Email for Ecommerce: The Solution to Your “My Customers Only Buy Once” Problem
Aleksandar Nikoloski | Dec 08, 2020Reading Time: 12 minutes
Email, email, email … You’re probably sick of hearing about it at this point, right? What’s the big deal about email anyway?
- It’s traffic that you own. There are three types of traffic out there:
- The traffic you don’t control is anything SEO-related and any organic traffic coming from blogs, YouTube videos, social posts, and the like.
- The traffic you control is traffic from all of the advertising platforms like Facebook, Google, and so on.
- The traffic you own is email. You “own” it because you can do whatever you want with it—like use it at any time—and it’s practically free.
- It’s basically money on demand. It‘s the closest thing to printing money out of thin air that you will ever find. Email traffic is one of the highest-converting traffic sources out there, and the ROI on the traffic you own is the highest you’ll ever have.
So, your goal should be to own as much of the traffic as you can. When done right, we’ve found that up to 30% to 35% of your store’s revenue should come from your email marketing efforts alone.
If you’re one of the few ecommerce business owners that regularly email their prospects and customers, congratulations—you’re good, and this probably isn’t for you.
But if you aren’t emailing every day, or at least every other day, keep reading. And don’t worry—you’re not alone. The vast majority of our students, clients, and partners fall into this group. The reason is simple: most people are scared of emailing.
Most business owners aren’t marketers. They don’t think about email marketing from a marketing mindset, hence they don’t send nearly enough email.
I can’t even count how many business owners we’ve come across with tens of thousands, some even hundreds of thousands, of email addresses on their lists that they were not emailing nearly enough, or worse, not emailing at all.
One of the most frequent excuses we hear is, “Oh, my customers don’t buy through email; I don’t want to email them and piss them off.” That excuse is responsible for millions of dollars lost. Countless businesses have stunted growth (or have completely fallen apart) because of emails that were never sent.
Listen, I don’t care what industry you’re in, what niche you’re in, or what type of audience you have—your audience will buy through email, if it’s done right. In fact, they’re buying as you’re reading these words … They’re just not buying from you.
The truth is, your prospects and customers are not going to stop buying, so if you aren’t asking for their money, I 100% guarantee you that somebody else is, and your potential customers are giving their money to them … to your competitors.
So why not send emails and take that money yourself?
Before we go into the meat of this article, let’s look at a little bit of science.
I don’t know about you, but I love science. I’ve never taken things at face value. I’ve always wanted scientific proof for anything I’ve been doing. This is no different.
I know it might be boring for some, but it’s very important to understand so that you can get over believing you shouldn’t be emailing your prospects and customers. I’ll keep this as short as possible.
As human beings, we have these mental patterns called cognitive biases—our tendency to make judgments about reality based on our perception of it, not based on the objective truth.
Basically, this subjective reality we create, based on our own perceptions rather than facts, then dictates our opinions and behavior. Isn’t that crazy?
There are over a hundred cognitive biases that we fall prey to, but when it comes to emailing frequently, there are two biases that come into play: availability-misweighing tendency and the mere-exposure effect.
The availability-misweighing tendency or bias is our tendency to mentally overweigh what’s more easily available to us. You hear a story, it’s fresh in your mind, and you give it more weight, making it bigger than it actually is.
For example, you have a plane trip tomorrow and you just watched the news about a plane crash that happened in Indonesia this afternoon. Now, for a little while, you don’t want to fly in a plane.
Is that rational? No! That’s just you falling prey to the availability-misweighing bias. You hear about the story and you overweigh it. You make it bigger than it is because it is fresh and available in your mind. And it completely influences your opinion and response.
If that same accident had happened a year ago and your trip was tomorrow, that accident would have no weight for you because it’s not easily available in your mind. It’s not fresh. You’ve probably even forgotten about it. Simply put, we mentally overweigh what’s fresh and easily available in our minds.
Now you might be wondering what does this have to do with emailing? Well, if you’ve been emailing frequently, your prospects and customers will, per the availability-misweighing bias, put more weight on your emails and your company. They will make them bigger and more important in their minds.
It’s a subconscious response, and they can’t control it unless they’ve been trained to. And the crazy part is, even if they’ve been trained and they recognize they’re falling prey to a bias, most of the time it still works. So this is how you can use the availability-misweighing bias to your advantage.
The mere-exposure effect is the other side of that coin. This effect describes a tendency to develop a preference for things or people that are more familiar to us than others. This is also called the familiarity effect.
In layman’s terms, our attitude changes to a more positive one the more frequently we are exposed to a stimulus. This goes for emails as well as ads. The more your prospects see your emails and ads, the more they develop a preference for your brand because they are becoming more and more familiar with it.
So the mere-exposure effect in conjunction with the availability-misweighing tendency causes your prospects to start developing a preference for your brand and putting more importance on it in their minds, which is the perfect storm for you sending emails. If you aren’t emailing often, and by often I mean every day or every other day, you are throwing money away.
Now, let’s dive into how to do this …
What Emails Should You Send?
At this stage, you should be convinced that you ought to email your list frequently. The next logical question is what to email. (We hear something like, “I don’t know what to email” as the second most-frequent excuse for not emailing.) It’s a very valid concern because it is important to email the right things and not just email for the sake of emailing.
I won’t go into the details of the emails here—it’s beyond the scope of this blog post and would take a small book to cover—but I am going to share an emailing strategy that is working for us.
Automated email flows
Automated flows are simply a series of emails that are automatically sent out to your prospects and/or customers based on specific trigger actions that customers take on your website.
With all of our stores and partner stores, we set up a few must-have automated flows, which include these campaigns:
- Abandoned cart
- First-time buyer with post-purchase survey
- Repeat buyer
- Buy or die
Now that you’ve seen this overview, I’ll walk you through each flow.
This is the flow we use for prospects who have given us their email (through, for example, an exit-intent popup). It’s meant to welcome new prospects and get them familiar with our brand. Basically, it’s a series of a few emails that are meant to make them feel warm and fuzzy about our brand followed by some kind of incentive to buy.
This email is an obvious one. It goes out automatically to people who add something to their cart, initiate the checkout, and then abandon the site. Discounts work very well here; but, you don’t have to give out discounts.
One of our stores doesn’t offer any discounts, and the conversion rate of this flow is just as high, if not higher, than any other store that does offer them, which brings me to my next point.
When you set up the abandonment emails, don’t immediately send discounts in the first email. When you do that, you’re assuming that prospects left your site because of the price, which many times isn’t the case.
By immediately sending out discounts, you’re just devaluing your brand and giving money away. Instead, the first email of your cart abandonment flow should be a friendly reminder to potential customers that they added something to their cart but didn’t finish the checkout process.
In fact, I wouldn’t send the discount even on the second email. Send it on the third—at that point, the email should convert very high.
But, as I said earlier, even if you don’t give out discounts in any of these emails, you’re good. Just frame the emails as friendly reminders about the unfinished purchase.
First-time buyer with a post-purchase survey campaign
This is one of our must-haves. The purpose of this survey is to get insight into our customers’ shopping experience and issues they faced so that we can fix problems.
We send this survey only to the recent first-time buyers that bought in the last three days because they provide the best insights. That’s because they aren’t biased and won’t overlook issues on your website that returning customers—who are already used to browsing your website—will. And also, it generates more money for us.
This is a flow that we send out to our repeat customers. Second-time, third-time, fourth-time customers, and so on. When done right, these are great for creating customer loyalty and increasing their purchase frequency. You should definitely treat your repeat customers in a different way than you do others: the more somebody buys from you, the better you should treat them and the better the deals you give them should be.
As the name suggests, this one is reserved for the “whales”—the biggest spenders in your business. I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule. That most certainly applies here: did you know that approximately 80% of your store’s revenue comes from 20% of your customers?
That 20% is the VIP segment of your customers, and you should do anything you can to recognize and keep them. There are many creative ways to make them feel appreciated and important, like giving them:
- Exclusive “Early Bird” access to new products
- Exclusive store credit
- Gift card in the mail
- Special “Thank You” video from the CEO
- Recognition of them on your public social media
These are just a few of the many ways you can recognize your most valuable customers.
This is a campaign that we send to new prospects who didn’t buy. More specifically, these are people who gave us their email through an exit-intent popup but didn’t make a purchase. Once a prospect becomes a buyer, they’re removed from this flow and added to any other appropriate flows mentioned above.
We’ve garnered two results from the exit-intent popup followed by this 10-email sequence:
- On average, we’ve recovered 20% of that lost traffic, people who would otherwise have left the site.
- About 19% of the people we recovered became buyers.
So the buy-or-die campaign is like a more advanced version of the drip campaign.
This campaign is designed to reactivate your older, lapsing customers. It’s an automated campaign that is triggered by your customers’ purchase behavior, or, in this case, lack thereof.
This is basically a series of emails sent to inactive customers after a certain period of inactivity to “win them back.” The specific amount of time depends on the buying cycle for your product(s), which you have to know.
For example, if you’re selling something with a shorter buying cycle like clothing (higher frequency), then perhaps you can start your win-back series after six months of inactivity. However, if you sell furniture, which has a much longer buying cycle (lower frequency), then, of course, extend that time period.
For a medium-to-high–frequency buying cycle, I recommend you email one three-email series after four months of inactivity, another one after eight months, and a final one after one year. Of course, you can play around with these.
There are more automated flows that you can set up based on your business, however, these are the fundamental ones. These, however, are just the basics. Remember that I said you should email every day or at least every other day.
The rest of the emails should be content and scheduled-promo emails, like holiday sales or any other type of sale that you come up with. These should be scheduled for at least 30 days. Once you have a 30-day sequence in place, work on increasing it until it is a 6–12-month sequence. Somebody might buy on day 364. You never know.
Why content? Well …
Bombarding them doesn’t work
First … emailing only promotions all the time doesn’t work (at least not long term). If you’re constantly bombarding your prospects and customers with promotions, those emails lose their value. People simply get desensitized to them.
It’s all about supply and demand. The more there is of something, the less valuable it is in people’s minds. The less there is of something, the more valuable it is to people.
Yes, I did say that the availability-misweighing tendency and the mere-exposure effect will cause people to overweigh your brand in their minds and develop a preference for it.
However, … I didn’t say anything about the content of the stimulus; I only talked about the context in which the stimulus occurred—two very different things.
Content is just as important as context. That’s why you need to create a mix of promotional and educational content, with the latter giving value to your prospects and customers. I suggest you send no more than three days of promo emails per week. The rest of your emails should be educational content, in my opinion.
You want to be their trusted advisor
The second reason to email educational content to your prospects and customers is that this content positions you as the expert in your industry. It also puts you in the role of trusted advisor.
When people perceive you to be a trusted advisor, they want to know what you’re using to solve the problems that you’re addressing. The sale will happen naturally.
There’s a guy I follow on YouTube who’s big on keto and intermittent fasting. I consume all of his content. I perceive him to be my trusted advisor because he’s built that trust with me over time.
Now when he plugs a product in his videos, I’m like, “Yes, thank you!” because he’s telling me what he uses to solve a problem I was just wondering about. There’s no selling at all. That product is something that I was already thinking about and wanted.
I hope this is making sense, because it’s huge. This is the new world of marketing—content marketing. If you want your sales to happen naturally, then make content a big, if not the biggest part, of your promotional strategy.
You’re encouraging clicks
And the third reason for emailing content is that content emails train your prospects and customers to click on links in their email (in this case, ideally, the linked content is living on your store’s blog)—so when the time comes for them to click a promo link, they’re much more likely to do so.
Don’t worry about the haters!
By the way, if you’re worrying about people hating your content … don’t. Why? Because you can’t avoid it. It’s going to happen no matter what. I don’t care how perfect your content piece is, somebody will hate on it because that’s just what haters do. It’s not about you; it’s about them.
If you don’t want haters, you could choose not to do or try anything and live your life in isolation … but that’s not my cup of tea and likely not yours! So put yourself out there knowing it’s going to happen and don’t worry about it.
One of my mentors once said, “If you don’t have haters you’re doing something wrong. You’re playing too small.” So embrace the haters because they’re a good sign that you’re on the right track.
Also, don’t worry about unsubscribes. Even if you send the best content piece out there or offer free products, it still happens because individuals are in a different stage of their customer life cycle with your company.
Besides, what’s the point of having a 10-, 20-, or 50K list if you don’t email that list out of fear of some people unsubscribing? Might as well be without the list, because it won’t make any difference. So don’t worry about it.
The third most-frequent excuse that we hear is typically, “I don’t know how to write.” The answer to that is very simple, although you might not like it. If you can’t write, you need to hire somebody to do it for you.
Don’t look at it as an expense. Look at it as an investment.
Start with the automated flows first and then work your way up to the rest of the promo emails and the content. Once you have your automated email flows written and set up, you’re good to go.
You only need to have these written once, unless you want to test different content down the line. But if you don’t have anything at the moment, don’t worry about testing different content. Just put something out there.
If you need to hire somebody, hire a person who knows what they’re doing! Don’t hire someone who doesn’t understand conversion or the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action) framework .
Also try to find somebody who can write in the voice you’re looking for and stick with them so they write the whole sequence. If you hire a bunch of writers, there may be inconsistencies in the voice throughout the sequence, and you don’t want that.
At the end of the day, if you don’t have any active email campaigns right now, which is the case for the vast majority of business owners, do something. Anything is better than nothing, right?
Timing, tracking, and scoring
A quick note on the timing of your emails: You want a mix of the times and days you send your emails. This creates a pattern interrupt so you don’t train your prospects to glaze over when they see your emails or, worse, completely ignore them. You don’t want them to figure out your pattern, so mix it up.
And, of course, … track your emails. What gets measured gets improved. You need to track the stats so you can see how each email performs in the sequence and adjust as necessary.
And, last but not least, keep your sender score in mind. That’s a topic that deserves its own blog post. For now, just know that it’s very important for the deliverability of your emails. The higher your sender score, the higher the probability that your emails end up in your customers’ inboxes instead of their spam folders. If you’re going to start emailing frequently, I definitely recommend you do some reading on this as well.
To summarize: Email is a money-printing machine. Ignore it only if you hate money. 🙂
If you like what you’ve read here and want to learn more, Matthew Stafford goes much more deeply into all of this in his book Optimized Ecommerce. Grab your FREE copy here.
Munger, C.T. (2007). The psychology of human misjudgment. Compilation of three speeches. Fermat’s Library
Serenko, A., and N. Bontis. (2011) What’s familiar is excellent: The impact of exposure effect on perceived journal quality. Journal of Informetrics 5(1): 219–223.
About the author
Aleks is BGS’s Head of Revenue Optimization, an author, and a speaker. He has helped rapid-scale dozens of 6, 7, and multiple 8-figure stores as part of BGS’s Amplify Partnership program. He has gotten one store from $2.6 million a year to $6.7 million a year in 24 months, while another from doing $300k/month to doing over $2 million/month in less than 6 months, just to mention a few. The BGS team calls him the “Site Whisperer” because of his ability to find site nuances that derail the customers’ journey and cause purchase friction. Extremely meticulous and analytical, he credits all of this success to data and accurate interpretation of that data, as well as his ability to implement and test new ideas almost immediately.