Definition: Direct mail is a form of marketing where businesses send brochures, postcards, catalogs and other promotion materials to prospects via postal delivery. Despite its brick-and-mortar roots, direct mail has been successfully utilized by ecommerce businesses to drive online sales.

Not dead yet: How ecommerce retailers use direct mail to their advantage

Two of the chief attributes that attract businesses to direct mail is also shared by online advertising: precision targeting and trackable results. Ecommerce marketers depend on social media, pay-per-click ads, search engine optimization and other online platforms to drive traffic, but many are rediscovering the benefits of using a terrestrial channel like direct mail as well.

The Direct Mail Association Factbook stated that almost 70 percent of customers of different age groups made a direct mail purchase in 2013, indicating there is potential for generating online leads through printed advertisements. Many online businesses use direct mail to fill in the gaps left by online platforms when marketing to consumers.

Grabbing attention with great photography

If your products have visual appeal, using a printed catalog or postcard can make a great teaser to entice people to visit the brand's website to browse.

Putting the product in the customer's hands

The obvious benefit of print is that people can hold it with their hands, and businesses that offer products enhanced by touch or smell often translate very well to direct mail. By giving people a tangible experience - like perfume scented cards, fabric samples or a 3-D cardboard pop-up display - companies can create a powerful impression on customers while giving an incentive to purchase online.

Show options for customization

Companies are finding ways to peak the interest of direct mail recipients through personalization, displaying examples of how people can customize their purchases and inviting them to visit the website catalog for more options.

Make sure mailings are coordinated with online updates

Seasonal changes and new product rollouts vary from one industry to the next, but it's important to make sure that your direct mailings and online offerings are in sync. Some businesses may only send out one mailing a year, and in those cases your featured products should have long shelf lives that don't necessarily have to mirror seasonal offerings online. On the other hand, if the brand introduces new products in direct mail throughout the year, like clothing or shoe retailers often do, coordinating your online stores with mailings is vital to creating a seamless shopping experience.

Direct mail continues to be an incredibly useful tool for businesses, including online retailers. However, like all advertising, direct mail works best when the message, creative and distribution work together. Online companies that focus on creating printed pieces that enhance the customer experience, while also making it easy for people to transition to the website for purchasing, will find that attention to detail makes all the difference.

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