Pathfinder | Blog
24 March 2020 Tips & Tricks

E-Commerce Emergency Guide

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It is a nerve-wracking time for small businesses. We want you to know: We are here to help.

There are several things you can do to optimize your business even with minimum resources available. That’s why we put this post together and hope it will give you some guidance through this crazy time.

This post will be updated with more resources and tips as we are getting feedback from you about what else could be of help (if you have feedback or a request: tweet at us).

Also, check out the resource-section at the very end with links to financial relief programs for small businesses.

Let’s dive in!

Checklist:

𝥁 Do you capture potential customers? If not (or not sure) jump to part 1

𝥁 Do you use dynamic messaging? If not (or not sure) jump to part 2

𝥁 Do you get the most out of your contact list? If not (or not sure) jump to part 3

𝥁 Are you following up with people who displayed interest in your products? If not (or not sure) jump to part 7

𝥁 Do you know how to structure your campaigns? If not (or not sure) jump to part 4

𝥁 Do you strategically plan your promotions? If not (or not sure) jump to part 6

𝥁 Do you use a multichannel approach? If not (or not sure) jump to part 5

𝥁 Do you segment your customers in smart ways? If not (or not sure) jump to part 3

𝥁 Are you using effective subject lines? If not (or not sure) jump to part 4

Part 1: Capture Potential Customers

While social distancing is happening in most places, people typically increase their online shopping. Many are also more likely to support small businesses during times like these. That’s why you need to make sure to remind your existing contacts of your store. Besides that, you’ll also want to capture the new people who come across your store.

It’s simple but oftentimes forgotten: Install a pop-up on your website that collects email addresses. A common practice is to give a small discount as an incentive for them to share their data. But that’s not necessarily a must, as long as you can show how you will provide value (think: be the first to hear about new collections, promotions, etc.).

Pathfinder can help grow your email list automatically using intelligently triggered lead capture forms.

Part 2: Dynamic Messaging

The rules have changed, and the days of having one marketing message that you desperately try to make everyone respond to are quickly coming to an end.

This is the old way of doing marketing. Amazon has changed the game completely, and hyper-personalized shopping experiences are becoming the norm.

Now, as a small business, you may not have the resources to personalize on the same scale as Amazon (and to be honest, you probably don’t need to, either). But what you can and should be doing at the very least is using “dynamic messaging” campaigns, rather than old school “batch and blast”.

Batch and blast Dynamic messaging
Messages are indentical to every shopper Each shopper gets personalized messages
Every shopper gets every message Different messages sent to different shoppers, depending on how they behave
Messages sent out all together, on whims of the business Messages are timed perfectly for each shopper
Generic, "one size fits all" messaging strategy Personal, relevant messaging strategy
Low engagement and ROI High engagement and ROI

 

The idea behind dynamic messaging is simple:

Instead of sending everybody the same series of messages, dynamic messaging campaigns track what each person is doing and respond to their actions accordingly.

Whereas a “batch and blast” strategy is like a steamroller, continuing on the same course no matter what, a dynamic messaging strategy is more of a chameleon. These campaigns actually adapt to each person based on their purchasing behavior in the past but also based on how they are reacting to the campaign, rather than treat everyone the same way.

Dynamic messaging campaigns have been the secret weapon of big e-commerce businesses for years. But while this type of marketing used to be complicated and expensive to set up, it’s now becoming easier than ever, particularly if you use tools like Pathfinder to do the work for you.

If you’re still using “batch and blast” marketing, switching to a dynamic messaging strategy is low hanging fruit waiting to be picked. Give it a try and you should see an easy boost in your results.

Part 3: Getting The Most Out Of Your Contacts

In order to get the most out of your contacts, you need to plan out your interactions strategically. People who just joined your email list need to be treated differently from your most loyal customers, the same is true for people who display interest or abandon their cart as opposed to people who used to be loyal shoppers but haven’t come back in a while.

All of these scenarios are opportunities, but you have to identify them and then create email sequences that resonate.

The first step is to create customer segments. 

Segmentation can be done based on a vast amount of data points, we want to showcase a few that can make a big difference based on lifecycle and behavior:

Segment: New subscribers
With new contacts, it’s all about building trust. Introduce your product range, your brand, and get them to make their first purchase. An introductory offer can be helpful to get them over the edge.

Segment: One-time buyers    
The big objective for this segment is to get them to buy a second time! This seems obvious, but it has serious implications for your email marketing strategy.

Customer acquisition costs are high and most e-commerce stores don’t break-even on the first purchase. Profits are only generated on repeat purchases. You already have data on what they bought in their first purchase, so you can make use of that.

Segment: Loyal customers
Treat your most loyal customers like VIPs. One example is to send them a pre-sale email ahead of a promotion. The exclusivity can make them feel special and increase effectiveness. The fact that they have early access can also be used to increase scarcity and make them act right away before everyone else is allowed to join the sale.

Segment: Lost customers
Lost customers are the ones that used to buy from your store but haven’t in a while. A promotion is an opportunity to win them back. Usually, those “win-back” offers include a deep discount to entice them to return. You can openly communicate that you miss them and would love to welcome them back to your store with this exclusive offer.

Segment: Cart abandoners
Following up with people who were close to buying means getting the low hanging fruit. In order to cater to them with a customized offer that ties in with your promotion, you will have to create a segment for them.

These are 5 simple segments, but they cover the customer lifecycle from start to finish and are a great way to get into segmentation. If you want to skip the baby steps and benefit from a fully fleshed out segmentation - Pathfinder can do it all for you. In minutes not hours.

Once you have your segments, think about the structure of each campaign, read more about this in the next part.

Part 4: The right campaign structure

It’s key to think of all the elements of your campaign from the beginning and ensure there is consistency. So before you send out your first email introducing your offer, you should already be thinking about what other emails will follow and when.

Most people find it helpful to have it drawn out. Here’s a simple example of what a promotional campaign structure could look like:

Introducing the offer - Email 1+2

As you might have noticed in this structure we start off with a blind subject line. A blind subject line is intentionally vague and meant to pique your recipients' curiosity. Examples for blind subject lines:

“You won’t believe this”
“Trust me - click this”
“A gift for you”

It doesn’t give away the content of the email and works great with people who are already familiar with your brand. To make sure the deal-hunters won’t miss out, we will send a follow up that states the offer in the subject line right away - a direct subject line.

A direct subject line is clear and to the point and tells the recipient what this email is about. We’ve seen Pathfinder use the following that has worked really well for direct subject lines:

“New Year’s Treat: 30% off”
“SALE - 20% off everything”
“D.E.A.L.S. up to 50% off”

Sweeten the deal - Email 3

Approaching the last third of the campaign it’s time to give your contacts who haven’t made a purchase yet a good push.

One great way to do that is to add an extra offer, bonus deal or any other kind of additional value. It will give your audience the extra incentive that they might need to buy. It’s also a good moment to start introducing more scarcity and social proof, for example, how many people have bought, that stock is running out, how the deadline is approaching really fast, etc.

A subject line that works great for this stage is “Good news, bad news” - the good news is the offer just got better, the bad news is it’s almost over and may even sell out before now as we have sweetened the deal and some stock is low. In this example, we’re using double-scarcity (deadline of promotion & stock running out) which is not necessary but makes it even harder to resist.

Deadline approaches - Email 4

While the deadline for the offer needs to be mentioned in every email (remember chapter 3) it should get even more attention towards the end of a campaign.
This will create a sense of urgency, which according to behavioral psychologists, is one of the most powerful triggers in human psychology. In our example, there’s only one email planned for that, but you could add more, even a little countdown on how many days left till the promotion ends.

These emails should be heavily focused on scarcity, here a few subject lines that work well for this:

“Time is running out”
“Don’t miss out on this”
“It’s not too late yet”
“Only 1 day left”

With the core structure at the beginning of this chapter, you are set up to get solid results. What follows now are some secret weapons that can kick your campaign into overdrive. These are optional but can be the cherries on top that transform a good campaign ROI into a great one.

Dynamic messaging emails based on behavior
Besides the regular emails, you can set up emails that will only be sent to a certain group of people and contain tailored content for them specifically. They will be sent out based on certain actions that we call triggers.

Here are some examples:

Customized abandoned cart emails
Whenever somebody places an item into the cart but fails to finish the purchase, they will get an email with not only a reminder of the items left behind but also the opportunity of getting them at a discount. Important to note is that these emails are customized for your promotion so your generic abandoned checkout campaign should be disabled, something Pathfinder always ensures.

Considering that nearly 3 out of 4 shoppers leave items in their cart and knowing that abandoned cart emails have an average success rate of 29% this extra email can potentially lead to a 66%+ sales lift.

Display of interest emails
If somebody has displayed interest in a product by looking at the item several times or for a long time they are probably on the fence of making the purchase. To be able to identify these people your platform needs interest tracking which can be a bit fiddly, but Pathfinder sets it up for you automatically.

A well-crafted email highlighting the product of interest can push them over the edge. This can either be a separate email or dynamic content integrated into your core structure.

Closing email at the end
If people were close to buying but despite all the email efforts didn’t, the closing email is your last chance to convert them during your promotion. You do this by acknowledging why you are sending this email, for example, “I went through my store data and saw that you seemed interested in item X”. You can then highlight the product benefits again, your deal on it, and even add a special offer “just for them” - increased discount, extended guarantee, bonus item, etc.

You can even send this email out after the deadline and offer to extend 2 more days just for them. This will catch the people who procrastinated too long, meant to buy but didn’t.
Read on to learn about how to take it a step further and go multichannel with your campaigns.

Part 5: Multichannel Approach

Email is an incredibly powerful tool, did you know for example that email has the highest return on investment out of any marketing channels when we look at them in isolation?

However, what is proven to deliver the absolute best ROI are multi-channel campaigns. Time to add some more depth to your campaigns. Luckily, there are several options to expand your channels, even free ones.

Let's take a closer look: 

On-site Messaging 
There is absolutely no down-side to making use of all of your own channels to promote your sale. It won’t cost you anything to do so. On your website for example, you can use web banners to inform your visitors about the deal, how long it is on for, and how it can be applied. The same goes for web notifications.

Ideally, these on-site messages are personalized to cater to your different customer segments. For example, if you offer a bonus deal for prospects only, your existing customers should get a different message. This might sound like a big web development challenge, fortunately, these are elements that can be set up without any code by using software like Pathfinder.

SMS
To quickly inform your customers that a sale is on, SMS can be a great channel. You include the basics only: Clear offer, discount code (or how it can be applied), and the deadline. Simple yet effective. This is also a great way to tell your VIP customers about a pre-sale and make them feel like part of the inner circle. With Pathfinder’s Zapier integration this channel can be added to your promotion easily.

Postcards
We are going old school. In this day and age where most communication happens digitally good old postcards can make you stand out and leave a lasting impression. For example, sending a birthday discount to your most loyal customers with a personal, handwritten note will make them love your brand even more. Like the idea but don’t have the time? Pathfinder can do it for you using Zapier - beautiful handwriting included.

Owned Social Media Channels
Use your social media channels and don’t be afraid of overwhelming your audience with the sales message - according to Socialmediatoday.com organic posts on Facebook only reach 6.4% of your followers on average. Therefore it is advisable to use all the channels you have to reach as many people as possible. You probably guessed it - Pathfinder can expand into social media channels as well.

Paid Channels
When it comes to paid channels there are tons of options, from the mass-reach channels like broadcast, radio, out of home (OOH) to more targeted ones like social media, search and display ads. For a small to mid-sized e-commerce business with a limited marketing budget, it makes the most sense to focus on digital advertising. It’s a great way to generate traffic to your site using your promotion as a magnet to get those click-throughs.

Checklist for going multichannel There are a few important things to remember when using multiple channels:

✅ Use the same wording (keep it clear and simple)

✅ Always ensure readability on all formats

✅ Use the same visuals

✅ Make sure the resolution of your visuals is good on all formats

 

Part 6: Strategically Plan Your Promotions

Sales promotions are created to bring in, well, sales. But there’s more to it.

There is an “invisible” ingredient to every promotion that dictates its success. An ingredient that is never left out by top marketers and presents the very first step of promotion planning: setting the goal. 

This is not as trivial as it might sound. When doing promotions you have to make a decision on what to focus on - simply “making sales” is not a good enough goal.

You will need to get more specific and think about what the single most important outcome should be and what you are willing to sacrifice for it. The goal will set the direction and make it easier for you to choose the best promotion type to achieve it. It will also allow you to track the right metrics and don’t get distracted by ones that don’t matter.

Let’s take a look at some examples: 

Goal: To convert prospects into customers
Offering an attractive discount is crucial in the converting phase - even if that means not making any money (or even losing some) from the sale. Why is it still worth it? Because it’s not about the one-time value a customer brings to your store, but the lifetime value. Once they crossed the line to make their first purchase with you they are much more likely to come back for more (and more…) as the graphic below shows:

Goal: To boost profits 
If your goal is to increase profits you should consider a more margin-friendly option. Free-shipping, extended guarantees, or added gifts are ideal as they aren’t as expensive as offering a discount. On top of that, they are easier to calculate and still have a powerful effect. The trick here is to create a strong sense of urgency.

Goal: To increase average order size
Not happy with your average order size? Consider bundling. This means combining products and sell them at a lower price than if bought separately. Bundling is also a great option to capitalize on the holiday season when people are more open to buying gift-sets which are only available during a limited period of time. Another way to increase the average order size is to offer a discount that comes with a threshold.

For example, let’s say you offer 10% off - but only if they spend $50. There could even be several thresholds, to incentivize spending even more. If they surpass $200 they get a 20% discount. It’s a great way to persuade people to add something extra to their basket.

Goal: To increase buying frequency 
Your best bet to increase buying frequency is to focus on your loyal customers (remember the graphic at the top, the likelihood of another purchase increases the more often they already bought from you). In this case, you can consider running a promotion that doesn’t include an offer at all. Instead, spark inspiration with reminders of products they are very likely to be interested in.

Pathfinder can build promotions for all of these goals for you, with just a few minutes of your time. It gets the right people into the campaign, writes emails that include personalized offers and tracks the results for you.

Part 7: Follow Up With People Who Displayed Interest

You have surely done it yourself: put something into your basket but then for whatever reason never ended up buying that product. Maybe even completely forgot about it. Even though for one second, you were ready to buy.

This happens more often than you’d think - 3 out of 4 shoppers never push their virtual cart over the checkout line.

Every time someone adds something to their shopping cart and abandons it before finishing the purchase, you lose money. It’s not a good time to be losing money (is it ever?).

What you need to have in place to avoid this is a mechanism that identifies those people, and then build campaigns specifically for them. What you want to consider:

  • Send multiple, automatic follow-up messages with intelligent timing
  • Only make an offer if the shopper doesn't respond to a regular chaser, and send custom promo codes that expire after 2 days for each individual
  • Design campaign to maximize profits (not just orders) and protection against promo code exploitation

You can use Shopify’s basic built-in solution for abandoned checkout, but if you want to cover all the 3 bullet points above, use Pathfinder’s reduce abandoned checkout skill.
 

Resource Section:

Privy is building a platform for small, independent e-commerce businesses to get exposure to people who’d like to support them. You can submit your store here (for free).

USA:

  • Federal: Low-interest loans up to $2 million through the Small Business Administration for states impacted by COVID-19.
  • State of Massachusetts: Emergency capital up to $75,000 to Massachusetts-based businesses impacted by COVID-19 with under 50 full- and part-time employees, including nonprofits. 
  • State of Florida: Up to $50,000 per eligible small business. Loans of up to $100,000 may be made in special cases. Interest-free for the first year and 12% per annum thereafter.
  • State of Michigan: Grants up to $10,000 (if you have less than 50 employees) and low-interest loans between $50,000 and $200,000 (if you have less than 100 employees)
  • City of New York: Zero-interest loans of up to $75,000 for businesses with less than 100 employees. 40% of payroll costs covered for businesses with less than 5 employees.
  • City of San Francisco: $10,000 for employee salaries and rent for businesses with less than 5 employees.
  • City of Sacramento: Zero-interest loans of up to $25,000.
  • City of Chicago: Low-interest loans up to $50,000 for businesses who’ve suffered more than 25% revenue decrease due to COVID-19 and have under 50 employees.

Canada:

  • Wage subsidy: Eligible small employers will receive a wage subsidy for a period of three months. This is equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.
  • Defer tax filing: Businesses can defer the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after today and before September 2020. The government will not initiate any GST/HST or Income Tax audits for the next four weeks.
  • Emergency care benefit: Up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks for workers who need to stay home due to illness, parents who need to take care of children, or those taking care of a sick family member.
  • Small Business Loan: Low-interest loans up to $100,000 if your business has been generating revenues for at least 24 months.
  • Purchase order financing: Cover up to 90% of the purchase order amount to ease cash flow to your suppliers.

UK:

  • Wage relief: UK workers placed on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can keep their job, with the government paying up to 80% of a worker’s wages, up to a total of £2,500 per worker each month. These will be backdated to 1st March and will be initially open for 3 months.
  • Deferred VAT and income tax payments: VAT payments due between March and the end of June will be deferred by three months. Income tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021,
  • Business interruption loan: 12-month interest free loans up to £5 million in value. 
  • Sick Pay relief: Small businesses can recover two weeks statutory sick pay per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. Employers with less than 250 employees are eligible. 
  • Retail business grants: The retail and hospitality grant scheme provides businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property. For businesses with a rateable value of under £15,000, you’ll receive a grant of £10,000. For businesses with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000, you’ll receive a grant of £25,000.
  • Small business grant: Receive a one-off grant of £10,000, if you’re eligible for small business rates relief or Rural Rate Relief, to help meet ongoing business costs.
  • Rates relief (Scotland): 75% rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £69,000 from April 1, 2020. 
  • SMB grants (Scotland): Grants of at least £3,000 to small businesses in sectors facing the worst economic impact of COVID-19.

Source of resources: Shopify

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Corin Camenisch

Marketing Manager at Pathfinder

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