Should Ecommerce Brands Require an Email to Start Shopping?

When you visit Zulily’s site for the first time, you’ll see this pop up immediately on your screen:

The incredibly successful ecommerce brand doesn’t let just anyone shop on their site — it’s a members-only experience. You can’t even browse products without first entering your email address and signing up. Zulily started out as a small daily flash sales site focused on moms, but grew quickly and was acquired by QVC in 2014 for $2.4 billion. So clearly this tactic works.

But is this a good choice for your company? It depends. Requiring an email places a higher barrier to entry for your potential buyers, but also provides you with a valuable marketing channel to reach those buyers and convince them to purchase.

There are pros and cons to each option, and you should consider each carefully. Here’s how to decide whether your company should ask every website visitor for their email.

The benefits of asking for email up-front

The key benefit of getting a customer’s email immediately is simple: you have their email address. You can now engage directly with potential customers and offer them coupons, targeted offers, and other personalized messages. For a B2C marketer, knowing the name and identity of every shopper is incredibly powerful and enables you to market to each individual far more effectively.

Asking for an email also creates an air of exclusivity to your brand. Many of the ecommerce companies who require an email explicitly say that you have to become a “member” first, before you can shop. This terminology can be appealing to a certain type of shopper. That buyer may actually be more likely to shop with your brand if they think it’s exclusive and “members-only” (even if it’s not all that exclusive, in reality).

The drawbacks of email requirements

The immediate drawback of requiring an email address from anyone who wants to browse your site is clear as well: your traffic is bound to suffer. Some potential customers won’t want to share their email and so will leave your site immediately, never even looking at a single product you have for sale. This leads to much lower traffic overall, and could start to hurt your revenue numbers.

While it’s great to be able to email potential customers, you actually don’t have to ask for their email up front. Thanks to new advances in technology, you can collect information on all web users as they browse your site today. With a B2C CRM, you can keep track of every page browsed, every product clicked, and every cart left behind — even for an anonymous user. Then, when a customer eventually purchases a product and provides their email, you know every page they’ve viewed and can customize and personalize all of your marketing communications from that point on.

What’s right for your ecommerce brand?

The answer, unfortunately, is it depends. Depending on your market, your average product price, your site traffic, and much more, this tactic could be a great choice, or it could drive down your revenue. Whether you should opt for the air of exclusivity that comes from asking for an email first, or you allow anyone to shop is a choice that only you can make.

However, if your main concern is identifying and marketing effectively to your customers, asking for their email first isn’t necessary. Now, you can do so much more with the anonymous data you have that you don’t have to put any barrier between your brand and potential customers. You can do a lot with a little in today’s world of B2C marketing.

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