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5 Email Marketing Lessons From Amazon

amazon-jeff-bezos

Jeff Bezos and his team Amazon have been eCommerce pioneers for nearly 20 years.

Here are a few cool things about Amazon:

  • Amazon was founded in 1994.
  • They weren’t even profitable until 2001, when they had a profit of $5 million on revenues of $1 billion.
  • Amazon isn’t just a retail store. Amazon earns more than $2 billion a year through selling cloud computing services, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
  • Amazon has bought or invested in dozens of other eCommerce, shipping, and tech companies to further innovation. These include Zappos, Audible, Shopbop, and Kiva Systems.
  • Drones!

It’s an interesting company for sure, and one that definitely recognizes the importance of data and email to drive revenue. Sign up for the site yourself and you’ll certainly see how they use email to nudge you to make a purchase.

In this post, we’ll dissect their strategy  so you can learn what they are doing and apply their methods to your own site.

1) Track Everything That Happens On Your Site

So much for serendipity. Nothing on Amazon.com is left up to chance.

Every product recommendation, every product category, and every advertisement is tailored to you based on account information and past browsing and purchase behavior.

amazon-data 2

What’s interesting is how upfront Amazon is about its data collection. They actually encourage customers to participate in the process.

In your account management settings, you can review your recommendations and rate them. By doing this, you train Amazon’s algorithm by providing it with more information, so it can offer you better recommendations and so you can buy more stuff. It’s a crazy concept, but it works.

amazon-recommendations

All of this data collection isn’t just for the on-site experience. Amazon uses this data collection to fuel behavior-targeted email campaigns and drive revenue.

Key lesson: Track what your customers do on your site and send that data back to your email service provider. If you use a platform like Klaviyo, you can leverage these on-site events to set up drip campaigns and nurture customers towards conversion based on products they have expressed interest in.

2) Offer a Consistent Experience

“Stay on-brand.”

That seems like obvious, elementary, marketing advice, right?

But if you look at how similar Amazon.com looks to Amazon.com’s emails, you notice a similar style in most of the emails.

  • The emails follow the theme of the site: Recommendations, product collections, product categories.
  • Call to action buttons have similar styles in the email and on the site.
  • The email header looks like the site navigation, and clicking on it leads you to the site.
  • They use my name a lot. It’s always in the top right hand corner of the website, and here it is in the email too. Sometimes they even put it in subject lines.

amazon-email-example

Why does this matter? Well, a consistent experience breeds familiarity and trust. That makes you a) More likely to buy and b) More likely to participate in data collection that will generate more targeted recommendations, and hence, make you buy more in the future.

Key lesson: Test the click-through rate and revenue from email templates that closely resemble your website. This approach may work for you too.

3) Encourage Product Reviews

Research shows that 61% of customers read eCommerce product reviews before making a purchase, so including them on your site could be quite helpful in driving conversions.

Now, let’s be realistic. The most likely customers who will come back to leave a review on their own are the unhappy ones.

To bring out the positive reviews, you’ll need to do a little work and encourage reviews proactively.

Amazon does this quite well.

First, they send me emails that encourage me to rate my purchases.

amazon-review-example

When I click on the email itself and rate the item with the appropriate number of stars, I’m lead to a simple page on the site where that rating has been pulled in for that particular item. This page also lists out my other recent purchases, which makes it simple for me to rate and review those purchases, too.

amazon-reviews-2

There is nothing else on this page other than my recent purchases, the ratings stars, and little boxes for writing reviews.

It is so simple. Since there are only four or five items listed, I know it’ll only take me a couple of seconds to do this.

Key lesson: Want your customers to leave reviews? Make it stupid simple to leave reviews. Not that I necessarily owe Amazon anything, but I think I’d just feel like a lazy person if I didn’t do something that took only two seconds to do. It’s almost a matter of pride. If you can think of providing experiences that are that simple for your customers, you’re golden.

4) Retain Subscribers With Granular Unsubscribe Options

The one-click unsubscribe option works great for some use cases. Take blogs for example. It’s pretty straight-forward in that case. Either you want the content or you don’t.

eCommerce is a little different.

I may want to hear about your seasonal promotions, just not your weekly promotions.

But if you only offer me one all-or-nothing subscription option, then I’ll probably just unsubscribe.

Given this reality, Amazon is wise to offer options for managing your email preferences. They make it simple to control the frequency of your emails and organize your subscriptions, but they also make the “Unsubscribe from All” choice a very clear and easy one to make if that’s what you really want to do.

amazon-unsubscribe

Key lesson: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Is your email subscription an “all or nothing” situation, or do you have something that can be subscribed to in a more granular way? Try to think of ways you can offer your subscribers subscription management alternatives that don’t include straight up unsubscribing.

5) Employ Subtle Urgency

We’ve talked a lot about email subject lines on the blog before. In each post, we’ve offered consistent advice: Entice a sense of urgency.

I still stand by that advice. But it seems like everyone applies it via hyperbole (“BEST SALE EVER”), exclamation points, uppercase text, and general obnoxiousness.

Amazon, however, takes a more subtle approach. One of my favorite ways that they do this is by positioning their discounts as truly exclusive offers.

Brands seem to throw around the word “exclusive” around for every sale.

However, something about this offer from Amazon in the example below did feel tailored to me.

amazon-coupon-code

Amazon created a coupon code specifically for one-time use. They aligned it specifically to my customer ID.

Granted, they probably did this for every Prime member. In that case, this wouldn’t be much different than any other “card members only” offer from a retailer. However, the way this email was positioned did feel very exclusive, and that makes me want to take action.

Key Lesson: Think through how you position your discounts, and position them in a way that matches the price point and brand of your product. In some cases, messaging the promotion as a flash sale will provoke people to take action. Other times, messaging it as an “exclusive offer” works better.

Recap

What’s the biggest thing you can learn from Amazon?

Sweat the small stuff.

They know that people remember the details, so Amazon relentlessly analyzes, crafts, and optimizes every single piece of the customer experience to drive more revenue. That’s probably the most interesting thing about their process and the greatest lesson of all.

What things do you like about Amazon’s marketing? What do you think can be improved? Let us know in the comments.

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3 Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your Email Strategy

E-mail @ symbol

When it comes to email marketing strategy and eCommerce shop owners, we see a common thread of events:

  1. They start an email list at the time of the store launch. They do this as part of a Kickstarter campaign, because the email input thingy came as part of the CMS template, or because the email service provider was a cheap app to tack on to their Shopify or BigCommerce store.
  2. From there, the shop owner’s approach to email marketing isn’t really a formal one. Either they a) totally ignore that list and let it collect dust or b) hit it every day or week with the same exact newsletter content to every single subscriber.
  3. They do this for a few months or years and don’t see a ton of revenue from it, but continue to “do email marketing” because they think it’s something they “should be doing.”

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3 Email Marketing Experiments That Actually Worked, And What You Can Learn

We’ve been talking a lot about what to test in your email marketing campaigns lately. Taking a data-driven approach to your email marketing is important. You won’t find the magic approach by guessing alone. But you can get ideas for campaigns, sales promotions, design changes, copy tweaks, and other things you can optimize for based on what worked for others.

Here are three success stories from data-driven eCommerce marketers who dared to test the waters with a fresh approach.

1. Heirlume’s Personalized Product Recommendations Drive 3% Lift in CTR

Heirlume is a jewelry retailer founded by a simple premise: one wife was sick of telling her husband what jewelry she wanted for every birthday and holiday.

At first, the company assumed it was mostly men browsing the site and subscribing to emails. However, a sophisticated email address analysis revealed that many subscribers were actually women browsing the site for themselves, and therefore the messaging of the emails was completely off.

The team realized they needed to change their approach.  They segmented their lists by gender and began sending females more frequent newsletters and updates about new styles. For the men, they focused newsletters on holiday-centric promotions, the idea being that those subscribers were buying for others during those times of the year.

Building off of this strategy, the company looked for other ways to optimize their emails. To increase click-through rates, they decided to test the inclusion of product recommendations in their emails.

For the female subscribers, they pulled in product recommendations based on past buying and browsing behavior.

email-marketing-experiment

For male subscribers, they presented product recommendations differently and emphasized the “gift buying” perspective. As you can see in the example below, they remind subscribers about timeframes for ordering custom gifts in the product recommendations at the bottom of the email.

email-marketing-experiment-1

The result of the test speaks for itself: Heirlume averaged a 9% increase in open rates and a 3% lift in click-through rate from the campaigns.

The key takeaway: To get the data you need to take your personalization to the next level, you may need to think outside of the box. In this case, Heirlume had to use a proprietary algorithm to figure out the gender of the their email addresses. But the extra effort was well worth it. 

2. Case-Mate’s Flash Sales Drive 236% More Revenue

Case-Mate sells premium smartphone cases. The team had seen flash sales work successfully for other companies, so they decided to give it a try for their own online store.

The promotion turned out to be such a success that they ended up reorganizing their marketing calendar to do a second flash sale two weeks later. Here’s how they planned their flash sales, ran their email campaigns, and learned from the first one to make the second sale even better than the first:

For the first flash sale, the Case-Mate team carefully planned just how they’d time the sale and promote it.

First, they figured out the right day and time for the flash sale based on when they got the most traffic and conversions. They noticed they got a lot of traffic on Sundays, but more conversions on Mondays. So they went with Monday, December 7th, as the date for the first flash sale.

Next, they looked back at past promotion performance to figure out their discount “sweet spot” for highest conversions. It turned out that 30% off was the number, so they moved forward with that.

On the flash sale launch day, the team sent two emails to promote the sale. The first one was sent at 11 a.m. to announce the sale, which would take place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. that night. The second one was sent at 7 p.m. to indicate the start of the sale. Social media postings were sent out in the morning to coordinate with the timing of the first emails.

Subject line: Holiday-Flash-sale: Our Flash Sale Starts Tonight!

email-marketing-experiment-3

This first sale was a huge success, generating a 51% increase in traffic, a 50% increase in conversion rate, and a 236% increase in revenue. Given this success, they decided to follow up with another one just two weeks later. This time, they fixed a few things though:

  • They switched the timing of the flash sale from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. They did this to accommodate the availability of their customer success team, who actually ends work at 7 p.m.
  • They changed the email timing to 1:30 p.m. for the announcement email, and then did a “last chance” send at 6:30 p.m.

The second sale also performed amazingly well, enough for the team to plan to add flash sales as a regular marketing practice. Here were the results:

  • 5% increase in traffic
  • 105% increase in conversion rate
  • 78% increase in revenue

The key takeaway: Take calculated risks. Case-Mate found ways to use past customer data like site visits and conversion rates to approach this sales promotion in an informed way, and it paid off big time.

3. Airbnb Scores 600 Bookings With Non-Promotional Email

Every December, consumers’ inboxes are flooded with Black Friday sales, religion-neutral “Happy Holidays!” messages, and various other types of wintry greetings. Thinking of a way to stand out from the crowd is no small endeavor, but Airbnb did this in a big way in 2012.

Rather than focusing on an end-of-year promotion, they focused on doing something that would connect the Airbnb users to each other. They created a tool that enabled subscribers to send holiday greetings to hosts they had stayed with or guests they had accommodated that year.

The idea for the campaign came up last minute, so they had to pull together this tool quickly and alert their users of the campaign to generate interest.

email-marketing-experiment-4

The team worked fast to pull together an interface where Airbnb users could browser from five templates, select recipients from a pre-populated list, and use a standard message or write their own.

The email messages didn’t include any promotional content whatsoever. It was purely a community-focused promotion. The team was happy, and somewhat surprised, by the results. The emails had a 52.3% open rate, and they usually get about a 30% open rate on marketing emails. The emails had a 26.5% click-through rate, and the team usually gets up to a 12% click-through rate on emails. According to Marketing Sherpa, the Airbnb team was most impressed with the number of reservations driven by the campaign - over 600 bookings – since that’s more than the team would typically see for email campaigns even dedicated directly towards driving conversions.

The key takeaway: Know your business model! Airbnb is a marketplace, and a travel company, and they were perfectly positioned to keep themselves top of mind during a busy travel time. Because the sales are made between people, the call to action to connect the people to one another makes perfect sense.

What did you learn from these email marketing experiments? What were your key takeaways? Let us know in the comments.

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Imagine this scenario:

You’ve already conquered the digital space. You have a well-run and highly successful online store. You’ve got a great product and happy customers.  Now this question crosses your mind - What now?

The next step could be opening up a physical store. After all, about 95% of purchases are still completed offline, and offering your product in a physical setting could be a change to reach a new audience. While new sales opportunities like this are always exciting, they don’t come without risks. Rent costs, supplying the inventory, and the idea of competing with major retailers can all be pretty intimidating to say the least. Luckily, it’s ok to have a fear of commitment…

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With this in mind, here is an introduction to testing for your email marketing as well as a few ideas for things you should be testing.

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With your eCommerce store up and running, you may be curious about how to use email marketing to drive more revenue.

But you may be at a loss on where to start.

Surely you’re somewhat familiar with email marketing already. After all, you get emails from your favorite retailers. But do you know the story behind those campaigns? What workflows are you rolled into? Why? When every email just seems to be a promotion for the “best sale ever!!!”, it can be unclear what the strategy was underneath it all and what the best practices are for this stuff.

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“This is cute video will blow your mind.”

There’s no doubt you’ve seen one of viral media site Upworthy’s headlines, which are typically presumptuous teasers kinda like the one above, come across your screen within the past year or so.

Annoying as they can be, they work.

The site saw a massive traffic spike when they started paying closer attention to headlines and testing them.

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With the right strategy, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual marketing channel for your company.

The proof is in the data. One recent study shows  that Instagram provides brands with 25% more engagement over other social platforms, and some hail it as the fastest-growing website in the world. Given the popularity of the platform, there’s a good chance your target audience is on Instagram, or will be.

But breadth is not enough. Instagram’s hashtag support and follow features make it simple to connect with relevant influencers and conversations, so you can find your current and potential customers on the social network and fight through the noise.

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drip-email-campaigns

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Usually when we think about drip email campaigns, we think about new nurturing subscribers or cold contacts and getting them to make that first purchase. However, we should re-imagine drip campaigns as not only a tool to drive the first sale, but also a way to cross-sell, up-sell, and retain your customers.

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It’s a lot easier to copy someone else than it is to start from scratch.

But I’m not so sure. If that’s your mentality when it comes to marketing, I sort of think “What’s the point?”

As I was pouring through my inbox looking for inspiration for this post I couldn’t help but notice that everyone’s emails look slightly the same. Perhaps it’s a product of the stuff I subscribe to: preppy/girly/chic/androgynously-cut brands with logos of plain black Frankenfonts…the watered down result of key-stakeholders-only brand strategy sessions fueled by Powerpoint and Malbec. Bright pinks and mint greens star as the accent colors du jour. The “Best sale ever!!!” is promised in literally. every. single. subject. line.

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