s email address fairly early on in the process. Next you’ll need to be able to save and extract the basket and other purchasing details collected so far. Many eCommerce businesses use applications like Shopify and Magento to create and manage their online store. Data integration is a key step. Linking these applications to your email marketing system will allow any captured details to be readily available for use in a subsequent basket recovery email campaign.
The final step is to create a marketing automation process to send either one or a series of emails encouraging the shopper to return and complete their purchase. Opinion as to the optimum sequence varies but recovery efforts within the first 24 hours are usually found to be most effective. Read more on abandoned baskets here.
6. Send automated purchase confirmations
Assuming a successful online purchase you can also use marketing automation to create personalised confirmation messages. These can be used to send purchase confirmations and to advise on delivery, returns and other post-purchase issues.
Echoing purchase details into an email is easily done by merging captured profile fields into the body of your email template, and the timing of the marketing automation rule means that the confirmation is always sent promptly after purchase.
Like welcome emails, because it is delivering personally relevant content exactly when it is needed, automated confirmations have much higher open and engagement rates than other types of campaign. Again, all of this can be done manually but for a business to effectively scale an automated process is an essential, but relatively easy, step to take.
If you capture your customer’s mobile number as part of your process you might also want to consider adding SMS messaging to your post-purchase confirmation strategy. SMS can be particularly useful for things like delivery updates.
7. Create targeted upsell campaigns
Most sales people will tell you that selling to existing customers is easier and more cost-effective than to new prospects. Returning customers are less influenced by your competition, more autonomous in their decision making, have shorter buying cycles, are less price sensitive and are more likely to spend more on each subsequent visit. Satisfied customers are also potential brand advocates, recommending your products to their friends, colleagues and social networks.
At the first purchase confirmation email might be just a little too soon but the opportunity to upsell to an existing happy customer is there. If they’re not already subscribed the confirmation email can be a useful opportunity to invite a sign-up to receive further offers and promotions.
Providing you’re promoting similar products and services (and satisfying a number of other legal requirements) specific opt-in is not necessarily a legal requirement. However, an affirmed opt-in permission is always going to be the best situation for both you and your customer going forwards. There’s lots of evidence to support that consumers are more than happy to sign-up to marketing messages from brands that they trust and have already completed purchases with.
Upsell comes back to targeting. You can continue to promote your entire range to existing purchasers but knowing even a little about previous purchase history is a powerful intelligence which can be used to your advantage.
The first step is to capture the purchase information and make it potentially available to future email campaigns. As with the basket recovery process this can be achieved by integrating your eCommerce or other back-end purchasing applications with your email marketing. Product codes or other inventory details can be stored as profile fields which can then be used to drive the timings and content of future messages.
Targeting of subsequent campaigns can be done manually by segmenting subscribers into groups according to their previous purchase history and creating and delivering promotions which are more likely to be attuned to their particular interest.
A very neat alternative is to use a technique called Dynamic Content to create much more highly personalised messages. Dynamic content automatically adapts the content of a campaign according to a number of pre-set rules. It can be used to display similar or matching items to those already purchased or to change the emphasis or order of a catalogue so as to more accurately reflect the likely interests – although email consumers will scroll downwards, content placed at the top of an email is much more likely to attract attention and engagement.
Dynamic content works particularly well with another advanced technique – here at Sign-Up.to we call it Audience Insights, but it’s also commonly referred to as behavioural targeting. Behavioural targeting allows you to follow your individual subscribers online journey beyond their engagement with your email campaigns on to interaction with your website. This allows areas of potential interest to be identified and captured merely by observing their behaviour – no direct data capture is required. Advertisers use behavioural targeting to display re-targeting adverts, but it’s also useful for gathering intelligence for dynamically controlled email campaigns.
8. Use engagement to re-engage and reward
Another useful precision marketing strategy is to use what you know about your subscribers’ relative levels of interest to target campaigns based on their ‘engagement’.
Most email systems return post-campaign information on opens and clicks but true engagement profiling provides a much more in-depth measure of interest. Sign-Up.to continually monitors a range of engagement characteristics (both positive and negative) and automatically calculates a 5 point star rating, from 1-star (the least engaged subscribers) to 5-star (those who regularly open, click, share and convert your campaigns). The star rating is automatically generated and updated each time a campaign is delivered.
Common applications of this intelligence would be to target re-engagement campaigns to dormant subscribers. These typically include return incentives or come-back offers to those at the periphery of interest (your lower level engagers). At the other end of the scale you can target your 5-star engagers with exclusive VIP offers, loyalty schemes, refer a friend incentives and other rewards.
Engagement profiling acts as an additional delivery filter on top of your normal email send list – those who fit the required engagement criteria will automatically be included or excluded as appropriate.
9. Actively encourage sharing
Another of the useful benefits of understanding customer engagement is to target those who are most likely to act as your brand advocates. The referral by trusted, existing customers is a powerful buying incentive, not just in eCommerce businesses. Over 90% of businesses rate referrals as their most valuable form of sales leads.
Encouraging your email subscribers to share your content potential extends your message far beyond your immediately opted-in database. A simple method is to add social sharing buttons to your campaigns. You can either use these to link to your own social channels or you can use them for subscribers to actively share content with their own followers.
Social media buttons (for example the familiar icons for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc) are usually placed in the top header or bottom footer of an email. That way they can be found if needed but they don’t otherwise detract from the main message or content. It’s also common to see ‘share this content’ for a campaign as a whole or for selected items.
Heat map analyses of email campaigns show that passive sharing in this way doesn’t generally attract high rates of engagement – it’s likely the focus of engagement will be directed elsewhere to the main campaign call to action. If social sharing is a specific campaign objective it’s worthwhile adding this as an identifiable call to action. This way it’s much more likely to attract attention and encourage action.
Another useful sharing consideration, especially valuable for eCommerce businesses is to include content which is suitable and easy to share. Here links to images, which can be extracted and are suitable for high resolution reproduction and sharing, provide a valuable asset for the fashion press and bloggers.
10. Email to ask for a review
We’ve already discussed the positive effect of the customer review. For online/eCommerce businesses where products, and especially services, are sold as unseen or on merit, then reassurance from existing customers is a powerful influencer.
Post-purchase emails are easy to add to your marketing automation process – arrival a few days after delivery is a common timing strategy – and integration with an eCommerce application like Shopify will enable pre-populating your email directly with the specific products that the customer has purchased.
Satisfied customers will generally be happy to submit a review – especially if you make it easy for them with the automated inclusion of their specific products and direct links to the review sites or applications. For them, but also others an incentive such as a competition entry or future discount can be a useful incentive and a return route to further business.