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Message

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When online retailers use email to market to loyal customers, those stores are applying one of their most effective marketing tools to some of their richest sales prospects.

Repeat customers are significantly more valuable than new shoppers. Shoppers familiar with an online store not only spend more over the lifetime of their relationship with the store, but they also tend to spend more on each visit.

An often cited Adobe study from August 2012 showed that shoppers who had returned to an online store for at least the third time to place an order spent an average of five times more per purchase than a new customer.

Adobe found that in the United States a repeat shopper returning for three or more purchases spent about five times as much as a new customer.

In October 2014, marketing automation firm Marketo reported that a loyal customer is likely to spend 67 percent more than new shoppers and will be worth, perhaps, 10 times as much as the value of their first purchase to the retailer over time.

Thus, some of the most valuable prospects an online store has are those customers who have already made a purchase.

Separately, email marketing is one of the most precise and powerful ways that an ecommerce company can communicate with shoppers, and email marketing generates some of the best possible return on investment, with various reports estimating that for each dollar spent on email marketing, companies could enjoy a return on investment of between $24 and $38.

Thus, it can be pretty smart business to send email messages to known customers.

What follows are six suggestions for marketing to existing customers.

1. First Order ‘Thank You’ Message

Each online order sparks a series of transactional emails intended to inform the shopper about the purchase. These transactional emails should include an order confirmation, a shipping notification, a delivery notification, and a follow-up email.

To this powerful series, add a special thank you or welcome message to new customers. The aim is to ensure that this new customer was completely satisfied with the purchase process.

This welcome email might include:

  • A personalized thank you;
  • Links to relevant content;
  • Customer service contact information;
  • A reminder about refunds and guarantees;
  • A summary of the store’s brand or value statement.
2. Product Review Request Message

When a store sends a product review request email, that store is really creating three types, if you will, of return-on-investment opportunities.

First, there is strong evidence that product reviews and ratings can improve an individual product’s conversion rate.

Second, reviews can be reused in advertisements, social media posts, or as on-site marketing.

Third, when a customer returns to review a product, that customer is back on the store’s site and open to promotions.

The review-request email should thank the customer for her purchase, explain how reviews help other shoppers, offer a link to the review form, and not promise anything in return for the review.

After a review has been submitted, send a “Your review was published” email, thanking the customer for the review and offering an intrinsic reward, like a discount on a related or complementary product.

3. Share Your Experience Message

When a shopper shares his retail experience on social media, he is making a commitment that should help make him a loyal customer.

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini describes six principles of influence, including “Commitment and Consistency.” Essentially, Cialdini argues that once someone commits to something, like a particular online retailer, that person is more likely to behave in such a way as to honor that commitment.

As part of the purchase follow up, ask shoppers to share their experience on social media. In the email, include easy-to-use links for posting to Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook. Reward shoppers who share.

Finally, if you can respond with a personal note on the social network the customer used, do it.

4. Reorder Reminder Message

Many products are, in some sense, consumable. For example, some health and beauty products simply run out, while some apparel wears out.

When it makes sense, send customers a reorder reminder email, encouraging them to return to the store. Be certain that the email is personalized for the products the customer uses and include a link directly to the checkout.

5. Personalized Recommendation Message

When a shopper makes repeat purchases, it is possible to make useful recommendations based on what and how she has purchased in the past.

Media companies, like Hulu, are particularly good at this. A recent email message from that company clearly recognized that I was a fan of British science fiction and offered episodes of Doctor Who, Misfits, The Fades, and Torchwood.

Make product recommendations based on what and how a customer has purchased in the past.

Use a recommendation engine to discover which complementary products make sense for each customer and send a customized, personalized list of suggested items.

6. Best Customer Message

The Adobe study mentioned above found that about 8 percent of online shoppers represented about 40 percent of online sales. These best customers can mean a lot to your business.

Every once in a while, send an email (and an offer) designed to delight your best customers. Often this will include a free gift, a special price, or early access to coveted products.

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Editor’s Note: Meet Pamela Hazelton at Ignite 2015, our conference on Sept. 16 and 17 in Dallas, where she’ll co-present two sessions: “Proven Strategies to Convert Shoppers on Mobile Platforms” and “How to Choose Profitable Inventory in an Amazon.com World.”

Many major brands successfully market gender-specific products. Most of these items rely on trigger words and colors to make them stand out. For example, BIC produced its popular pens in pastel colors and used the words “for Her” on the packaging.

Same pen, different colors. (Source: Amazon)

While manufacturers can be successful producing items in different colors and sizes for men and women, unisex items — especially clothing and housewares — can be mistaken as gender-specific products solely because of presentation.

When trying to reach the masses, focus on images, descriptions, and features that remove all doubt. In other words, send the message that these particular products are suitable for both genders.

Images Send the Most Powerful Message

By incorporating a variety of images, both male and female shoppers can be targeted at the same time.

Lowe’s uses images to make the message clear: both men and women can operate riding lawn mowers.

Showing both genders modeling unisex clothing helps increase conversions across men and women. Source: Artfire.com.

Another way to market to both men and women is to present the same item as two different products. This is ideal for stores that feature separate male and female categories.

Replicating products to target both men and women removes all questions. Source: Van Halen Store.

While models help sell various product lines, there are times when you’ll want to simply show the product itself. In the example below, showing only the shirt works in lieu of displaying photos of a girl and a boy.

Van Halen Store sells a unisex shirt initially marketed for girls.

Choosing the Right Primary and Thumbnail Images

When cross-categorizing unisex items, especially clothing, consider which image types best sell to both genders.

For products available in different colors, choose neutral ones for main images. Black, chrome, and white are the best choices for household items.

Use the most popular, neutral colors for main images and thumbnails. Source: Target.com.

If displaying a unisex item as a single product, use a naked photo (sans model) for the main image, and male and female models as secondary.

Using a naked image as the primary photo, and gender-specific ones as alternatives, makes the message clear: anyone can wear these glasses. <em>Source: Lenskart.com.</em>

Choosing the Right Words

For unisex items, avoid using words that are too feminine or masculine. Instead, use a mixture of words that work for both genders.

Overstock.com uses a bullet point to describe a unisex wedding ring as “for both men and women”. Note the usage of “sophisticated” and “handsome” in the same sentence.

This unisex t-shirt at Amazon avoids any description that screams masculine or feminine.

For more generalized products, explain features in different ways. A woman may want a powerful blender, but she may not know how the horsepower translates to how well the unit crushes ice or chops vegetables. She’s typically more concerned than men about how to clean the appliance and wants to know if it’s easy to maintain.

This description for the Vitamix blender focuses on power and acceleration. It does little to explain ease of use and cleaning and versatility — features important to most women. <em>Source: Amazon.</em>

Don’t forget to include the word unisex in the title, description, and search terms. This will help those searching only for unisex items to be presented all applicable results. You’ll also want to configure the store’s search function to use an AND operator, and display AND before OR. For example, at American Eagle Outfitters, a search for “unisex shirt” returned 765 items — the bulk of which use male models in thumbnails, followed by several women-only products. A search for just “unisex” returned only two items.

A search running the OR operator only returns too many products that are not unisex.

The same 2-word search at Overstock.com returned 50 products, all shirts labeled as “unisex.”

Using the AND operator on search makes it easy for those searching for unisex items to see only what is applicable. Source: Overstock.com.

Finding the Way They Think

Men and women think differently. Many decisions to not buy an item are subconscious, which means customers may not be able to tell you exactly why. It’s important to research and analyze which terms work best for each type of product. A good start is an older, yet still accurate, post from The Houston Chronicle about marketing to men versus women.

To analyze how well products do with men versus women, use demographic reporting in Google Analytics. This will also let you see results based on age groups, which can help you further determine the best word choices.

Want to know the best ways to write product descriptions so they cater to both sexes? Pick a few products and have both a man and woman tell you what they know about them — and also ask questions to each. Use the information to integrate bullet points that better explain products for everyone.

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