How to Increase eCommerce Conversions by Using Customer Data in Emails


Email is a critical piece of the marketing puzzle for eCommerce businesses that want to convert site visitors into happy customers.

This common funnel takes place:

  1. Present new visitors with pop-ups and banner ads that encourage them to subscribe to your newsletter.
  2. In return for subscribing, give new subscribers a 15% discount, 20% discount, or a chance to win XYZ.
  3. Then, on a daily basis, blast subscribers with the same new product and sales notifications that everyone else on the list gets.

Something is certainly better than nothing, and these types of messages do keep your store top of mind. But they slightly miss the mark. Without context, these messages don’t speak to the heart of your potential customer’s interests, which can be identified through data. These messages also don’t guide your subscriber down the path to conversion.

With this basic approach, your email marketing becomes noise in the inbox. And, as more companies latch on to this approach and embrace email as a revenue channel, this method will become ever more ineffective at driving conversions.

But, with the data-tracking capabilities of modern technology, you can send targeted messages based on real user actions on your site. You stand a much greater chance for success with this approach.

The proof is in the pudding when it comes to the value of personalization in email marketing. Helzberg Diamonds saw a 288% lift in online sales with personalized email marketing. Busted Tees increased email revenue 8% simply by personalizing the send time based on time zones.

To help you get started with personalized and data-driven email marketing, here are six data points you can incorporate into your email marketing program to drive conversions:

1. Past Online Purchases

Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. Past purchases inform you about the styles, brands, and products your customers are interested in.

After recently purchasing a pair of Asics running sneakers on the Zappos site, I received this email promoting Brooks products, which is a related brand.

A particularly great use of data on past online purchases is to vary the amounts of the discount promotions based on whether someone has bought before.

You have to be careful, though. People get trained to expect discounts. That can be bad for business.

Instead of offering perpetual discounts to all customers, try to focus your discounts on new customers, and use discounts to convert people early in the customer relationship. Moving forward, rely on the value of your product, targeted product promotions, and your brand to nudge existing customers to repeat purchases.

2. In-Store Purchases

As more and more retailers – everyone from Bonobos to Warby Parker – combine “bricks and clicks,” it’s increasingly important for brands to coordinate data about in-store customer activity with online transactions.

Sephora achieves this with its Sephora Insiders program. When a customer makes a purchase in the store, the cashier asks for her email address at checkout. The email address is entered into a system that triggers an email from Sephora requesting a product review and stating that the recent purchase was added to the customer’s online “My Beauty Bag.” The “My Beauty Bag” is a collection of all past purchases and samples redeemed with Sephora Insider points.

This organizes in-store and online purchases all in one place so the customer can easily write reviews, share the products she likes on social media, and order refills.

Tracking online and in-store purchases is especially effective for companies that sell products which lend themselves to in-store purchases, such as makeup at Sephora. With samples of makeup available in the store, customers have become accustomed to evaluating the products in person.

By integrating in-store purchase data with online marketing activity, Sephora appeals to practical consumer behavior for the initial purchase. Then, Sephora saves the customer an additional trip to the store by making it simple to order refills online.

3. Timed Purchases

What do shampoo, ink cartridges, and disposable razor blades have in common?

They are things we run out of on a regular basis. Refills drive repeat revenue.

Subscription-based monetization strategies like Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program are one option for capitalizing on this. But customers may be reluctant to subscribe to refills if they haven’t tried the product yet.

In addition to products, there also are services we need on a regular basis. Valvoline takes advantage of this with reminders to schedule your next oil change timed perfectly from a previous oil change. Maintenance services drive repeat revenue.

4. Products Viewed

Viewing a product, especially multiple times, indicates interest.

But, this data often goes unused in eCommerce email marketing.

Here is what the ideal use of this data could look like:

  1. After someone views a product but does not purchase it, send an email containing a buying guide to educate the potential customer about the item and provide the tools to evaluate it.
  2. If the customer clicks on the buying guide, send a follow-up email to suggest urgency; for instance, a notification of a sale or limited inventory.

To drive conversions, it’s important to keep a customer focused on his journey down the funnel. While regular newsletters help keep your brand top of mind, they also could be a distraction. Ideally, you would temporarily remove a customer from a daily newsletter email flow to create mind space for this individualized campaign.

5. Items Left in Cart

Abandoned cart reminders probably are the most common way eCommerce marketers use data to drive their email marketing programs. The value of reminding a potential customer about an item he wants is clear, but the best practices for doing this still are being ironed out.

You’ll want to test the ideal number of emails to send. Most companies stop after one reminder, but you don’t have to. Given the noise of email marketing and social media, communication from one single brand can be easy to miss. It’s in your best interest to test your audience by sending several reminders, as the extra nudge could net you more conversions.

Here’s what an example flow could look like:

  1. Send an email that identifies the specific product and reminds the customer that it is in their cart.
  2. For customers who do not open the first email, send a follow-up email to remind them again about the product they left in the cart. For customers who do open the first email, move to the next stage of the flow to push them toward conversion.

Limited inventory, a discount, and telling the customer you will remove the items from his cart soon are all ways to invoke that sense of urgency.

Doggyloot takes the “almost sold out” route with its catchy and effective abandoned cart reminder.

What is particularly effective about this email is that you can tell it’s not just some general, transactional email. They describe the actual items that are in the cart based on customer data. It makes the message much more effective and convincing.

6. Location

Like Sephora’s beauty products, many companies sell items that customers prefer to examine in person. Nice furniture, electronics, cars, and luxury jewelry could fit in this category.

However, if the customer just wants to see the product in person and then think about it some more, there’s still a good chance they might convert online.

Location data can help facilitate this type of sale.

Invite customers to look over products in the store by reminding them that you’re in the neighborhood.

This is the approach Pottery Barn takes. Knowing that many of their items are best evaluated in person, Pottery Barn invites customers to visit them in the store, providing their address at the bottom of their emails.

It’s a noisy world out there and everyone’s inboxes are overflowing.

The more personalized you can make your emails, the more relevant they will be to customers. You’ll stand out from the crowd and have a much better chance at driving a sale.

About the Author: Ed Hallen is the co-founder of Klaviyo. Klaviyo is the eCommerce email marketing platform that helps stores grow sales by using data to send better, more personalized email. You can follow Klaviyo on Twitter or get more email marketing tips on the Klaviyo blog.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

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