EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 377 - April 12, 2015 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 6

You Won't Believe How Stories Can Attract Customer Clicks

By Greg Holden

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Sometimes, the best things start with the word "Oops."

"I hadn't meant to send out a newsletter so soon after the previous one," says Susan Smith, founder and president of LooptyHoops, a Philadelphia-based ecommerce store. "It was right before Black Friday and I wanted to offer my customers some special deals."

The "Oops" subject line she put in the next newsletter to explain why customers got the previous one so soon got the highest rate of "opens" by recipients of any newsletter Smith ever sent: 66 percent. Most of the newsletters she sends to 600 subscribers get a 28 percent open rate, which isn't too shabby either.

The key, she says, is to tell a story and to be honest when you make a mistake. It all builds trust, return visits, and purchases.

Smith's blog and newsletter are sprinkled with personal details and stories. She knows the value of engaging customers on a one-to-one basis. She's gotten good results from her communications and was willing to share some tips from her years of doing business.

Tip #1: Get Personal
"For 20 years I had several brick-and-mortar stores, and I learned that people buy from sellers who they know and trust," she says. "The way to build trust is to help them get to know you. On top of that they like buying from someone they have a personal relationship with. That's why I like to tell personal stories."

The stories Smith shares in her email newsletters aren't always about jewelry in general or the hoop earrings in which she specializes. She once told a story about a reunion of friends at the farmhouse in which she grew up to illustrate the importance ongoing friendships. Even when the subject is earrings, she weaves in a narrative. "Once, I was with a friend of mine and going through a department store, and I saw a whole bunch of hoop earrings..." she began. The subject line of the newsletter that contained this story was: "Can you believe the price differences?" That leads to her next tip:

Tip #2: Write a Good Subject Line
"The subject line has to be intriguing," said Smith. "It should be something with the "You" view. Instead of saying "me me me," it's better to say you can get a great selection, or you can fill your wardrobe."

A subject line that got results: "My Jewelry was Stolen this Weekend." "I explained step by step about how it happened at the airport," Smith explains. "I linked to insurance companies and explained what readers should do in that situation. I also contacted those companies and asked if they would post my blog post on their site."

Tip #3: Educate Readers
You build trust when you share your expertise with customers. The "price differences" story had educational value as well as story value, Smith says. "I was dismayed, but shocked at the prices I saw in the department store. I posted a photo of what was being sold there. I said this was an alarming price strategy. You can keep your markup low when you sell online, and still make good margins. To make your newsletters interesting, they should be educational or informational. Make them interesting instead of simply soliciting customers over and over again."

Customers aren't curious about your upcoming sale, she adds. Tell them about the top three colors for the season, rather than "these are the top three colors we have."

Tip #4: Have a Niche
"I figured if I wanted to have a business where I didn't hear the customer say no, I had to be on the Internet," says Smith. "I wanted to have a niche. I had jewelry, and I thought of earrings, but there was tons of competition. I settled on hoops."

Tip #5: Remember the Customer Is Always Right
This old saying was recently proven true for Smith. "I was driving home and I got a call from a client who said she had gotten the wrong earrings in her order. I said, "Oh, it must be an error." I could have been defensive and said, "That's not like us, I'll have to check with my people." But because I apologized, the situation was diffused, and she immediately changed her attitude. She said, "Okay, everybody makes errors, that's fine." Later, she wrote me to say she did order those earrings by mistake."

The customer kept the earrings and placed another order because she was so satisfied with Smith's level of service.

Tip #6: Try Guerilla Marketing
Smith says she spends as little as possible on marketing and does her own SEO. "Recently I sent out 300 high-quality polishing cloths to my top 300 clients with my logo on it. I wanted to give them something that would be helpful." While she didn't get any measurable response, she said there was brand awareness that came from sending it out and keeping her name in front of customers.

She's not afraid to try new things. She also does everything she can to make links and have other websites like to hers.

Tip #7: Ask Questions
To encourage newsletter readers to engage with you, ask questions such as "What is your favorite holiday tradition," she says. "It makes them fill in the blank or answer the question themselves."

Smith uses the free version of the email program MailChimp to send out newsletters at least once a month to twice a week during the holidays. She divides subscribers by gender: "Sometimes I want to write the men about giving a gift for a woman," for instance.

When to send out? She sends out her newsletters on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. to catch the attention of those coming back from lunch and checking their email. "A lot of people on my list have business addresses, so I am more inclined to send during the week."

Bonus Tip: Add a Postscript
Always add a P.S. to your communications, Smith adds. "People always read the first line and the P.S., so always have one that hits the point of your newsletter."

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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