Effective email marketing for eCommerce websites

Adam Phillips
By Adam Phillips
7 Nov 2013

Email marketing is perceived in a dim light by many, this is probably because everyone with an email address gets plagued by spam. As a result, many businesses are reluctant to associate themselves with what can seem such a crass and annoying form of marketing. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Used effectively, email can add value to your customers and generate sales.  

Assuming you’re not a spammer, if you have somebody’s email address in your database it will be because that person has already bought something from you or has shown an interest in your business.  This should make them more likely to buy from you in future. Email addresses like this should be a prized marketing asset and handled with extreme care.

When you look at it a different way, email marketing is relatively inexpensive (certainly compared to direct mail), it offers a way to maintain contact with customers, generates repeat business and directs your marketing at people who have already shown an interest in what you do. So, why wouldn’t you want to do it?

Here are a few ways to get results from email marketing without alienating or annoying anyone.

Retrieving lost sales

One of the most effective uses of email is to follow up with people who started a shopping cart and left your site without completing a purchase. We covered how to use abandoned shopping cart emails in a recent article.

Abandoned cart email marketing eCommerce

Respect your customers

This principle should underpin everything you do with email marketing. Why is it that some businesses think it’s OK to communicate in emails in ways they would never do if they were face-to-face with a customer?  Respect refers to what you communicate, how you communicate, and when you do it. A very simple rule is never to send out anything that you wouldn’t be happy to receive. 

Are your latest special offers really just that? Or is it the same offer regurgitated again and again? People will notice. Are your emails full of aggressive sales-speak? People might not welcome that and may well add you to their blocked senders list or report you for spam.

You certainly want your email communications to be regular and monthly at the very least. But how frequently you send them will probably depend on how frequently you have new and relevant products, offers or promotions to communicate.

Respect also relates to privacy. Whenever you ask for an email address, make the terms of your privacy policy clear. People want to be sure that you won’t share their address and won’t spam them. Make sure you offer an ability for your customers to change their email preferences so they can opt out of specific marketing emails and also completely unsubscribe should they wish.

Make it personal

People will feel better about receiving an email from you if it’s personalised, which means they’re also more likely to open it. If possible, use their name in the subject line and/or the salutation. 

You should certainly segment your email contacts so that you are not simply sending the same message to everyone. Here are a few simple ways that you could consider segmenting your list so that your email communications are more relevant and likely to be opened:

Number of previous purchases. The way you communicate with a regular customer should be different from a new customer.  

Buying history. What sort of products did they buy in the past? How can you make the offers and promotions you send them relevant to the sorts of things they are interested in? An example would be: ‘We’ve just launched this new range - based on what you’ve bought in the past we thought you’d be interested.’

Gender. Do you have some offers and promotions that would appeal more to either men or women?

Segmenting to this level probably means you’ll have to use a full featured email marketing system, either provided by your eCommerce developer or using a 3rd party system like MailChimp or DotMailer. Most email marketing suites will allow you access to invaluable analytical information after you’ve sent out your campaign such as email opens open rates & click-throughs to your website. This should also tie into your Google Analytics reporting (assuming you use Google Analytics).

Event-driven emails

Make emails more relevant and effective by having them driven by events using an autoresponder. Here, a specific type of email is sent to a customer based on a particular action or event.

The simplest form of event-driven email is to welcome a new customer thanking them for their business and reminding them of your contact details should they have any queries. You can make the email even more welcoming and encourage repeat business by offering exclusive discounts on their next purchase.

Events could relate to the calendar. If somebody previously bought a cricket bat from you, spring might be a good time to send them a promotion on equipment for the new season. You can also use customers’ birthdays as a trigger if you collect that data (this data can be easily obtained if you offer customers the option for new customers to login/register via Facebook)

At the other end of the scale you might use a reactivation email if somebody hasn’t visited your eCommerce site for a while. Make them feel special by referring to their previous purchases, show them related products and, again, offer a discount on their next purchase to encourage them back.

The advantage of the event-driven approach is that there is always a clear reason and purpose behind the email. Your customers will get the impression that you’re not just scattering the same messages as widely as you can but you’ve taken the trouble to send them only the things they are likely to be interested in - you can call it customer service if you like.

Don’t try to sell every time

Not every email needs to be a sales email. If people have demonstrated an interest in a particular subject or pastime through the things they have purchased, your emails could contain links to content they would find useful or interesting: blog articles, ‘how to’ videos and so on. Your emails then show that you care about more than just selling them things.

If all of that didn’t convince you, consider this: according to the Direct Marketing Association, properly executed email marketing typically enjoys an ROI of 4,300%. Now do you think it’s worth a try? We thought so!