As far as online marketing strategies go, email is what some people would consider a dinosaur–it’s been here since the beginning. But unlike our extinct friends, we know that email won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It may not be as hip as wearable tech or augmented reality, but study after study has found that email continues to be one of the most effective ways to reach, engage, and convert users.
Research has shown that “when it comes to attracting new customers – email works almost 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter combined”. Not only that, but people are 3 times more likely to make a purchase (and spend more) when they click on links in emails, compared to social media.
With stats like that, it’s pretty clear that email is here to stay. Which is why if you’re not taking advantage of it, you could be missing out on a lot of business. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we came up with this quick retailer’s guide on how to do email marketing right.
Step 1: Collect email address efficiently
There are a number ways that retailers can collect email addresses, depending on your business, you may want to implement the following:
Collect email addresses in-store
If you’re collecting email addresses in-store, do yourself and your customers a favor and ditch the pen and paper. Asking people to fill out a form manually not only takes up more time, but it opens up room for human error. Not to mention, it also means more work for you, because you’ll need to input their information into your database.
It’s best to avoid all that and just build your list by capturing email addresses electronically so they are entered directly into your system. The easiest way to do this is through your point-of-sale solution. Most modern POS systems enable retailers to enter customer information at checkout, so be sure to take advantage of that feature by asking people to provide their email address when you’re ringing them up.
If you’re using a POS system that doesn’t offer an email capture feature, there are a number of apps that will help you get the job done. For example, there’s SignUpAnywhere, a nifty HTML5 application that lets you collect email addresses using your iPad.
Use your website
Got an ecommerce site? Make sure you’re using it to build your email list. There are numerous email marketing solutions (MailChimp, Aweber, and Campaign Monitor just to name a few) as well as plugins (depending on your website platform) that will enable you to do this.
Explore your options and see what works best for you.
Once you have your email marketing program up and running, set up email opt-in boxes on your website and consider throwing in an incentive to get people to sign up (more on this below).
Make it a part of the online checkout process
If your customers are buying from you online, chances are you are already gathering their email addresses and basic details as they go through the checkout process. The only thing to do now is to ensure that they opt-in to your newsletter.
You can do this by adding a mailing list checkbox on the checkout page of your eCommerce site. That way, shoppers who want to join your list won’t have to re-enter their details. They can just tick the checkbox and they’ll automatically be added to your email database.
Tap into social media
Having an email signup form on your Facebook page can be a great way to grow your list even further. Check with your email marketing solution and see if they offer any social media tools that you can use to grow your subscriber list.
Step 2: Incentivize customers to join your list
This part is optional, but if you want to increase your sign up rate, you may want to consider bribing incentivizing shoppers to give you their email.
a. Discounts / Offers
Don Uselmann at Saks Fifth Avenue makes a few says retailers can use discounts to encourage people to hand over their email. “Sign up for our newsletter and get 10% off your next purchase!” or “Sign up to receive exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox.”
One retailer that does this well is Kate Spade. The apparel retailer sometimes even shakes things up by holding unexpected sales, and using them to collect email addresses/
Don says that raffles can also be an effective tactic. Something along the lines of “Register with your email address and get a chance to win…”
Check out what homeware retailer The Borough Kitchen is doing. To encourage people to enter their email address, The Borough Kitchen puts a £100 gift voucher up for grabs.
c. Worthwhile Causes
Why not appeal to the philanthropic side of people? Consider encouraging them to sign up by saying things like “Save trees. Let us email you your receipt instead.” or “For every email we collect, we’ll donate $$ to [insert cause that you and your customers believe in here].”
d. Loyalty program
If you have a loyalty program, use it to build your email list.
Most of your customers will be happy to hand over their details in return for an incentive such as a discount or an opportunity to join to your loyalty program.
One example of a retailer doing this well is VapeMeet, a vape shop in Canada. According to co-founder Charlie Pisano, they incentivize their in-store customers to join their mailing list by enrolling them in their loyalty program in the process.
VapeMeet lets customers earn a certain dollar amount every time they spend money at the store, which they can then use for future purchases. The VapeMeet team makes it a point to tell their customers about this program when they invite them to join their list, and this has proven to be effective in getting people to sign up.
“We explain how our loyalty program works and the benefits that come with it, and after that customers are usually more than happy to give us their information” says Charlie.
Step 3: Segment and personalize
Now that you’ve gotten people to sign up for your list, let’s make sure they stay there. The key to keeping your subscribers happy is to send them relevant and personalized messages.
You can do this by segmenting your subscribers. Put your customers into specific groups and send tailored emails to each one. This helps you stay relevant and ensures that you’re sending the right messages to the right people.
How exactly can you slice and dice your subscriber list? Here are some common ways:
Do you sell to both men and women? Group them according to their gender so you can send them better product recommendations and offers. Say you’re having a storewide sale. Instead of sending out one generic blast, you can create gender-specific campaigns and segment customers accordingly. Your female subscribers could get a sale alert featuring summer dresses, while the guys would get an email about neckties or men’s trousers.
Segmenting customers according to location is a must if you have multiple branches or if you have events or pop-up stores in different areas. If you’re having a sale in your Austin location, for example, you’d only want to alert those in the area instead of say, giving the people in Philadelphia a heads up.
Here’s a great example of subscriber segmentation in action. A while back, American Express OPEN Forum hosted a Los Angeles event specifically for women. To make sure that only the right people received its message, Amex segmented users by gender AND location. The result? A highly relevant e-vite that made subscribers feel valued.
c. Purchase History
Put customers’ purchasing data into good use by segmenting them based on the items they previously bought. This will enable you to send appropriate product suggestions, refill alerts, and offers.
d. Customer Activity / Interaction
Group your customers based on how often they buy from you. Get to know your most loyal subscribers as well as your not-so-engaged customers, and then tailor your approach.
Check out what Little Black Bag is doing. The ecommerce site tracks customer activity and sends “We miss you” offers to people who haven’t stopped by in a while.
On the flip side, Hotels.com sends special deals to its engaged email subscribers and Facebook fans.
Consider doing something similar for your most active customers. Offering exclusivity makes subscribers feel special and earns you loyalty points (and hopefully sales!)
Step 4: Give people more control over their subscriptions
Get people to stay subscribed by encouraging them to take control of their subscription. Give them the ability to modify their preferences, specifically when it comes to the frequency of your emails. Surveys have shown that too many emails is the top reason for unsubscribes, so you want to make sure that you don’t turn off your subscribers with too many messages.
Jetsetter for instance, has a simple email preferences page that lets users indicate whether they want to receive messages on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Step 5: Track and optimize
Email marketing has many moving parts. There’s subject lines, timing, segments, and length, just to name a few. We’d love to give you solid best practices on how and when to send your messages, but the fact is, the rules of email aren’t set in stone.
The best way for you to figure out the right schedule, content, or themes for your emails is to run tests and track your campaigns. Monitor each campaign until you get a handle on what subject lines, schedules or content work best for your audience.
Case in point: Swaychic. The retailer wanted to increase email open rates and engagement, so it analyzed several metrics, including the time of day when subscribers read its messages, the time of actual conversions, the days with the highest open rates, and more.
Swaychic then tested and tweaked its campaigns based on its findings. It divvied up subscribers into different time slots (i.e. early morning, late morning, afternoon, or evening) then moved users into different groups depending on the results.
By optimizing the timing of its campaigns (among other things), the retailer increased its open rate by 40%, doubled its CTR, and tripled revenue for each campaign.
As great as these tips are, they won’t be very effective if you don’t have a genuine connection with your customers. Remember, at the end of the day, people give out their information to companies that they like and trust, so before ramping up your email strategy, it’s important that you work on being a business that your customers would actually want to receive emails from.
Need advice on how to do that? Swing by Vend U or give our Retail Tips Generator a spin to get some nuggets on retail success. And if you have any questions or want to share your thoughts on email marketing, leave a comment and let us know.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.