A Strategy for Growing Your E-Commerce Startup Email List

As a new e-commerce store owner I knew that I needed to grow my email list with prospective customers that I could market to … especially with the holiday season fast approaching.

I could type out a lot of reasons why email marketing is important for online stores, but I’ll let this chart speak for itself:

email customer aquisition


(Source: Custora study)

As a bootstrapped startup I don’t exactly have thousands laying around to assist in my list building efforts so I had to get creative.

I started with an email list size of 0 (well 1 if you count when I added myself to my list to make sure it was working). I now have an email list size of a few hundred and have even made money off of my list building efforts (yay!).

Here’s how I did it:

1. Start a giveaway 

I decided to use a giveaway as the main draw for signing up for my email list.

I created a free Facebook app using Shortstack that requires users to to do two things. First they must vote in a one question poll telling me their favorite candle scent and next they must enter their name and email address.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 11.50.11 PM


You can see the app live here.

I have the Shortstack app integrated with Mailchimp so that every time someone enters their name and email it is automatically imported to a special list in MailChimp. This integration is free and really easy to set up in Shortstack.

2. Promote the giveaway on giveaway sites 

Since my candle store is still really new I didn’t have a big audience to advertise my giveaway to. That’s okay because the point of this whole giveaway campaign was to reach new potential customers anyway.

To achieve this, I google’d for a list of giveaway sites and found this great list.

I then went down the list and selected a few to enter my giveaway on.

I’m not going to lie – this is a very time consuming and boring process. Some of the sites require you to create an account before you can list your giveaway and that can really slow you down.

If you have an intern or virtual assistant that you can pass this task off to, I would highly suggest it. But first YOU should write some copy to advertise the giveaway. I would not leave that part to an intern or virtual assistant because the copy is what will get someone to enter your giveaway and that is what nets you their email address.

The copy should be short and sweet and very benefit driven. I included what the value of the prize was along with words like “low number of entries means you have a high chance to win” and “easy entry, just vote in a one question poll.”

3. Sit back and watch list grow

Next you just sit back and wait. Some of the sites will require your entry to go through a short approval process so it may take a few hours before you start seeing your listings populate.

If your copy was good, you should almost immediately see entries into your giveaway which means new names on your email list. I submitted my giveaway to sites at around 12:30am and then went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I had almost 200 new people on my email list!

It really should happen that quickly.

I would highly suggest that you set up an auto responder campaign to immediately market to your new list. In the email thank them for voting in your poll and offer them a one time discount.

I set my auto responder email to go out within 1 hour after someone entered the giveaway that way my company was still in the forefront of their minds.

4. Email list with marketing campaigns 

As your email list grows sit back and smile because now you have an audience to send email marketing campaigns to.

The one down side to your new lists is that you should probably expect a lower conversion rate from this list than others. This is because you are marketing to people who like giveaway sites – this means they likely have a strong affinity for free items and really good deals.

This means you should treat this list in a certain way. When you email them keep in mind that they love discounts and always offer one.

Also, you know that they are willing to go the extra step to get a discount/sale/free product so use that to your advantage. Perhaps create a campaign saying if they can get 3 people to use a referral code and complete a purchase than they will get a free item. You get three sales and they get a free item – and bonus points because you increase your brand awareness.

You can definitely make sales from this type of list as long as you think creatively.

Here’s the proof:

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 11.42.20 PM

Thank you Online Sweepstakes for sending me a new customer!

Yes, this customer used a promo code to take 20% off her order but that’s okay.

My giveaway prize totaled $100 in store credit for products. I ended up building an email list of a few hundred people and even generated some sales.

Overall this was a HUGE success in my eyes. I’m not sure what else I could have done to grow my list for such little investment.

I plan to host many more giveaways to continue growing my list size.

Do you have any questions about this strategy? If so, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!