Email Marketing for eCommerce

Email MarketingI’m just back from JV Alert Live in Orlando, it was a fantastic event. I talked with quite a few people about the importance of a good follow up campaign and newsletters for eCommerce stores. So I thought I’d post specifically about email marketing.

Email Blastoff!
Get more out of our eCommerce store through your list.

Just because you sell physical products instead of Internet marketing tools doesn’t mean you don’t need to put out a regular newsletter. I’ve found that a lot of eCommerce storeowners don’t put out newsletters on a regular basis because they don’t know how to offer their products. Putting out a newsletter four times a year at holidays is a start there is much more to be gained by doing regular mailings.

So let’s start from the beginning, before you can send newsletters you have to have a list. Your store software might include an opt-in program or you can use a third party program.

Once you have your opt-in box on your site you have to work on your offer. Just saying “Sign up for our specials” isn’t enough; you need to offer your visitor a good and fair incentive to give you their email address and the right to market to them. I’ve had great success by offering a percentage discount coupon that is sent to the customer instantly. The point is to make whatever you’re offering easy and fast for the customer. Don’t make them have to think or wait for something – you’ll lose both ways.

Okay, you’ve got your message and it’s garnering sign-ups, time to get to getting! Holidays are pretty easy – New Years Sale, Fourth of July Sale, Fathers Day Sale – but what about all those other days of the year? What do you say? How do you justify sending out these emails? Easy, give them something!

Here are some ideas that gave worked very well for me in the past:

Another discount coupon. This can be for specific products or a blanket storewide discount. You can set a threshold price for storewide sales so you’re not losing money on your lower profit items, i.e. 10% off orders over $50. Buy one get one free. If you’re promoting a product with enough of a profit margin, buy one get one sales are fantastic sellers. Even if you sell a product people wouldn’t necessarily need more than one of, you can offer buy one get one of equal or lesser value. If you can pull this off it’s a great sales tactic.

Buy one get one ½ off. Same basic principle as the buy one get one you just keep more of the profit while still offering the customer a deal.

Buy one get a free xxxx. An example of this that I use is: Buy any tapestry over $200 and get a free hanging rod. The rods cost me about $11 apiece and I charge $22 in the store so this promotion is a great way to get my customers to buy the next tapestry size up so they save the $22. It works very well for anything that can be accessorized; it’s one of my favorite promotions.

Featured Product of The Week (Month, Day, Hour). I have found offers with a time limit capture a lot of interest. When doing a featured product mailing I describe the item in great detail and provide more than one picture if possible. You really want to feature this product, so talk it up. List all the virtues of the product and try to make the customer feel what it would be like to own it. A single product offer is different from any of the others I’ve mentioned because the benefits have to be much more specific.

Those are a few great ideas that work very well with eCommerce stores. Now lets talk about subject lines. It’s all well and good to have a great offer for your subscribers but they won’t know about it unless they open and read your email. Subject lines are just as important as content and design. In fact they can be more important. Let me use a different form of marketing to illustrate.

Think of movie posters, specifically the taglines. Now even more specifically the poster for the movie Alien. I’ll describe it in case you don’t know what it looks like. It’s almost entirely black with a faintly glowing greenish egg in the center. The title “Alien” is spelled out above it. Without the tagline (I’ll tell you what it is in a moment) the poster means whatever you attribute to it. If you were afraid of aliens it would seem ominous, but if you’ve just finished watching ET your perspective might be completely different. It’s the tagline that explains the purpose of the images – “In space no one can hear you scream”. Pretty clear it’s a horror movie now and if you’re a horror fan you are so seeing that movie!

Now let me tie this in with newsletters. Your customers probably subscribe to more than just your newsletter and they’re probably not waiting in anticipation for your next mailing. If your subject is bland it doesn’t matter how well written the content is or how amazing the images of your products look because most of your customers will delete it without opening it. People are being sold to everywhere they go and it seems everyone is always having a sale so: “Big Sale at My Store” isn’t going to get you the open rate you want. So what do you write?

Let’s go back to the movie poster example. The image and title are for all intents and purposes neutral. If the tagline had been the equivalent of “Big Sale at My Store” it would read “Humans Meet Alien”, not exciting, not descriptive, not seeing that movie. It describes the movie in a completely general sense and conveys nothing about the content. How can people decide if they are interested based on what amounts to nothing?

Over communicating is just as bad. For example, “Sent to a distant planet for recon, seven deep space miners encounter a new species of destructive alien that rampages through their ship and kills all but one of them before being blown out of an airlock.” Um, thanks, I’m not eve going to read all of that. In terms of email marketing it would look like this, “Three Day Buy One Get One Free Sale On Modern Art Tapestries Handmade and Imported from Belgium For Stunning Home Decor.” Too long and it looks like spam. You want a bite-size hook not some long exposition that will be truncated by your customers email client.

Make your message clear and concise, a call to action doesn’t hurt either. “Three Day Buy One Get One Tapestry Sale”, “Get a Rod with Your Tapestry Purchase”, “All Tapestries 20% Off This Friday”. These all work. Don’t use all caps, avoid extra punctuation, and don’t use more than one exclamation point if you must use any at all.

Now that you’ve gotten your customer to take a look at your content you need to capture their eye with your design. There are a lot of different elements and considerations that go into design so I’m going to start with the most basic and technically the only necessary one – product pictures. Your products need to be the focus. Whether you’re featuring just one or a whole menagerie, your images have to be clear and sharp. In other words, your products need to pop.

You can use in-context images or just simple product pictures. One layout I’m fond of using is an in-context image at the top either to the right or left of my offer text, then three to six regular product images in columns underneath. I’ve also had success with nine regular images in three rows arranged by category. For single product promotions I like to put a large regular image in the center and a smaller in-context image inset with my offer text.

I also include the name of the product below each image (except on single product promotions) and hyperlink both it and the image. If I’m running a storewide sale or promoting a specific category of products I include links to view all related products. For example in a storewide sale mailing below the text link to a contemporary art tapestry I will have text saying View All Contemporary Art Tapestries linked to the corresponding category.

The design that works best for me may not work as well for your products and/or customer base. So always be testing new layouts. When you’re looking for design ideas go to some of the sites you order from regularly and sign up for their newsletter. Also sign up for some of your competitors’ newsletters. I’m not in any way suggesting you pilfer a design but there is nothing wrong with emulating things you like about others. And with competitors you also have the benefit of choosing to differentiate yourself with a completely different design.

One thing to be sure of when you’re adding images into your newsletter is they need to be absolute URLs. There are some email programs that allow you to upload images and place them in the template. But if you’re not using a program that has that feature or you’re building your own template in an HTML editor you have to enter the image location in manually.

If your going to use the same exact image that is on your website you can right click on it and select View Image to get the URL. If you’re going to make changes to the image, i.e. size, color, effects, you’ll need to publish it somewhere to get an absolute URL. You can upload it through the backend of your store just as you do when you add products for sale – just be sure to name it differently than your store product image – or you can use FTP if you have access to it.

Most email marketing programs have built in templates that you can add or upload text and images to and there is nothing wrong with using them. You should customize them a bit though. Change the colors, alter the layout, that sort of thing. I suggest doing this because many of the other marketers that use the program will be using the same templates are you. This isn’t nearly as big a deal as having the same website template but it’s worth doing.

If you’re creating your own HTML email template using an editor be sure to put in all the proper tags from the email software you’re using. If you want a greeting at the top you need to put in the code to call the customers name. If you want tracking (you definitely do) be sure to add the tracking tag. In the admin of your email program it should tell you what these tags are and where they should be placed in your code.

Let’s talk about code for a moment. My best advice is to keep it as simple as possible. The more tables, large images, and scripts you put in the longer it will take to load. People don’t wait very long for web pages to load and they’ll have even less patience when looking at email. If you’re designing your email with a large in-context image break the image up into a few slices rather than one large file. Use div tags instead of tables wherever you can.

Another thing to remember as far as tables go is the more you have the better the chances your newsletter will not show up correctly in some email clients. You don’t want to go through all the work of creating an awesome looking email only to have it go all screwy in Gmail. I’ve done it; it did not make me smile. A low tech way to test your emails is to create accounts with all the free clients then create a separate contact list in your email marketing program. Before you schedule or send your newsletter, send a test out to this list and make sure it’s showing up the way you want it to. Scheduling is another very important factor in email marketing success.

Just as sales ebb and flow with the days of the week so does email response. There are a lot of different ideas and theories marketers have about the best day to mail but I firmly believe it varies by industry and customer type. For instance, I do my tapestry mailings on Friday afternoons and my sports mailing Wednesday evenings.

This is something you will have to test. You need to get a feel for your customer base and how they like to do things. A large part of my tapestry customers order Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. So I aim to get my email offer to them an hour or two before prime time spending. Look at your stats and figure out the day of the week and rough time you get the most orders. By rough time I mean morning, afternoon, or night and schedule your mailing to hit inboxes just before. That’s how you should begin and test from there.

You should also test frequency of mailings. Your customer base, again, will dictate this. For my tapestry store I send out storewide sale mailings every week and do a featured product of the month mailing the first Sunday of every month. For my sports store I send out category specific mailings weekly and bi-weekly featured product offers.

Another thing I like to do, and my customers seem to like it too, is to feature products related to the season. For instance, in the Spring I feature tapestries related to the season of renewal or the upcoming summer months. Likewise for the sports store I feature MLB and NHL items because those are foremost in the mind of many sports fans.

A nice, simple way to see instantly how well your offers are doing is to use different coupon codes. This should not be your only form of tracking. You should use the tracking options offered by your email marketing software and have methods in place in your store to track conversion. That being said, nay demanded, I like to use varying codes because they show up on order receipts and I get an idea how well an offer is being received as orders come in without having to log into my tracking admin.

If you’re putting the same offer on your blog as you are sending out to your newsletter list create two different codes. If you send out a weekly newsletter create a new coupon code each week. You’ll be able to tell how fast or slow sales result from your efforts just by looking at your order receipts. Likewise, use a new code for each featured product rather than reuse a generic code. This isn’t a mandatory practice, just something I like to do that I’d thought I’d share.

I have been doing email marketing for my eCommerce stores for over five years and I’m still testing new offers and new designs. If you put as much thought and care into designing your newsletters as you do your website you will increase the value of your list and reap the benefits of repeat sales. Keep testing and digging deeper into the wants and needs of your customer base and you will create another income stream from within your existing business, it’s a wonderful thing.

-Get and opt-in box on your website to collect email addresses
-Create an offer your customers will want to sign up for
-Create and test different types of sales
–Buy one get one, Single product, Free accessory, etc
-Write an eye-catching subject line to describe your sale and make your subscribers want to click
-Test different email design layouts including single product, varying number of products and columns, in-context images, etc
-Be sure to code using absolute URLs and keep your HTML simple
-Figure out your sales cycle and schedule your newsletter to hit customer inboxes right before your highest sales period
-Keep testing!

Keep Your Sales Momentum Going After the Holidays

Keep Holiday Sales Momentum StrongPicture this: The holiday rush has ended. The frenetic excitement of another massive shopping season has died down. Now we can all take a minute and breathe a sigh of relief as we look at the our sales numbers for the past few months. You did it… and did it well. Congratulations.

But now is no time to rest on your laurels.

Just because the holidays are over does not mean your profit windfall has to be  over too. Sure, it is most likely going to decrease a bit but by keeping your sales momentum going you can draw the decrease out over the next month or so. (Or you can sit back and watch it dramatically plummet. Your choice!)

Look, I know you are tired, the holiday months can be extremely draining, but we are talking about continuing to make above average sales here – that’s worth putting off your vacation for another month, isn’t it?

Luckily, keeping your sales rolling doesn’t require much extra effort.  It’ll involve some initiative (which we know you’ve got because you run a successful eCommerce store) and the normal amount of work you do for promoting sales and specials for your store. Think of it more as a continuation of your holiday promotions rather than a whole new set of work and ideas.

In this article, I’ll lay out the things I do with my stores and you can take the ideas and apply them to your products and markets.

You might think that it would be hard to persuade people to buy right after they’ve done so much holiday spending.  But quite often people don’t get what they really wanted as holiday gifts… or just not every single thing. Because they’ve been doing so much of it over the past few months, they are used to spending at this point… and now they have the chance to spend on themselves.

That’s where your “after holiday” profits come from. You’re offering discounted gifts for bargain hunters and for people to give to themselves.

Here are some things I do to keep the profits rolling in after the holidays:

Whatever sales you were running to get more out of the holidays will help also you get more out of the post holiday season. I re-frame my promotions so they are centered around the idea of “The Perfect Gift You Didn’t Get” or “Get What You Really Wanted This Christmas” or something to that effect. 

As long as the discount is good (I’d go with at least 10%) you won’t need to do that much convincing to get people to feel entitled to buying themselves a gift.

You will also want to get the word out about your post holiday sales via newsletters.

Again, frame it around ‘The Gift You Really Wanted But Didn’t Get” or appeal to the bargain hunters with something like “Huge After-Christmas Discounts”. One of the headlines I intend to use this year is “The Most Awesome Christmas Gift You Didn’t Get”. That particular newsletter is going to be focused on a single product but it could work for multiple products or even your entire store depending on how you want to frame your offer.

Get on the phone with your vendors.

Again, I know you did it just before the holidays to check stock, now it’s time to do it again. As I’ve said in articles past, getting to know your vendors is a good investment in your business. You don’t have to be buddies with them, but it’s good to be on a first name basis and have them happy to answer when you call. Being able to strategize with your suppliers is a great way to get more out of both of your businesses.

Ask your vendors what products they still have a lot of stock on and promote these products as overstock sales. Have a “Post Holiday Blowout Sale” or , “Holiday Overstock Clearance”, etc. You might be able to get a bigger discount on these products if your vendor is motivated to sell them. Let them know what you plan to do – show how you’re going to promote the products – so they can see how quickly you plan to move them. Remember – they’ll be interested in keeping their sales up too! If you can show them a way to do that they’ll be open to helping you achieve those sales.

Don’t be afraid to propose ideas. A good vendor will take a vested interest in your store because they know the better you do, the better they do. The worse they can do is say no, so if you have an idea put it out there. It may not be accepted “as is” but it will open a dialogue between you and your supplier and give you the chance to work together.

Use your store blogs to capture more interest.

Put up blog posts about your post holiday discounts. These can be very similar to your newsletters. Also post your single product promotions. Be sure to put nice, big pictures of the products you’re discounting and make the coupon code stand out so people don’t have to read the entire post or search your blog for it. The more you can put out there and the easier you make it for people to use, the more your post holiday season will be a success.

Along those lines, use your social networks to get more people into the bargain craze or the “I’m buying it for me” mindset. I use sites like Twitter and Facebook to promote my holiday sales and so I’ll also be using them to promote my post holiday sales. Whatever avenues work for you during the holidays should be approached afterward as well.

Network, network, network!

Now I’m going to switch it up a bit and I’m going to go back to what I said earlier about strategizing with your suppliers. When you talk with them you’ll probably come away with a few ideas you didn’t have before. This happens when you talk with other business owners, you get new perspectives. So a great thing to do in the New Year is to join a mastermind or attend local business meet-ups.

For example, I regularly attend local meet-ups in Philadelphia. Just by listening to other business owners talk about what they do or how they handle certain things gives me ideas that I can apply to my stores. No one is an island and no one knows everything. Passing ideas back and forth with other business owners is one of the best ways to expand how you think about your store and sales process.

Just as you might be able to spot an issue or offer a new idea to someone else, they will be able to do the same for you. Having someone outside your business look at what you do can give you fresh perspective that can totally change your approach.

Whether it is a new tool that you find will help you get better rankings, a different line of thought around your Pay Per Click advertising, some constructive criticism about your site design, learning how others create and distribute coupons and sales, etc – joining a business owners group is another good investment in your business.

I’m pushing this because the groups are out and ready to accept new members but a lot of eCommerce store owners think these groups are for Internet Marketers primarily focused on info marketing. Not only is this not true, it wouldn’t really matter if it was because…

You don’t have to work strictly with other eCommerce store owners! I mastermind with a group weekly where I am the only eCommerce person present. Sometimes the best advice or ideas come from people who are not enmeshed in the same things you are. They are not in the same box, let’s say, as you are so they can just throw ideas out there that aren’t constrained because they are not dealing with the same things you are on a daily basis. A broad range of views can help open up your way of thinking, which can lead to new ways of doing business.

So that’s it. Those are my main sales tricks for after the holidays. This is an oft-overlooked opportunity to sustain your holiday sales momentum and these are the basic steps I take to get the most out of my own products post-holiday. You might find some other things to do based on your specific business and product lines and I suggest you do them all and I bet you to continue profiting – even after the holiday rush has ended.

- Continue your holiday sales but re-purpose them for the post- holidays.
- Promote your post holiday sales through your newsletters.
- Talk with your vendors and find out what items they have a lot of stock on.
- Promote the items with a lot of stock as overstock sales.
- Promote your sales with blog posts and on your social networks.
- Join a mastermind or local business meet-up group to continue expanding your ideas.