One of the greatest benefits of owning a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce business is that you get to form a direct connection with your customers. These people are genuinely interested in your product — so much so, that they have purchased your products. They’ve trusted you with their email address and mobile number. They follow you on social media and may even have your mobile app on their phone. We’d go so far as to say that these loyal fans are your most precious business asset — more valuable, even, than your inventory — and that’s saying something, coming from a 3PL that stores inventory! So, how do you nurture this relationship and make the most of it?
With any relationship, communication is key. You don’t want to nag, but you also don’t want them to forget about you. It’s a fine line. In addition, you have more than one option for direct communication: SMS (text), email, direct mail, targeted advertising. Today we’re going to discuss these options, when to use them, and best practices for sending emails and SMS to improve their performance (however you define that).
Email vs. Other Forms of Communication
For many years, email has been the gold standard of communication tools for DTC businesses. Why? Because it’s relatively inexpensive, there is lots of room for creativity, and the message can be targeted to the recipient. The downside? We all get too many emails, and when that happens, people tend to ignore them, or worse, unsubscribe.
Today, the average person spends almost 4 hours per day on their mobile device. They’re reading and responding to emails, shopping, browsing, scrolling social media and news feeds. When a text comes in, they look at it. That’s what makes SMS an important form of communication. SMS, however, is restricted to 160 characters, and text only (no images). Because it’s so immediate, SMS should be used sparingly, for time-sensitive information, such as prompts to revisit an abandoned cart, or notifications of a sale starting or ending. Like email, if abused, customers quickly learn to say STOP.
Direct mail, while not as eco-friendly and far more expensive, can be used to deliver a coupon to infrequent shoppers, or communicate big events, such as an annual sale or new product drop.
All ecommerce businesses should be engaging in targeted advertising. That means knowing what your customers are interested in, and showing up where they are. Social media and paid search are the best places to start, because you can place ads based on demographics, psychographics, search terms, shopping behavior, or almost any defining characteristic you can think of.
Bottom line? The best marketing campaigns combine some or all of these methods. But email is still one the least expensive and most effective means of communicating anything beyond a bare-bones text directly to your customers.
How Do You Define Performance?
Determining whether or not an email “works” depends entirely on what you were hoping to achieve. This could be any number of things, but they all should be measurable, in terms of what your customers do after receiving the email:
- Make a purchase (conversion rate)
- Revisit an abandoned cart
- Open the email to view your message
- Forward it to a friend
- Click through to browse your website
- Review a recent purchase
- Respond to a survey
Keep in mind that your definition of success is going to be different from another ecommerce business’s definition of success. Your products are different, your sales cycle might be longer or shorter, your customers are different — so it’s useless to compare your conversion rate, for example, to an industry average.
How to Track Performance
The best way to track performance is to identify the KPIs (key performance indicators) that are important to you, and track them over time. That way you can compare results, make tweaks, A/B test subject lines, and fine-tune messaging until you see improvements.
Most email marketing programs, such as Mailchimp, HubSpot and Constant Contact (to name a few), have tracking capabilities. They can tell you when an email was received, whether it was opened, whether the viewer clicked on anything in the email, and what they clicked on. (Note: I’m saying click, because click-throughs are a thing, but since more and more shoppers are on their phones, we really should be talking about tap-throughs.)
Once the recipient clicks/taps through the email, tracking is handed off to another tool, such as Google Analytics. These tools can be used to identify where the visitor came from, how long they stay, what pages they visit on your website or shopping platform, and whether they purchase anything. Once you have tracking tools in place you can begin creating emails and evaluating their performance.
Best Practices for Email
A quick Google search on how long to make a subject line is sure to confuse any email marketer. Anywhere from 15 to 98 characters and 3 to 9 words seems to be okay. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, with 40-45 characters being the maximum, and shorter always being better. Of course, what you say is just as important as how you say it. Make it relevant, make it evocative, make it time-sensitive, make it clear, and don’t be deceptive — in other words, communicate something your recipient will want to learn more about, and make sure the body of the email, your product, and your company all deliver on that promise. Easier said than done.
Get to the Point
That goes for the email text as well as subject lines. Attention spans are short, so communicate the most important details first, whether that’s a photo, a promotion, or a request for feedback.
I personally find it creepy when a business puts my name in an email like we’re best friends, but maybe I’m weird. I do think emails can be personalized without being creepy. Show me that you know what I like and that you have lots more of it. Show me how you can solve a problem for me. Show me that you care what I think. If you’re making a big ask, such as wanting me to fill out a survey or refer my friends, then I’d like to hear from your founder, not some AI bot.
The general consensus is that more emails get opened when sent on Thursday, followed by Tuesday and Wednesday, in that order, and preferably at 10 AM. Consider, however, that if every business followed this advice, your email would be buried amongst hundreds of emails all arriving at the same time. You do you and look at the data to determine what sending profile best fits your client base.
Timing Part 2
Don’t send an email with 20% percent off any shoe purchase after I’ve just purchased a pair of shoes from you. That will almost certainly result in an angry email, social post, or even a phone call.
This is tricky. You want to stay top of mind, but you don’t want to be annoying. For me, once a day gives desperation vibes. For another person, once a day might be completely fine. It depends on what you’re selling and how often your repeat customers come back to shop with you. Do a little research into your customers’ shopping habits, watch your unsubscribe rates, and act accordingly. Also, to reduce unsubscribes, consider offering your customers a choice in the type and frequency of the emails they receive. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Be Honest and Relevant
While personalization and timing work together to make an email relevant to its recipient, honesty is important too. The worst thing you can do in an email or subject line, is be deceptive about how great your product is, how low your prices are, or free shipping that only exists if you spend $500 or more. It’s common sense. Treat your customers as you’d like to be treated.
Automated trigger emails, such as a welcome email for a new email signup, should be programmed to send immediately, particularly if you want the customer to use that 10% code that’s included. Wait, and you may lose them. Abandoned cart, or “we noticed you looking at this!” emails can be effective when used sparingly. Yes, I put something in the cart, but I left it there for a reason. Maybe the shipping was too high. Maybe my promo code didn’t work. Or maybe my lunch break was over so I had to go. Remind me that it’s there, but once or twice is enough already.
Follow the Law
Just because your customers gave you their email addresses doesn’t mean you can badger them for life. According to the Federal Trade Commission, all marketing emails 1) must clearly tell consumers they can opt out of getting those messages from you in the future; and 2) must include an unsubscribe link that works. A “marketing email” is any email with the primary purpose of promoting a good or service. While a customer cannot unsubscribe from emails that qualify as “transactional or relationship emails” (such as an order confirmation, or a policy change notification), adding promotional messaging to a transactional email could be considered spam if the subject line is misleading, or the transactional content doesn’t take center stage in the email. Furthermore, if you’re sending emails to customers in Europe, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies to keep data safe and give customers control over how it is used. Consult this checklist if you’re unsure of compliance requirements.
Effective Emailing for Ecommerce
As long as you have a capable marketing team and an automated platform to help you send, edit and track results, email is a wonderful way to communicate with your customers. Combined with SMS and targeted advertising, email can be used to boost revenue, increase awareness, engage and educate, build loyalty, and obtain feedback about your products.
Looking for other ways to help your ecommerce business grow? We’re a third-party logistics (3PL) and fulfillment company that is built to help ecommerce businesses scale. Contact us today for a peek at our automated fulfillment centers, industry-leading order and inventory management software, Virtual Carrier Network, and world class service that can empower your business for growth.