Article first published in April 2015, updated June 2019
As a brick-and-mortar business, do you find it difficult to collect your customer’s email addresses and build a list?
Just because your business is largely run offline, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a ton of value from building a customer email list.
In this post, we’ll walk through why it’s important for brick-and-mortar businesses to collect customer email addresses and outline a two-part formula that’ll help you build a massive email list that increases your revenue.
Why brick-and-mortar businesses need to build an email list
There are a number of reasons who brick-and-mortar business would benefit from building their email list:
Your customers use email.
While it might seem like everyone is on Facebook and Twitter these days, there’s a good chance a higher percentage of your customers have email addresses over Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In fact, while Facebook claims to have over 1.35 billion users and Twitter has over 270 million users, research shows there are more than 4 billion email accounts worldwide, meaning email has a reach 3x greater than Facebook and 15x greater than Twitter.
Source: Campaign Monitor
This is particularly true if your customers are generally a little bit older.
Statistics show that, while Facebook has a high adoption rate amongst 18-24-year-olds (89% of internet users in this age bracket), it’s gets significantly lower in the older age brackets, with only 65% of internet users between 50 and 65 years old using Facebook (and less than 50% of internet users over the age of 50 using it).
Regardless of which way you cut the data, more of your customers are using email than they are using Facebook and Twitter combined, so it’s a much better way to reach them.
It’s the most effective marketing medium on the planet.
According to a recent study by VentureBeat, email has the highest ROI of any marketing channel available, beating out social media, paid search, TV, and radio, among others.
This is particularly true when comparing it to social networks like Twitter. The average tweet has a click-through rate of around 0.5%, while the average email has an end click-through rate of around 3%.
This means you’re 6x more likely to get a click back to your website from email than from Twitter.
In fact, influential marketing blogger Derek Halpern ran a test where he sent an offer (in his case, a blog post) to the same number of people via both email and Twitter. Here are the results:
- 300 people clicked through to the blog post from Twitter
- 4,200 people clicked through to the blog post from email
For business owners like you, this makes a huge difference to how many people you manage to get through the front door and purchasing your products and services.
You own and control your email list.
Building a follower base on social media networks is kind of like renovating a rented house.
It may be all good and enjoyable for a while but, eventually, the rules will change and, because you don’t own the house, there isn’t much you can do about it.
The perfect example of this is Facebook continuing to restrict the number of followers a brand’s post can reach in an attempt to drive people to their paid advertising options.
Analysis from advertising agency Ogilvy showed organic reach was at 6% (a decline of 49% from peak levels in October), meaning that, every time you post a status update on Facebook for a new product you have in stock or a new promotion or sale you’re running, less than 6% of your followers will see it.
Email, on the contrary, is an open platform that no one organization controls. When you send an email campaign, there’s no master algorithm limiting how many people will actually receive your campaign.
Similarly, if you read the terms and conditions of most social networks, you don’t own any information about the followers you’ve amassed. If you decide to leave Facebook because LinkedIn is a better platform for your business, you can’t take those followers with you; you have to start again from scratch.
On the other hand, if you wanted to switch email providers (to Campaign Monitor, for instance), you can export your email list from the previous provider and import it to the new one. You own all the data and can take it with you wherever you go, meaning you’ll never have to start again from scratch.
How brick-and-mortar businesses can build their email lists
Now that you understand the importance of building your email list, it’s time to get to work building your list.
Fortunately for you, there’s a two-part formula for building your email list that’s followed by many of the most successful list builders around. That formula is:
A valuable incentive + simple subscribe opportunities = large email list
While it’s a little bit of a simplification, it’s also just logic. No matter how many subscribe opportunities you present to a person, it’s unlikely they’ll act without a valuable incentive. And, no matter how good your incentive is, you’ll never get people to subscribe if you don’t make it super easy for them.
The real question is: what makes for an amazing incentive? And how can you make subscribing to your list really simple and easy?
Let’s dive in and answer both those questions:
Part 1: A valuable incentive
There are a huge number of ways in which you can provide an incentive for people to join your email list, and it really depends on the type of organization you’re marketing and the tactics you choose to market it.
For instance, retail stores are likely to have different incentives they can offer than a financial services firm, so the key is to pick out what makes sense for your business to offer based on what would resonate with your audience.
Some incentives you could use include:
Discounts and offers
Offering discounts or various other value-added offers is one of the quickest and easiest ways to incentivize people to join your email list.
Source: Campaign Monitor
Here are a few ideas you could implement today:
- Discount at purchase – Offering customers a small discount at the point of sale can be a great way to capture their email address and build your list. What person about to hand over their credit card wouldn’t want 5% off their purchase? By offering a discount on their purchase, you can capture their email address and continue marketing to them for years to come, driving repeat purchases that’ll far outweigh the small amount of money you lost by offering the discount.
- Discount on next visit or service – Another great incentive you can offer to get people to subscribe to your email list is a discount on their next purchase from you. Not only is this a great offer that’ll get them to hand over their email address, but it helps drive repeat purchases by giving people a reason to come back to your store (particularly when combined with an email campaign about that great new product you have in stock).
Early access and exclusive promotions
If you’ve built up a reasonable level of brand awareness and affinity over the years, then offering early access and exclusives as an incentive to subscribe to your email list can be extremely cost-effective.
Here are a few ideas you can implement today:
- Early access to new products – People like to be the first to own something and be seen as ahead of the curve, so offering people early access to new products before their friends can be a great incentive to get them to subscribe.
- Access to special discounts and promotions – It’s well known that access to special discounts and promotions is an effective way to build your list, so creating special discounts and promotions that are only available to email subscribers can be a great incentive to get people to join your list.
Giveaways and contests
As humans, we have an innately competitive urge and are motivated to win prizes. It’s the reason the US lottery sold $78 billion worth of tickets in 2012.
You can leverage this to build your email list by running giveaways and contests where people give over their email address for a chance to win a prize.
The key to success with this tactic is making sure the prize is a valuable enough incentive for people to hand over their email addresses. Consider some of these best practices:
- Make the prize unique and exclusive—more often than not, a unique and exclusive prize will gain more attention than a big cash prize. For instance, Queensland Tourism’s “Best Job in the World” campaign offered the winner a job as the “Caretaker” of the Great Barrier Reef, which essentially involved touring the reef and its associated islands and blogging about it for a year. This unique, money-can’t-buy prize not only attracted over 34,000 entries but also secured an estimated $400 million worth of media coverage, being picked up by CNN, Time, and NBC, to name a few. So, when deciding on your prize, consider the things you could offer beyond just cash and iPads. Cooking classes with your head chef or exclusive behind-the-scenes tours are all great examples of money-can’t-buy prizes that really appeal to people.
Part 2: Simple subscribe opportunities
Just like there are a number of incentives you can offer, there are many ways you can make subscribing to your list super simple.
Not every one of them is going to be relevant for you, though, and certain techniques will be more suited to certain incentives being offered. The key is understanding the incentives you’re offering and then picking the subscribe technique that best matches it. Here are a few ideas:
Ask at point of sale.
This method is particularly effective when combined with incentives like discounts and offers.
By getting your employees to ask every customer if they’d like to join your email list to get a discount or special offer at the point of sale, you’re hitting every possible customer with a very compelling and simple offer.
So much so that stationery company Paradise Pen Co. actually collect 80% of their customer emails in-store, while just 20% of people sign up online.
Paradise uses gift cards to incentivize the sign up in-store. Initially, the company tried paper gift certificates, but, when it switched to using plastic gift cards that could be redeemed online, gift card redemption rates jumped from 9.5% to 20%.
Paradise also tested different expiration dates on their gift cards and found that giving customers 12 months made them more likely to redeem the cards and, thus, make extra purchases that drive revenue for their business.
Place a subscribe form in-store.
When someone says email subscribe form, we usually tend to think email input boxes on the web, but they can be physical too.
One of the most simple ways to get started is to set up a basic signup form in-store. You can grab a clipboard, a pen, and print off some sheets of paper with a spot for the customer’s name and email address, and you’re ready to go.
If you’re doing this. though, try to give people some structure for entering their address (like using a one-box-per-letter form, rather than offering just a free-form space for customers to fill in). A New York hotel chain found using boxes helped them get more legible email addresses from customers after they saw a high percentage of email addresses they couldn’t use because the handwriting was too ambiguous.
If you want to get more technical and save yourself some of the hassles of manually adding email addresses to your mailing list from a handwritten form, you could use an app like Enlist to automatically turn an iPad into a beautiful email subscribe form.
Collect business cards.
Manually writing down your email address is a pain and can be a barrier to entry that prevents you from collecting as many email addresses as you could.
Fortunately for you, many people have their email address on their business card and providing a method and incentive for them to drop their business card is a great way to collect emails.
This works particularly well with incentives that can be communicated without talking to a person, like a contest, for instance.
As long as you clearly communicate (through signage and promotional material) what the prize is for entering, people will happily drop their business card in for a chance to win.
Then, each month, choose a random card from the bowl to give the prize to and enter the email address from each customer’s card onto your mailing list.
Use your receipts and packaging.
Another clever way of drawing attention to your newsletter is to add instructions for joining the mailing list to the bottom of receipts or in the bags and packaging your customers leave the store with.
By slipping in a small flyer that outlines what the incentive is for joining the list and provides a clear path to joining, you can actually capture customer’s email addresses once they’ve left your store.
Email marketing tools like Campaign Monitor provide customizable email subscribe pages you can direct people to, or you can use tools like Unbounce to create more customized landing pages and integrate them with your email list to ensure all new subscribers are automatically added.
Part 3: Leverage social media.
While social media may not be as powerful as email when it comes to marketing, it’s a great channel for growing your email list. With more than 3 billion active users on all social media platforms combined, social media has the possibility to be an email list growing juggernaut.
Source: We Are Social
How can you leverage social media to grow an email list for your brick-and-mortar business? Consider these tried and trusted methods:
Create a lookalike audience on Facebook.
Facebook’s lookalike audience feature is a nifty tool that you can use to target an audience that’s a “clone” of your email list. In other words, an audience that has the same profile as your email list.
The advantage of this is that you can create a promotion that’s tailored for your lookalike audience. Of course, because it’s something they’ll be interested in, you can expect a high response rate and a good number of opt-ins.
Host a Twitter Chat.
Tweets are probably not the best way to grow your email list, as they have a short lifespan. In order to use Twitter to grow your email list, you have to think outside the box. One of the best methods a brick-and-mortar business can use to build an email list is by hosting a Twitter Chat.
By creating a relevant, value-packed Twitter chat, you increase your engagement (and lifespan of your tweets) on Twitter. It’s also a great way to build a community of like-minded people. Make sure to discuss location-specific issues in your chat to attract people who are local to your area.
In order to grow your customer email list with this method, you can simply create a resource that’s offered during a chat.
Run an Instagram contest.
Instagram is fast becoming the darling social media platform for many businesses because Instagram’s user base is growing exponentially.
One of the best ways to leverage Instagram in growing your email list is to run a contest. Being a visual platform, you can run a photo challenge using a theme and hashtag relevant to your business. You can also run contests where tagging a friend or liking/commenting on a post are the entry requirements.
While the contest itself may not require participants to sign up for your email list, the engagement it drives will give your profile and posts more visible. That being said, make sure you have:
- A clear and compelling CTA in your bio that directs people to sign up for your email list
- An enticing lead magnet
Check out our article on how to use Instagram to grow your customer email list for more in-depth tips.
Part 4: Use geotargeting to create ultra-relevant content.
Geotargeting is the practice to send content to customers based on geographic location. You can use this strategy to create location-based landing pages and signup offers that serve the purpose of driving people to your brick-and-mortar business.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, geotargeting is probably one of the most effective ways to grow a customer list. Especially when combined with other strategies, you can use this technology to drive warm traffic to your business. For example, you can use geotargeting in your email marketing campaigns to offer dynamic content based on where your customers are.
Source: Campaign Monitor
In the above example, people in France can be shown content that offers a trip to another exotic destination. On another level, you can also use geotargeting to run email retargeting campaigns with Google ads.
Building your email list and sending regular, high-quality campaigns to those subscribers is a fantastic way for brick-and-mortar business owners to grow their revenue.
It’s far more effective than any other marketing channel available today and, with tools like Campaign Monitor, also much more simple to execute.
So take some these list building tactics and put them in use in your business today. The earlier you start, the bigger your list will be and the more sales and revenue you’ll be able to drive from it. For more tips on driving more traffic to your brick-and-mortar business, check out our email marketing guide for retailers.