Christian Retailing

Tailored emails make for happier shoppers Print Email
Written by Erik Ernstrom   
Thursday, 25 February 2016 09:19 AM America/New_York

Erik-ErnstromTarget e-blasts well to avoid wearing out your customers

Are you busy? Ha! Of course you are. OK, let me ask it a different way. Are you so busy that sometimes you don’t know how to start digging out? I bet most of you are nodding right now. Trying to find the time to get everything done can drive even the most organized person crazy. Everyone is trying to find a better way to be organized, accomplish their daily tasks and tackle larger projects.

I searched for “time management” on Barnes & Noble’s website and found over 1,000 books—all attempting to help you make better use of your time! And just because you run a Christian retail store doesn’t mean you’re any different than your customers. They’re pulled in as many directions as you are. So let’s talk about how not to make their day any worse. In fact, you can be seen as a hero when it comes time for them to make a purchase.

Email is one of the easiest, quickest and least expensive ways to communicate with your customers. Don’t get me wrong. Catalogs are still the best and most profitable way to advertise. But with email, you can have a tremendous impact very quickly.

Be cautious. Think of how many marketing emails you get weekly, then evaluate which ones truly appeal to you.

The emails that announce the release of a title by an author/artist I like will always get my attention. Compared with generic emails, the ones I know are targeted based on my preferences and “likes” have a better chance of being opened.

So how do you send these focused emails? What’s the best way to target? It’s the same answer I typically give: data.

Capturing customer information at the POS is key. Training your clerks to link every transaction to a customer record will give you the information you need to select the best audience for the best products.

Then use your purchase history to pull lists based on product type. Create a list of book buyers, music purchasers and so on. Load those into your email system and use them to contact customers regularly.

Then, as you have time, narrow the focus. Create lists for your big categories like Devotionals and Praise & Worship. Use those lists also to target to your customers. If you want to go wild, generate a list of buyers for those big authors and artists: Karen Kingsbury, Chris Tomlin and others. You have customers who would love to know when their new projects release.

It’s still a good idea to send emails to your whole list. You should regularly remind your customers about your sales and selection. But if you send every email to your entire customer base, you’ll burn them out quickly. Fatigue will kill an email list far more quickly than anything else. Again, think back to your own inbox. How many emails do you skip because it’s “just another email from that company”?

Email thoughtfully. Send an email to your whole list announcing your latest catalog. Email about your sidewalk sale or the conference you’re sponsoring. Just don’t overdo it when emailing to the full list.

If you’re wise about it, you can actually increase the number of emails you send without harming your list. A couple years ago, a national chain increased its email sends from 500 to 1,000 in a year, and the chain viewed the move as a success. They had more contact with their customers and didn’t cause email fatigue. Why? Almost every one of those emails was targeted.

You may not have the time or energy to pull off an email program this extensive. However, the principle still applies. Sending more emails, as long as they’re clearly focused on your customers’ needs and desires, will not have a negative effect. In fact, your customers will appreciate targeted emails because it shows you know them as a customer and value their time.

If you’re using a website that displays your on-hand inventory, you’ve made the experience that much better—especially if it allows the customers to click a button and have the product held for them to pick up in store. You’ll be a hero.

I would also recommend locating an email solution that will allow you to build multiple emails and schedule them for future delivery, all in one sitting. Better yet, sign up for an email program that will send email campaigns for you based on your data. Let them do the hard work of pulling lists, creating emails and, if necessary, targeting down to SKU level.

Remember that whole thing about you being busy? When you started in this industry, your goal wasn’t to spend your time designing and sending email. In this day and age, it needs to be done, but sitting at a computer for half your day was definitely not part of the plan. The goal was to be on the sales floor with customers, putting products into their hands, praying with them and serving them.

So take advantage of resources that can make this task easier. Let your data drive your emails. And be a hero to your customers.

Erik Ernstrom has worked in the Christian products industry for 24 years. He started as a receiver in the backroom of an independently owned Christian retail store, eventually managing that store. He has also managed a customer service department that served 300 Christian retail stores. He now works for The Parable Group, managing the business analytics department that yielded nearly 100 million customer contacts last year.