Use E-Mail to Sell Consumables

The other day I was doing a lot of color printing on my HP digital copier. When the ink in the color cartridge reached a certain level, a message from HP popped up on my screen, offering me instructions on ordering more ink. Wow, is that the ultimate in just-in-time marketing? I didn’t take advantage of the offer because I had plenty of ink in stock, but it got me thinking about the world of consumables and email marketing. After all, if you give away razors you can sell customers the blades.

The HP example is really cool because the message popped up at the exact time I needed to replenish my ink consumable. Of course, messages telling me my software license is about to expire have been around forever. But today, let’s focus on using email to boost sales of consumables, á la HP’s pop-up. I think this is a big idea if implemented correctly.

For example, a customer on your site purchases two cases of copier paper. At checkout, you ask for permission to send a “consumables reminder” to the buyer:

Would you like us to send you a reminder when your paper supply runs low, along with a special savings certificate?

Now you have permission to email, but when do you send the reminder? Unlike HP, which has technology to monitor ink levels, you can’t possibly monitor the paper supply. So, for those who respond “yes” to the question above, ask a second one:

How many reams of paper do you use per month? (Each ream has 500 sheets of paper.)

With average use, you can figure out when to send the reminder message:

  1. The customer bought 2 cases, or 20 reams.
  2. He uses two reams per week.
  3. The purchase will run out in about 10 weeks.
  4. In eight weeks from the delivery date, send a reminder.

Not so hard, right? Now do a little programming to compute the reminder date based on order date, quantity ordered, and usage per period. Schedule an automatic reminder, like the example below (boldfaced items are variables based on the product sold):

Dear Paul:

On November 18, 2004, you ordered two cases of copier paper. Thanks again!

You told us you use two reams a week, so we figured out you might be running low. If you would like to reorder using the link below, we’ll throw in two additional reams — absolutely free — as our way of saying “thanks” for your continued business.

You get the picture. If obtaining usage information like this is difficult, sign up customers for the reminder service and make an educated guess as to when to send reminders. They’ll still promote reordering.

Keep reading…

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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