How to Pick an E-mail Marketing Service For Your E-commerce Store

E-mail marketing services for e-commerce

E-mail marketing has come a long way from the old days of plain text mails. Of course, plain text is still around and many marketers prefer to stick to it, but now you’ve also got the option of crafting beautiful HTML e-mails. E-mail marketing services have popped up, offering features like list management, subscriptions forms and autoresponder sequences. With today’s technology, you can actually set it and forget it, and your e-mail will still be working for you a year from now.

If you haven’t started with e-mail marketing yet, or you don’t know what it’s all about, check out this article we wrote previously for a quick run down on The What, How and Why of E-mail Marketing.

If you’re at the point where you’ve decided you want to start your e-mail marketing campaign, then the first thing you need to do is pick an e-mail marketing service. We recommend MailChimp or Constant Contact, but there are just so many out there. It’s tough to know which one to select right at the start. You can always just pick one and switch to another solution later if you’re not happy.

For example, Mailchimp is free for the first 2,000 subscribers, but this option doesn’t have all the features. You can start out with them and then upgrade or switch to another solution once you cross 2,000 subscribers. The drawback of doing this is you’ll have to go through the hassle of transfering subscriber lists, changing signup forms and switching integrations at a later point.

Or you could pick the right software from the start. With so many options to choose from, we’ve created a guide to help you make the right decision. Here are the important factors you need to take into consideration to make your decision.

Reliability

You want to be able to depend on your e-mail marketing service to ensure that your e-mails are sent to and received by your subscribers. A great e-mail will only work if it’s actually read by someone.

Uptime

This is an important factor in determining reliability. When an e-mail software’s server goes down you can’t send any e-mails. This is bad if you have an automated schedule because your subscribers are expecting something from you and it reflects poorly on you if you don’t deliver. The worst cases are when downtime occurs during big shopping holidays. You can’t notify your subscribers of promotions and discounts and you could miss out on a lot of sales. Check if the service has an uptime guarantee. Many services have uptimes over 99.99% and they also offer rebates and cash back for any downtime.

Deliverability

This is the number of e-mails that actually reach your subscribers’ inboxes. There are times when e-mails are blocked by spam filters or for other technical reasons. Apart from the obvious drawbacks of your e-mails not being read, it could also damage your reputation. Make sure that the e-mail marketing service ensures deliverability and that they constantly monitor and maintain it.

Usability

A good e-mail marketing service will have a backend and dashboard from where you can set up, control and monitor your campaigns. A clunky interface with limited features will hamper your e-mail marketing campaigns. You’ll soon get frustrated and be on the market again for another software.

Ease of Use

An easy to set up and use interface is a must have. If there’s a steep learning curve, or if the user experience is poorly designed, you’re likely to get discouraged and turned off. Crafting captivating e-mails takes effort and you don’t want the interface making things harder. Also, in this day and age, speed is essential and you’ll need to be able to quickly take advantage of new opportunities that spring up and respond to them.

Most e-mail marketing services have a trial period where you can test it out. Check out if it’s quick and easy to start and create campaigns and to access and use the various features of the software. The most important part is designing the e-mails. A sleek drag-and-drop UI is what you should be looking for here.

Scalability

You’re probably going to stick around with your e-mail marketing service for a while, so you want to make sure they can scale with you as your business grows. See if the service provider places a cap on the number of subscribers or e-mails you can send out. Many providers have pricing plans that change according to the number of subscribers in your lists. You’ll probably be starting out with only a handful of subscribers, so you don’t want to be paying too much until you grow.

Features

You’ll find that different services usually provide the same, if not similar, features. There are some differences that might matter to you. For example, some give you access to all features across all price tiers, while others only unlock them for you at higher tiers. Some also have in-built features while others might require a third-party integration. Decide what features you absolutely must have and see if those are included in all the price plans. For example, as an e-commerce store, HTML e-mails are a must have, but autoresponders are not really necessary.

Integrations

Third-party integrations with your e-mail marketing service allow you to automate the tedious parts of your campaign. You don’t want to spend time transfering contact information from your website or manually keeping track of social sharing.

Social Media

This is where the real growth happens. If you’re sending out informational or promotional e-mails about your products, you want people to share that with their friends. Having integrations with social media accounts will allow subscribers to share your content directly from the e-mail. Imagine sending out a discount for a popular item, say a designer handbag. Wouldn’t your customers want to share that with their friends? Allowing them to tweet a discount, pin a product or share on Facebook right from the e-mail is the best way to do it.

Website

Whether you’re using a CMS, a custom-built site or a hosted e-commerce solution, your e-mail marketing service must have the means to integrate with your site. Information about your customers needs to be passed on seamlessly, from your site to the software service. You should also be able to automatically organize contacts based on how they came into your system. Are they just subscribers to your blog, or did you get their information through the cart checkout?

Other

Many services also have integrations with various other applications. You may be using a CRM like Salesforce, Zendesk or Freshbooks. In that case, you can automatically sync data between your CRM and your e-mail service with an integration. Some services also allow you to integrate your products from eBay, Etsy or Amazon. Survey integrations are also a nice feature if you’re looking to collect feedback from your customers.

API

Some services have an API that allows you to build your own integrations if one isn’t already available. If you have a team of developers, you can use this to squeeze out more from your service provider.

Analytics

Just as analytics are important for your website, so too are they important for tracking your marketing campaigns and measuring performance. Don’t sit blind after you send out e-mails. Make sure the e-mail marketing service has the right tools to track and test e-mails.

Tracking

A good e-mail marketing service should provide you with tools to track statistics such as deliverability, open rates, engagement and so on. Knowing how many subscribers actually open your e-mails and how long your mails stay open helps to determine how effective your campaign is. If you’re sending out products in your HTML e-mails, you can track how many people click on those products and determine which ones perform the best. You should also be able to track if your mails are being shared and through which channels.

Testing

Testing tools allow you to optimize your e-mails. Just collecting statistics is not enough if you can’t do anything about them. Many services have in-built A/B testing tools where you can create split tests of e-mail subject lines and copy and see which variant works best. You can also test delivery times and schedule e-mails when they’re most likely to be opened.

Reporting

This is the third piece of the analytics triumvirate. Good reporting tools display your tracking statistics and test data in a visually appealing and actionable manner. Custom reports allow you to pick out the numbers you care about most. Also check if the software allows you to export your reports to other applications. If you’re an Excel junkie this might be useful.

Customer Service

Poor customer service is always frustrating. These days, companies know the importance of customer service so most service providers have an outstanding support team. Customer support reps need to be fast and knowledgeable. Check if the service provider offers call support in their payment plans and at what times their customer service centers are open. Many service providers also send you informational e-mails and blog posts on how to start and manage your e-mail campaigns. You should also be able to find learning materials and tutorials on the site for each feature.

Security

Security is the final factor to consider. Your data and, more importantly, your subscribers’ data is safe with most service providers, but if you’re really paranoid you can ask the service provider what steps they’ve taken to protect your information. This will also be a chance to test how good their customer support is.

Hopefully you’ll now have a good idea of what to look out for when you select an e-mail marketing service for your e-commerce store. There might be other factors but these are the most important. You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned pricing. Every provider has a different pricing plan, and you as a store owner have a unique budget. Obviously you want to spend the least amount and get the most out of it at the same time. When comparing different services or different pricing tiers, take into account all these factors to help make your decision.

What service do you use? We’re going to build the ultimate list of e-mail marketing services so pitch in and help us with it!

 

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3 Comments

  • Jeremy

    Reply Reply April 2, 2014

    Nice guide. I’ve been trying a few different ones and ended up picking Constant Contact.

  • Vatsan

    Reply Reply September 20, 2014

    Siddharth,

    I really like how you have set up the subscription forms on your blog.

    Could you let us know what email marketing provider you are using?
    Also, what have you used to the subscription forms (the box after the content)?

    Thanks in advance.
    Vatsan

    • Sid

      Reply Reply September 25, 2014

      Hi Vatsan,
      Thanks for reading! I use Mailchimp as my service provider and OptinSkin and SumoMe for the subscription boxes and popups.

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