Turn e-commerce into an IRL relationship with handwritten letters

By: Ryan Hartzman

October 2, 2020

E-commerce is everything for entrepreneurs in 2020. The NASDAQ estimates that by 2040, 95% of purchases will be facilitated by e-commerce. But we are already seeing that shift happening now. Consider: An Adobe report found that American consumers spent more than $50 billion on their smartphones during the 2019 holiday season—accounting for 84% of the holiday season’s spending growth that year.

E-commerce represents an amazing growth opportunity while also being plain scary. Why? Two words: frictionless and spontaneity. E-commerce sales represent a nearly frictionless experience for consumers. Today, a customer can see an ad for a watch, feel an instantaneous emotional connection, and make an impulse purchase under a minute from their phone with pre-loaded credit card information. The time between initial awareness and purchase decision can be less time than it takes for a freshman to microwave a bowl of instant noodles—a food that literally has the word “instant” in its name.

But a spontaneous purchase decision is also an easily abandoned one, and that’s a scary thing for online retailers. That Adobe report we mentioned above found that 50% of smartphone shoppers abandon their carts—half of online shoppers! You can lose them as quickly as you get them, and you can lose them as soon as they click off their browser to open a text from the ex they weirdly still talk to. Distractions abound. But as long as these distractions continue to negatively impact the bottom line—letting checkout carts collect dust in your backend—online retailers are left with a critical challenge.

How do you create a personal relationship online with an easily distracted customer you’ll never talk to?

You see, back in the good ol’ days…  (Narrator: “They weren’t that good.”)

Customers would come into your store, and you would talk to them. Over time, you could build a relationship. They would recognize you and your expertise. And you had opportunities to persuade them about the value of a product or a purchase.

Today, persuasion is happening over ad images and tight copy. And as much as you’re competing with others in your product category, you’re also competing for customers’ attention as they scroll through the device in their hands. Insert The Simpsons’ “Old Man Yells At Cloud” headline. Your enemy in this scenario is a calendar notification as much as a competitor.

To win the fight, get off the digital battlefield onto winning ground. Go analog. Handwritten letters can be a surprising but effective counter-measure in the battle for customers’ online attention.

E-commerce retailers think everything about their customer experience has to be digital. Flip that thinking on its head.

Here are six specific ways an e-commerce retailer can use handwritten letters to outsmart the competition—not to mention that pesky calendar notification.

1. Send a handwritten thank-you note along with a shipped product.

A thank-you note is just an incomparably personal and simple way to build a connection with a customer. You’re shipping to this customer anyway—why not include a personalized, handwritten note thanking them for their purchase? There’s so much research to support the conclusion that expressing gratitude is a powerful way to build trust and relationships. Telling a customer how much you appreciate their business is just one effective way of making a one-time customer a loyal and long-term one.

2. Send a follow-up letter months after a customer has purchased a product…

There’s an impactful generosity to giving a customer free information before they become a customer.  In turn, to check in on a customer’s experience of your product months after they’ve purchased shows how deeply you care. Consider including your phone number or email address so they can follow up personally with feedback. This is also a great way to keep you top-of-mind with a previous customer, and an encouragement for them to come back.

3. …And up-sell in that letter.

Use that follow-up letter as an opportunity to up-sell the customer on new products. This is especially true if you’re in a product category where certain items can complement your customers’ purchases, like a new hamper for a towel set, or a travel bag for shampoos and other bathroom items.

4. Drive direct mail targets to your website.

One InfoTrend survey found that more than half of customers who responded to direct mail either went to the brand’s website or visited their offline store. Once you’ve piqued a potential customer’s interest with a piece of mail, they’ll visit your website and start browsing. Worst case, they are sharing data through their clicks, allowing them to be targeted with paid ads. The boundary between online and offline is gone. With handwritten letters, you’re sending recipients straight to your website—right where you want them.

5. Try special discounts for letter recipients.

Send handwritten letters at scale with the help of Postalgia to a new market segment in a certain geographic area. For any new customer receiving your letter, include a QR code or a special checkout discount code. Like the thank-you note mentioned above, a personal invitation, combined with the opportunity to save a little money on their first purchase, is a great way to create a relationship.

6. Send a newsletter with product tips, along with a handwritten introduction.

People love getting things for free. Especially when those things are valuable. And whether it’s fashion tips for a new season, the most up-to-date info on local real estate prices, or the hottest trends in home furnishing, a colourful, visual newsletter can deliver high-value information to potential customers that might inspire them to buy from you. Even better: with today’s direct mail targeting, it’s easier than ever before to micro-target a newsletter right to your best consumer demographic.

Including a handwritten introduction with a newsletter is a great way to personalize the information shared—include an email or phone number so a potential customer can reach out to you and learn more.

These are just six examples, but any creative entrepreneur can think of occasions than fit their sales process. The lines between the offline and online worlds haven’t just been blurred—they’re gone. Take advantage.