How to Resurrect Your eCommerce Email Marketing Strategy

You’ve Seen the Email Marketing Headlines…

“Why Email Will Be Obsolete by 2020” (Inc.)

“In A World Where Email No Longer Exists” (TechCrunch)

“Why email is dead to me” (CNET)

“Email is Dead – As Relevant as a Fax Machine?” (SAP)

And my personal favorite: “Email Is Dead … Again” from PCMag.

For eCommerce, such proclamations present one of two hard-line options. Either email marketing is dead and we should all move on to “better” marketing strategies — namely, social media powerhouses like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Or — as the often misquoted Mark Twain line goes — reports of email’s death “have been grossly exaggerated.”

Who’s right?

Well, if numbers count for anything, with about 4.35 billion email accounts worldwide, and an expected 5.59 billion by 2019, debunking the email-is-dead myth is short work. Not only does email have a staggering amount of users, but the ROI for email is on average 122% higher than alternative marketing channels.

Graph of how Email stacks up against other channels

And that’s just the low end of the data. As McKinsey & Company discovered, in many instances, email is a mind-blowing 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined.

Email isn’t dead, which means the real question is: Why does it feel like it is?

Because most eCommerce email marketing strategies rely on a one-size-fits-all approach that dips its toes into things like personalization, customization, and segmentation … instead of diving all in.

Combining these three musts is what’s known as behavioral marketing.

Rather than sending the same basic email to different people — modifying slightly for things like name and list origin — behavioral marketing adapts to (well) the past behaviors of the recipient, and the associated purchase intent of that consumer based on their current behaviors.

With every click, swipe, open, add-to-cart, purchase, and visit to your site … your subscribers are telling you what they want, both individually and in aggregate. Making your email genuinely behavioral is the only way to keep up with the rapidly evolving expectations of the market and bring it back from the “dead.”

Thankfully, this approach comes down to just four steps every eCommerce-email strategy needs.

1. Snag

It’s a tragic story … and one that you know all too well.

Whether through organic search or a paid ad, you successfully spike your potential buyer’s interest. She clicks, arrives on your site or product description page, checks out the images, reads a review, and looks at the price. Reasonable. So she adds it to her cart.

She likes the product, but as the checkout process begins, doubt creeps into her psyche. She wonders if she really has the money, if the product will be as good as it says it is, and ultimately, if it’s worth buying. She hesitates — just her and her thoughts — and because it’s easier to leave then click “Confirm,” she abandons your site … never to return.

Unfortunately, this is the end of the story for about 68% of eCommerce activity. Cart abandonment costs merchants an estimated $4 trillion. What’s worse, this potential buyer is now totally lost since you have no information to follow up with.

Luckily, this isn’t how the story has to end.

Instead of hoping for the best or orienting your email collection around (1) creating an account or (2) some arbitrary point — like an entry or exit email capture overlay — anchor it right when interest is most piqued.

How?

The best time to snag an email address is when initial interest has morphed into assured interest. In other words, when the initial interest that brought her to your site is supported by what she’s seen on your site and feels assured that her curiosity is not in vain.

For example, if your visitor adds an item to her cart — meaning she’s interested — create an experience triggered by that activity with an added value proposition: “Awesome! Since this is your first [dynamic insertion of product] … we’d love to give you a 20% off coupon.”

Or let’s say you’re out of the selected size. In that case, ask for their email immediately — as disappointment kicks in — with a relevant message: “Bummer! That’s such a popular [dynamic insertion of product]. But we’ll let you know when [size X] is in!”

Suzie Q's initial experience on an eCommerce site

Alternatively, if content is what brought them to your site — and someone takes the time to scroll through an article — ask for their email in one of two places: either at the two-thirds mark or at the end. Something like, “Wanna get awesome articles on [dynamic insertion of current topic]?”

Suzie Q becomes interested in the offer and subscribes

And none of this should be guess work. Instead, start tracking what triggers work best for your site by testing a host of different options. Naturally, you can set these up on your own or use a platform like BounceX to optimize it for you.

Trying to secure the browser’s email at any other point in their experience is not merely ineffective, but outright annoying.

Successfully snag their email, though, and you’ll open the door to a long-term relationship with the customer. This is the first step. Without the almighty email address, all other discussions about strategy are useless.

2. Align

Equally important for the potential buyer’s experience is consistency across all channels. Whether it be phone, tablet, or computer, when someone views your app, blog, or website, the experience should be familiar.

Why? Two reasons.

First, your potential buyer wants to see consistency, not just in their personal relationships, but in online interactions as well. It’s how humans are wired. We associate familiarity with safety.

Second, consistency builds trust and loyalty. People like consistency because it indicates someone can be counted on. We remain with people who are consistent because being in a familiar environment is less threatening than being in a foreign one.

Think about it. Why do you go back to your favorite restaurant? Why do you order the same meal? Why do you sit at that same table?

It’s familiar. And thus it’s safe.

In fact, not only is familiarity safe, it’s more enjoyable! Humans enjoy what’s familiar to them because insecurities and fears are left behind, allowing them to let go of the stress first-time experiences create.

Your multichannel business caters to humans, so consistency is critical.

For eCommerce, however, brand consistency doesn’t just make your potential buyer comfortable, it’s also essential for usability. Imagine, for instance, your potential buyer adds an item to her cart on her laptop, becomes distracted and abandons.

Suzie Q browses an eCommerce site, but leaves empty-handed

Later, she returns to purchase the item on her phone. You, as the seller, want to make it as convenient and easy as possible for her to complete the transaction. This goes right back to the golden rule of all UX as enshrined by Steve Krug over a decade ago: “don’t make me think.”

Unfortunately, what normally happens when someone returns to purchase on a new device is that the item is no longer waiting for them. This violates consistency, degrades trust, and throws up a huge barrier — the time it takes to run through the whole process again. So, they abandon.

Instead of recognizing the person, the site recognizes the device. And this disconnect puts stress on the buyer-seller relationship — stress that you can’t even see and you definitely can’t afford.

With behavioral marketing, you recognize the person … not the device. The person is at the center.

All of your channels in one place

How does this big picture approach fit into email marketing?

Take something like device behavior. Unoptimized, what looks good on a desktop might not look good — or even work — on a mobile device. Be sensitive to this. Nobody, when viewing your emails, likes seeing awkwardly sized images, gifs, or videos — or worse yet, “alt text” — where a high quality visual should be.

Behavioral email goes beyond responsive templates and relies on dynamic content swapping. Essentially this means desktop users get the full experience — high quality images and videos — while mobile users are served up a stripped-down version that loads faster, displays beautifully, and highlights CTAs buttons (e.g., “Get My 10% Off”).

CTAs on multiple devices

Or consider the rearranged navigational options in desktop — where it appears more traditionally — versus mobile — where it automatically moves to the below the hero image and CTA:

what an email looks like on desktop

eCommerce email opened on desktop

Mobile cart abandonment email

The same eCommerce email opened on mobile in which the navigation and header are rearranged to maintain the focus on the CTA and make clicking easier

Aligning also extends to the types of CTAs and links they receive via email and not just the size of those CTAs. If someone signed up on a mobile device or through an app, the email should invite them to continue that consistent experience. The same is true if they arrived on your list through a traditional desktop.

Ignoring these details communicates that either you aren’t knowledgeable enough to fix the problem or that you don’t care about your customer and their experience.

Align your emails — along with all your channels — with the customer at the center. It’s hard enough to make sales in a perfect world; no need to add the baggage of muddled and inconsistent emails.

3. Pursue

Rather than viewing that 68% cart abandonment rate and $4 trillion in losses as a problem, view it as an opportunity — an opportunity to pursue your potential buyer.

How?

For all its pain and angst, cart abandonment — or any visit that doesn’t end in a purchase — does contain a silver lining, as long as you’ve snagged the prospect’s email address. When you’re tracking user behavior, you automatically know what each person is interested in because of what they read, add to cart, or click on. Use this to your advantage. Rather than sending out a plain-vanilla email sequence lacking any genuine relevance, pursue them the way you would any relationship, by building it around their interests.

Pursuing an abandoned cart is fairly straightforward. Keep it short and specific. Something like:

Hey [First Name]!

Thanks for stopping by.

We noticed that you left a few things behind:

[List and images of specific products]

Click here to grab ‘em!

Here’s a couple examples of what this looks like in action:

What a typical cart abandonment email could look like

Personalized GlassesUSA eCommerce cart abandonment CTA

Why does this type of pursuit work?

Because, to the customer, it doesn’t feel like they’ve been thrown in with the masses; it feels like talking to another person who’s adapting to their unique preferences.

And this is the buying experience your customer expects.

Email, when used this way, plays the part of the salesperson. The goal is to apply friendly pressure and incentives as the potential buyer comes up with excuses for why not to complete the purchase.

Pursuing the people who’ve abandoned your website this way is not only deeply personalized, it’s also a gentle and relevant reminder that you’re paying attention to them (something we all want).

But what if you’re not dealing with something quite so specific as an abandoned cart? That’s exactly where the next step comes in.

4. Adapt

It’s one thing to pursue your potential buyer; it’s another to adapt.

Certainly this is the key after the first cart abandonment email … but it’s especially crucial over time as your relationship develops.

You can do this by automatically adjusting your follow up emails based directly on interactions with both your email and your site.

To track how the customer interacted with email, ask yourself two fundamental questions. First, which emails does she open? This simple metric — if adhered to — will reveal a wealth of information about the effectiveness of your subject lines, what topics or keywords are most enticing, how your tone impacts engagement, the most opportune time to send, and more.

Second, did she click through? Open rates are helpful, but CTR are gold. Here you’re looking for what products, articles, offers, copy, images, calls to action, length, number of clickable options, tone, and approach — i.e., story telling or straight up sales messages — work best.

To adapt, you have to be familiar with your potential buyer’s tendencies. And that’s the goal of this step.

Of course, if you don’t have a way to track and automatically adapt in place, a one-to-one email approach becomes impossible. You can’t become friends with someone without knowing them first and you can’t sell to someone without knowing what they want to buy.

Before you start making your own, take note of two behaviorally adapted emails as models. The first is on cosmetics. All three recommendations go beyond the usual “Other customers purchased” approach and tie in directly to the recipient’s personal characteristics: eye color, complexion, and skin type:

Recommended eCommerce products CTA

Each of those characteristics can be determined by demographic questions during onboarding, but they can also be inferred from the emails, pages, and products viewed.

Another example comes from fashion and takes a very similar path:

Email with REVOLVE's hand-picked eCommerce items

What’s more, the benefits of adaptation compound over time. Without catering to their interests, needs, and wants, over time list fatigue sets in:

Visual representation of the value of an email list over time

Behavioral email — even with a conservative estimate of 15% order-value increase — reaps huge rewards as your list becomes more and more engaged:

Visual representation of email list sizes with and without behavioral email

It’s Alive … eCommerce Email Marketing!

Email isn’t dead. But the old one-size-fits-all eCommerce strategy is.

Behavioral email marketing resurrects your strategy and turns every email into a living, breathing, personalized experience. And it all comes down to four steps:

  1. Snag
  2. Align
  3. Pursue
  4. Adapt

Remember, at the end of the day, we’re selling to people. Real. Unique. Alive. It’s time our eCommerce emails started acting like it.