Retailers have a bad habit of avoiding what makes them uncomfortable. Top of that list? Email acquisition. 

Chances are your sales staff are reluctant to ask for customer’s emails. Maybe they feel like it’s invasive, or perhaps it strikes them as an unnecessary step in a lengthy list of checkout procedures. 

There’s also a good chance that you, as a manager, leader, or owner, are also uncomfortable asking for customer’s emails. If your business is primarily brick-and-mortar, maybe capturing emails feels like a task best left to those with online marketplaces. Maybe you’re planning to target customers via social media instead. And maybe, like your sales associates, it’s a question that just makes you uncomfortable, so you avoid asking it and dodge the instruction that your employees should do so, too. 

If that’s the case, boy, are you making a mistake.

Email acquisition should be a priority for every brick-and-mortar retailer, regardless of your size, market, location, online capacity, or any other factor. In its simplest terms, email provides more opportunities to sell your products to customers, increases brand awareness and retention, and builds a strong relationship with your customers. It’s the most valuable marketing channel available, it’s your primary form of communication with customers, and it’s a direct line for feedback. 

We don’t use the term “most valuable” lightly. According to a study by VentureBeat, email marketing’s ROI is higher than social media, paid search, TV, and radio. For marketers using personalization and segmentation, that ROI is even higher.

It’s tempting to engage with customers via social media instead of email, avoiding that awkward question entirely, but it’s just not as effective. For one, your potential audience is multiple times larger via email: there are 1.35 billion Facebook users, but more than 4 billion email accounts worldwide—that’s 3x the reach. Plus, you access a greater age range of customers via email, since the percentage of users drops dramatically on social media after 50. 

Second, you have virtually no control over your audience on social media. If you publish an ad via Facebook, that company and its algorithms completely dictate who your post is presented to. Email, on the other hand, delivers your content directly to your specific audience. Plus, you retain no ownership over your followers on social media, so if you leave the platform, you lose your audience entirely. But with emails, even if you gather them via an online platform, you can export those contacts when you leave. To top it off, studies show that customers actually prefer to receive promotional content via email: 72% chose email over social media. 

Email marketing is an incredibly flexible and adaptable tool for communicating with your customers. You can use the channel to communicate with your fans about new products, company updates, sales and promotions, product advice, events and workshops, how-tos (proving your expertise), employee profiles, and so much more. When they’re well-designed and the content is actually useful, you add value to your customer’s inbox and increase their trust in and respect for your brand. Effective email communication doesn’t just drive sales, it builds a relationship with your customers. 

It’s also worth noting that email communication can go both ways. It’s a platform through which you can not only inform your customers about your store, they can inform you about your store. Through programs like Net Promoter Score (listen to our podcast about it here), a customer’s email is a direct channel to their honest feedback. You can also use emails to ask questions about product direction, customer experience, and more. 

If you’re still worried about how to ask for emails, don’t be. There are a number of easy ways to encourage customers to sign up that aren’t awkward at all: 

  1. Add an Incentive.
    Incentivizing sign-up is a sure fire way to increase the customer’s likelihood to give you their email. It doesn’t have to be anything big; a discount code, coupon, or a chance to win a prize from your inventory are enough to assuage their doubts. 
  2. Add a Subscribe Form.
    Whether you add a pen and paper form to your POS counter or install an iPad with an app like Enlist, you should give your customers the opportunity to share their contact information without even asking. 
  3. Collect Business Cards.
    This is a tried-and-true way to get your customer’s contact information. Set out a fish bowl and a sign that explains the incentive (business cards will be entered into a contest), and you’ll glean dozens of email addresses. 
  4. Start a Loyalty Program.
    “Loyalty Program” is just another word for “incentive.” Offer discounts, exclusive access, and useful communication to those who sign up. Plus, people like to feel like they’re part of a club. 
  5. Comment Cards.
    This one’s doubly effective. Comment cards are a great way to receive feedback on your store and experience, plus adding a line for an email address is a quick way to get them on your list. 
  6. Email Receipts.
    Email receipts are eco-friendly, which makes customers happy—plus they gain you access to their email address. 
  7. Add a Flyer to Their Bag.
    Remind your customers that they can sign up even after they leave your store by adding a flyer with information about your email incentive or loyalty program to their bag or receipt. 
  8. JUST ASK.
    The easiest way to get an email address? ASK. It’s a regular, usually anticipated part of every customer’s checkout experience these days, so the perception that it’s awkward or contrived is completely unfounded. Every employee should be trained on how to incorporate email acquisition into their POS procedures, or even in their regular communication with customers: informing your customers that you offer discounts, sale announcements, or event information via email is actually a good thing, and they’ll appreciate you bringing it up while they’re in store. It should be a standard part of training and customer communication.

No matter how you do it, asking every customer for their email should be a priority for every brick and mortar retailer on the block. Get into people’s inboxes and build a relationship that lasts. 

Comments (2)

Hi, Dan,
In your comments on the reluctance of store employees to ask for email addresses, I have a trick to make it easier. When taking in a repair, we ask lots of personal information. By the time we get past street address, cell phone, etc., the request for email address is approaching the tedious. I ask for email FIRST.

BTW, Emails often give me special information and help to forge a personal relationship with the cust. For instance, if the email is, I could say, “You have aol. Like me, you have been using email for a very long time.” Or, “RBbicycle? You must be a serious rider……” I have seen emails like Chefalba@… (executive chef), canalking@…(endodontist), or (“Gee, I went to Cornell, too…”) Another time the email was name@lawfirm (“Gosh, do you know so-and-so? She works at that lawfirm, too.”)

I don’t often respond to your notices, but I always appreciate hearing from you.
Roger Bergman (Pedal Pusher, NYC)

Love all these thoughts, Roger! Thanks for reading!

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