Marketing

How to Build an Email List for Ecommerce: 17 Proven Tips

Email marketing is one of the only marketing channels that you control. Nearly 35 marketers weigh in on how to build an ecommerce email list from scratch.

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on January 1, 2021 (last modified on December 22, 2020) • 19 minute read

Whether you run an Amazon FBA business, a Shopify store, or sell omnichannel, you are likely heavily reliant on one – maybe two – marketing channels to drive traffic and sales. 

One of these channels is usually PPC advertising. The problem with PPC advertising is that it is expensive and risky.

For example, what if your Facebook ad account gets suspended? Or, your competitors jack up the price of ads so much that it is no longer cost-effective to run ad campaigns? These aren’t hypothetical scenarios. This happens to eCommerce businesses, who are overly reliant on one channel like PPC ads all the time.

One way to diversify this risk and decrease your customer acquisition cost (CAC) over time is to build your email list. 

Email marketing is one of the few marketing channels – alongside your website- that you control. It is like your own personal ATM that you can withdraw from at any time. All you have to do is communicate with your list on a regular basis, and share everything from deals and discounts to a behind-the-scenes view of your business.

In this post, we’re going to share how you can build your email list, including: 

What is an Email List?

Remember Rolodexes and address books? An email list is like a digital version of your old-school paper address book. You can use it to communicate and send marketing messages to anyone who opts in.

If you are brand new to email marketing, you might be tempted to save time and money by adding all of your emails to a spreadsheet and then sending the occasional “mass email” through your Gmail account. This is an amateur move and a really bad idea.

Not to mention, there are so many great email marketing software providers, such as MailChimp, Klaviyo, ActiveCampaign, HubSpot, and MailMunch among many others, that make it easy to send emails to your list. Depending on the platform you choose and your budget, you can also get sophisticated marketing automation and reporting capabilities. 

Which of the following tools do you find the most useful for building an email list?

Why Build an Ecommerce Email List?

The biggest reason to build an email list is that email marketing is one of the few marketing channels that you own and have full control over alongside your eCommerce site. You aren’t reliant on ad spend or social media or search algorithms to reach your audience.

Some additional benefits for eCommerce email marketing include but are not limited to: 

  • It is cost-effective – The only thing you need to get started is email marketing software. Many of the software options that we listed above offer a freemium version.  Not to mention, email marketing tends to have higher conversion rates.
  • Build customer loyalty – Anyone who opts into your list wants to hear from you. By communicating with them on a regular basis, you build brand loyalty.
  • Get more word of mouth sales – Your subscribers probably know other people in their network who would like your products. Email marketing is a great way to drive more word of mouth sales.
  • Increase customer lifetime value – This goes alongside building customer loyalty. One of the smartest and fastest ways to scale an eCommerce business is to focus on repeat purchases. 

Editor’s Note: If you use MailChimp, this MailChimp dashboard allows you to visualize all of your new subscribers alongside open and click-through rates. 

MailChimp Dashboard

17 Tips for Building an Ecommerce Email List from Scratch 

When it comes to building an email list, everyone starts at zero. Here are some tactics you can use to grow your list. 

  1. Offer an incentive
  2. Teach them something for free
  3. Create giveaways and promos
  4. Use a giveaway wheel
  5. Add entry and time-based pop-ups to your site
  6. Create exit-intent pop-ups
  7. Keep it simple
  8. Create offers based on where a visitor is in the customer journey
  9. Collect email addresses during the checkout process
  10. Add an opt-in form on your homepage and on blog posts
  11. Create personalized landing pages
  12. Create a contest
  13. Set up retargeting campaigns
  14. Create a welcome mat on your site
  15. Write blog posts
  16. Survey your visitors
  17. Implement split-testing

1. Offer an incentive 

“One of the best ways to build an email list is to offer new visitors an incentive – for example, a coupon – in exchange for signing up for your company newsletter,” says Bruce Hogan of SoftwarePundit. “Since you’re targeting the top of your funnel, you will capture the email from a larger group than down-funnel tactics.” 

Irene Wambui Muchai Lopez of Superior Honda says, “Most users won’t join an email list unless they see some kind of benefit to doing so. That incentive could be free shipping on an ecommerce order, 10% off their next purchase, or a small gift the next time they come into your business.

While it may seem costly to provide that incentive, it’s worth it in the long run because that customer is now in your mailing list and can be added to your remarketing efforts too.” 

Or, Aaron Sylvan of 10x Management adds, “Don’t use “free shipping” or “$5 off on a purchase over $50” because those are only relevant after someone decides they want something. I’ve seen better results with “enter your email address to reveal the one item we have on 60% sale today for new visitors only.”

Artem Klimkin of Posturion adds, “In my previous research, I discovered that only 20% of standard Shopify stores were actively building email lists using a monetary incentive (e.g. by offering a discount). At the same time the monetary incentive to signing up is used by 40% of Top-100 Shopify stores.

This goes to show that the strategy of offering a discount in exchange for an email is still not used a lot by standard Shopify store owners.

Collecting emails is important but the only real, feasible strategy available to the smaller brands that don’t produce content (product pages don’t count) is offering discounts to the new members in exchange for their email.

Here’s what we do at Posturion:

There’s a simple pop-up that appears to every new visitor after 13 seconds.

The offer is simple – get 10% off your first order!

The specific time period (13 seconds) is there for a reason. The idea is that it would categorize random window shoppers with people that are actually on a verge of converting.

Think about it.

If you have a pop-up appear immediately on page load, it will only produce one type of behavior – the desire to close it right away!

It’s almost a reflex these days (I catch myself doing this all the time).

So a pop-up that shows itself after a substantial amount of time works a lot better.

It manages to grab the visitor’s attention and can actually skew them towards buying from you!

The technical aspect of it is very simple too.

You can use software like Omnisend that would automatically monitor and generate unique individual discount codes that will get sent out to the visitors’ email boxes on the sign-up.

If there was one single strategy I would invite you to use, that would be this one.

Last but not least, if you operate in Europe, make sure you are complying with GDPR. It’s annoying but it’s important.” 

2. Teach them something for free 

One way to build goodwill and your email list is to deliver valuable content that they care about for free. 

“An effective strategy for building an email list is giving your customers something of value for free,” says Daniel Ripa of Venture Team Building.

“You know your customers the best that visit your site so give them something they would want. This could be access to valuable information you share such as a newsletter, etc. that may be of interest to your visitors. It could also look like a free guide or ebook that would be of interest to your visitors. This is by far the most effective way I have found to build my email list.”

Graham Cooke of Cafe Last adds, “The best way to build an email list is to actively deliver value to your prospects. You can no longer just say “Give us your email to join our newsletter.”

Your prospects are flooded by emails every day from companies trying to sell them things. Why should they give them yours? What are you doing that your competitors aren’t?

Here are some great ways to deliver tangible value in return for an email address: First-time coupon codes, free ebooks, free consultation, exclusive discounts, etc. The greater the value you are delivering, the higher your opt-in rate will be.” 

Alex Birkett of Everything But The Plant agrees, “The worst thing you can do is something generic, like triggering a popup that says be in the know. Or, get product updates. Boring. 

Give extra value. Teach people something.

Sell tea? What if you gave access to a lite version of a tea sommelier training?

Discounts work, too. The main thing you want to answer when coming up with a lead capture message/offer is What’s in it for me? If the offer is boring or not valuable, it’s going to be disappointing.” 

3. Create giveaways and promos  

“One effective strategy for building an email list for your online store is to do a promo or give out a bit of value for free,” says Lily Ugbaja of Dollar Creed. “Free stuff always catches people’s attention, and this way you can get enough email addresses to build your email list.

Offer a sample of your product for free, give an ebook out for free. Something little but valuable. Once you have their attention (& emails!), you can then convert them into customers after the promo has ended.” 

Paul Strobel of eRideHero says, “What really moved the needle for me was running a giveaway of a product related to my audience. Running giveaways is a proven way of boosting engagement and converting visitors into email subscribers. My giveaway campaign – run over the course of around one month – totaled to 2,925 new email list subscribers. I suggest you share your giveaway side-wide while it’s running in some kind of modal box as well as advertising it on your social media profiles for maximum exposure.” 

Samuel David of Attrat adds, “Here’s it in three simple steps.

  1. Reach out to three to five brands in your niche and ask them if they would be interested in doing a combined giveaway. They would simply need to send an item to the winner and help promote the giveaway.
  2. Create a landing page for entry. Include details for prizes and entry and be completely transparent that entry requires a subscription to each brand’s email list. All brands promote the giveaway on social media and to the current email list.
  3. Pick a winner and have each brand send out the item to the winner. All participating brands get a copy of the opt-in list and the winner gets a bundle of prizes.” 

4. Use a giveaway wheel 

“The most effective way of building an email list is using a giveaway wheel (to play the visitor has to give their email address to spin the wheel),” says Joshua Wood of Bloc. “It’s interactive, fun and visitors just can’t resist. These wheels also give you the capability of giving away multiple different offerings e.g free postage and 10% off.” 

5. Add entry and time-based pop-ups to your site  

“Onsite targeting through timed pop-up email opt-in is one way to do it,” says Aaron Simmons of TestPrepGenie. “After a user spends a certain amount of time on your page, a pop-up relevant to the content on that page could appear. The message could be an invitation to receive an ebook that explains the topic on the said page in more detail. Or it could be something as simple and direct as inviting the user to sign up for the email list to get free information about new information and strategies.” 

6. Create exit-intent pop-ups

Jonathan Aufray of Digital Growth Hackers adds, “When people are visiting your online store, you want them to consume your content, engage with it, add products to their carts and proceed to payment. You want the user experience to be nice and smooth. But, of course, many visitors will leave your store without purchasing. That’s completely normal but before they leave your store, you can try one last thing to grab their attention: exit-intent pop-ups. 

These pop-ups will appear only once they’re about to leave your website so they’re not invasive. On this pop-up, you can offer them a discount or an offer in exchange for their emails.

By implementing this on your store, you will build your email list with qualified and targeted subscribers almost instantly.”

7. Keep it simple 

“You can actually keep it simple when building an email list,” says Alexandra Zamolo of Beekeeper. “Add anyone who purchases a product or service to your list, and think about adding gated content. Create an informative eBook that your visitors will appreciate, and add the emails submitted to your list.” 

8. Create offers based on where a visitor is in the customer journey 

“Consider where your audience is in their journey,” says Nick Montagu of alphawhale.com. “If they just purchased in the last 72 hours, do they need to see this email? Similarly, if they haven’t purchased or been on the site in 6 months… is this really the email they need.

Segment based on purchase intent and history, over obvious demographics.

The simplest tip is often the best, so we’ll part with this one: who you exclude is often a more valuable decision than who you include, start with that.” 

Bobby Gill of Blue Label Labs adds, “One of the things we always help our eCommerce clients plan out is an effective sales funnel cycle that rewards both new and existing customers. Clearly stating that some kind of reward (like a discount, for example) is in store for new customers who sign up for your promotional emails and newsletters is one sure-fire strategy to grow your mailing list which will lead to more sales. Naturally, you should always present signing up to your email list as an option for customers during their checkout process as well.” 

9. Collect email addresses during the checkout process 

“One of the things we have found very effective is making the process of email gathering part of each sale,” says John Donanchie of ClydeBank Media.

“Creating a process where additional features or freebies are available with an opt-in meaning that not only are we continuing to provide value to our customers but that we are engaging with them at a time when they are most receptive to the value we have to offer and are most likely to view opting-in to our list favorably.” 

Editor’s Note: Looking for a quick way to visualize your sales? Use this Shopify Store Overview Dashboard to track monthly sales, average order value, abandoned carts, and more.

Shopify Store Overview Dashboard

10. Add an opt-in form on your homepage and on blog posts 

“Adding email capture form to the store’s homepage and published content can automate the list-building process and steadily increase opt-in rates,” says Donald Damilola of Omniconverts. “To drastically take the conversion through the roof, incentivize your potential customers with irresistible offers. Make it so good that they can’t refuse such as Buy 1 Get 1 Free offer.

In return, this will help to easily get customers’ data while building your store’s email subscribers at the same time.” 

11. Create personalized landing pages 

“Create personalized landing pages,” says James Bullard of SoundFro.com. “This allows businesses to appeal to a wider demographic. Every person who visits the website needs something different, so the more landing pages tailored to each person’s individual concerns, the more email list sign-ups generated.” 

12. Create a contest

“The number one strategy I use is a contest,” says Darrell Evans of CANI 365 LLC. “Why? I’ve never met a consumer who didn’t want to win what they were already going to buy.

Enter for your chance to win is gold.

It’s simple. Bundle a few of your top-selling products and offer visitors the chance to win.

I prefer using an exit pop-up, so it doesn’t disturb their visit.

In my experience, it beats the discount coupon code all day.

Bonus tip: Everyone who didn’t win, gets the coupon code just for entering.” 

13. Set up retargeting campaigns 

“Outside lead magnets, the #1 effective strategy for building an email list for any online store is to use remarketing in order to be more efficient with your advertising spend,” says Ariel Lim

“The problem with most ads is matching the viewer’s intent with your copy and targeting. That’s why we develop banner blindness because we see ads that are irrelevant to us. We don’t want and aren’t ready to buy.

But if you advertise helpful content (such as videos, how-to articles, etc) first, then it has a higher chance of getting read/watched. Now, you get to introduce your brand in a non-obtrusive way.

Then, that’s when the remarketing ads kick in. You advertise your products/services ONLY to the people who engaged with you. This way, they are no longer strangers or cold. They have already warmed up to your brand.

This helps you generate more leads and help you build your list faster.” 

14. Create a welcome mat on your site 

“Using a welcome mat and having a sign-up form on our site,” says Andre Oentoro of Milkwhale. “We place these in our Resources page because that’s where people are most likely interested in our content.” 

15. Write blog posts 

“One effective strategy is not to have just a store, but to attach a blog to it,” says Nikola Roza of Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined. “Blogs are great promotional tools.

Through blogs, you can get traffic that you can then funnel to your store and pick up links that’ll boost the rankings of your crucial product pages.

Finally, you can build your list with a blog. Offer content upgrades on each post that ranks and get people to sign up.

Later you can promote products from your store to your subs.

This roundabout path is actually the fastest way of building an email list for your only store. Because no one wants to subscribe to yet another store just so they can buy online. Why should they when they can go to Amazon?

However, Amazon doesn’t do real content and that’s your chance to woo readers and convert them into customers.” 

Dimitris Tsapis of Coara adds, “You need to populate your blog with content and optimize it for SEO. This will generate a steady inflow of awareness-stage customers (top-funnel) that you can later convert into leads.

Once you have at least 1000 recurring monthly visitors, create a lead magnet by taking bits and pieces from all your earlier blog posts. This one needs to be very valuable for your target audience and preferably with a touch of graphic design (we use Canva). For online stores, you can also offer a discount for the next purchase.

Once the lead magnet is ready, place email opt-in boxes throughout your website with a strong call to action. We add a pop-up box to our main page and inline opt-in boxes to all our blog posts to not disturb readability.

At this point, you will start collecting email addresses, as your audience shows interest in the lead magnet. Start creating a value-packed newsletter from the very first subscriber and keep it up as your list grows. Note that you can also automate the process using email drip campaigns if you are too busy to write an email on a regular basis.

In our experience with online stores (but this highly depends on the industry), you can expect to see a 2%-5% conversion rate (visitors turning into subscribers).” 

Related: 23 Copywriting Tips for Improving the Effectiveness of Your Website

16. Survey your visitors 

“One effective strategy for building an email list is to ask your audience to participate in a survey,” says Max Whiteside of BarBend.com. “Identify a hot topic that is relevant to your audience and ask for their feedback. I recently executed this strategy to gain insights into what women are experiencing pertaining to being harassed at the gym.

I partnered with an influencer who posted a link to the survey in her stories. To participate in the survey women were required to provide a valid email address. Within 24 hours I had acquired 1,000 responses. Boom, brand new, extremely targeted, email list!” 

17. Implement split-testing

“A good “low hanging fruit” strategy that requires $0 investment is to capitalize on your existing website traffic,” says Sasha Matviienko of Boost Shop. “It’s a must-have, no matter what other strategies you use.

I recommend adding a simple, inline webform and implementing an A/B test to determine a Call to Action that works best. This approach is proven to work for smaller eCommerce stores as well as well-established brands.” 

(RECAP) Ecommerce List Building Best Practices

To recap, building an email list isn’t rocket science. It does require an email marketing strategy, focus, consistency, and patience.

Here are some best practices to implement: 

  • Choose your email marketing software 
  • Create an irresistible offer for why someone should join your list. This could be a giveaway, a contest, a discount on a specific product(s), an ebook, offering to teach them something for free, etc.   
  • Add a sign-up form 
  • Experiment sparingly with entrance and exit-based pop-ups.
  • Track and analyze your results on a regular basis

However, if you are just starting out and don’t have millions of dollars to invest in marketing to grow your list, you aren’t going to go from “0” to “50,000” subscribers overnight (or in 3 months) contrary to what that “guru” might have promised you.

Like many things, building a list happens slowly and the value compounds over time.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.

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