Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in 2016 and has been edited to maintain accuracy and adherence to modern email marketing practices.

It’s no secret that email marketing is the driving force behind crucial recurring customer sales. But, by focusing your eCommerce email marketing efforts on those who have already purchased, your brand is losing out on thousands of dollars in revenue (and the first-time customers who will help you get there).

To get the most out of your eCommerce email strategy, you need to focus on building your subscriber list first

Today, we’ll show you exactly how to grow your email list quickly and efficiently, based on our decades of experience in email content and growth marketing. Let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

Why Focus on Email List Growth in Your Marketing Strategy?

We often preach quality over quantity, and email marketing for eCommerce is no different.

However, if you don’t start with a high quantity of email subscribers, you simply can’t get the quality leads you need to generate sales and revenue in your email marketing campaigns.

Depending on which study you look at, the average conversion rate for an eCommerce website is between 1.4%–5%. This means that at least 95% of site viewers leave without taking any action on your site.

By integrating email list growth strategies into your website, you can capture some of those website visitors before they disappear forever — and bring them back with promotions and offers sent straight to their inbox.

How to Grow Your Email List

There’s a reason why testing is the king of eCommerce email marketing. Your business, products, and brands are unique, so what works to attract (and retain) your customers will be unique, too.

So, before you start growing your email list, you’ll need a strategy that identifies what works — and what doesn’t. Here’s what we recommend:

Step 1: Brainstorm offers and ideas.

There are countless ways to motivate customers to opt-in to your email subscriptions. Promo codes are a tried-and-true method, but other offers may speak better to your target audience. 

We recommend speaking with your sales and customer service departments. What feedback do satisfied (and unsatisfied) customers provide? Which historical campaigns had the highest conversion rates?

Other factors to consider:

  • Average order value
  • Length of buying cycle
  • How many new contacts convert to customers
  • And how their lifetime value compares with averages from all customers

We’ve also gathered a list of 15 proven ideas below to help you get started.

Step 2: Run your tests.

Even the best offers and promos can fall flat if you’re not maximizing placement, timing, and copy. Bring in your web developer (or, better yet, a conversion rate optimization expert) to deploy the offers on your site in an attractive and pleasing way. 

Run a variety of tests for a set amount of time (don’t test them all at once!) for the most reliable results.

Make sure your tests are accurate and efficient by having our experienced eCommerce conversion rate optimization team manage them for you.

Step 3: Evaluate results — and expand upon what works.

If you run your tests correctly, you’ll have a solid set of email list growth strategies to lean upon. Implement them into your marketing plan, but continue experimenting and brainstorming additional ideas to keep up with your customers’ changing behaviors and industry trends.

Don’t forget to optimize your welcome email flow to prevent the dreaded customer unsubscribe, too.

15 Email Marketing Ideas for eCommerce

We’ve led dozens of online businesses to successful list growth, and there’s a few eCommerce email marketing best practices we’ve identified along the way.

The big ones:

  • Choose offers that resonate with your customers’ needs and wants
  • Prime your delivery methods to meet them when they’re most ready for purchase

Types of Offers

There’s no single “best” approach to pre-checkout email acquisition — just what’s best for your eCommerce business. You’ll need to consider your customer purchase cycle, as well as the prices of your products, when choosing an offer to test.

For example, if your average order value is less than $300, transaction offers like 10% off can work very well. For larger order values, your customer may need more education through content-based offers instead.

Our recommendation: Do your research and test your options to discover the best email list growth strategies for your brand. (And don’t forget to talk with your search engine optimization team to see how any offers affect your site’s SEO strategy.)

1. Free Samples

Everyone loves free stuff, including your customers. Consider giving away free samples of your products in return for an email, with the customer paying the shipping.

Evaluate your cost per acquisition (CPA) before taking this path, especially if the giveaways come out of your bottom line, rather than a free sample pack provided to you by manufacturers. Oftentimes, CPA for giveaways can be lower than PPC, paid social, and other marketing channels.

Don’t forget to use Customer Lifetime Value in your calculations, too. For some brands, a one-time order won’t always show a good ROI and isn’t representative of the average customer’s behavior.

Like many home decor sites, Sofa.com provides free fabric samples to customers. Shipping is provided free of cost, as long as customers provide valuable information like their shipping address, email address, name, and more.

It’s a win-win technique: Sofa.com obtains potential customer information, and customers get a better idea of what the product might look like in their home.

Sofa.com Free samples landing page.

2. Discounted Order

It’s the most common form of email acquisition — offering a discount on a customer’s first purchase, often shown to new customers as an exit pop-up. This can include a percentage, a set dollar number, or another offer like free shipping.

A word of caution here: This strategy assumes a transaction will occur, and may not be as effective as others in gathering new subscribers who aren’t quite yet ready for purchase.

Our client Mountain House creates and sells portable meals that do not require refrigeration. Exit pop-ups can be found all over their site, offering percentage discounts off the viewer’s next purchase, as well as an email sign-up form. 

Mountain House exit discount, offering 5% offer next order.

3. Content Offers

When customers aren’t ready to make a purchase, content offers — webinars, courses, buying guides, white papers, etc. — can educate them about your brand and how your products can solve their problems.

We’ve got the proof in a test we ran for Mountain House. In testing three different offers — a 10% discount exit offer, a camping/prepping checklist download, and a control with no offer — the checklist offer won by a wide margin. (Your mileage may vary, based on your target audience and their buying cycle.)

In addition to stand-alone content offers, we recommend designing a great landing page for your email list subscription that outlines the benefits and rewards of signing up (alerts on new products, content upgrades, discounts, and VIP access). This can be a compelling content offer in and of itself.

While not a typical eCommerce site, Bulletproof excels at email-list-building content marketing. We recommend offering free downloads as part of your blogging strategy (like their Complete Bulletproof Diet Roadmap) to obtain email addresses early in the funnel.

Bulletproof's Diet Roadmap content download prompt.

4. Back-In-Stock Notifications

Back-in-stock notifications are a great way to automatically segment your email subscribers. Be clear that customers are only signing up for one email and not added to the marketing list at large — but don’t be afraid to include a “sign up and save” offer to get them on the larger list, as well.

Here’s an example template from Magento:

Magento example of "back-in-stock" email notifications.

5. Loyalty Programs

A loyalty program typically touts special email offers, early release products, discounts, swag, and more for your VIP customers. You can build a loyalty list in many ways; we recommend building a flow in your eCommerce marketing automation platform that sends to customers who have reached a certain spend threshold.

On the other hand, you can open up your loyalty program to all interested customers, like Ikea does with their Ikea Family offer. Subscribing customers receive discounted member prices, workshops, ideas, and a free, hot in-drink store during the week.

Ikea Family offers and sign-up page.

6. Personalized Offers

Most of the time, personalization offers will require that you already have a customer’s email address. But, you can also provide personalized experiences using cookies or the referring website — like below, in which a phone accessory retailer shows a personalized offer to visitors from Pinterest.

Personalized product offer for visitors from Pinterest.

7. Survey Participation

You can offer a short survey on your site (such as a personalized product recommendation), at the end of which you request the customer’s email before they get their results or their incentive.MomAgenda.com offers a great example in their two-minute Planner Match quiz. A quick four-question quiz is followed by an “Almost There” page, in which the customer is prompted to enter the email for their results (or hit the “No Thanks” option, instead).

"Almost There" email address submission page for MomsAgenda.com planner quiz.

8. Shopping Cart Abandonment Offers

You can’t send shopping cart abandonment emails to customers without knowing their email address — but this can be remedied in a few ways:

  • Exit intent pop-up, reminding customers to “Create an Account to Save Your Cart!”
  • Exit intent pop-up, with compelling offer (ex: discount) to save on their purchase
  • Move the email address field further up in the purchase process, so it’s one of the first pieces of information acquired in checkout (as demonstrated below)
Example of early email ask in Vitrazza cart checkout process.

9. Contests/Enter to Win

Contests are a proven way to enhance your email list growth through blogs, social, and other content marketing avenues. Customers are used to providing their emails for giveaways and contests, as long as the price is attractive enough for their demographics.

Take plus-sized European fashion retailer Navabi. They originally tested this contest email opt-in form on the second-page view. It worked so well they promoted it to the primary offer on all first page visits.

Navabi.com contest/giveaway pop-up form for email list growth.

New contacts are enrolled in an automated “lead to first purchase” program once they sign up for the newsletter, in addition to being enrolled in the contest.

Read our eCommerce giveaway case study now.

10. Social Media Logins

If a customer is close to purchase, you can gather a great deal of contact information (including email address) through a one-click social integration. Doing so essentially “logs” a customer into your site, providing the Holy Grail for personalizing their future shopping experience.

Social login prompt example from SurveyMonkey.com

We also recommend leveraging your existing social networks (organically and through paid options like Facebook Ads) to present email acquisition offers on your own accounts. That way, you can target your existing fans and grow your email lists exponentially.

Delivery Methods

Once you’ve decided on a few eCommerce email marketing ideas to test, let’s consider the ways you can format and deliver them.

1. Standard In-Line Offers

An in-line offer could be nestled amongst the content of a blog post, shown in the sidebar, or as the featured content block on the homepage. It doesn’t pop up, slide out, or follow the customer on the page.

This in-line offer by Nordstrom links to an offer landing page, which describes the many benefits of their rewards program.

An in-line offer could be nestled amongst the content of a blog post, shown in the sidebar or as the featured content block on the homepage. It doesn’t pop-up, slide out or follow you around.

Nordstrom in-line content offer example

2. Pop-Ups (and Other Interstitials)

Pop-ups are standard for today’s eCommerce websites. They can be displayed upon site arrival, when a customer moves toward the navigation bar, at a certain time trigger (ex: five seconds after page load), or at a certain page location.

In addition to pop-up location and timing, A/B test your ad copy, as well. Consider the pop-up below, where a button to decline the offer says, “No thanks, I’ll pay full price.”

Pop-up content offer example.

3. Lead Generation on Other Sites and Events

You don’t have to solely grow your email list through your own site and social accounts. Participating in webinars, online courses, and other digital partnerships can grant you access to email addresses from event participants, who often have to provide their personal information to join the event. 

4. Chiclets/Tabs/Bars

Tabs and bars are a user-friendly way to display your content without invading the viewer’s personal space, so to say. In comparison to full-page pop-ups, chiclets/tabs/bars provide a much better mobile experience. They should also all include an “X” allowing users to remove it anytime they want. 

See the “Free Website Grader” example below:

Content offer chiclet example, on the left side of the screen.

Ideally, this tab will follow the user down the page, but they could click an X to make it go away at any time.

5. Offer Landing Pages

Offer landing pages are great for PPC, social, and affiliate channels. They’re also necessary when the important values of your offer can’t be communicated in a CTA (call-to-action button). Landing pages provide the space necessary to really sell the offer by describing its many benefits to the visitor.

Here’s an example from our own website, detailing the benefits of downloading our Persona Topic Matrix gated content offer:

Example of offer landing page from GoInflow.com.

Final Thoughts

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for acquiring a potential customer’s email address. To find the one that fits your business, you’ll need to invest some time, energy, and creative brain power. Above all, make sure to properly test your assumptions before setting them in stone.

As you develop your eCommerce email marketing strategy, keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t buy a list. The contacts will be worthless, and you’ll end up lowering your deliverability and open rates.
  • Don’t overdo it. Don’t show potential customers multiple offers at the same time and scare them away from your site.
  • Don’t forget to test on mobile. Experience and conversion rates could be vastly different on a mobile device.

If you struggle to find the content ideas and delivery methods that work for your brand, our expert email marketers are always available to help. Contact us anytime for answers to your questions and a personalized email strategy.

Prefer a PDF version of this article? Check out our Email Acquisitions Tips for even more examples and email list growth strategies.

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