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Black Friday Emails That Boost Sales

Posted on November 04, 2015 by Alexander Diegel

Another Black Friday is just around the corner and—likely—another record-breaking holiday sales season will come with it. Email campaigns are a proven way to effectively announce sales and boost profits. But what should you send? Take a look below for some ideas to use for the holiday season.

The Sale Announcement Email

We’ll start with the simple one first: Make sure your customers know you’re having a sale, and what it is, because you can bet your competitors will. Keep it simple. Everyone loves sales, so you’re subject header can just be “50% off Everything!” It will almost guarantee you that shoppers will at least open the email to find out more.

The Free Gift Email

Everyone loves free right? Including a free gift if customers hit a certain dollar amount is a great way to boost the average sale amount. If a customer has spent $90 and are $10 away from earning a free gift, they’ll likely spend that extra ten dollars to hit the target.

Again, the subject can be simple. “Free” will almost always get someone interested. You can also spin this so it doesn’t seem so salesy, and being that Black Friday is around Thanksgiving, in the body of the email you can include something along the lines of “Our way of saying thanks,” or “Our way of giving back during the holiday season.”

The Extended Sale Email

Black Friday sales don’t have to end on Fridays. If you’re in ecommerce—and you’re reading this blog so I’m assuming you are—the sale can last all the way to Cyber Monday. Last year, retailers brought in over $2 billion on the Monday after Black Friday.

Not everyone gets around to shopping on Black Friday. They may have missed the boat and will jump out of their seats when they see your “Extended 40% Sale off EVERYTHING” email.

The Black Friday Giveaway

This is a similar to philosophy to the “Free Gift” email—people love free stuff and rewards. Giveaways and contests are a great way to inject more life into your sales than those of your competitors.

The terms of the giveaway or sale will be up to you. One common strategy is to offer your customers a chance to win a gift to your site for every purchase they make. Or, you can guarantee a small prize—say a $5 gift card— for any purchase, with a chance to win the Grand Prize, such as a $1K gift card.

The Humor Email

You know what people like almost as much as free stuff? Funny jokes. Announcing your sale in a way that J.Crew did last year is a great way to get a leg up on competitors and their potentially similar sales.

You can also include a jokes specific to your business or industry. For example, if you’re in the clothing business, a post-Thanksgiving email featuring your stretchy pants might not be a bad idea.

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How to Make Marketing Emails Work for You

Posted on October 28, 2015 by Alexander Diegel

Marketing emails can be a great tool to boost sales. But to do so, you have to do it right. What do I say to my customers? And just as importantly, when do I say it and how often? These tips will make sure you’re emailing the right way, and will help you take your business to the next level.

Content and Relevance:

This isn’t Lord of the Rings and one email does not rule them all. In other words, what’s relevant to some customers won’t connect with others. For example, if you sell clothing, sending your male customers a coupon for a sale on ladies’ underwear is not going to get you very far. Worse yet, it might make the impression that your store specializes in women’s apparel and have your male customers looking elsewhere.

Tracking your customer information, such as gender and age, will help you send targeted emails, which will in turn increase your open rate. Tracking sales information will help you target as well. The above example was pretty simple, but what about a business that doesn’t make it as easy as splitting up your customers into a 50/50 (emails for males, emails for females) group?

If you sell a wide variety of items, such as pet supplies, it would make sense to track customers’ sales. If Susan has spent a year buying nothing but cat toys, would it make sense to send her information on a sale for all goldfish products? Probably not.

Keep in mind, there are times when it makes sense for you to send customers information about stuff they don’t typically buy. Keep this in mind for the holidays, when customers aren’t necessarily shopping for themselves. Speaking of appropriate times…


When to send an email is just as important as what to send. The sooner you send an order confirmation, the better. The longer the customer goes without receiving that confirmation, the more apprehensive he or she will be that something went wrong with the process.

Likewise, a shipment confirmation will also placate any fears that the order is NOT on the way. With the confirmation, include a realistic time that the customer can expect to receive the package, such as 3-5 business days.

Lastly, an email asking the customer how he/she likes the product is a nice way to wrap up the sale. It shows that you care that your customers receive their products as they wanted, when they wanted. Schedule this for a couple of days after the long end of your confirmation (using the above example, send the email on day six or seven). If you send this email too soon, it will have customers thinking they should have received it by now and something went wrong, when in reality the item is still on its way.

As far as emails that are intended to have customers buy again, research shows there’s certain times that will lead to higher purchase rates. Monday through Wednesday, as well as Sunday, have proven to be the best days to send your salesy emails.

On top of that, there are certain times of day that correlate with higher purchases as well. During the workdays, as well as during commutes home, have proven to be the best times to reach out to customers.


This last point is key, and can also be tricky to manage correctly. Email too often and you risk annoying the customer, who will in turn likely tag your emails as spam. Not good. Go too long without contacting your customers and you risk them forgetting about your company and going with a competitor. Also not good.

There’s no all-encompassing guide to point to that will provide best practices for all businesses, but as a general rule, you don’t want to email your customers more than once a week (with the exception of the aforementioned post-transaction confirmation emails), and you also don’t want to go more than a month without sending out your email campaign.

Hitting that sweet spot of perfect frequency will often depend on your business. For example, if you work in a subscription business, you’ll want to time replenishment emails with the frequency of the customers’ needs. If he/she buys dog food once a month, a reminder to place the order every three weeks would be appropriate, to give the customer some leeway and provide time for shipping. This way, the food will be there by the end of the month and Fido won’t go hungry.

Tools that Can Help

When you’re starting out, you can probably manage many of these tasks on your own. But what about when you’re handling 100, 500, or 1000 orders per month? Using an email service like MailChimp or MailChimp will help. Coupling one of those services with a tool that can automate the process will allow you to easily and efficiently communicate with your customers.

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The Future of Spree Open Source Software

Posted on October 28, 2015 by Sean Schofield

There have been a lot of questions and speculation regarding the future of the Spree OSS project. Please understand that our acquisition occurred as First Data was preparing for its IPO and there were significant restrictions on what we were able to discuss publicly during that time. Now that the IPO is behind us we can resume our public conversation with the community.

What is Happening to Wombat?

Our Wombat product is being discontinued as of March 31, 2016. It’s been a privilege to help and watch our Wombat customers grow over the years. We are working closely with our customers to ensure an orderly transition. Wombat is a closed source product and so the source code will remain private and closed source. The integrations for Wombat, however, have always been open source. They will remain open source even though we will not be maintaining these integrations going forward.

What about the Website and Demo?

We have made several changes to the Spree website. We’ve removed the references to Wombat and we’ve discontinued the “sandbox” demos where you can try out a hosted version of Spree without installing it locally. The sandbox takes quite a bit of time and resources to maintain – especially keeping it up to date with the latest version. Developers interested in the open source software can still try it out easily enough – just clone it from Github like you would any other project.

We’ve also disabled the extensions directory. The directory contents are quite out of date these days and it requires time and energy to curate everything in there. Unfortunately there aren’t enough volunteers who want to spend time on such a thankless task.

Will we Continue to Support Open Source Software in general, and the Spree Project in particular?

Our team continues to be interested in both using and supporting open source software. You can expect to see us continue to contribute to both new and existing open source projects going forward.

We will be spending significantly less time as a company on the Spree project. Several of our employees remain personally interested in the Spree OSS project, but as a company we can no longer dedicate significant resources to this effort. This means that you can expect a decline in contributions from employees who were previously being paid to work on open source as part of their day job.

What about a Foundation?

We’ve also heard people asking about the possibility of setting up a foundation. It’s unclear how this would resolve the lack of a strong core team with a unified vision. A proper foundation (see Drupal or Linux) requires significant legal and administrative expenses. More importantly it requires a dedicated group of volunteers to run it. Spree needs a new group of core contributors that are willing to volunteer a large amount of time to help maintain it. A foundation won’t help us to achieve that – it will actually be counterproductive since it will just add to the overhead needed to run the project.

Who will Contribute to Spree going Forward?

Like any successful open source project, Spree requires a continuous supply of new contributors. There are, however, some unique challenges in the case of the Spree which is somewhat of a niche framework. It appeals to Ruby developers who are interested in ecommerce. That’s actually a pretty small universe of people, especially when you factor out everyone who is doing ecommerce for just a single project and then moving on to something else. It’s much easier to form an active core team for a project like Rails since it’s a generic framework that can be used by a much larger universe of developers (people interested in web applications).

In addition, as the Spree software has matured over the years, many stores that use our software have “locked in” on a particular version of the software. This tends to result in short bursts of contributions by initial adopters followed by long periods of inactivity.

As a result, over time our community has generated a lot of developers who are incredibly interested in the future of Spree but they also have a very specific vision for how Spree should move forward. In many cases, this vision is at odds with what other developers need for their specific projects. For instance, developers working on legacy installations are not always interested in adding new features to Spree. They may be more focused on improvements in performance and keeping up to date with security enhancements.

What’s the Deal with Solidus?

Solidus is a fork of the Spree project. The contributors are primarily developers from Bonobos as well as a consulting company that has done work for Bonobos and other Spree customers in the past. The developers behind this project have a lot invested in a specific version of Spree and they’re working to improve performance and making other subtle improvements. If you’re looking to work on a very stable version of Spree and you’re comfortable with locking in on the version that Bonobos is using, then this might be a good option for you.

Spree Needs a Strong Core Team with a Unified Vision

Spree needs a new core team of dedicated contributors. That’s easier said than done. Our experience over the past several years is that for every ten people who say they want to contribute – only one of them actually follows up with a meaningful level of contribution. That number gets even smaller over time since most contributors tend to drift off to other projects within twelve months.

An even bigger challenge is to get a sufficient level of core contributors that agree on the future direction of Spree. We attempted to do this last year when we convened an in person “summit” with several of the key contributors and users. There was a lot of agreement on the types of things that needed to be done but very little agreement on the best path to achieve them. The biggest problem was that everyone was pretty much locked into a specific version of Spree and they only wanted to change what was needed for their specific agenda. This culiminated in the Bonobos and Freerunning guys deciding to create their own fork of Spree. That’s not a bad thing – developers need to focus on their own problems first and foremost.

What’s Next?

All software projects have a shelf life. The first Spree commit was made over eight years ago when Rails was in its infancy. Since that time there have been over 15,000 commits by over 700 different contributors. If you take a look at other popular Ruby libraries from 2007 you’d be hard pressed to find one that remains relevant today. The fact that Spree has remained a popular open source project for such a long time is a testament to the efforts of all of us working together to constantly improve the code. We have done all of this while trying our best to maintain backwards compatibility for our existing users.

We’re going to leave it up to the community to decide how to proceed. Our users need to decide if they want to continue forward with the current Spree codebase, use the Solidus project, or perhaps start another fork using a completely new approach. If we’re presented with a credible plan to maintain the project long term, then we’ll gladly turn over the keys. In the absence of such a plan, however, the project will naturally move it into “maintenance mode” and something new will eventually take its place.

It’s been a privilege building Spree together with you for the past eight years. Over that time we have learned from each other, empowered our customers, started numerous companies and forged lifelong friendships. Regardless of what happens next – we should all be proud of the great work we’ve done together.

Tips to Perfect Customer Service

Posted on October 21, 2015 by Alexander Diegel

Customer service is they key to ecommerce growth. You can have the best products in the world, but if your customers have a continuously bad experience it will tarnish your brand, and possibly do irreparable harm to your company’s reputation. Follow these steps to ensure you’re providing outstanding customer service every time.

1) Provide Timely, Effective Communication

Effective communication can solve a lot of problems and, more importantly, eliminate them before they happen. Sending a simple order confirmation will eliminate any doubt a customer may have that his or her order went through. Additionally, giving the customer a reasonable expectation of when to expect the item and/or providing shipment updates will keep customers informed and happy.

When your business reaches a certain point in its growth, you’ll find that keeping up with these emails can be a headache. At that point, automating your communication through services like Twilio or MailChimp can greatly simplify this process.

2) Provide a Customer Support Option

In the off chance that something goes wrong at any point in the process—whether an item’s out of stock, an order didn’t arrive, or the customer received the wrong size—you want to provide an easy way for customers to get in touch with you or your customer support team.

Depending on where your business is in it’s level of maturity, this could be a simple “Contact Us” link in your website that provides an email address and/or phone number. If and when your business is a little more established, you may want to look at a third-party service, such as Zendesk or Desk.com to help you with support tickets and error resolution.

No matter how you go about it, be sure whoever is on the receiving end of these issues/inquiries is prepared to give timely, effective, and friendly resolutions.

3) Engage in Social Media

Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, 78% of all customers see social media as a customer service alternative. Some may go there directly, some may go there if whoever’s manning the options on point two has dropped the ball.

If it’s the latter, that raises the stakes even higher on social media, making it even more important to respond quickly and effectively. If a customer has a bad experience, you can be sure that they will call out your company on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social profile you have associated with your business.

Conversely, if you provide a great experience, they’re likely to commend you and your business for all to see. Make sure you’re the retailer receiving the positive publicity, not the negative.

4) Track all Customer Interactions

Tracking all correspondence can save you, your support staff, and your customers a lot of headache. If customers have an issue and talk with two different people without a history of previous interaction, they will be left frustrated when they have to start from scratch with a new person.

Conversely, if a customer calls in and you can quickly say “Yes, I see you called in about exchanging your shirt for a different size on June 16th,” he or she will be left both impressed and relieved that someone is on top of the issue.

Create labels in your emails, attach notes to the thread, or do whatever it takes to keep all customer interaction in one easy-to-manage place. If you’ve talked with Joe Smith before, you should be able to easily search and find any and all correspondence with Joe.

Down the line, an error resolution service like the aforementioned Zendesk isn’t a bad idea. Zendesk tracks all correspondence that comes in via email, and all you have to do is search the support ticket number through your Zendesk account.

5) Never Argue About Returns

All of the above is great, but if you or a staffer argue with customers, especially about returns, they’ll think of your company in an extremely negative light. And with Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc. that’s not something any growing business can afford.

Remember, this is people’s money you’re dealing with, so put yourself in the customers’ shoes. You’re selling your product based off of an image on a computer. There’s going to be problems. And when there are, friendly, understanding, timely and efficient resolutions are the ways to keep customers coming back and sending their friends to your web store.

Bonus tip: Provide Online Chat

This tip is definitely for well-established businesses with customers on their site all day, but why else would you be in ecommerce if not to grow and dominate your market? Heck, some of you may already be there.

An online chat will require a paid solution like Olark and a staffer to monitor the chat, but once your business gets to a certain point, it’s well worth the investment. 77% of customers agree that online chat positively impacted their experience with the company. You simply can’t get any faster resolution than chatting with your customers in a live, real-time interaction.

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