Emails and E-Commerce: More Than an Ugly Duckling

Posted on October 11, 2018

Remember the story of The Ugly Duckling?  A mother duck’s eggs hatch and one of her babies is not like the other. That baby is uglier than the rest of the ducklings and is therefore pushed to the side and left ostracized. We all know how it ends though. The duckling turns out to be a swan and ends up more beautiful than all the other ducks. It’s a touching story to be sure, but what does it have to do with e-commerce?

What if I told you that your e-commerce company has pushed an ugly duckling to the side? What if I told you that your company’s ugly duckling just needs a little nurturing to become a beautiful swan this holiday season?

So as not to get bogged down with avian analogies, let’s state the obvious: Emails are decidedly not the sexiest part of building a successful e-commerce company. It’s so much more fun to design a brand, raise capital, or build a social standing online. However, by just doing the bare minimum with email capture and re-targeting, you are leaving hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars on the table.

Abandoned cart emails are important, as are simple “batch and blast” tactics. You can’t very well have an online company without access to the online mail of customers, and if you have any kind of e-commerce company to speak of, you have very likely implemented at least a basic form of email capture. What you do with those captured emails next is the difference between being stuck at the start-up kids’ table and a brand that belongs at the head of the adult table.

When John James founded Country Outfitter as part of Acumen Brands, he realized that access to customer emails was a privilege and should be treated as such. He noted that “any customer could revoke that privilege at any time, so our messages had to be welcomed and wanted.” Simple spamming and run-of-the-mill flows would not cut it. It was then that he revolutionized his business and increased his email CPM by 1000 percent. That’s right: 1000 percent.

It’s simple psychology: people want to be wanted. But people don’t want to feel like they’re part of a larger marketing campaign. They want to feel special. James realized this and crafted an e-commerce empire by highly personalizing his re-targeting emails based upon thousands of factors, including “age, location, Facebook interests, device, browsing history, [and] purchase history” among other things. Emails weren’t just pushing products either. Country Outfitter sent lifestyle content that kept customers engaged between purchases. The company didn’t have to be selling you something on every email. Emails simply became a way of keeping in touch and in tune. Country Outfitter was a friend, from whom you happened to buy cowboy boots. This strategy caused unsubscribe rates to plummet and click rates to skyrocket, and Country Outfitter to become a 100-million-dollar e-commerce brand.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that winter is coming, which means your store is probably going to be busier than any other time of the year. You may not have the traditional Mad Max-inspired mayhem of a storefront, but your site will experience many more opportunities to convert viewers to buyers, and you’ll have the opportunity to make your brand a mainstay throughout the year if you handle your Q4 emails the right way.

I cannot stress this enough: a clear, concise strategy for email flows will win every time over “batch and blast” tactics. In Q4, you have to operate under the correct assumption that customers will be receiving more and more emails. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day, or Festivus, people buy things during the holidays. But how do you make YOUR store the go-to site?

A general strategy is to segment your email populations based on value. Say you have an email list of 100,000 users. Divide the population into a segment of 20 percent and a segment of 80 percent.

Who are your top 20 percent of customers — the best of the best, who frequently visit and purchase from your store? You know that they’re engaged, so give them an excuse to be even more engaged. Hit them with emails BEFORE they’re ready to spend money: “did you know we’re having a sale?”, “here’s a discount”, “there’s X number of days until Black Friday!” Discounts go a long way, and it allows you to reward valued customers who will be spending more anyway.

Now, take the 80 percent of other users and prioritize recency. If they’ve bought or looked at products recently, now is your opportunity to send a custom flow, up-selling or cross-selling curated items. In the spirit of the season of giving, offer a buy one, get one sale to encourage gift giving your products. Use Facebook messenger to send the equivalent of an SMS directly to your customers. By utilizing creativity, you can capitalize greatly during Q4. However, you can’t focus solely on sales. Lifestyle emails can be a great boon to your business.

Last Thanksgiving, Hollister capitalized on lifestyle content and won the day. They offered Snapchat filters in specific three-hour segments focusing on different aspects of Thanksgiving. These filters gave Hollister free views on every story shared containing the filter. They didn’t try to sell cool surfer tees or dope board shorts. They just wanted the brand present. They were a conversation piece. Your brand can be too.  Make a filter for when your uncle says football isn’t tough anymore, or a filter for that awkward moment when Nana has too much box wine, or when you see your ex throat punch someone for a discounted television on Black Friday. Find something relevant to say and say it. Your consumers will flock to your honesty and relevancy.

Emails may not be sexy. Emails may not be fun. But they are of paramount importance to taking your brand to the next level this holiday season. With optimized emails, you can nourish your ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, or better yet, a golden goose.