The use of email is changing the way businesses communicate with their customers. Rather than using email solely to offer products for sale, many businesses now use it to communicate helpful information to shoppers who request it. This helpful information creates a relationship with a shopper who can, in time, turn into a customer.
Say, for example, your business sells sewing machines online. Consider placing a “request more information” link beside each of your sewing machines. To supply this information, you could compose an email in advance and automatically send the information when a shopper requests it. Once you’ve written and formatted the email, it requires no more of your time. And the cost of sending it is close to free.
Say, too, that you sell tennis racquets online. Offer complimentary tennis tips to your online shoppers, and then send the tips in a series of emails. Cooking supplies? Send recipes via email. Clothing? Send washing instructions via email.
For most products, you could send notices of sale items, notices of new inventory, notices of customer reviews and notices of free shipping. You would send these notices via email and you’d send them only to customers who request the information. There’s no reason to blast unwanted emails to potential customers because the options for sending requested, useful information to your potential customers are huge.
Gail Goodman is the chief executive officer of Constant Contact, a self-service email-marketing firm. She counsels, “Absolutely tell your customers what they’ll be receiving in an email, and give them the opportunity to opt out of it. Do not send it to them if they don’t want it. We’ve seen ecommerce businesses with up to 50 percent of their total revenue stemming from email marketing. But, it’s marketing that is sent only to customers who want it and are interested in the products and services.”
Goodman also reminds ecommerce firms to send out the email quickly once a potential customer asks for the information. “Permission is perishable,” Goodman said. “A customer’s interest will fade if he doesn’t hear from you in a timely manner.”
Experts agree that by sending emails only to customers who request them, ecommerce firms build stronger ties and foster a healthy dialog with their customers.
“The goal of all companies should be better relationships with their customers,” said Chris Baggott, chief marketing officer and cofounder of Exact Target, another email-marketing firm. “Use email to communicate with your customers so they’ll continue buying products from you. It’s the long-term relationship that’s important, and not just selling a single product and never hearing from a customer again.”
Baggott reminds ecommerce owners that roughly 95 percent of the visitors to an ecommerce site typically do not purchase anything. “Every page of an ecommerce site should contain the opportunity for a visitor to request more product information, receive something for free or otherwise receive an email,” Baggott said. “Just because they don’t buy anything doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear from you. Try to establish some sort of relationship with the 95 percent who don’t purchase anything initially so that, eventually, they will become a customer. You can do this through email.”
To entice a visitor to sign-up for an email, an ecommerce site should request only a minimum commitment from the visitor. It’s typically easier, for example, to get a visitor to sign up for a single product information request than it is to sign up for a recurring, monthly email newsletter. That’s because the request for a single email is less of a commitment than signing up for a recurring newsletter.
“Start the relationship with a small request,” says Baggott. “You can build on it from there. It’s like dating, where you first ask someone out for a cup of coffee. After that, you might go to dinner and, after that, you might go to dinner and a movie. You take small steps in building a personal relationship, and building customer relationships is no different, really.”
Constant Contact’s Gail Goodman tells ecommerce site owners to be sensitive to their customers. “Don’t send out too many emails,” she said.
“Don’t send out promotions with 35 products in the email. Keep your emails simple. Get the customer to your site, and they’ll find your products. Don’t force the relationship.”
Most any ecommerce firm can afford self-service email. The prices are typically based on the number of emails sent during a month. Constant Contact, for example, charges just $15 a month for 500 emails. Exact Target’s pricing starts at roughly $50 per month for several thousand emails. Other services, such as Arial Software, sell software an ecommerce owner can install on his computer. Arial’s software sells for a onetime price of $495. There are many reputable email-marketing firms offering similar products and services.
Because of such low prices, an ecommerce firm can start an email-marketing plan with just a small number of customers. “Even if you have just 50 customers, start communicating with them,”Goodman said. “They know your company and like your products. Give them the opportunity to receive helpful information from you. They’ll tell others about your business and they’ll return to buy more products.”