Email marketing in an era of social distancing

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Experts advise retailers to take greater advantage of email marketing to stay in touch with their customers.

By Reginald Tucker

With so many businesses temporarily closed across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become nearly impossible for many retail- and service-related establishments that rely on face-to-face contact with customers to conduct business as usual. But until business comes roaring back—and for many it will, eventually—there are avenues businesses and sellers can explore to maintain connections with customers to either provide services “virtually” (i.e., product or instructional demos online) or to let customers know how they can get receive some of these products or services using non-traditional means.

In the flooring and related sundries industry, we’re seeing more companies offer web-based product knowledge seminars or video instructions. Other service-related industries are using tools such as Skype and Zoom to stay relevant to their customer base and offer virtual products and services. Others still are simply reaching out to customers to let them know they are still alive and kicking, and that they plan to be open for business when overall economic conditions improve and when restrictions are lifted.

The common denominator across these various strategies is the use of electronic marketing, namely email marketing. But it’s not just about selling product. Industry experts say now is the perfect time to fortify relationships with customers while they are hunkered down and feeling isolated.

“Emails can provide a way to get personal, build your brand and your expertise,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant for more than 20 years. “Connecting with your customer is more important than ever. If you’re like me, the past few weeks have shown what it’s like to feel isolated from the people I know and love. It’s not the time to forget about your customers. Many are trying to work from home with numerous distractions or have lost their jobs. All of this can cause extreme stress. Relationships have become more important than ever, and an email marketing campaign can help build and maintain these relationships.”

Even during the best of times, economically speaking, retailers don’t always utilize their existing customer contacts and email lists to their full advantage. And that’s a big mistake, experts say. “Many retailers I’ve worked with don’t usually look at their past customers when prospecting for new business,” said Jim Augustus Armstrong, owner of Flooring Success Systems. Part of the challenge, he noted, is due to the relatively long life cycle of your typical flooring product. “However, reaching out to existing customers could be a good idea, especially if they’re looking to replace flooring in other areas of the home that you didn’t service the last time they made a purchase.”

But email communications don’t always have to be about selling stuff. “With so many people spending more time at home, making meals at home, now is the perfect time to substitute recipes for product knowledge,” Calandrino stated. “Showing customers that you can relate to them on a more personal level might encourage them to do more business with you when they’re ready to buy again.”

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