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Deciding to build an email list is one thing, but actually seeing success can be quite hard for retailers. This is especially true since there are often so many other aspects of running an ecommerce store.
The two main conditions for successful email list building are the following:
- Decent traffic to your website
- Decent sign-up forms on your website
Even better, the 12 methods for building an email list that we discuss below are very easy to implement, and results can be seen within a few short hours or days.
Watch these 5 quick, three-minute videos to get a summary of the best practices for building your email list:
Explore more of our expert-led email marketing courses and tutorials and get the knowledge you need to grow your email list fast.
What is an email list?
An email list is a collection of email addresses that a business or individual has gathered from their customers, prospects, or website visitors. These email addresses are used to send targeted and personalized marketing messages, newsletters, promotions, or updates to the recipients’ inboxes.
Email lists play a crucial role in email marketing, as they allow marketers to:
- Build and maintain relationships with their audience
- Drive customer engagement
- Increase sales or conversions
Email lists can be segmented based on various factors such as demographics, interests, or purchasing behavior to tailor the content to specific groups, resulting in more relevant and effective marketing campaigns.
The main purpose of building an email list is to increase the number of potential leads. That way, you can convert them into loyal buyers at a later point.
Why you should build an email list
If you’re just starting out on your ecommerce journey, building an email list is more important than you think, and the benefits are plenty. In fact, for most ecommerce stores, their email list is their most valued possession.
Here are the major benefits of building your own email list:
- It’s affordable. Digital ad costs are skyrocketing, and their effectiveness is plummeting. Sending regular emails to your email list is much more affordable in comparison.
- Email is personal. You can personalize emails, but you can’t personalize ads. You can also automate emails so that they go out based on customer behavior, which you can’t do on social media.
- Audience targeting is more precise. Targeting is getting worse on Facebook and other ad platforms. With email, you can target your subscribers based on specific things like demographics (city, gender, birthdate) or behavior (bought product, clicked on email, etc.)
- You own your list. You won’t need to depend on any other company or platform. That email list is yours, and it’s very valuable
- You can build relationships through email. Digital ads have an inherent “spray and pray” approach, hoping to reach the most people with the same message. With email, you can personalize automated emails that follow a customer along their own journey. You can’t do that with ads.
Best practices—the do’s and don’ts of building an email list
Before we dive into the specific strategies for building an email list, it’s important to establish some best practices. These do’s and don’ts will ensure that your email list is high-quality, engaged, and effective at driving sales for your business.
Get a reliable email service provider (ESP)
Honestly, before we even start, it’s very important that you get a business email address and an email marketing provider that you’re comfortable with and which can really help you to build your email list.
Of course, at this point, we’d recommend our own service, Omnisend. It’s used by more than 80,000 ecommerce brands to grow their email lists, and they love using it. But for the purposes of list building, there are many options to choose from.
Whichever app you choose, it should enable you to:
- Easily create and customize a variety of signup forms & landing pages
- Monitor the effectiveness of each sign-up form based on clicks, signup rates, and more
- Segment your subscribers based on different metrics and behaviors
- Send different automated emails to different audience segments
- Integrate it seamlessly with other marketing tools to facilitate list-building across multiple channels
Get more visitors to your site
Let’s quickly go over some proven methods for driving more traffic to your website. For the most part, here are your best options:
- Use ads, most likely Facebook ads. Ads allow you to target your perfect audience at the time and on the platform most suitable for them. Many ecommerce businesses use Facebook ads for email list building, as they are cost-effective and can easily scale as your needs and business grow.
- Create engaging content. If you create great content that can go viral, you should distribute it on YouTube (if it’s a video), TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and anywhere else. Just make sure that you have a clear call to action and a link that goes directly to your store.
- Create engaging content via SEO. This is a much slower strategy. It can take weeks, months, or even years to see considerable growth in your organic traffic. However, the major benefits here are that it’s completely free and platform-agnostic.
Need deeper insights into how you can get more visitors? Read our 7 tips to flood your store with amazing traffic.
Keep your list healthy
A healthy email list means that you only approach people who are aware of you, engaged with your brand and have signed up for your newsletter. Only these kinds of contacts will provide you with high conversion rates and generate strong ecommerce marketing results.
To keep your list healthy:
- Use confirmation emails. Send a confirmation email to new subscribers to verify their email address and confirm their subscription to ensure that your list only includes legitimate email addresses.
- Regularly clean your list. Remove inactive subscribers, duplicates, and any email addresses that bounce to ensure that you’re not wasting time and resources on people who aren’t interested in your business.
- Assign tags to contacts. Use tags to categorize your subscribers based on their interests, behaviors, and preferences to send more targeted and relevant emails to specific groups of people.
- Segment your audience. Divide your email list into smaller groups based on demographics, behavior, or preferences to create more personalized and effective email campaigns.
- Remove inactive subscribers. Regularly remove subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails in a while to keep your list interested, and prevent your emails from being marked as spam.
Learn more about list management techniques: The Five Email List Management Best Practices
Never, ever buy an email list
Most marketers are looking for ways how to build an email list fast. Remember, neither a free mailing list found online nor a buyable one can be your way to go. It might be fast, but it’s not right.
This one is such an important point to make and one that many new ecommerce marketers are falling for. Repeat after me: this is not how to build your email list.
Many shady people on the internet will sell you email lists with hundreds of thousands of “quality” (read: not quality) contacts that are perfect for your business:
But you know they’re not. You’re just hoping that at least some of them are (maybe 2% wouldn’t be bad, right?).
But that’s bad thinking.
- Lack of originality. If you’re buying an email list, there’s a huge chance that other people are buying the same email list.
- It’s a trap. That email list may be a pure spam trap, or have spam traps, meaning if you send emails to those contacts, your sender’s email address and IP address will be blacklisted as spam.
- Bad quality contacts. Those people may not be spam traps, but they’re unfortunately not quality leads for your business and they mark you as spam. Think about it: 100,000 contacts marking you as spam. Your sender’s reputation is as good as dead.
- Your ESP can block you. With enough spam complaints, your email service provider will terminate your account. Your goal of building an email list is dead in the water.
- GDPR violations. Those contacts (who reside in the EU) did not opt into your list. You don’t have proof of their signup, and you can face heavy penalties.
- Wasted money. You will spend a decent amount of money on acquiring that list, and for sending your campaign to the contacts on that list. But instead of sales from your email marketing activities, you will get all the consequences mentioned above.
Email list building tactics
- Use a standard opt-in form
- Use a surprise pop-up form
- Offer incentives
- Gamify your signup forms
- Create a targeted landing page
- Share lead magnets
- Offer giveaways
- Use referral programs
- Make a free interactive tool
- Use a live chat or chatbot
- Collaborate with other businesses
- Use offline list-building tactics
1. Use a standard opt-in form
Potential conversion rate: 2-5% of your website visitors
Pretty much every Shopify site will have a standard opt-in form enabled, normally at the bottom or in the middle of the screen.
For other ecommerce platforms (like WooCommerce), it’s important to include this in your website design. Instead of having a specific opt-in form, you can place a sticky sign-up form on the bottom or side of the screen.
2. Use a surprise popup form
Potential conversion rate: 7-8% of your visitors
While the opt-in form is important, it is nonetheless still quite passive. Ideally, you’d need a tool that gives even more visibility to your email signup forms.
Furthermore, you can’t really gauge whether they’re already interested in your brand. Instead, you should be using a popup form. Here’s a great branded popup example from B-Wear:
Pop-up forms are dynamic in nature. You can set them to pop up at certain times or for certain events, and they are a great way to deliver lead magnets for lead generation.
For example, in Omnisend’s sign-up forms, there are options to show the pop-up after a certain amount of seconds, after the user visits a certain number of pages, after a certain percentage is scrolled, or when the user is getting ready to leave (exit-intent):
Just make sure to have a strong call to action or incentive in your pop-up form. When you get it right, you may be surprised at how fast building an email list can be.
3. Offer incentives
Potential conversion rate: 10% of your visitors
If you want visitors to subscribe to your email list, you need to give them something in exchange. Something that they would find relevant, such as:
- Discount. Offer a discount to new subscribers as a thank you for signing up. This will incentivize more people to join your list and make their first purchase.
- Sale. Run a sale and advertise it exclusively to your email list subscribers. This will create a sense of exclusivity and urgency, and encourage people to sign up to get access to the sale.
- Free shipping. Offer free shipping to new subscribers or to people who make a certain purchase amount. This will incentivize people to make a purchase and join your email list to receive the free shipping offer.
Here’s an example adding free shipping to your signup form:
You can easily reap the benefits of adding high-converting incentives with the help of Omnisend’s drag-and-drop form builder. It makes adding unique discounts and incentives to your signup forms a breeze and allows you to customize your forms to match your brand’s style and messaging.
4. Gamify your signup forms
Potential conversion rate: up to 20% of your visitors (if used for time-limited offers)
There are many interactive sign-up forms that are fun for visitors and effective for ecommerce store owners. For example, Omnisend’s Wheel of Fortune. This is a fun wheel that the visitor “spins” to get a prize. In order to spin the wheel, the visitor first has to sign up to one of your email lists.
Here’s how you can make sure your gamified popups bring you as much conversions as possible:
- Make it eye-catching. Use bright colors, bold fonts, and engaging graphics to make your wheel stand out and catch people’s attention.
- Keep it simple. Keep the popup design and copy simple and easy to understand. Don’t overload people with too much information or too many options.
- Offer a valuable discount. Offer a discount (percentage or flat) that is valuable and relevant to your audience to people to engage with your popup and enter their email address.
- Make it easy to enter. Make it easy for people to enter their email address and play the game. Don’t ask for too much information or make the process too complicated.
5. Create a targeted landing page
Potential conversion rate: up to 10% of your visitors
Landing pages can be a powerful tool for growing your email list because they are highly focused and targeted on a specific audience or offer.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when creating a targeted landing page for list-building:
- Have a clear and compelling headline. Your headline should grab the reader’s attention and clearly communicate the value of your offer.
- Use persuasive copy. Use persuasive copy that speaks directly to your audience’s pain points, desires, and aspirations to make it more likely that people will engage with your landing page and enter their email address.
- Include a strong call-to-action. Your call-to-action should be clear, prominent, and communicate the benefits of signing up.
- Keep it simple. Keep the design and layout of your landing page simple, clean, and easy to navigate. Don’t overload people with too much information or too many options.
Here’s a great landing page example from Blue Apron, which includes all the abovementioned points. It’s clear, concise, persuasive, and features a strong call to action:
6. Share lead magnets
Potential conversion rate: up to 25% of leads
A lead magnet is a valuable resource—like a PDF guide, ebook, gift guide, stock images, etc.—that your visitors really want and one of the best ways to build an email list.
In order to get that resource, they will need to sign up for your newsletter and email campaigns.
Here’s a pop-up from AdEspresso offering a lead magnet in exchange for the visitor’s email address:
You can also host your lead magnet on a separate page, as we at Omnisend did with our 2022 ecommerce marketing statistics report lead magnet landing page:
One note: the lead magnet should be directly related to your niche.
If you sell fidget spinners, the lead magnet shouldn’t be a collection of 500+ cute cats.
Although your audience may enjoy both cat pictures and fidget spinners, the cats won’t prime them for the sales pitch.
7. Offer giveaways
Potential conversion rate: up to 30% of leads
Another great email list building tactic that all ecommerce stores should consider is to utilize the powerful giveaway, especially on your audience’s favorite social media channels.
Here, the watch company Jack Mason is giving away $500 gift cards with a simple entry form:
You can promote your giveaway on social media channels like Facebook or Instagram, both because they’re popular, but also because you can control the cost by choosing to either promote your giveaway or simply post it on your feed. The various giveaway strategies have proven successful for many types of businesses.
You can host your giveaway landing page on your site, but it’s usually easiest to use a landing page or some other software that provides this service.
Just remember, similar to what I mentioned above about the lead magnet: make sure the prize that you’ll be giving away is directly aimed at your target audience.
If you want dog lovers, give away something that only dog lovers would highly value. Don’t give away an iPad or Bose headphones.
Make it specific, so that your entrants are also your qualified leads—which is the entire point of the giveaway.
Luckily, there are some great giveaway tools and WordPress plugins that can make the process a breeze. One great option is Rafflecopter, which allows you to easily set up and manage giveaways with customizable entry forms and social media integrations.
8. Use referral programs
Potential conversion rates: up to 15% of your website visitors
With referral programs, you’re encouraging your subscribers to share your offers with their friends, family, and colleagues to grow your email list.
As a rule of thumb, try to give away something valuable in exchange for a referral, like in this example from Allbirds:
The incentive for enrolling in your referral program can be free shipping, a $50 coupon or discount, a 25% discount, or even a free gift. This can work wonders and help you get new contacts, and even new customers.
9. Make a free interactive tool
Potential conversion rates: up to 10% of your website visitors
Offering free interactive tools, like quizzes, calculators, and generators, can be a fun and effective way to get more people to sign up for your email list.
These tools can provide additional value to your visitors, encourage them to engage with your website, and can even help establish your business as an expert in your field.
In the following example, Bare Performance Nutrition uses a 2-minute interactive quiz to recommend products to their visitors:
Once the readers finish the quiz, they’re offered an option to give their email address in exchange for exclusive discounts:
If you decide to create a free interactive tool to help build an email list, keep in mind the following:
- Provide value. Your interactive tool should solve a problem, answer a question, or provide some kind of benefit that makes it worth their time to engage with your tool and give you their email address.
- Make it easy to use. The tool should be user-friendly and easy to navigate.
- Offer personalized results. Provide personalized results based on the user’s inputs to make the tool more engaging.
- Include a CTA. Include a clear call-to-action that encourages users to enter their email address to receive additional content or resources.
- Promote your tool. Actively promote your interactive tool through social media, email marketing, and other channels to maximize its reach and exposure.
10. Use a live chat or chatbot
Potential conversion rates: up to 10% of your website visitors
Not only can chatbots provide valuable customer support, but they can also offer discounts or special promotions to incentivize signups.
One way to use live chat and chatbots is to offer a discount code or exclusive content to customers who sign up for your email list through the chat window, like in this example from apparel shop Steve Madden:
Another idea is to use live chat and chatbots as part of your customer support strategy. When customers contact your support team through live chat or chatbot, you can offer to send them a follow-up email with helpful resources or solutions to their problem.
This not only provides a great customer experience, but also gives you the chance to capture their email address and add them to your email list.
11. Collaborate with other businesses
Potential conversion rate: 15% of your visitors
By partnering with complementary brands in your industry, you can tap into their existing audience and reach new potential customers who may be interested in your products or services.
Collaborative marketing can also help to build brand awareness and establish your business as a trusted authority in your field. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you own a running store. Through segmentation, you know that 5,000 of your subscribers are thriathletes.
And it just so happens that you’d like to partner up with a merchant who owns a swimming store.
So, you create an email campaign promoting that partner swimming store and send it out to the 5,000 triathlete contacts. The campaign directs them to an offer to buy swimming gear from the swimming store.
At the same time, your partner sends out a similar campaign to their own email list promoting your store, bringing you more traffic and helping you build your email list with the partner’s subscribers.
By creating valuable content and promotions that speak to your shared audience, you can leverage each other’s reach and grow your email lists together.
Find out more about using collaborative marketing for list-building by watching this Omnisend Academy video:
12. Use offline list-building tactics
Potential conversion rate: unknown but worth a try
As you can see, the continuous list building process should be organized online—on your website, landing pages, social media, etc.
However, always take advantage of and use “old-school” offline ways to collect emails when you can.
- Network. Print your business cards and exchange them with people when you meet them and talk about your business. Add received contacts to your list.
- Make your presence known. Participate in in-person fairs and events and always have a registration list with an email column at your booth.
- Don’t forget your in-person customers. Ask customers for their email if you sell your products somewhere offline.
- Build a community. Consider organizing meetups and gather like-minded people for discussions. Use a registration form for this.
All means of list building are proper if only they are legal. So if you use offline forms, make sure they have the same legal statements as online ones.
Of course, while some parts of offline list-building can be done automatically, you may have to add these email subscribers manually to your email list builder (email marketing software).
Email list building: Summary
Congratulations! You now have multiple strategies to grow your email list and reach new potential customers. But, your work doesn’t stop there. To make the most out of your email marketing efforts, it’s important to continue learning and refining your strategies, and, of course, using the right tools to implement them.
For example, Omnisend has a number of tools to help you build an email list, completely free. These include landing pages, popup forms to place around your website, and gamification tools like Wheel of Fortune which have higher conversion rates than other signup forms.
Want to learn new email marketing strategies that go beyond list-building? Make sure to check out these guides and guides from our blog:
- 20+ email marketing best practices by category [+examples]
- Email marketing for ecommerce: 9 winning campaign types to drive sales
- The definitive guide to dynamic emails for 2023
By continuing to learn and improve your email marketing skills, you can build stronger relationships with your subscribers, drive more sales, and ultimately grow your business.