If you own or run an e-commerce store and have questions about lifecycle email marketing – what it is, what is it for, and how to get started in a manner that will positively impact ROI – allow us to present the Where Beagles Dare! e-commerce lifecycle email marketing guide. It includes insights, tips and illustrated examples garnered from my former company Always Riding, where I developed an email program that generated the highest ROI of any channel, smashed industry norms for open and click rates and echoed our brand values at every turn. That it was also a heck of a lot of fun and a great creative outlet was a nice bonus!

What is e-commerce lifecycle email marketing?

Your customers buy from you, receive their products and (hopefully) return for another visit a little on down the line. The process of lifecycle email marketing is to interact with your customers throughout their relationship with your store – nurturing, motivating and guiding their actions to achieve the desired goal.

Here’s a real-world example:

  • Day 1: A customer places an order – order confirmation email sent
  • Day 2: The order ships – dispatch email delivered (yes, we count transactional emails as marketing opportunities)
  • Days 3-20: Nada, zip, zilch
  • Day 21: Product review email sent politely requesting/encouraging the customer to write a review of their purchased item(s)
  • Day 90: Win back email sent with the express aim of motivating the customer to place a second order (assumes they have not already returned to purchase; otherwise an email would not be sent)

This rather simple example is non-invasive, requests reasonable interaction and closes with a 90 day (3-month) end-stop in the form of a win back email. However, to tailor this model to your store, some thought should be given to the trigger days. For the review email, I chose 21 days because in my former industry, even taking into account delivery time, three weeks proved to be a sufficient period in which to solicit a review. However, if you sell products which by their very nature take longer to form an opinion over, use or ship, an extended timeframe would seem to be logical. Likewise, a win back email sent after 90 days could be too late or too soon depending on your store’s average re-order point: motivate a customer too early when they already had an intention of returning to purchase, and you risk losing money to a prematurely created discount code. Send it too late, and you risk being out of touch.

Not offering value? Don't click send, do go home

It’s probably obvious (we’re going to say it anyway), but email is only a medium through which to communicate with your customers. Rubbish in equals rubbish out, and nothing fantastically magical will happen to your email en route to the inbox to change that. I’m not sure we can sufficiently emphasise how critical the quality of your content is. Emails are like mp3s – intangible, but they exist! Don’t be seduced by their lack of solidity and send sub-par material: email design, imagery and words when combined with your website and other marketing efforts, will contribute to that oddly ephemeral thing – your ‘brand’ in the minds of your customers.

Ground zero in lifecycle marketing

As we have shown, the email lifecycle begins from the day a customer first orders with your store and ends when they finally stop coming back – when no amount of email CPR will revive their activity. It happens.

To be accurate, we could instead say that a customer’s lifecycle begins when they first sign up for your store’s newsletter if that happened before they placed an order. But for clarity, we are going to assume Ground Zero is when the customer places their first order, and further assume that they sign up for your emails at the same time.

Now that’s settled, let’s grab pen and paper and draw out a timeline of behaviour to better illustrate what a simple email lifecycle marketing campaign looks like. Here’s one we made earlier that describes the above:

Here’s a variation with a couple of general, non-segmented newsletters added at days 30 and 60:

You may have noticed that with only a few emails going out, even a basic lifecycle logic soon gets hectic. But drawing out your e-commerce lifecycle email marketing plan or current activity is a great way to truly understand what your customers receive and how your strategy plays out on a daily basis.

Segments - not just for oranges

If you don’t segment newsletter subscribers (sending each recipient semi-custom content based upon a behaviour pattern) we could call your approach broad-sword email marketing – each customer will receive the same content irrespective of what they have bought, or how they have interacted with your store. Now, email marketing providers freak out if you don’t drill down into your audience; they’ll tell you about the advantages of segmenting, and to a large extent they are correct. But before slicing and dicing, it’s a good idea to think about how you will segment your email list.

Imagine if you were to sell women’s fashion – would you segment based on a category, a brand, colour, a type of fabric, or a price point? There’s no right answer; you could very well segment your subscribed customer list across any attribute, creating ‘mini-lists’ of customers, customers who bought brand x, shopped from category y etc. My former company was a multi-brand retailer, so I approached segmentation with a brand-first strategy. However, if you are your brand, the next best method might be to segment by category.

Here’s an illustration of a lifecycle marketing strategy with a category-first approach:

“Your customers buy from you, receive their products and (hopefully) return for another visit a little on down the line. The process of lifecycle email marketing is to interact with your customers throughout their relationship with your store – nurturing, motivating and guiding their actions to achieve the desired goal.”

Knowing your products, finding opportunities

We mentioned guiding your customers a little earlier. No matter how familiar it might be to you, your product catalogue is not as well-known to your customers. New products and seasonal colour changes conspire against even the most engaged buyers, so guiding their journey through your product knowledge can yield significant benefits.

In our last diagram, we saw a customer place an order for a jacket. If you know that a particular jacket pairs beautifully with a blue sweater, why not send an email exposing that connection through immersive visual merchandising? In plain English, email out an image of someone wearing the jacket with the sweater and explain why it’s such a good pairing.

Ok, so perhaps your store could have found that product association, but only if there was data to mine and interpret, and that requires a sales history. For any new, under-represented or overlooked item in your catalogue, an innate knowledge of your products is key to driving sales. Connect those product smarts to great images, copywriting and stellar email design, and and you are well on your way to building competitor-beating ROI and a genuinely relevant e-commerce email marketing cycle.

Next Steps

As an introduction to lifecycle email marketing, we hope you’ve found this guide useful. For total newbies, it is a lot to take in, but like a lot of e-commerce areas, first, decide on what you want to achieve, then work backwards. Don’t forget, we offer comprehensive email marketing services – from establishing a programme to creating copy that converts, shooting eat-me-with-a-spoon product images, and of course, crafting exquisitely designed email templates.

In our next instalment, we’ll look out overarching goals and strategies to take a buyer from single purchaser to regular returner and fully fledged VIP.

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