Practical Ecommerce

The PeC Review: MailChimp is a Full-Featured Email Campaign Manager

MailChimp offers a complete email marketing solution that is simple and inexpensive enough for small businesses but powerful enough for fairly large Internet merchants with sales of $5 million per year or more.

MailChimp Gets Four Stars

According to its staff, MailChimp has over 60,000 users. It manages lists containing over 500,000 million subscribers, and it delivers several million emails every day. Service plans start at just $10 per month.

MailChimp offers good reporting, easy integration with Google Analytics, and an Inbox Inspector that lets users test an email campaign in dozens of email clients, mobile clients, and spam filters before it is sent out. The platform is stable, consistent, and reliable. However, we faced a minor challenge with MailChimp’s shared IP and learned that its Campaign Builder interface can be finicky.

When all is said and done, MailChimp is a great email marketing solution for ecommerce, and I am giving it four out of a possible five stars in this The PeC Review.

MailChimp Video Review

Shopping Cart Integration

MailChimp provides two ways to integrate its service with your shopping cart or content management system. First, there are ready-made plug-ins for Magento, Foxycart!, Zen Cart, PrestaShop, OS Commerce, and several other common platforms like WordPress.

Next, MailChimp offers an API that lets advanced users integrate the mail solution with their shopping cart, adding a “subscribe to our newsletter” link right in the checkout, etc.

Inbox Inspector

The Inbox Inspector lets you test your email on dozens of platforms, providing images of what the email will look like in each platform.

Tracking and Reporting

Carefully counting opens, click-throughs, and bounces, MailChimp’s reporting tools provide an ecommerce merchant with enough information to make solid choices about campaigns, content, and offers without burying you in reams of data you don’t need and won’t use. The reports provided are clearly designed to help users optimize their campaigns and get better results.

MailChimp also lets you compare your campaign results with the results for other ecommerce businesses. Without naming names, this feature is a great benchmarking tool.

Integration with Google Analytics

The beta version of MailChimp’s Analytics 360 lets you combine your email campaign results with Google Analytics and generate data regarding return on investment, revenue generation, average value per email visitor, conversion rates, or the number of transactions your emails generate.

RSS to Email

I love solutions that are programmatic. MailChimp’s RSS to email feature will automatically send your subscribers an email when one of your RSS feeds changes. This sort of solution has dozens of applications on ecommerce sites. For example, if one of your products is out of stock, why not can invite shoppers to register for an update? You capture the shopper’s contact information and when you update your inventory. MailChimp will automatically send that shopper an email letting her know that the item is again available.

A/B Split Campaigns

MailChimp also allows users to create A/B Split campaigns in a snap. Many top marketers use A/B testing to improve their success and conversion rates. For example, imagine that you want to know if offering free shipping will really improve your conversion rates. Prepare two product newsletters that are identical in every way except that one offers a coupon for free shipping. Send the newsletters out as an A/B test with MailChimp and compare your results. Merchants can also test subject line copy or find out what day of the week works best for their target customers.

Outlook images and the Dedicated IP

Because we used the shared IP version of MailChimp, we had a tiny issue with images. It seems that several leading email platforms, including Microsoft’s Outlook and Mozilla’s Thunderbird, have a default setting that does not display images from unrecognized IP addresses. While users can change that default on many platforms, doing so is not that inviting since all sorts of images—even pornography—could show up in your inbox unfettered. A better solution would be adding some senders to a list of approved IP addresses, thus allowing Outlook, Thunderbird, or other email clients to download the pictures as the email comes in.

For at least one of our subscribers this solution did not work. He said that the emails we sent via MailChimp changed IP addresses often, so he could not add our newsletter to a list of approved and recognized senders. For us the solution was moving to a dedicated IP with MailChimp, but this solution is more expensive.

Finicky Interface

At the time of writing, I had formatted and updated 19 newsletters with MailChimp’s Campaign Builder over the span of a couple of months. So while I suppose I am not an expert, I do think I gave the tool a pretty fair trial. It is certainly serviceable and as good as many, if not most, of the web-based HTML editing tools I have used, especially when working with the source code. But the layout view is finicky.

For example, if you are using the layout view, you sometimes have to change a font color twice to actually get the effect (you can see the specific example in the video review). And recently, one of my co-workers inadvertently layered three images on top of each other without realizing it. We had to dig into the HTML to fix the problem.

Summing Up

I think MailChimp is an excellent solution. I have personally recommended the tool to friends and business associates. And I can only muster minor complaints about the Campaign Builder tool. MailChimp has earned every one of the four stars I am giving it in this The PeC Review.

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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comment ( 1 )

  1. wbw_Jeff January 28, 2009 Reply

    I looked at them but wasn’t able to find a way to conveniently download clicks, opens and bounce data into a file that could easily be imported into a database. Their spreadsheet looked great but seemed impractical.

    Did I miss something?

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