THE CURRENT STATE OF E-COMMERCE

The number of digital buyers is constantly growing, and the growth shows little evidence of slowing in upcoming years. According to Statista.com, in 2013, 41.3 percent of global internet users had purchased products online. In 2017, this figure is expected to grow to 46.4 percent.

But the expansion of the online shopping industry isn’t happening only on the buyer’s side. With e-commerce hosting services like Shopify, Magento, and Bigcommerce, almost anyone can open an e-store in just a few clicks, as we see daily.

To hold their market position amid ever-growing competition companies need to be constantly on the lookout for the most effective methods for converting visitors into buyers. One such solution, which has been gaining popularity over the last few years, is marketing automation.

So if you’re...

  • Running an e-commerce business and want to increase your ROI
  • Planning to launch an e-commerce business and want to do it properly from the start
  • Or interested in using marketing automation to increase sales and encourage brand loyalty

... then this guide is for you!

WHY TO USE MARKETING AUTOMATION IN E-COMMERCE

Most businesses, e-commerce or not, share similar long-term objectives. They want to increase sales, grow the customer base, become more profitable, and retain more clients.

There are many ways to achieve these goals, including the use of social media, email marketing, SMS marketing, PPC campaigns, and others. But if achieving them were easy, there would be no need for guides, whitepapers, or tutorials — like this one.

The challenge isn’t in finding the right tools, it’s in making them work together. And that’s where marketing automation steps in.

Thanks to marketing automation, you can sync all your marketing channels, so they work together to move you closer to your business goals. On top of that, it enables you to:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Engage your audience and build brand loyalty
  • Run meaningful, one-to-one communication
  • Learn about customer needs and behaviors
  • Increase your conversion rate

Marketing automation is versatile and can easily adapt to your business needs. Whether you want to run simple campaigns or prefer to prepare complex workflows — marketing automation scales with you, empowering you to accomplish exactly what you want.

So let’s take a look at how an e-commerce business like yours (or the one you’re about to launch!) can make use of marketing automation solutions.

WHEN TO USE MARKETING AUTOMATION IN E-COMMERCE

ONBOARDING NEW CUSTOMERS

What one factor has a major influence on whether your customers place an order and stay with you for a long time? It’s how you treat them at the beginning of the relationship when they’re the most interested and engaged in your communication. Your actions can make or break your relationship and future earnings, too.

I don’t just mean how much they spend with you. It goes much further. If you don’t sell them on your offer immediately — including your products and the story behind your brand — you may not get a second chance.

So you have to do it right — from the start.

As you onboard your new customers, you’ll need to welcome them and show them around, like a good host at a dinner party. Point them where you want them to visit. Show them where other guests are. Introduce them to each other. Tell them where to find the snacks and drinks and point them toward the restrooms.

That’s what customer onboarding is, but in a slightly less virtual world. In e-commerce, you need automated email campaigns that go to new users at specified times or in response to their actions.

With automated onboarding campaigns, you can:

  • Introduce new users to the brand and its story (how it was founded, for example).
  • Let them know how your store works (delivery costs and time, return policy, customer support hours, etc.).
  • Point them to important links on your site (such as product return forms).
  • Show them how to contact the customer support team.
  • Point out the most popular products or product categories.
  • Reward new subscribers with a promotional coupon or discount code.
  • Gather more information about your subscribers through surveys or based on their behavior

Those are just a few ideas to consider including in your onboarding messages. There are plenty more! You could link to your blog and social media profiles or remind users about the expiration date on the discount code you sent them. Whatever you think of — test it!

Also, consider splitting your onboarding process into several messages sent every few days. It can help subscribers remember your brand, return to your site, and get used to how frequently you’ll communicate with them.

Use an onboarding series for more than to facilitate that first sale — the importance of which cannot be emphasized enough. Think of it as the best moment to learn about their preferences and needs. Observe which offers and messages they open and what parts of your website they click. Then plan your communication accordingly, to build a strong, lasting relationship.

Here are three examples of how different brands go about the onboarding process.

Email examples

Welcome email example from Dropbox mentioning the top benefits of their service
Img. 1 - Welcome email example from Dropbox mentioning the top benefits of their service
Welcome email from Shopify mentioning important links and information
Img. 2 - Welcome email from Shopify mentioning important links and information
Welcome email from Adidas containing a discount code and links to best-selling categories for men, women, and kids.
Img. 3 - Welcome email from Adidas containing a discount code and links to best-selling categories for men, women, and kids.

POST-SALE COMMUNICATION

Successful e-commerce businesses don’t usually bother with transactional marketing. They’re interested in relationships — getting people to fall in love with their products and brands.

No marketer would be happy about putting effort into finding perfect leads, getting them interested in the offer, convincing them that it’s the best choice — and then letting them go after they convert.

In fact, according to 2014 Customer Engagement Study by Rosetta Consulting:

“Engaged consumers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per transaction and are five times more likely to indicate it is the only brand they would purchase in the future.”

In other words, simply letting your users go after they convert is neither smart nor effective. You want the exact opposite — to get them engaged! You want them to keep “banging at your door”, buying your products, and letting others know about you via social media channels.

To achieve engagement, here are a few things you could do:

  • Use transactional messages to thank users for their order, confirm that the payment has been received and processed, and verify that the product will be sent soon.
  • Confirm the order details and let each customer know that their package is on its way. Remember to add tracking codes and phone numbers in case they want to inquire about their order..

But is that all? Should you cut the conversation mid-way? Definitely not! Consider the following three ideas.

Up-selling

In the newsletter you can see on the next page, Booking.com uses a technique called up-selling. Here’s how it works. Booking.com has already sold you one of their rooms. You’ve made a reservation and are almost ready to go for your vacation... but then, guess what! It appears that a better room is available at this hotel. And it’s now at a special price. And as they say in the message — you deserve an upgrade!

That’s a clever approach. Since you’ve already made a commitment to go on a trip, chosen the hotel, and agreed to their conditions, the chances are quite high that you’ll pay the extra few dollars to stay in a nicer room!

What’s great is that this mechanism can easily be applied to other products and services. Laptop with higher specs and costs only a few more bucks? Quicker home delivery or regular shipping? More leg space on the upcoming flight? You get the idea.

Up-selling email from Booking.com
Img. 4 Up-selling email from Booking.com

Cross-selling

Cross-selling is another interesting technique for e-commerce. It’s similar to up-selling, but instead of offering a more expensive version of the product, you offer an additional complementary item. Buying a Bluetooth wireless speaker? You’ll need a set of rechargeable batteries. Buying a laptop? You’ll need a case, warranty, and antivirus program. See where this is going?

Cross-selling is becoming very popular on e-commerce sites. It’s usually done on a page in the check-out process where the user learns about the potential savings if they purchase a bundle. Of course, cross-selling can be done afterward, using an email recommending products based on past purchases.

A word of advice: some marketers trick their users by placing additional items into their carts, thinking if they don’t want them, they’ll just remove them. This is a controversial approach, and we don’t recommend assuming that your customers will be fine with this. Better to play it safe. Be truthful and open about everything, and customers will come back to you for more.

Cross-selling in an order confirmation message from Amazon
Img. 5 - Cross-selling in an order confirmation message from Amazon
Courses recommendations by Udemy
Img. 6 - Courses recommendations by Udemy

Getting feedback

Post-sale communication doesn’t necessarily have to be about selling or special offers. Why not take this opportunity to slow down a little and ask your audience for feedback?

Think for a moment. Do you know why they chose you rather than some other brand? Do you know whether they’re happy with their order and would recommend it to others? Did they experience any difficulties along the way?

These are the kinds of questions you could ask your customers. Not just to learn about their preferences but to motivate them to return to your site, so you can get something very important called social proof.

Listening to your audience isn’t only about showing that you care about their experience. It’s also a great sales tool. Social proof helps you tackle any concerns your website visitors may develop while shopping on your site. After reading the opinions and reviews of other customers, they feel more confident deciding whether the product is right for them. And if you’re not convinced that social proof is valuable, check out this article from ConversionXL.

The following examples should give you a good idea on how to facilitate feedback by sending survey emails to your subscribers. Notice how brands take various approaches to generating feedback. Some reward users with a chance to win a special prize. Others focus on letting users know their voice is important. If you’re not sure what will work for you, remember to test, test, test!

Survey email from Timberland
Img. 7 - Survey email from Timberland
Survey email from TransferWise
Img. 8 - Survey email from TransferWise
Puma email survey asking users for their date of birth
Img. 9 - Puma email survey asking users for their date of birth

RETRIEVING LOST SALES

The number-one concern of most e-commerce businesses is cart abandonment. Market reports show that more than 66% of all online shopping carts are abandoned.

This means that more than 6 out of 10 users who were about to make an order on your site will probably leave without paying.

Of course, that’s an average. Nevertheless, it’s bad news. If you’re currently thinking, “Hey, that’s me!” then focus on micro and macro conversions — getting users from the entry page to the payment confirmation page. This may sound difficult, but marketing automation can help you in three ways.

Exit-intent pop-ups with an incentive

According to a study by Statista, there are many reasons why online shoppers leave without paying.

Statista

In the above graph, you see similarities in the top reasons:

  • Users were presented with unexpected costs.
  • They found a better price elsewhere.
  • They felt the overall price was too expensive.

It’s not just the pricing strategy that causes high cart abandonment rates. In many cases, it’s the lack of honesty and clarity in communication — hence the phrase “unexpected costs”.

There are two ways to tackle this problem.

First, be truthful about the price from the start. Simple as that. No secret formula. Present all the costs before users have to make a lot of effort. Trust me — they’ll be grateful.

Second, capture them just before they leave. Present a pop-up form to get them to think for a second — Do I really want to leave this page? But you can’t just ask that question without giving something in return — that might be annoying. Instead, present something valuable and interesting.

What could make your visitors re-think abandoning your site? Perhaps a discount, free shipping, or promotional code? If you can’t give those away easily, let them earn them by spending a certain amount — like free shipping on orders over $50. You retain those customers, and they feel they’ve earned something. Receiving a reward after making an effort works wonders.

But if you’re confident that your offers are great the way they are — that’s fine too! Just let your visitors know that by signing up they’ll get regular updates and instant access to the best deals.

Think about the value of your customer — not just a single transaction but the entire customer lifetime value (CLV). Even if your profits are smaller on one order, your overall profit will be higher if you manage the relationship after the first purchase. Get your foot in the door and then just keep amazing them with share-worthy content.

Cart abandonment emails

The most popular solution for retrieving lost sales is cart abandonment emails. If you don’t know what those are, just think of them as a way to bring some of your potentially lost visitors back to the cash register. Sound interesting? I bet it does.

Cart abandonment emails are a great way to reconnect with shoppers who have left your site for an insignificant reason. By that, I mean a negative reason, such as unexpected costs or an unfriendly user interface.

Not all users leave websites because they are angry with the brand. Some abandon their carts because they were interrupted by something unexpected in the non-digital world, like a phone call from their spouse or a dog barking that it’s time to go for a walk.

These people aren’t angry with you. They probably haven’t changed their mind about the product either. They simply could have forgotten to return to your site.

And these are the people you want to retrieve. You want to help them out and show them that their products are stored nice and safe in the online cart. All you have to do is to send a message (or ideally a series) that shows them the way.

Abandoned cart emails work great because they are:

  • Highly relevant - showing the products the user was looking at
  • Timely - sent a short time after the action took place

On top of that, they leverage momentum. Users who have left items in the shopping cart were in the mood to make a purchase. All they need now is a nudge to take action.

Here’s a good idea for a cart abandonment retargeting process. Divide your message into a series of 2 to 3 messages. Send the first email within a couple of hours after the user leaves the site, the second one after 24 hours, and the final one 3 to 5 days later. As you can read in this article, a similar strategy works for such brands as Dot & Bo.

Cart abandonment email from Bonobos. Source: Reallygoodemails.com
Img. 10 - Cart abandonment email from Bonobos. Source: Reallygoodemails.com

Retargeting using search and display ads

Another great idea for reducing the cart abandonment rate is to use search and display ads. Like cart abandonment emails, the purpose of these ads is to bring users back to their shopping cart. What’s different is that instead of emails you place ads across social media channels, browsers, apps, and other websites.

When creating retargeting ads, think about what you already know about your audience and their behavior. Did they leave the basket in step one or step four of the check-out process? What microconversions did you observe on the way? This information can help you formulate the best possible message.

In your ads, you could place one of the following messages:

  • Information that the products will sell out soon
  • Specific number of items left in stock
  • Reminder that if they order now, they’ll receive the product before a particular date, such as Christmas
  • 10% discount if they order now
  • Free delivery of their order
  • Special coupon for orders placed within the next 12 hours

It’s worth noting that retargeting doesn’t necessarily have to run through Google AdWords or Bing Ads. It can be done across numerous platforms. You can use social ads on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. There are also useful retargeting platforms like AdRoll that can help improve your retargeting efforts.

MANAGING RELATIONSHIPS

I’ll repeat this over and over again. E-commerce isn’t about a single transaction. As in football, it’s not about one game, it’s about the whole season. And by the e-commerce season, I mean months or even years.

So when you’re not thinking about instant sales, you should be thinking about managing relationships. Engaging your users. Reengaging them. Getting to know them. Speaking to them one-to-one. Knowing what they want and catering to their needs.

When using marketing automation, think beyond the obvious. Dig deeper and choose one or all of the following tactics to end up on top by the end of the season.

Reengagement campaigns

Customers fall asleep — literally and figuratively. Even if they say they love your products, they might miss one of your messages, a few, or even more. They might be busy traveling around the world or working on a big project. They might not be getting your content at all — who knows?

That’s why you need reengagement campaigns. In other words, you need a communication program for users who stop engaging with your content.

Emails and SMS are ideal for those situations. Simply look at the data in your CRM or ESP and identify customers that haven’t taken action in the past 90 days or so and figure out a way to win them back.

A special last-resort offer can work. Like the ones in the examples below. And if it doesn’t work, so be it. You don’t need a massive database to grow your business. You need engaged customers. And with too much data, it may be more difficult to focus on the most engaged customers.

Reengagement email from Sevenly
Img. 11 - Reengagement email from Sevenly
Reengagement email from Hostelworld
Img. 12 - Reengagement email from Hostelworld

Segmentation

You’ve surely heard this before: one-size-fits-all is a thing of the past. It’s not just a buzz phrase. It’s the future of online marketing.

Go back to the cart-abandonment stats mentioned earlier. Do you think most users care whether they buy the products from you or somebody else? You guessed it — they don’t unless you differentiate and offer something more than just a product.

What makes Apple, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks stand out from the crowd? They offer a great experience, not just a commodity. To position your business as something more than a commodity provider, take steps to understand your audience and cater to their needs.

In your marketing automation campaigns, think of the type of customers you’re dealing with — the typical personas. Are these first-time buyers? Veterans who’ve purchased similar products in the past? Or maybe someone even more unusual, like a bulk buyer?

Now think of their needs. Will they have the same preferences? Will the same offers spark that desire in their minds — I have to have it! Surely you know where this is going.

In the long-run, your best way to stay competitive is not just to fight pricing wars but to segment your data and personalize your content. One-to-one communication isn’t just possible, it’s pretty straightforward if you use marketing automation the right way.

Two tools you may want to use for segmentation are scoring and tagging. You can assign different tags to different users based on, for example, their demographics or behavior. Likewise, you can assign points for activity and deduct for lack of activity.

With these tools, you can identify:

  • Engaged users who follow the brand and its communication
  • Customers who purchase premium products
  • Prospects who are all fired-up and ready to make a purchase decision who should be approached by your sales team
  • Prospects who could use some guidance about your offers
  • Loyal customers who stopped responding to your communication

To use tags and lead scoring effectively, you’ll need to think of a system first. Think of information and behavior that are important to you and then assign values to each. Is opening a welcome email worth one point? Is clicking through to your pricing page worth five? That all depends on your business and how you decide to play it out.

Lead scoring system example
Img. 13 - Lead scoring system example
Lead scoring system example
Img. 13 - Lead scoring system example

Web traffic tracking

Your journey toward one-to-one communication must include what’s happening on your site. To understand your audience, carefully analyze what, how, and why they act in particular ways on your website. Only then you can lead them toward places you want them to see. Manage every step — every scroll, mouse movement, and click — to ensure the process is seamless from entry page to payment confirmation page.

Web traffic tracking isn’t just about learning what users do on each page. It’s also about reacting to what you learn.

One way to react is to alter the page design and optimize the entire process. It’s the best approach but can be lengthy. And if you don’t have enough traffic to run tests that are statistically significant, it’s even more difficult.

Another way is to send timely, relevant messages. Is someone checking your pricing page? Is someone watching one of your getting started tutorials? Why not reach out and offer them a hand? Relevant content, such as a whitepaper, a link to a blog post, or a one-to-one online presentation probably won’t do any harm or require too much effort.

If you feel that’s too much, just ask them for feedback. Ask if they need help or have any thoughts. Be subtle and helpful. If it works for such brands as Technology Advice, it’s likely to work for you too.

CONVERSION OPTIMIZATION

Everyone wants their campaigns to deliver great results. In fact, many of us expect that, as time goes by, the effects will either improve or, in a worst-case scenario, stay the same. The bad news is that, in most cases, you can’t achieve this unless you put a little effort into it. And by little I mean a lot.

To achieve great results over time, you need to be constantly on the lookout for elements of your campaign that can be improved. You need to analyze and optimize your communication channels and the types of messages you send.

To understand this process, realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect campaign or design. There’s always something you can improve.

On top of that, remember that you’re not running your campaigns just to please your own ears and eyes. You’re trying to appeal to your customers.

So if you want to aim high, come up with various scenarios, ideas, and solutions, and then put them on trial. Test each hypothesis and see if what you had in mind was understood by your audience. Was it well-received or ignored? You’ll know after you run your tests.

Use A/B testing software and build automation workflows based on analysis and science, not just gut feeling or an educated guess. Compare various types of messages (plain text vs. HTML-heavy design), communication tone (formal vs. informal), sign-up form length, landing page design, and so on.

If you’re new to conversion optimization and a/b testing, check out these resources:

CONCLUSION

By now you should understand two things:.

  • Why you should include marketing automation campaigns in your e-commerce business
  • How to set up effective campaigns to ensure continuous growth without unnecessary risk

So now is the time to act upon the knowledge you’ve gained. Check out your current campaigns and make notes of where you can implement marketing automation for best results. Then make little tweaks, run tests, and see for yourself how much more efficiently your business can run.