Grow Your Email List: 11 Email Acquisition Tactics for E-Commerce Businesses

Email lists in the e-commerce business. Your precious!

Email marketing lists are one of the most important assets you have as an e-commerce company. As we’ve repeated so many times before, industry-wide, more than 40% of purchases are made by returning customers and we all know how hard it is to attract new customers.

That said, in the age of social media walled gardens, it has never been wiser to implement a specialized email acquisition strategy. What is an email acquisition strategy? It’s different tactics and approaches you can use to grow your email list.

A successful email acquisition strategy should not only help attract new customers; it should help with your overall quality of the list as well. Because some of the tactics I list below involve paying for clicks and subsequent subscribers, it means that you’ll naturally begin to focus on providing better and more relevant content to your potential subscribers.

In the process of compiling this article, we’ve talked to our clients and scoured the web. The list of ideas just kept on growing and we’ll probably add a few more ideas through time. Happy to hear about your experience as well in the comments!

1. Website Email forms

Placing an email subscription form in the footer of the page should be a given for every high traffic e-commerce website. Try to use copy wisely and incite potential customers with offers and coupon vouchers. Simply, present them with an offer they can’t refuse and you’ll see a nice uplift in email subscribers.

Let’s look at 2 examples. First one is from Urban Outfitters’ home page, which is usually filled with delightful copy. Well, I guess they forgot about inspiration in their footer section.

BAD: Urban Outfitters shied away from their otherwise great copy here.

BAD: Urban Outfitters shied away from their otherwise great copy here.

The second example is from a luxury fashion brand Net-A-Porter. While I still prefer to see even more concrete offers (e.g. 10% off your next purchase), this footer definitely performs better than the one above.

GOOD: Net-A-Porter does it better.

GOOD: Net-A-Porter does the email subscription form better.

2. Website Pop-ups

More and more e-commerce websites are using pop-up windows to attract new email subscribers. It might be intrusive, but I think it’s a smart thing in some cases. Because we all know how expensive it is to acquire new customers, you should do whatever it takes to capture email addresses of new people that visit your e-store.

I’ve seen e-commerce brands utilize pop ups in various ways; the most common one seems to be a pop up that appears for new users on the front page after a certain period of time has passed. See the Overstock’s concrete offer example below.

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Overstock pop-up for new visitors.

It’s also extremely important to factor in your primary demographics when thinking about setting up a pop-up system. For example, a computer hardware shop would probably be unwise to use pop-ups. Computer geeks hate them, so you wouldn’t like to give them such a clear opportunity to hate you. But if you are running a T-shirt shop that targets a younger and more cash-strapped demographics (teens, for example), this might be a very lucrative tactic. Read more about how one such retailer, BustedTees, benefited from using a dedicated pop-up marketing tool.

Marketing tool advice

BounceExchange is one of the most interesting marketing tools I’ve seen lately.

It tracks your visitor’s mouse movements and enables you to set up specific triggers that bring up a pop-up window. For example, you can set it up to only appear for your first-time visitors, that have also stayed on the site for more than 3 minutes, viewed a few pages and then tried to close the browser tab. At that moment, BounceExchange presents them with a pop-up that features your pre-prepared offer. This, paired with the right demographics and a lot of traffic, could be one of the most successful email acquisition tactics I’ve seen lately.

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BustedTees BounceExchange pop-up example. Smart copy as well.

3. Website Checkout forms

Pretty much every e-commerce store has a newsletter checkbox on the checkout form nowadays. But I believe, it’s actually misused in many cases and eventually results in lower click through rates and worse email deliverability in the future.

So what’s the problem? As I’ve argued in our previous post, I believe that email permissions are continuously earned and not given forever. I see more and more e-commerce shops adopting the tactic of auto opt-in, or a pre-checked subscription box.

Sure, this tactic definitely drives more email subscribers, but what’s the quality of them if they’ve been subtly tricked into “subscribing” to your email newsletter? Aren’t we all in the game of building long lasting and trustworthy relationship? I would strongly suggest your e-commerce business to avoid this tactic and instead provide your customers with an offer they will have a hard time refusing (for example 10% off with next purchase if they opt-in to your email marketing). This way, you’ll build a much more quality based list that will greatly benefit you in the long run. I’ve previously written about earning long lasting permissions in depth on this blog.

4. Retargeting campaigns

You probably already target your abandoned visitors with various product retargeting offers. But have you thought about using those campaigns not to directly drive people to purchase a product, but to instead offer them a small discount in exchange for their email addresses? You know, email address can be a start to a fruitful relationship – not just a one-time purchase.

Craft a nice landing page with a clear call-to-action to input an email address. In exchange, you can offer to send them a voucher code in the first email. It might actually prove to have a better ROI than traditional retargeting since you won’t have to “chase” your abandoned visitors around the web anymore – you’ll have a direct, and most importantly, free relationship with them for life. Well, until you are able to provide them with relevant content and interesting offers.

5. Use Facebook and Google ads for email acquisition

Facebook and Google display ads are reasonably cheap nowadays. So why not try to lure people in with a coupon offer on a dedicated landing page instead of simply leading them to the front page or a product page of your website? And because you’re going to be driving people to a landing page with a clear call-to-action, conversion rates should much better. And of course, it’s email address you are getting in return, which means that you now have the permission to contact them directly – use it wisely, don’t break their trust and you’ll bear great results.

Potentially start with a small scale campaign and track its results over time. The most important numbers to track will be cost-per-acquisition and revenue-per-email from this cohort. If your revenue-per-email is able to pay for the cost-per-acquisition in a reasonable time frame, you should probably start spending even more money on this acquisition channel.

6. Use Facebook contests to get emails of your Facebook followers

You might have a lot of Facebook followers. Unfortunately, “walled gardens”, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube don’t offer a simple way for you to get a list of your followers’ email addresses. So your followers are basically locked down in their ecosystem, because they want you to constantly pay to reach those people.

But! There is always a way out for a smart marketer. You can simply run a Facebook contest campaign and entice people with an offer to win great awards and ask for their contact details in exchange. Many brands do it constantly and it’s proving to be successful. Below is an example Facebook contest by Lee Jeans.

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One of Lee Jeans’ Facebook contests with primary goal of acquiring email addresses.

7. Twitter lead generation cards

Twitter is quickly gearing up their revenue side of the business and rolling out new ad units, almost on a monthly basis.

Couple of months ago, they launched a nice feature that enables you to send out a “promoted” tweet asking people to subscribe to your email list. They call it lead generation cards. Because Twitter already has email addresses of their user base, they are able to make it really simple for people to subscribe to your newsletter with a single click (no need to input their email address).

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Twitter’s explanation of their Lead Generation ad unit.

And the magic of Twitter is, that every ad, is actually a normal tweet, which means that the better the copy is the more it spreads organically. Once again, we realize that it really comes down to how great your offer and copywriting skills are. If you produce a really compelling tweet, you can even expect to see some organic retweets reaching both your existing Twitter followers and potential new customers.

8. Surveys

You are probably running a lot of surveys of both existing customers and potential new customers. So why not try to turn these surveys, especially the ones targeting new customers, into a complementary email acquisition channel?

It’s actually pretty simple. At the end of your “normal” survey thank the person taking the survey and add an optional field that simply asks your surveyee to fill in her email address. In exchange, of course, offer a coupon code in the first email or something similar.

9. Use customer support to your advantage

Imagine the following scenario.

A disgruntled potential customer contacts you because of an issue with your service. Well, lucky you! One of your superstar customer support reps handles the situation beautifully. But instead of simply saying goodbye, she could instead offer the potential customer a coupon code. Who could refuse a great offer from a friendly customer support rep? Not many; as Accenture’s latest research points out, people are even willing to sacrifice their online privacy for relevant personalized offers.

10. [In-store] iPad or paper acquisition if you have retail stores

Running a big brand with brick and mortar stores?

High foot traffic stores can be a great driver of fresh email addresses. In fact, more than 34% of stores already use utilize iPads or paper forms for in-store email address acquisition.

Why is this channel so important? Well, these people are already buying something in your store, so they must like your offering. And in this day and age, who could resist a potential discount offering from their favourite store?

11. [In-store] E-receipts

This tactic might be used as a complement to the previous one. Customers are getting annoyed at paper receipts, because we lose them all the time. So why not implement an e-receipt solution and ask your customers for their email addresses to deliver these receipts.

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An example of an e-receipt by GAP.

I believe it’s actually one of the most natural ways for brick and mortar brands to connect their offline and online retail experiences. Sure, it requires some technical work on your side, but it’s quickly becoming a norm in the retail industry, so you better hurry up if it’s not on your company’s roadmap for 2014.


Cross-department coordination is crucial

Coordination between social media, email and e-commerce departments is becoming ever more crucial for implementation of successful e-commerce email marketing strategies. As we can see from the examples above, successful email marketing acquisition opportunities lie everywhere, so every department should participate in email strategy planning.

Track everything

Track email acquisition sources for further segmentation. It will empower your organisation to target segments better and pinpoint the best performing ones. This should then give you a clear view into how well each of the acquisition sources is performing and which ones to invest more in.

Use a single Call-to-Action

Always do your best not to confuse your potential customers with too much choice. Use a single, clear call-to-action on your landing pages, social media links, etc.

Use effective copy to your advantage

Don’t just say “Sign up for our newsletter”. Try to think about the customer and what’s in it for them. It’s not year 2000 anymore and newsletters aren’t something novel. Today, you have to present a really compelling reason for people to sign up to email lists. As Accenture’s research points out, consumers still love discount offers, so you should definitely use them in your email acquisition efforts.

Use dedicated landing pages whenever possible

It can be time consuming but if you want to run dedicated promotions to acquire more email addresses, landing pages are a must. Modern tools like Unbounce and Optimizely can help you build them without much technical knowledge and even offer simple A/B testing functionalities, so you don’t have to involve your technical departments.

Leverage the power of instant gratification

We’ve mentioned the use of coupon vouchers in several of the tactics above. When you think about what copy to use in those scenarios, it’s important to think from your potential customer’s perspective.

What will make her tick instantly? What is the right copy to use for the call-to-action and what copy to use for the cancel button? The best companies I see manage to cleverly walk the thin line between being too aggressive, yet still maintaining their brand image. Give your customers an impression that they are getting a great deal with little effort and it can be theirs in a few seconds. And then outcompete everyone by actually sticking to the promises you make.

There is one thing I would really like you to take from this: we all spend time and money thinking about the number of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube followers. Yet those followers are tied down behind walled gardens of multi-billion juggernauts that don’t care about you or your business. But email…

Email lists are eternal – they are your only consistent independent direct marketing channel. Build them with care, nurture them like golden eggs and they will pay off greatly.

Have you tried any other e-commerce email acquisition tactics? Let us know in the comments – we would love to hear about your experience and add some more of them to the list above.