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Encourage Repeat Buying With Replenishment Messages

  |  January 13, 2010   |  Comments

How to deepen your relationship with customers and bring them back for that all-important repeat purchase.

Retailers know the first purchase by a new customer is important, but more important is when that customer comes back for a second and third purchase.

"Replenishment" e-mail messages can help you bring back that customer with relevant messages that relate to the purchase. These are formatted, tested, and scheduled in advance and can be sent out at the point in the product or customer lifecycle when customers would be ripe to buy again, whether the same product, similar, or upgraded products.

Too many e-mail marketers make the mistake, however, of dropping this brand-new customer right into their standard promotional calendar. This can overwhelm a new customer with an unexpected stream of irrelevant messages, which can lead to unsubscribes, spam complaints, or inactivity.

Product Cycles Dictate Replenishment E-mails

Replenishment e-mails are a natural fit when you're selling consumables, such as pet food, beauty products, vitamins, printer ink, computer paper, and the like.

Big-ticket items such as electronics, jewelry, designer apparel, furniture, and luggage have different replenishment cycles. Here, the buyer might not be back in the market for months or even a year or more.

Remember the e-mail relevancy formula: sending the right message to the right subscriber at the right time.

It dictates a welcome or on-boarding program that brings new subscribers in gradually instead of overwhelming them with e-mail from the start.

Once that subscriber becomes a buyer, the e-mail program can include a replenishment reminder that reflects the product's natural lifecycle.

Without this careful segmentation and parsing of the purchase cycle, you can scare off good customers, who will take their second and third purchase potential with them.

The Necklace That Launched an E-mail Barrage

What happens when your e-mail program doesn't recognize the differences between new and repeat customers and differing product lifecycles? Consider my experience this past holiday season.

I bought a necklace for my wife from the online division of a major jewelry retailer. After a great online purchase experience, I opted in during the transactional process to get future offers. I also marked the item as a gift and filled out a gift card online.

The e-mail experience that followed was standard, beginning with an average transactional e-mail (a text message listed my purchase details but didn't cross-promote or upsell). The welcome e-mail two days later offered an incentive off my next purchase and set content expectations, but not frequency.

Those two e-mails appear to represent the only segmentation this company does. I was promptly dropped into the standard promotional calendar, made even worse because I bought on Dec. 1, early in the Christmas shopping season.

So, I was subjected to this retailer's stepped-up frequency for the first three weeks I was a customer. None of these messages reflected my status as a buyer until Dec. 31, when I received a discount offer off my next purchase.

This barrage of irrelevant e-mails implied the company wanted me to buy more jewelry before I even gave the necklace to my wife and was able to judge her reaction. What if she had hated it or I had lost it before I could give it to her? Any future e-mails from this company would be painful reminders of failure.

How to Fix the Problems

This unimpressive e-mail program offers you several lessons on how to avoid the same mistakes:

  1. Warm up both prospects and new customers gradually. Your prospects' program would be designed to move them gradually from prospect to buyer, while the new customer welcome program would reinforce the purchase and encourage repeat buying.

  2. Match replenishment e-mails to the product cycle. Yes, this means creating unique automated messages for different product categories, but the higher return on these messages will justify the time spent setting them up. Consumable products will have a shorter cycle than big-ticket or highly seasonal items, like sports equipment.

  3. Use customer profiles to tailor a more personalized effort. Had I been given this option, I could have chosen frequency, indicated I was buying for others, not myself, the kind of jewelry I was interested in receiving offers about, and maybe even set up birthday and anniversary reminders.

  4. Use the data you collect through the subscription or buying process to refine messaging. This is really my biggest beef with this company. I created a data point using the company's own form to indicate that my purchase was a gift. This means my purchase should have been treated differently from something I would have bought for myself.

Also, this company should have plenty of data on who buys its jewelry and when, making it a prime candidate for a sophisticated segmentation program. None of that was apparent in its messages to me. Consider repeat programs around major gift giving holidays and reduce the regular frequency to somebody who just made a big ticket sale and most likely won't make another one tomorrow.

Final Thought: Take the Time

Aggressive messaging might look good to your bosses, especially if their mantra is "send more e-mail." Taking the time to create a more personalized program, using information you solicit from your customers and which you already collect through the opt-in and purchase process will help you create more relevant messages.

These can deepen your relationship with your customers and bring them back for that all-important repeat purchase.


Stefan Pollard

Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.

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