Every customer that engages with an ecommerce store goes through the customer lifecycle. They may drop off at different points in that lifecycle, or they may carry through it and become loyal brand advocates. One of the best ways to help ensure that the latter happens is through effective email marketing that targets the customer at different stages of that lifecycle.
The customer lifecycle and the importance of email
Before we dive into the sort of emails you should send, we first need to understand what exactly the customer lifecycle involves, the improance of email marketing to your business, and how the two play into one another.
What is the customer lifecycle?
The customer lifecycle encompasses all the different stages of the customer’s journey with your brand and beyond. It begins well before they even know your brand’s name and well after they make a purchase, even past the point when it’s been months since they last placed an order. Each store’s lifecycle might be different, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to break it down into four stages:
Explore store, view product pages
Add products to cart, Begin/complete Checkout
Delivery, Receive product - Feedback
Make another purchase
Depending on the experience you deliver, a customer may go through the lifecycle several times and become loyal to your brand, or they may drop off after they receive their order. That experience includes everything from how your site functions, to the level of detailed information you offer. Let’s discuss the importance of information in that journey.
It’s vital that you target customers with the right information at the right time in each stage of the lifecycle. The best way to ensure that you’re sending the right information is by using a combination of store data, and understanding customer needs at different stages in their journey. This means that the customer always gets relevant information, and this boosts their perception of your store experience. 70% of millennials - one of the most lucrative ecommerce audiences - say that they’re frustrated when brands send them irrelevant marketing and prefer a personalized experience. Moreover, 90% of consumers in general say that they’re more likely to shop with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations. One of the best ways to deliver these personalized experiences is through email.
Email marketing in the customer lifecycle
Email is one of the most powerful marketing tools available to ecommerce merchants. It’s a form of owned marketing; in other words, you’re communicating directly with consumers and you control the content and delivery, unlike with social media where the platform decides who sees your content. Therefore if someone is signed up to your mailing list and you send an email, they’ll always get it. It’s also the most used platform for marketing communication, with over 4 billion users worldwide which represents 88% of all internet users. Its engagement rates are second to none, with over 90% of consumers saying they check their emails every day. Compare this with 3.5 billion users split across all social media platforms and varying levels of activity and engagement, and you can see why email is such an important platform for businesses.
When it comes to how this works with the customer lifecycle, email marketing is the most powerful channel for delivering personalized information. We’ve already discussed how important this flow of information is for the different stages in a customer’s journey, and email gives you that direct communication that other channels simply can’t compete with. You can send not only transactional emails, but target cart abandonment, drive loyalty, and incentivize future purchases. Moreover you can do all this automatically using email flow automation and integrating it with your store data to deliver a highly tailored experience that engages each individual customer with information they will be interested in.
This is the very beginning of your customer’s journey with your store. In practice, this stage begins long before a customer even lands on your store, encompassing search and SEO. Where email comes into the picture is a little bit further on in the discovery phase, once the customer has been on your site and is starting to learn a little bit more. They’re still fairly unfamiliar with your brand, however they are interested as they’ve subscribed to your mailing list.
What customers need during this stage
At this point in the customer lifecycle, they don’t really know your brand or products yet. They haven’t got a real reason to invest any further in a relationship with your store, but they’re definitely interested as they’ve gone so far as to sign up for emails. Therefore they need onboarding, education, and incentives. You’re looking to convince and engage them, so that they see your store as the number one choice for what they’re thinking of buying.
Emails you should send
Onboarding - Welcome Emails - Brand Introduction
A good “Welcome” email is a great way to build a positive relationship right from the start. According to Klaviyo, welcome series emails receive on average 63% high open rates, 86% high click-through rates, and 83% higher revenue per recipient than standard email campaigns. The key to a great welcome series is to introduce your brand, your products, and any additional information about your store that will be interesting to a potential customer.
Introduce your brand
Emails should be short and to the point to begin with, thanking the subscriber for signing up to your mailing list and showcasing your brand. Avoid trying to sell your brand and products to the subscriber, and simply introduce who you are and what you do. If you offer an incentive for signing up, ensure it’s detailed in the first email in your flow.
Introduce your products
You can start to incorporate some more sales-led materials once you start to introduce your products. Showcase your best-sellers and new products, detailing what makes them unique, and using eye-catching imagery.
Give additional details about your store
Demonstrate how your store not only sells great products, but offers a great service to customers. Details of this service might be your shipping options, customer support, returns process etc. Anything that would give a customer additional confidence in making a purchase. These are all driving factors in purchasing decisions and retention - 96% of consumers say they’d shop again with a retailer that had an easy returns process, and [insert another stat here]. Additionally, give details of any loyalty programs customers can be part of, including how points are accrued and redeemed, and any benefits they can access.
Education - Browse Abandonment - Product Information
Information and education are key when it comes to potential customers. If they’ve browsed your store and signed up to your mailing list, then they’re at least interested in knowing more about your brand. To really make the most of this interest, you need to tailor the content to what each individual customer is most interested in and to do that you should use your store data to send browse abandonment emails.
These are similar to cart abandonment emails, however the customer only needs to browse a product rather than adding it to their cart. Bear in mind that you can’t be sure of their level of interest just because they looked at a product page, so you don’t want to be too heavy handed in the level of sales messaging.
Incentivize - Offer or Reminder
Once you’ve showcased your brand and given subscribers more information about your products, it’s time to start considering incentives. There are two situations in which you want to send incentives to subscribers. The first is if the sign-up method didn’t have an incentive, and the second is if it did. For example you may have a pop-up that offers 10% off if they sign up, but this isn’t automatically applied if they signed up via social media or if they signed up for back-in-stock notifications.
In the case where the subscriber wasn’t initially offered an incentive, you want to use your data to determine what kind of incentives should be offered. If you haven’t done any A/B testing before, take the opportunity to do so to learn about which incentives subscribers in different segments respond best to. For example do those who never opened a previous email respond to Free Shipping, or do they respond better to a discount code? Understanding this and using your data will help your incentives to be more effective, rather than a random amount applied to all subscribers with no indication of what works.
If they signed up via a source that did offer an incentive, then you want to remind them that the incentive is still open to them. In both situations, you may want to add a sense of urgency to the incentive if after a period of time it hasn’t been redeemed. For example if after 2 weeks of sending an incentive or reminder the customer hasn’t yet placed an order, you may want to add a time limit i.e. “Use by midnight on X to claim your offer”. Alternatively you may want to consider scaling incentives in tandem with your store data on individual customers. For example you could start by offering a smaller discount, and a larger discount if the customer data indicates that they’ve been browsing your store but haven’t yet redeemed the original discount code.
At this stage, the customer is much further along in the process and has made the decision to make a purchase. The difficulty in this phase is that they may need a little extra convincing in order to fully commit to completing checkout. Perhaps they’re still doing a bit of research, or they have found a competitor that they want to look into first.
What customers need during this stage
By this point in their journey, customers are familiar with your brand but they need that extra push. You want to give them additional information about products and customer service that they can expect should they choose to complete a purchase. They’ve been onboarded, they know about your brand a little more, and they need that final reason to click “Checkout”. Essentially, these emails should look to convince the customer.
Emails you should send
We’ve likely all received abandoned cart emails before. The reason they’re so common in ecommerce is because they’re by far the most profitable automated flow, with their conversion rate being 3x higher than that of any other flow. The key with an abandoned cart flow is to ensure they’re personalized using subscriber data. Now this doesn’t mean with the products in their cart, but based on segmentation with previous activity. For example, not every customer in this phase will be brand new, they may be returning after a previous purchase. Change up the send frequency and content of your emails based on segments such as:
- New vs returning customer
- Domestic vs international
- Total cart value
- Average order value (if returning customer)
We’ve actually written another article all about how to create a really great abandoned cart flow, which you can check out here.
If you’ve got browse and cart abandonment data for your customers, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what that customer is looking for. Use that store data to personalize emails and send tailored product recommendations. Showcase products that complement ones they’re looking at, or other products that customers typically purchase when interested in those products.
Personalizing those automated product recommendations is vital to building confidence and trust with your customers, as 91% of consumers say that they are more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant recommendations and offers. Moreover 47% say that they’re more likely to shop with Amazon if a brand doesn’t provide relevant product recommendations. By sending these recommendations and tailoring them using store data, you can capture those customers’ attention and give them a much more personalized experience that will help turn them into loyal customers.
Reviews and User Generated Content
Of course you’ll say your products are great, but positive reviews are even more convincing to customers. In fact, 98% of consumers say they can identify at least one type of social proof that influenced a purchasing decision and 97% say they always check reviews online before making a purchase. Use your store data to segment by product category and send product reviews about the category that they’re interested in. This shows not only the positive feedback, but that you’re proud to advertise that feedback to interested customers. Add in some user generated content as well to show the products in “real life” to show that your products don’t just look good in a curated and edited photo for your store.
The difficult task of customer acquisition is finally complete, and you’re now able to move onto the next crucial phase - post-purchase. This is where the work begins to turn that one-off purchase into a repeat customer. You want to ensure that you’re still delivering the same high quality content and consistent level of service that you’ve given the customer throughout the discovery and purchase phases of their journey.
What customers need during this stage
There are two key areas you should focus on with post-purchase email communication - information, and relationship building. Customers want as much information as possible about their order in the post-purchase phase. That includes basics such as transactional emails, as well as ongoing order status updates, returns policies, and customer service contact info.
This is also your opportunity to really start nurturing that relationship with your customers. You can use emails to show appreciation and emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction to your team, showing customers that you care about not just their choice to make a purchase but also their feelings and opinions on your service.
Emails you should send
Order Information and Status Updates
It’s second nature to have automated transactional emails, however you can always take these a step further to really add to the customer experience by giving them even more information throughout the fulfillment process.
- Order tracking information and FAQs about shipping times
- Customer service contact details
- Order fulfillment delays
- Returns and exchange process
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Additional product care information (if applicable)
You should also personalize these for domestic and international customers, so that every customer gets the information most relevant to their order.
By adding extra information into the fulfillment stage of the post-purchase phase, you’re building even greater trust with the customer instead of leaving them to hunt for this information themselves on your site.
“Thank You” Emails
Everyone loves to feel appreciated, and the same goes for your customers. “Thank You” flows are simple to set up and personalize, and they add to the relationship building process with customers. As with other emails in the post-purchase phase, you’re going to get a mix of new and returning customers who will each require different messaging.
A simple “Thank You” flow for new customers would look like this:
- Initial email just after purchase, thanking them for their first order
- A second email thanking them again and giving them links to additional information as well as your social media channels
- Another email after the order has arrived, thanking them once more and giving details of your loyalty program if you have one
You’ll not only show appreciation, but give them all the necessary information they’d need if they want to become involved in your community and information about added value perks.
This group is varied as it will include customers who’ve only recently made their second purchase as well as those who have made many purchases over a long period of time. You can segment this group by Average Order Value (AOV), Lifetime Value (LTV), as well as how long they’ve been subscribed. This will allow you to further tweak and tailor your messaging to show that you’re aware that they aren’t a new customer and thank them for their continued support. It will also allow you to really look after your VIP customers by offering small perks now and again as thanks which will deepen the relationship.
Reviews are great for a few different reasons; they help to build trust with potential customers, they’re great for your store’s SEO, and they help build a stronger relationship with your existing customers. Asking for that feedback demonstrates to the customer that you value their opinions, and want to ensure that their experience is as good as it possibly can be. Feedback requests should:
- Include a reminder of the items from the order
- Thank the customer for their order
- Ask that they give feedback about the items
- Let them know what you do with that feedback
- Give them details of customer service contact info in case they aren’t satisfied with their order
You should send a couple of feedback request reminders if they don’t provide any initially, and you could also consider offering an incentive such as free shipping on their next order or bonus points for your loyalty program.
Retention & Remarketing
The next step in the journey leads on from the work you did in the post-purchase phase - retention and loyalty. The goal in acquiring new customers and leading them through the journey isn’t to simply be left with a string of one-off purchases, it’s to put them back through the journey time and time again as returning customers. Retention is extremely valuable to your Shopify store, as 41% of a merchant’s revenue typically comes from returning customers who represent just 8% of their customer base.
What customers need during this phase
Essentially what customers need are reasons to continue shopping with your store. Part of the legwork here will be achieved through the quality of your product and customer experience, your customer service, loyalty programs, and the attention given to customers in the post-purchase phase. Here though we’re going to talk through three sets of customers - Active, At-Risk, and Lapsed - and how they relate to retention.
Active customers are already repeat customers - they make regular purchases and engage with your brand. However this doesn’t mean there isn’t work still to be done to keep things that way. The “Active” set of customers encompasses those who have made a couple of small purchases every now and again, all the way up to VIP customers who make frequent purchases with high average order value (AOV). This is where your customer data comes in handy.
Segment customers first based on a few key factors:
- Purchase frequency
- Average Order Value (AOV)
- Lifetime Value (LTV)
- Subscriptions vs One-off
- Loyalty program members
From there, you can start to use individual customer data to customize content and personalize incentives. The kind of information you want to include:
Product showcase - Give sneak peeks at upcoming product launches. Additionally, send emails about complementary products related to their previous orders, i.e. “Since you bought x, you’ll love y”
Added value factors - Remind them of any added value factors for your store such as a loyalty program. If they’re already on your loyalty program, send different emails to different loyalty tiers reminding them of their perks.
- Incentives - If they’re an active customer, reward them with some small incentives from time to time such as discount codes and shipping offers.
The goal is to keep up the momentum with active customers so that you’re consistently reinforcing why they should continue to place orders.
These are customers who you’re at risk of losing - perhaps they’ve paused their subscription and are yet to restart it, or maybe it’s been a while since their last purchase. The aim with targeting this group with email marketing is to try and re-engage them and bring them back to being an active customer. Exactly when a customer is considered “At Risk” will depend entirely on the product you sell and its typical use cycle. For example you might sell blankets and that will typically have a longer use cycle compared to something consumable such as snacks or beauty products. It’ll also depend on if the products can be bought as a subscription or a one-off purchase.
Either way, you’ve got some work to do and bringing back at-risk customers is much more difficult than engaging active ones.
The most difficult remarketing audience of all - lapsed customers. These are customers who haven’t made a purchase in a long time, and they don’t really tend to open your emails. That last part makes things all the more difficult, as the goal is to try and get them to engage with your brand again. That’s when you start planning win-back campaigns.
Win-back campaigns will often involve the same level of detailed segmentation as you’d have for a regular campaign for your active subscriber base. An example would be to segment by Lifetime Value and Average Order Value - These allow you to identify lapsed high value customers and provide more incentives and tailored messaging. From there, create win-back emails focussed on:
“We miss you” - Try to stand out from your usual email content with a subject line and content that highlights the fact that they have lapsed. Show them what’s new in your store, and give updates about any improvements you’ve made to the customer experience such as upgraded shipping options.
Loyalty Program - Remind them of their loyalty program benefits, as well as how to accrue points. Offer bonus points on their next purchase.
- Incentives - Offer an discount code or some other kind of incentive on their next purchase to try and entice them back to your store.
If that customer still doesn’t engage with your email marketing or your brand in general, it’s time to sunset them. Lapsed customers who don’t engage with your content will continue to drag down your email engagement rates. Finish off your win-back flow with an email for customers who did not reengage letting them know that you’ll be sending them fewer emails but that you’ll be ready to welcome them back if they choose to make another purchase.
Email is by far one of the best tools at a merchant’s disposal for adding value to their store experience and ensuring that customers get all the information they could possibly need throughout their lifecycle. By targeting them with the right information at the right time, you can turn your email marketing into a profitable platform that drives conversions and boosts customer retention.
If you’d like to learn more about email marketing strategy, check out these other articles: