Ready to increase website conversion rates for an e-commerce store? Then email marketing is your best bet.
Yep. Email marketing.
Because, in e-commerce, email isn’t really a marketing channel. Not like Facebook or Insta or Snapchat.
Email is a conversion channel.
And if that sounds like a strange statement, let me explain.
E-commerce stores don’t send emails to cold leads (ie. people who’ve never heard of their brand).
Instead, e-com stores email a warm audience — people who either opted-in on their website or signed up when they became a customer. In the e-com business, email isn’t Top of Funnel channel. It’s Middle & Bottom of Funnel channel… just like your website.
So while top-of-funnel marketing channels — like Instagram, Facebook, Google Adwords, or Google Shopping — are targeting people who are new to your brand, email is targeting your already warm audience. Aka the people who already know you, like you, and are strongly considering (another) purchase from you.
This unique relationship status gives you a unique opportunity to research, engage, and convert this warm audience in another medium outside your website. And email has an additional superpower. Unlike a static website – where every customer sees the same options – email is a dynamic marketing channel. And you can use it to learn about customer behavior and create the kind of offers they can’t resist.
And then you can use that information to optimize your e-commerce website.
And increase conversion rates.
Let’s get into the details.
So, how exactly does email marketing power website conversions?
When you look at this funnel map, it looks like your email marketing & website storefront are just sitting together, side-by-side, in the middle of your marketing funnel.
They’re targeting the same prospects, but not really supporting one another.
But here’s the thing: nothing could be further from the truth.
This dream team is always working together, whether you want them to. Or not.
Optimized email marketing powers website conversions and visa versa.
Your emails & website are talking to the same warm audience. They’re working together to create sales as a powerful, coordinated team. (Or they should be, anyways.) Here’s how a typical relationship goes:
When a lead buys something from your site, signs up for a special offer through your website pop-up or abandons their cart after filling in their email, they get added to your list. From then on, you email them, sending them to various product pages or the odd blog post. In other words, your website sends people to your email list and your emails send people back to your website.
To show how this works — marketing channels leading to conversion channels that power one another — I’ve found the following diagram a lot more helpful than our one-size-fits all “funnel”:
But now that we’ve covered the email/website conversions relationship basics, let’s talk about the really important part:
The three specific emails you can send right now to drive people to your website and increase conversions. These emails come straight from my Conversion-Automation Framework – something I’ve tested with dozens of e-com clients.
🥁🥁🥁 Without further ado… 🥁🥁🥁
Conversion email #1 — The conversion-optimized review request
Have you ever purchased anything online without looking at the reviews?
I know I haven’t. And I’m not alone. When surveyed, 70% of global consumers chose or ignored brands and products based on positive and negative reviews.
According to YotPo, visitors who saw reviews had a 161% higher conversion rate than those who didn’t.
And you don’t need to work in e-commerce for long before you realize that reviews drive e-commerce conversion rates.
Reviews are the lifeblood of an e-commerce store.
But just knowing that fact won’t help much.
You need to get brilliant, mind-boggling, i-want-this-now reviews… and that’s no simple feat.
Because even though you and I and your grandma and everyone you’ve ever met reads reviews to decide what to buy… few of us actually leave reviews when things go right.
I think I once wrote a review for a local ice cream shop… because they were family friends. And that’s it. Through hundreds of online purchases, I’ve left one review. And I’m not unusual.
Only 59% of consumers have ever — ever in their lives — left a review online.
So even though we’re using reviews to guide every purchase we make online, less than 2/3 of us have ever written a single online review. The number is likely lower for positive reviews.
That’s a HUGE disparity. And store owners are the ones stuck in the middle.
Let’s fix that for your store and get you some unforgettable reviews. Right here. Right now. Here’s how to optimize your copy, design, offer, and UX to get some good ‘uns.
1. Ask for what you want through clever design
Priming is a strong (underused) psychological motivator.
Priming is when you influence someone’s behavior by showing them information that changes their perception, and their resulting behavior.
When a waiter tells you his favorite entree just so happens to be the 32-ounce porterhouse, he’s using priming to influence how you view the menu. (And upsell you on a more expensive meal.)
But how can you use priming to your advantage?
A simple design shift can set your customers up to be in the right mindset. Chewy’s review request email does this well:
By simply including the 5 stars in their design, they’re priming their customers to leave a higher review rating, without the need to explicitly ask for one.
2. Explicitly ask for help
Asking for help is another strong psychological motivator you can use to ask for a review.
Many marketers don’t think to ask for “help” because there’s a belief that we as marketers should be the ones who are always providing value. Asking for something back is seen as a big no-no.
But asking for help can sometimes work even better than being the helpful one.
It’s a phenomenon Benjamin Franklin wrote about in his autobiography.
He wrote about how he asked a political rival for a small favor (lending a book) and this formed a bond between them that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
Asking builds a stronger relationship because once someone has helped you, they need to justify that action by then believing that they care about you. (This helps them avoid cognitive dissonance aka the discomfort we feel when our thoughts and actions are knocked out of alignment.)
In short: I don’t need to like you to help you. If I help you, I then decide that I like you. So I can justify why I helped you.
This idea became so popular it’s been dubbed The Ben Franklin Effect.
“Human beings are basically wired to want to give help. It’s one of the richest sources of self-esteem, and it has the potential to be a real win-win.”
The data supports the psychology: 68% of customers left a review after being asked to do so, according to BrightLocal’s 2017 survey.
Making the ask is critical. And using the psychology of asking for help in our copy can make a huge difference.
Target does this well. They start with the word “help” and make it clear how leaving a review will greatly benefit others, but is a quick and easy task. The cost to you is lower than the benefit to others. And as humans, we’re wired to make that trade-off.
3. Offer an irresistible incentive
Using priming and asking for help are strong ways to use copy & design to motivate people to leave a review request. And- to add to that – there’s a simple third technique we can use:
Offer a discount.
And be sure to mention it in the subject line of your email (so customers who are after a discount will know to open it).
Everlane does this well.
They make their offer — a $200 gift card giveaway — clear in their subject line, then they use the body of the email to connect with the reader & show how leaving a review will help “the Everlane community”.
Combining all of this — your design, messaging, and offer — you can use the following template to send an unignorable review email:
4. Use the multi-prong approach
Now that you’ve got the template you need to maximize the likelihood of getting customer reviews, you want to make sure that the technology you’re using to send those review requests isn’t going to disrupt the flow you’ve so carefully crafted.
The different review request software available doesn’t vary wildly, but there is one huge difference that makes Stamped.io my go-to recommendation for clients.
Stamped make it easy to leave a review without leaving the inbox. And they use a flow that separates the review request into a simple multi-step process:
So if someone drops off at any point, we won’t miss out on all the help they’ve given us in previous steps. But we can also get more and more from those who are willing to go the extra mile.
It’s like an upsell funnel, but for reviews & social sharing, rather than sales.
In fact, I use a very similar flow for my email opt-in & thank you page:
Asking customers for more once they’re already given you some just plain works.
Sent the review request? Great! But don’t forget the most important part.
If you’ve ever worked in sales, you know the power of the follow-up email.
Airbnb knows it.
Every time I use Airbnb, I get the same 3 emails in my inbox:
And their subject lines here are anything but accidental. They’re combining gentle reminders with increasing urgency to get reviews. And we should do the same.
(Also note their subtle use of asking for “help” in their preview text.)
Here are 3 subject lines you can use to follow Airbnb’s model:
#1: help us out by reviewing your recent purchase (and get [coupon])
#2: Reminder to help us (and get 10% off)
#3: Last chance to review & get 10% off
Conversion email #2 — The soft test that can skyrocket conversions
There are plenty of blog posts expounding on the importance of free shipping.
One of the most compelling case studies I’ve seen (in Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational) is Amazon’s experiment introducing free shipping to Europe — everywhere except France. In France, they charged 20 cents for shipping.
The result? Sales were up across-the-board. Well… Everywhere but France.
(And sales only went up in France once they switched over to free shipping.)
There’s no argument that free shipping — especially when combined with a rock-solid guarantee — increases conversion rates.
Yet, many stores still don’t offer free shipping. And for good reason.
Store owners are savvy: they know that they’re not looking to just increase conversions. They want to maximize profitability. And free shipping eats into margins.
But, as we saw with Amazon, the potential upside of free shipping can be monumental. So we need a convenient way to test how free shipping & strong guarantees can work for you so you can decide if it’s worth it.
Meet the soft-test email aka your pain-free ticket to the wondrous world of free shipping
Here’s how it works:
To test if offering free shipping increases profit enough to make good business sense, send an offer to a control group of your email list and measure the impact on profitability.
And while it’s not as rigorous as a statistically significant result from a site-wide AB test, testing free shipping in an email promotion will give us a strong sense of whether free shipping will help or hurt profitability.
And here’s the formula you can use to measure free shipping’s impact on profit:
Profit = Conversions x AOV x Net Margin
The total number of conversions times AOV (average order value) gives us gross revenue. Multiplying that by our net margin (expressed as a percentage) on each order gives us our total profit overall.
To test this offer, here’s the email you can send:
(Pro tip: this method can be used more than once to discover the right “free shipping threshold” for your store. A good starting point is your current AOV + at least the cost of shipping.)
Send this email to a random test group of your email list. (You can do this by creating a segment of everyone who has the letter “a” or the letter “e” in their email address — whatever letter gives you the right size control group for the test.)
After you send this campaign, wait 30 days for all the refunds to be processed (or longer if you have a longer return policy), then plug-in your store’s data — compare the Test Group vs. the Control Group — to see the impact the offer had on profitability:
This is an experiment I helped run. You can see from the data the impact Free Shipping had on our test group:
- Conversions: +26%
- AOV: +5%
- Net Margin/Order: -12%
Impact on Profit = (1.26) x (1.05) x (0.88) = +16%
After running this test, you’ll have data showing the impact of free shipping on your store.
Conversion email #3 — The crystal ball
After sending emails 1 and 2, you’re getting more reviews & you’ve got better site-wide offers powering your conversion rates.
We’re in pretty good shape.
But let’s move past those quick wins and move onto an email that has the power to impact our revenue for years to come.
I’m talking, of course, about the infamous survey email.
Marketers love surveys.
Maybe it was Ryan Levesque’s Ask…
Or maybe we all secretly want to run focus groups like we’re Don Draper…
Either way, surveys receive a lot of hype in the marketing community. I’m here to jump on the bandwagon though. Because the hype is justified.
As a conversion copywriter, I send surveys all the time. The insights you get can make or break the success of your new copy. And Talia has already shown you how to use a survey to write high-converting copy.
That survey alone — with its ability to uncover powerful voice of customer data — can give you the messaging insights you need to boost the conversion rate of your website.
But since Talia’s already covered that, I’m going to show you questions you can add to your survey to help you increase your store’s conversion rate even further. Specifically.
Nail the perfect product assortment
Not the product assortment we want. But the product assortment our customers want. The one that will turn one-time customers into life-long brand advocates who keep coming back to our store.
And I see marketers over and over ask the wrong question when trying to collect data for their product assortment strategy.
I see it so often, I’ve nicknamed it The Lazy Marketer’s Catch-All Question:
“What products would you like to see Our Company make?”
This is the worst question you could possibly ask because it asks people to predict something they may want in the future. And here’s the thing. Humans are terrible at predicting future events.
We make guesstimates. And that guesstimate is usually a combination of wishful thinking and projection. What people say they want and what they actually want are two entirely different things.
This question actually reveals the future
Instead of asking people about their imagines hypothetical future (which is not likely to be a representation of reality), ask them about the current (and recently passed) state of affairs.
People are much better at recounting events than accurately answering hypotheticals.
And you can use their answers to understand their triggers to purchase. And build products that fit those triggers.
Let’s get into the two questions I recommend to see how this works.
1. “What’s your #1 struggle when it comes to [the problem your product solves OR the area of life your brand deals with]?”
If you sell healthy dog treats, then this could be: “What’s your #1 struggle when it comes to making sure your dog is healthy?”
If you sell notebooks & planners, you could ask: “What’s your #1 struggle with productivity?”
If you sell clothing for plus-sized women, this could be: “What’s your #1 struggle when it comes to finding clothes you like?”
Be sure to keep it general and don’t turn this into a leading question. (As in, don’t ask “What’s your #1 struggle when it comes to finding clothes that flatter your curvy shape?” All your answers will just be about the difficulty of finding clothes for plus-sized women and your data won’t be useful because of the inherent bias.)
This question about “struggle” comes from the Jobs to Be Done theory of product development. And alone it will give you the insight you need to power your product line.
But for an even deeper understanding of the customer journey (so we can make sure our products meet customers where they currently are), I’d follow up with:
2. “What was going on in your life that caused you to decide to buy from [Your Company]?”
This is the same as a question that Talia recommends, so you can use this question to power both your copywriting and your product assortment.
That’s because this question reveals the expectations in our customer’s minds when they find out about our company. We find out the trigger behind how they discovered us.
And knowing that trigger allows us to offer products that fit in with that trigger.
For one of my clients who sells house plants, we discovered that their customers weren’t plant enthusiasts adding to their huge collection of plants. Quite the opposite.
Many of their customers were young professionals who had never purchased a plant before. And were intimidated by the prospect of keeping a plant alive.
They said things like:
“I’m a plant killer”
“I don’t have a green thumb”
“I wanted plants that were easy to care for”
I used this in my client’s copy (emphasizing the “hard to kill” collections and the great customer service available to answer questions), but my client also walked away with new insights about what products to offer.
Instead of more exotic, beautiful but difficult plants. They saw the importance of having:
- plants that were easy to care for and
- products to make plant care easier — like a soil moisture meter
You can use this question to boost conversions quickly by upgrading your copy. And, you can also use it to boost conversions continually by using the data to develop a product assortment that lines up with what your customers really want.
Setting up your survey like a pro
You’ve got your questions ready, but how do you set up your survey to get the best possible results? Simple. Just use this process.
1. Segment customers (in Klaviyo)
I’m a big proponent of Klaviyo for e-commerce email marketing, and one reason for that is its segmentation capabilities.
Their segmentation feature is robust. You can create segments based on predictive analytics that tell you when customers are likely to return to your store.
For this survey, you want to target two segments: new customers and VIP customers.
To target new customers, add this email to your post-purchase sequence and filter to customers where Placed Order = 1 over all time.
To target VIP customers, build a segment that describes your Top 10% of customers, and trigger the email to send ~14 days after someone is added to the segment.
Here’s an example of what your VIP segment might look like (but this varies store to store):
2. Set up your survey (in Typeform)
Typeform is an excellent surveying tool. I get consistently high response rates from it with its excellent UX, and it integrates seamlessly with Klaviyo.
And if you decide to offer a coupon, its easy to add a coupon code to the final screen in Typeform.
Note: when setting up your survey in Typeform, make sure Question #1 is before Question #2 in your survey. (Question #2 asks them to remember a struggle, and if we then ask about their “#1 struggle”, we’re going to get the same answer for both questions and we’ll get no additional insights.)
3. Use the following email template
Just like in the Conversion-Optimized Review Request, we’re going to use the psychology of asking for help and offering an incentive to motivate people to fill out our survey:
Use this process to set up The Crystal Ball email in less than 20 minutes, and get data that will influence the strategy of your store for years to come.
And that’s it. Those are the 3 emails you can start sending right away to power your website’s conversion rates for years to come.
To take full advantage of email marketing for e-commerce, we need to recognize that email is a conversion channel — not a marketing channel.
Email has the highest ROI & the ability to use email to power your website’s conversion rate. It’s always the best place to focus optimization efforts for an e-commerce store. (And you can use a prioritization framework like the Force Multiplier Model to find what opportunities yield the highest expected ROI.)
To unlock the power email marketing has on your store’s conversion rate, set up the 3 email templates from my Conversion-Automation Framework:
1. The Conversion-Optimized Review Request: to get more reviews (the lifeblood of e-commerce conversion rates).
2. The Soft-Test: to measure the impact site-wide offers like free shipping & longer guarantees have on profitability.
3. The Crystal Ball: drive conversion-optimized copy for your store AND discover where to take your product assortment to keep customers coming back for years.
Email marketing may not seem particularly sexy.
But if you love making money, then it’s the sexiest channel — by a mile. Use it wisely.
About the author:
Katie Thies is a conversion copywriter who has been mentored by copywriting legends like Joanna Wiebe and Amy Posner. She works with select e-commerce clients on brand messaging and website CRO projects, but the primary focus of her micro-agency is on building her clients’ email marketing to 35%+ revenue from email. You can find her at Katiethies.co
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