Seasonal sales are the best time to buy things during the year - and then there are the slow months for sales. What to do when you hit the summer? Our friends at Jilt have the answer in six marketing emails.
The shopping holidays leading up to Christmas are like... well... Christmas for eCommerce stores. Black Friday and Cyber Monday—we love them so much we gave them an acronym nickname (BFCM) that vaguely sounds like it could be a New York rock club from the 70s.
The answer: With the proper, strategic use of email marketing you won’t have to look at January through mid November as a dry period. Here are six ways you can use email marketing to sell during the “slow months.”
Holidays—even, and maybe especially, obscure ones—are a great opportunity for getting a sales spark via smart email marketing.
One of the tenants of good email marketing is having a reason to send each email, and a holiday sale certainly qualifies. On top of that, holiday emails are a good chance to be topical and show off your brand's personality.
Groundhog Day emails had an open rate five times higher than the average email in Q1.
Earth Day emails converted the best of any spring emails, at 4.3 percent.
Black Friday in July—which, by all rights, customers should instinctively reject for being a shameless cash grab—somehow worked, with a 12.7 click-to-open rate and a 3.3 percent conversion rate.
Oktoberfest emails had the highest open rate of any non-traditional holiday, at 22.2 percent.
How to set up a non-traditional holiday marketing plan
You can search for non-traditional holidays that can fit with your brand at sites like Holiday Insights, Time and Date, and National Today. And the holiday doesn't have to be an exact match to you (e.g., if you sell knives and spoons, you don’t just have to wait for International Knife and Spoon Day), as long as you can think of a clever connection. Here are National Coffee Day marketing emails from three companies that don't sell coffee or anything coffee-related; coffee is just a relatable subject that helps to strike up a conversation.
Once you pick the holidays you’re going to celebrate, make sure to add them to your email marketing calendar so you don’t forget, and so you can do any necessary advanced planning.
2. Win-back campaigns: A second chance to engage
The slower months are a prime opportunity to rebuild relationships with lapsed subscribers and customers.
It's painful to lose the connection with people who were either customers, or, at the very least, interested enough in your brand to subscribe to your email list. After all, repeat customers are nine times more likely to convert, at five to seven times the revenue. It's why creating loyal customers is so important.
With a win-back campaign, you reach out to those formerly active customers with a series of emails designed to re-engage them. The open rates on win-back emails aren't great—one study pegged them around 12 percent—but considering those people weren't engaging at all, that number's still pretty good. And when a win-back campaign works, it works—the majority of re-engaged customers continue to be active for almost a full year after the campaign. 12% and an extra year of customer activity suddenly looks pretty good compared to customers you might have lost forever.
How to run a win-back campaign
The first step in a win-back campaign is identifying your inactive customers. At Jilt, our default win-back campaign considers any subscriber who hasn't purchased in 90 days. That range can and should change based on your business and the nature of your products; if you sell, let's say, 23-pound tubs of mac-and-cheese, it wouldn't make sense for people to order every three months unless they were very hungry; likewise if you sell mattresses, 90 days isn't that long a time.
A subject line that's emotionally-charged is crucial in a win-back email. Common ones include phrases like, "We miss you," "We'd love to reconnect," and "It's been a while." Watch out for getting too desperate or accusatory, though—something like “You abandoned us! And it’s giving me flashbacks to my childhood” probably isn’t going to work.
Your win-back email should also offer the customer something. That can be a discount, sure, but can also be information—let them know about new products, features, accessories for their past purchases, partnerships, and more.
The final consideration for a win-back campaign is how many emails you should send. Our default at Jilt is two; if, within a month, those two emails still haven't been opened, it's probably time to purge that subscriber from your list.
A replenishment email is one you send to remind a customer that something they ordered is about to run out. While these emails won’t work for every product, they're a tremendous opportunity if you sell anything consumable.
Replenishment emails have the highest click-to-open rate of any lifecycle email (above 50 percent in one study). And it makes sense: They're timely, they're relevant, and they're urgent. They're also a marketing email that can feel like a genuine service to the customer—rather than keeping track of their own supply of contact lenses or subscription underwear or whatever, you're handling that for them.
How to use replenishment reminders
Your first replenishment email should come when your customer is roughly 75 percent of the way through the supply. How do you know when that is? You can monitor their past behavior to see how frequently they reorder—or use an aggregate of other customers to determine when the average person hits that three-quarters point.
Your second email should go out on the day you expect their supply to run out. That's a good chance to offer free shipping or a discount on fast shipping to up the chance of the sale.
And your third email should go out shortly after that, if they still haven't reordered.
With each of those three emails, make it very easy to reorder. Include a call-to-action button in the email that links directly to the product. And don't be afraid of using your replenishment emails as an opportunity to do some cross-selling of related products—while your customer is reordering their supply, it'd be great to get them to buy a couple of other things too.
4. Referral programs: Tell a friend, get a reward
With a referral program, you can turn your customers into advocates (and salespeople) by having them recommend your products to their friends, often in exchange for an incentive. Referrals are an incredibly powerful tool for stores, with an average rate of 2.3 percent of all sales coming from referrals.
Referrals are generally considered the absolute best leads, and the best new leads generated by email marketing—and it's because people really, really trust what their friends tell them. Check out these numbers...
People are four times more likely to make a purchase when they're referred by a friend.
Recommendations are the primary factor behind up to half of all buying decisions.
And getting those referrals isn't an insurmountable challenge. People want to advocate for brands they like: 83 percent of satisfied customers are willing to refer products to their friends. They just have to know how to make those recommendations—which is where email marketing comes in.
How to use email to promote your referral program
Your first step is setting up your referral program. The biggest decision you'll make is what incentive to offer your customers to become advocates for your brand. You should offer some incentive, but it doesn't necessarily have to be huge. One study found the size of the reward doesn't matter as long as your fans are passionate. (If they're less passionate... well, then you might want to up the reward.)
Next, you'll want to set up your referral email sequence. The first email should announce the program and give your customers a unique link to send to their friends.
From then on, you can send reminders about the program and updates on their reward status. You don't want to overwhelm or look too pushy, so a few times a month is good at the beginning, transitioning to about once a month over time.
5. Abandoned cart recovery
Cart abandonment emails go out to people who went to your store, added items to their shopping cart—but didn't check out. That's something that happens a lot. Roughly 70 percent of carts are abandoned, which means for every 100 people who buy something at your store, there are around 230 people who added stuff to their cart but didn't wind up buying it. That's a ton of lost potential revenue, which would be quite nice to have during the slower months. (Or the faster months, too, come to think of it.)
Fortunately, cart abandonment emails are a very effective way to turn some of that potential revenue into actual revenue. You can realistically expect to recover 15 percent of those abandoned carts with a well-planned email series.
The first challenge in sending cart abandonment emails is capturing an email address. You'll have it for repeat customers who are already logged in, but for others, you'll need to take steps to grab an address earlier in the process.
One key technique we use is capturing emails during an incomplete checkout process (when the person enters an email but doesn't finish checking out) as soon as the customer types it into the checkout screen. Another method we deploy is early email capture, where a small pop-up prompts a customer to enter an email address whenever they add something to a cart, which allows us to capture email addresses even if the customer abandons before checkout. You can also capture emails with an exit-intent pop-up when the customer is about to bail.
Once you have the email address, your cart abandonment recovery system automatically kicks in. The first email goes out within an hour or two, and generally asks what went wrong and reminds the customer what they put in their cart.
A second email generally goes out within 24 hours, again reminding the customer what's in their cart, and potentially offering a discount.
And the third email goes out about 48 hours after abandonment, creating a sense of urgency to check out soon because the product could sell out at any moment.
6. Email with good content that's not selling anything
Not every marketing email you send has to sell something—in fact, people don't like it when you're constantly in "sell, sell, sell" mode. One of the top reasons people unsubscribe from an email list is emails that are always too focused on the company’s needs, not enough on the customer’s. So emails like content-driven newsletters, getting to know your customers, and gathering feedback and ideas don't necessarily sell anything in the short term, but can have major benefits to your business in the long term.
Here’s an example of an off-season marketing email that’s barely doing any selling. Instead, it’s establishing the brand’s authority and social awareness, announcing a new product (and only lightly offering to sell it), and offering a new job at the company to customers. Odds are, this email didn’t generate a ton of revenue instantly—but you can instantly see its long-term potential.
What non-sales emails should you send?
During your slow time, consider scaling down to a once-a-week digest. And you can use it for any number of non-sales purposes:
Sharing great content (about your products, your company, your industry)
Asking your customers what products or features they'd like to see you develop
Promoting the charitable causes with which you're involved
Just because you get a huge rush of sales during BFCM doesn’t mean you have to give up on the rest of the year. You can use email marketing to prop up your business during slower times in a wide variety of ways.
Non-traditional holidays provide an organic trigger for an email and a good chance to run a sale.
Win-back campaigns can help turn dormant customers into active ones again.
Replenishment reminders can bring in repeat orders on consumable products.
A referral program can turn your customers into advocates, helping drive your sales by sending their friends to your site.
Abandoned cart recovery can save a great deal of potential revenue that was otherwise lost.
And non-sales emails can establish you as an authority in your niche and strengthen your relationship with your customers.
Sam Greenspan is a writer for Jilt, an all-in-one email marketing platform built for eCommerce stores. He lives in El Segundo, California, where he has great views of both the Pacific Ocean and Chevron refinery. He also runs the blog 11 Points.