In my humble opinion, CRM should be the backbone of your business. CRM, or customer relationship management, is what saves you from having to constantly fight the battle of acquiring new customers because it helps you retain existing customers and get those repeat purchases up.
So if you haven’t yet leveled up on your CRM and retention strategy, this is for you! We’ll break down what ecommerce CRM is and some best practices around CRM strategy, including email, SMS, subscription, and CX management.
Great question, because it means different things to different people. We all know what ecommerce is, but first, CRM stands for customer relationship management. It’s the process you have in place for your business that manages and analyzes the interaction you have with your customers and vice versa. This process includes the various communication channels and touchpoints between your brand and your customers.
We’ll get in-depth about what these communication channels are and best practices around them, including best-in-class tools to use for Shopify stores.
I’m probably biased because I’m an email nerd and really learned a lot about CRM ecommerce through email strategy, but email is NOT dead. In fact, it’s a channel that should make up about 20% of your ecommerce business, and if you do it right, it’s an extremely fruitful revenue driver.
The big buzzword around email and CRM in general is probably segmentation. We hear it all the time, “Send that campaign to a segment! Let’s create a segment of people who bought this white t-shirt in the last 60 days!”
First, what does it mean to segment? When you segment your customer list, you’re creating a subgroup of customers based on specific behaviors they’ve taken—email interactions, order history, browsing history, demographics (where someone lives), LTV, etc.
The possibilities are endless with segmentations but segments need to be purposeful. A good rule of thumb is to have a clean list (the first segment example) for your general email campaign sends. A healthy open rate is around 20–30%, depending on whether you’re factoring in Apple Mail users (Apple Mail automatically “opens” emails), so adjust your clean list accordingly. If your average open rate with a 90-day open segment is 40%, open up your email sends to a 120-day open segment. If you have a smaller list, it’s safer to send it to your full email list without risking a low open rate, but as your list grows, you’ll see open rates decline as you send to a full list or a larger segment.
For more targeted campaigns, you’ll need to segment more specifically around the purpose and goal of your email. For example, if you’re a clothing brand and launching a new colorway of your most popular t-shirt, you could send your first email campaign to a segment of customers who have already bought that t-shirt at least two times that feels exclusive to them (e.g. “first look, first dibs”). Then you can do another send to your clean segment (or maybe even your full list), excluding that exclusive segment of existing t-shirt purchasers.
Bottom line is, it is definitely important to segment but don’t overdo it. Segmenting every single campaign and only limiting yourself to a small batch of your email subscribers opens you up to potentially losing out on revenue you could be generating from sending to a larger segment that would’ve also been interested in your email. But don’t let that point scare you from segmenting your email campaigns since targeted communication performs better on opens, clicks, conversions, and long-term customer relationships (you want a lifelong partner, not a sneaky link or a situationship).
All anyone ever talks about is optimization. “Optimize this, optimize that.” The path to optimizing anything is testing. It’s one of those “you won’t know unless you try it” things. When you’re growing your list, you don’t really know who they are, what they like, when they’re checking their emails. That’s why A/B testing should be an active component of your ecommerce CRM strategy. As your list grows and months and years pass, behaviors shift with the seasons.
Just like you may have content buckets for your emails or ads, create buckets for testing—creative, subject line, cadence—then run one test per bucket per quarter. This helps you to stay organized and run a good number of tests to gain solid insights around them. One creative test isn’t enough for that to be the end all be all. Run at least 3 around the same variables to be sure.
Here are some examples of test you can run around each bucket:
Don’t A/B test every single email since you need to continue understanding your baseline KPIs, but make sure to A/B test at least 3 emails per test so you know whether that one significant test was a fluke or for real. Then apply your learnings to emails in the following quarter, while running another set of tests.
Think of email as king and SMS as queen in your ecommerce CRM structure. They work together but email usually comes first for a few reasons—it’s cheaper and people are more prone to giving you their email than their phone number. You can also do more with your branding and creative in an email than you can in texts. BUT SMS is usually more cost-effective. Open rates are 98% vs 20%. Just think about how often you look at your texts and open them (unless you’re one of those psychos who have 100 unread texts). Because SMS is a much more intimate channel, you need to treat it as such and make sure each text you blast is worth the open.
Many people will think “Oh I can just send a text of this email I just sent so it’s content recycling.” Yes, to an extent. Please, please, please do not send a text for every email campaign. There’s no faster way to skyrocket your unsubscribe rates than doing this. SMS should not only complement your most important emails but nurture your most important customers.
For example, SMS subscribers can get first dibs on new product drops or sales. So, whenever you have a big launch or a sale, shoot your customers as text first. Then email can follow when you send it to the masses.
Just like email, make sure you’re running A/B tests on SMS too around creative/copy and cadence. Cadence tests can be very similar, but here are some creative and copy tests for SMS:
You might be surprised at the results—sometimes, more isn’t always more. And if shorter, simpler texts without images or emojis resonates with your audience more, then cheers to you, you’re generating more revenue while saving on costs.
Sometimes, it’s scary to think about how many subscriptions we pay for in our lives—streaming services, music, gym memberships, coffee pods (or matcha), supplements… the list goes on. Although we live in a more subscription-based world, brands are also highly susceptible to churn if they aren’t providing the premium product and service that people expect. Let me repeat AND SERVICE. People aren’t just paying for good products anymore. They want exceptional subscription management experiences and customer service. Subscription is a trickier part of ecommerce CRM to manage, but with the right tools and foundation, you have it in the bag. So how can you provide that to increase retention and reduce churn?
People pay for a premium service to feel special, to feel that exclusivity that those who aren’t paying for it can’t experience. An easy way to execute that is to give your subscribers “surprise and delights.” These are unexpected gifts with their subscription order as a “thank you” for being a VIP. Retextion built a new-to-market tool called the ExperienceEngine that allows brands to send free or discount products to subscribers on their recurring orders, the most popular instance being send a free product on everyone’s third subscription order. The best part is that you can A/B test the promotion—test promotion vs no promotion or promotion A vs promotion B.
You can also offer first-dib sales and discounts on new products to subscribers. A great example is what A Pup Above did for their subscribers during this Black Friday Cyber Monday. They added subscriber-only products to the customer portal add-on carousel and sent an email with a discount code that subscribers could use to get that product added onto their next subscription order for free. This product was not navigable anywhere on their website and was only available on customers’ subscription portals. Retextion’s customer portal carousel is one of the first things customers see when they log into their portal, so a promotion like that is hard to miss and pass up.
Being on a great subscription platform with its effective tools doesn’t work if you don’t have a good foundation for your subscription program and how you market it to your customers. Ask yourself—is price the only incentive? If the answer is yes, then let’s step back and re-evaluate how you can add more value to a subscription program than just the discount, because that isn’t enough to compete with the market. A few key points that I look for in an effective subscription program are:
Remember what I said earlier—people will stick around if that premium product also comes with a premium service. Make people’s lives easier. That should be the root of your subscription program.
Customer experience, CX, support, whatever you call it, is one of the most important aspects of ecommerce CRM because the relationships you’re managing through a CX platform are usually stemming from a problem these customers have. If customers are reaching out to your support team, it’s likely for a good reason (unless they’re Karens who ask for the manager as a hobby). Sometimes it’s painful helping rude customers or having to deliver bad news, but having a set process in place will make the experience easier.
Expectation setting is the name of the game with CX. If you know that there’s no guarantee of responding to customer messages under a certain number of days or hours, make that clear in your auto-responses and add a little buffer time. This is especially important during busy seasons, like the holidays. That being said, it shouldn’t take your team more than 48 hours to answer customer emails on a regular day. Chat should be more heavily supported than email and ideally have a response time of minutes, if you’re a brand, or under a few hours if you’re a vendor.
Now with the customer questions. What happens if you don’t have the answers? What if it’s a technical question that you’re not equipped to answer? First things first, don’t make up an answer or brush it off. They’ll be able to tell. Be honest and tell the customer that you’re looking into it or asking the appropriate team members. We see this with Shopify support all the time—chat support helps where they can, but more often than not, they escalate the issue to their technical team, who is better equipped to help answer your complicated answers. The most important part is to make sure you follow up! Even if you don’t have the answer after a week, it is the CX team’s job to be the advocate for the customer. Push your team to help resolve the issue and regularly follow up with the customer, letting them know that you’re continuing to work towards resolving the issue.
There is nothing more frustrating than having a tech stack that isn’t elite or doesn’t work with each other. You and your customers deserve nothing but the best, so make sure your tech stack screams that too.
A no-brainer for email is Klaviyo. With the deep segmentation tools, analytics and reporting capabilities, automations, and dashboard views, there’s so much to work with and love. My favorite Klaviyo tool is a toss-up between how complexly you can create segments and how intricately you can build automations.
My go-to SMS platform is Postscript. It has what you need with segmenting, integrations, automations, and analytics, all without breaking the bank. It integrates seamlessly with Klaviyo so that’s a plus too. But if you’d prefer to keep everything on one platform, especially for reporting purposes, Klaviyo SMS will also do the job.
The winner for subscription is hands down Retextion. I may be biased, but coming from the agency world, working with a ton of brands on subscription, I’ve seen enough—”I’ve seen what I needed to see, and immediately no.” Retextion is built by marketers who took all the feedback from brands struggling on legacy platforms and applied it into the subscription platform. It’s hard to pick what my favorite feature is but it’s either the intuitive customer portal with the cross-sell product carousel, the ExperienceEngine to run subscriber-only promotions, or subscription filter options on the merchant portal.
Gorgias is another no-brainer. The flows and automations you can set up to tag tickets, assign them to various members, does what you need a support app to do in order to stay organized and efficient. It also integrates with platforms like Retextion, so when a customer is managing their subscription via SMS and asks to speak to a chatbot, it’ll open a ticket and kick right over to Gorgias!
If you’re reading this and you’re not using Triple Whale for your attribution platform, let’s change that immediately. Triple Whale pulls performance from all your major channels into one view and gives you valuable performance metrics like lifetime value (LTV). They make it easy for you to track performance through the funnel. In today’s era where it’s all about privacy and attribution gets blurred, Triple Whale is a marketer’s dream.
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