Lifecycle Email Marketing Lessons From Zappos

  |  July 12, 2011   |  Comments

Empower customers to receive relevant email messages based on activities that they perform on your site.

Zappos is known for putting its customers first. Not only do Zappos' customers get free overnight shipping on all purchases and returns, its call center is also staffed with passionate in-house representatives who are empowered to take as much time and whatever tactics necessary to make their customers happy. And this customer-centric approach also extends to its email marketing efforts.

By embracing lifecycle email marketing, Zappos empowers customers to receive relevant email messages based on activities that they perform on the site. In this manner, Zappos gives the customer control over what they want to receive, instead of solely relying on marketing-initiated batch-and-blast newsletters and promotions.


Triggering messages based on lifecycle events may sound daunting, but the rewards are great - both in increased conversions and customer satisfaction. While welcome programs may be the most popular lifecycle marketing programs, according to my company's recent "2011 Lifecycle Email Marketing Survey," the data shows that companies could do a better job of taking advantage of cart abandonment, cross/upsell, and post-purchase programs. Done correctly, these programs can generate significant ROI for marketers. Just consider the following two examples from Zappos.

While some marketers might be concerned that a cart-abandonment program could come off as "too creepy," Zappos proves that it's all in the execution. Triggering messages based on customer behavior doesn't have to be immediate. Instead of sending a message immediately after a shopping cart is abandoned, Zappos captures the shopping cart data at time of abandonment and then schedules an abandonment email to be delivered at a set time in the future. By inserting a time delay before the message is sent, Zappos gives the consumer time to return to the cart to complete the purchase before a reminder notice is sent.

By testing response rates, Zappos determined that the right time to send a cart-abandonment message was not right after abandonment, but after a pre-determined number of days of inactivity in the cart. And Zappos' thoughtful approach is paying off. Zappos' abandonment email delivers a conversion rate that is five times higher than any of its other promotional email programs.

With the proper strategy and execution, cart-abandonment programs can be an extremely effective way to increase conversions in a way that actually bolsters customer loyalty. The key is to understand your customer and carefully test messages and timing to maximize response rates. And Zappos' cart-abandonment lifecycle program is just one of several lifecycle marketing programs in its arsenal.

Without question, data integration is key to driving effective lifecycle email marketing programs. In the previous example, Zappos integrates its web analytics system with its email marketing solution to power its cart-abandonment email. In this next example, Zappos is triggering an in-stock email notification based on real-time integration with its inventory management system.

Instead of placing back-orders, Zappos gives its customer the opportunity to request an email alert when their desired pair of shoes or other merchandise becomes available in their size. By putting the customer in control, Zappos improves customer satisfaction and also drives revenue. A program like this does require some planning. In addition to integrating with its inventory management system, this program also integrates with Zappos' subscription management system, which gives the customer the power to make any changes to their email alerts should they no longer wish to receive these alerts, or to modify them in any way.

Once again, Zappos has proven that the investment in well-executed lifecycle marketing programs is worth the effort. Zappos' in-stock notification program is the highest performing email for Zappos, outperforming any other promotional or transactional email by a factor of 15. And the program is 100 percent dynamic, which means that once it's set up, it runs automatically without requiring any marketing involvement beyond testing or updating new copy or creative.

Take a cue from Zappos and consider how you can automate effective lifecycle email marketing programs that are tailored to the types of interactions that customers have with your business. It will require some effort upfront to create the necessary integrations, and a sophisticated email marketing system to automate the programs, but once set up, you'll start reaping the rewards, as the two Zappos case studies above have plainly shown. According to the survey mentioned earlier, half of businesses are currently running lifecycle email marketing programs today, and more than half of those not currently, plan to in the next 24 months. So, now is the time to embark on implementing your own triggered lifecycle marketing program - before your efforts are eclipsed by the competition.

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Tal Nathan

An industry veteran, Tal Nathan has been helping organizations deliver valued and effective email marketing services for more than 10 years. In his role of vice president of client services, Nathan manages all client services for StrongMail to ensure that their respective clients receive the highest level of professional service available in today’s competitive marketplace. Previously, Nathan served as vice president and general manager of client services for Epsilon, where he led online strategy for the company’s top-tier clients, with a focus on the retail, travel and financial verticals. Prior to Epsilon, he was the vice president of client engineering at infoGroup, where he led and managed integration services for its Yesmail division. No stranger to technology, Nathan began his career at BDO Seldman, where he provided a range of business management and technology services to Fortune 500 companies. Nathan holds a BS in mechanical engineering from UCLA.

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