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Newsletter Retargeting 101: How to Capture Would-Be Customers Using Emails

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The truth about ecommerce is that it’s a numbers game.

While the quality of your products and the layout of your pages are important, 92% of first-time visitors to your site aren’t there to make a purchase, regardless of how alluring the experience:

Via Episerver

The goal, then, is to get them to come back.

If someone has already left your site, it can be difficult to get them to come back. It’s not like you can reach through their screen and type your domain name on their keyboard. This is where retargeting comes in.

Retargeting is based around the marketing Rule of 7: A prospective customer needs to hear your message at least seven times before they decide to buy from you.

This rule dates back nearly a century, but it’s getting more difficult for brands to get their message across to shoppers amidst the noise of the internet.

To retarget a customer is to continue to get your name in front of them after they leave your site, via ads on different pages, on social media networks, and in their email inbox. The latter method is known as email or newsletter retargeting.

What is email retargeting? How does it work? And how can you use it to capture customers that you thought you’d already lost — as well as re-engage shoppers who abandoned their shopping carts, browsed your digital shelves, or even made a purchase from you but hasn’t been back in awhile?

Let’s run down what every ecommerce business owner should know about retargeting.

What is email retargeting?

The process of retargeting a customer can begin in a number of places, from your website to their inbox.

Generally speaking, to retarget a customer, you place a line of retargeting code on your website. When users access your page, they are tagged via what’s called a “browser cookie”. These cookies help identify users as they move across the web, which is why you may see ads for a product on all kinds of websites after you search for it just once.

Email retargeting works much the same way: That targeting code lives within an email that you send to a subscriber, who will then be served ads about your business, or a specific product, as they surf the web. They’ll receive that email because they signed up for your newsletter, or for a discount code—displaying interest in shopping with you.

That code identifies the customer as they move throughout the web, serving them advertisements to induce them to return to your site. These ads can target certain demographics or to appear within certain contexts, so all of your ads are relevant and cost less overall.

Now, one automated email may be enough to remind someone to return to your page and complete their order. If not, however, these retargeting ads can keep your business top-of-mind—and do so without bombarding customers, assuredly encouraging them to unsubscribe and end their email relationship with you for good.

Email marketing boasts an incredibly high return on investment, and a well-timed and well-placed email can turn reticent new browsers into first-time customers, or old customers into consistent buyers. Retargeting lets other parts of the web work for you and help convince shoppers to come back to you when they’re ready to become buyers.

What are some examples of email retargeting?

Now that we know what email retargeting is, let’s discuss what it can do for you.

Businesses retarget people in a variety of circumstances, with a variety of desired outcomes. You can retarget someone who has never purchased from you before, as well as someone who has bought from you but hasn’t visited in awhile. You might want to get them to buy a certain product they’ve been eyeing, or simply to return to the site to keep browsing new releases.

1. Product retargeting.

Product retargeting is one of the most common types of retargeting. If you want to make a big push for a shopper to buy a certain product — either because it’s new to the market, you’re having a sale, or you see that it resonates with their purchase history — this is the method you should use.

For example, Mailchimp has a product retargeting tool that helps businesses promote new or best sellers: It tracks who among your subscribers clicks on select products through your email newsletter — and if they don’t complete a purchase in that session, they’ll get an automated follow-up email with more information about that product, encouraging them to buy.

The tool allows you to make choices about how long after their initial click-through they’ll get a follow-up email.

Should they get that follow-up within an hour, a day, or a week of visiting your site? The Mailchimp tool is smart as well, and won’t send additional abandoned cart emails so your customer won’t feel inundated.

2. Abandoned cart retargeting.

We’ve all been there: We see a product we like, we add it to our shopping cart, and — we don’t buy it.

Maybe we get cold feet when we see the total cost of taxes and shipping.

Maybe we get distracted and plan to finish the purchase, but never do.

Cart abandonment rates vary across the web, but the average cart abandonment rate is about 70%, according to an analysis of 40 different site rates by Baymard Institute.

That means about three in every four shoppers start making a purchase but stop short of handing over their money.

Baymard went on to survey why people abandon their carts. The reasons ranged from sticker shock at extra costs (55%), to a long and complicated check-out process (26%) to not trusting the site with their credit card information (17%).

Via Baymard Institute

You’ll want to take steps to reduce your shopping cart abandonment rate — allowing for guest check-out, offering free shipping, showing security badges — but you can also send an abandonment retargeting email.

Let customers know that they’re this close to making a great purchase, and encourage them to close the deal. You can offer to cover their shipping charges, extend a future discount, or simply ping them to remind them to click “Order Now.”

Via Revelry

If a customer came to your page via a newsletter, you’ll already have their contact information to send a follow-up.

You can also make an effort to collect email addresses early on in the check-out process, so you can get in touch even if the shopper bails before purchasing.

3. Inactive visitor retargeting.

Attracting new customers feels vitally important to businesses — and it is.

But encouraging one-time buyers to become loyal customers is actually more lucrative and a better use of resources: It cost five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, and you typically make more money off of selling to existing customers as well.

If a customer hasn’t visited your site in awhile, however, they’ll start to feel like lost customers. Retargeting can also be used to re-engage these shoppers, reminding them of your value and quality.

Send a welcome back email or other reminder to now-inactive customers, encouraging them to click through and explore what new items and resources you have in stock for them.

Via Beer Cartel

Acknowledging their past as a previous customer is an important part of this process: You’re a known quantity to them. They shouldn’t have to worry about security, quality, or value when shopping with you now.

This would also be a good time for a free gift, small discount, or other sign of appreciation for their business as well.

4. Upsell retargeting.

A customer who recently made a purchase can also be retargeted.

In some ways, it can be even easier to retarget a recent customer. You have fresh information on what is top-of-mind for them, and what kinds of products may go well with or otherwise complement their recent purchase.

Upselling through retargeting works much the same way as other retargeting efforts. You can set an email to send out to recent buyers with a list of top-selling related products, tracking them if they seem interested and click-through to your site. You can then set them on the same track as other “product retargeting” subscribers if they express an interest in a particular item.

Again, acknowledging that these are already existing customers can be a huge benefit. Consider offering repeat customers a loyalty discount to strengthen your bond and keep them coming back without the need for future marketing efforts. You can eventually exclude them from retargeting altogether, saving your marketing dollars for other candidates.

What are some best practices to follow when retargeting?

Just as with any sort of marketing campaign, your retargeting efforts should be a good use of your time and money. You’ll want to follow some best practices when beginning to retarget customers, so as not to blow your budget on people you should be excluding.

Here’s what you should do to create the most effective retargeting campaigns:

1. Always collect data.

Your email subscriber list is the foundation of your email retargeting. Therefore, take every opportunity you can to collect visitor email addresses. Create pop-ups with discounts on first-time purchases that encourage visitors to input their email addresses right away; make email addresses one of the first pieces of information you ask for during check-out.

If your customers don’t give your email address, you can’t email them.

Additionally, regularly monitor and scrub your email list of bad email addresses and bounces so you aren’t wasting money sending emails to nobody.

2. Write compelling emails and subject lines.

The question of how to create clickable email newsletter subject lines, and how to write good copy in your emails, is an article in itself.

Suffice to say, the second most important piece of the retargeting puzzle — after collecting email addresses — is getting people to click and read.

Segment your emails, A/B test your subject lines, and use all the tools at your disposal from your email newsletter platform to induce clicks. See below for an example of a clickable email subject line in a retargeting effort.

Via MailChimp

3. Move quickly on abandoned carts.

Most retargeting efforts to recently engaged customers should occur within a 30-day “lookback” window. In fact, abandoned cart retargeting should typically happen within an hour or so of the cart being abandoned.

Keep your business and their transaction fresh in their minds and you’re more likely to get a completed purchase.

4. Provide precise CTAs in your follow-ups.

Good email marketing policy is to provide one clear call-to-action, or CTA, in each email to a customer. If you send a customer a retargeting email with the hope of getting them to complete their abandoned cart purchase, or to buy a related item, then you should make that CTA extremely clear.

Don’t hide your true purpose in among the latest news or survey questions or other offers: Get down to it immediately.

5. Send image-based emails.

A good way to hold yourself to a “precise CTA” standard while also providing eye-catching email content is to keep your retargeting efforts simple: Send image-based emails rather than text-based emails. Be sure to add “alt-text” to your images, so subscribers who don’t allow images to load in their emails will understand what you’re trying to show them.

You’ll be forced to contain your CTA to a few choice words, while getting your point across to visitors that they should return to your site to complete their order, or to get a great deal on a hot seller.

Via Skullcandy

6. Maintain oversight of where and how your ads appear.

Most reputable services that help you serve retargeting ads won’t serve your ads to questionable domains, or serve it to customers with such frequency that they become overwhelmed or annoyed by your offering.

Still, it’s good policy to maintain control over your ad retargeting, ensuring that they are deployed effectively. If you start receiving negative feedback or drop offs in repeat business, it’s time to reexamine your retargeting platform.

7. Stop retargeting once your mission is complete.

Little is more frustrating to a customer than making a purchase, only to continue seeing advertisements and emails about that product show up throughout their internet browsing experience.

Exclude converted users from your campaigns, which will spare your customers and save you money — or, move them into a different track that involves cross-selling or upselling.

Also, avoid using multiple retargeting providers to avoid mixed messages to customers.


Email retargeting is a powerful tool for turning what might have otherwise been lost customers into new and recurring business. And recurring business is better business: According to BI Intelligence, new online shoppers are only half as likely as returning customers to place an item in their cart.

As a business owner, your job is always to minimize costs while boosting profits — and retargeting, when done effectively, uses some of digital marketing’s most efficient tools to make the biggest financial impact.

Start making a bigger digital impact with retargeting, and see how well it can work for you.

Eric Goldschein avatar

Eric Goldschein is a staff writer at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions such as business loans. He covers entrepreneurship, small business trends, finance, and marketing.