Customer Retention

Ecommerce Know-How: Turn Customers Into Members

Focusing a portion of marketing efforts on reselling existing customers or acquiring frequent shoppers could help boost sales for many online merchants.

Often online retail marketing focuses on increasing site traffic and converting visitors. This strategy is really the heart of selling online and certainly worth a lion’s share of any ecommerce marketing campaign. Yet devoting some portion of your marketing budget to acquiring subscribers or members could pay long term dividends, potentially improving sales, earning a better return on marketing investment, and even serving as a sort of cushion during recessions.

The idea is simple, try to encourage site visitors or customers to register, join, preorder, or vote so that you can gain their permission to send them more and different marketing messages over time. The ultimate goal is to transform one-time customers into regular shoppers that frequent your store often or (even better) grant you permission to shop for them.

Topical Newsletters

Newsletters can be something of a dilemma. On the one hand, newsletters are a frequently ballyhooed marketing tactic that a large number of online stores have already implemented. But on the other hand, frequently a store’s newsletter does not live up to the hype and doesn’t do much to boost the bottom line.

In my opinion, the secret to creating a successful newsletter that will (1) attract subscribers and (2) provide you with a platform to sell and resell those subscribers has to do with content promises and content delivery.

First, promise newsletter content that benefits the subscriber. Just having a “sign up for our newsletter” section on your home page will not do. Rather, make the offer more compelling. If your site sells housewares, consider a weekly newsletter titled “Organizational Secrets Newsletter, Making Your House a Home,” or if you sell tools, you might have a newsletter titled “DIY Newsletter, Weekly Tips that Save Money and Time.” The key is to promise interesting or useful content when you ask site visitors to become subscribers. You may also want to offer a discount when a visitor signs up for a newsletter.

Next, deliver newsletter content that benefits the subscriber. A recent REI newsletter included an informational list, “Top Five Reasons to Bike Your Drive,” about bicycle commuting. As simple as this list was, it provided real content that matters to REI subscribers and gives the company a chance to showcase its products.

Exclusive Offers, And Promotions

When a customer registers on your site, they are effectively giving you permission to market to them (assuming you make this clear in your terms and conditions). One creative way to get this sort of permission is to offer exclusivity.

A great example of how exclusivity might work can be found at Air1, a Christian radio station that is completely listener supported. Air1 has an exclusive “Insider” club that is free to join and provides “Insiders” with premium content, prizes, the ability to vote on the music the station plays and an opportunity to participate in contests. “Insiders” like the special treatment and chance to win prizes, while Air1 gets a captive audience it can market to, asking for donations.

An online retailer could offer a similar tact. Have an “Insider” club that alerts members to new products, includes special offers or coupons, or even awards prizes or cash back each time a member shops. The secret here is to encourage registration and provide truly exclusive content.

Preorder Discounts

If you sell products that have cooperative or brand marketing supporting them, consider using preorders as a way to capture registrants and make future sales. For example, if you sell video games, offer preorders for the next big Xbox game, for example. When customers order the game, market to them. In the confirmation email, market Xbox controllers and promote an Xbox tips newsletter. When the product comes into stock, send another promotional email.

Use preorders as a chance to earn a second sale.

Product of the Month Clubs

The mother of all marketing is when a customer grants you permission to shop (or at least complete transactions) for her. In this model, customers subscribe to or sign up for an ongoing flow of purchases that the retailer can act on without further permission. Perhaps the best example of this kind of permission-based marketing is the classic book of the month club. Subscribers either pay an annual fee or a monthly fee that automatically recurs unless they take some action.

Even if you don’t sell a traditional “of the month” sort of product, give this a try. If you need encouragement, consider that the Month Club Store sells a “Pickle of the Month Club” for $256.99 a year and a “Condiment of the Month Club” for $236.99 annually. If they can sell rare mustards and ketchups in a club format, certainly you can sell your products this way too.

Creating On Going Sales

Each of these four tactics seeks to create ongoing sales, encouraging previous customers to become current customers. While online retailers will still want to focus much of their marketing efforts on site traffic and visitor conversion, devoting some energy and money to developing these techniques can lead to more repeat business.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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