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A Definitive Guide to E-Commerce List Building (Inc. New Strategies for 2019)

  • Conversion Rate Optimization

If you’re running and growing an online store, it’s likely you’re building an email list. And if you are, chances are you’ve researched good list building tactics to help scale it faster.

But in doing so, you might have noticed something few marketers mention:

Not all list building strategies are relevant to e-commerce.

Yes, we all know guest posting and lead magnets are great list building tips. But what if you don’t have the time or the resources? Or a blog, for that matter?

To fill that gap, and make life easier, we (Rikke and Sam) have curated 22 insanely actionable e-commerce list building strategies that you might not have tried yet. In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What the biggest and brightest online retailers are doing to get more targeted emails. (Note: it’s not about getting more subscribers; it’s about getting the right subscribers.)
  • The best list building strategy we’ve ever seen. (We had to use Internet Wayback Machine to get the screenshot for the example.)
  • How to put our favorite strategies in place, best practices to follow, and more.

Let’s get started.

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Part 1: Social Media

There are two ways to grow an email list using social media: paid and organic.

Paid involves either (1) acquiring leads through a platform’s ad program (e.g. Facebook lead ads). Or (2) using paid ads to drive traffic to your site where users can opt in (e.g. through a popup).

Organic, like paid, involves driving users to your site and converting them into email subscribers—without breaking your marketing budget. Your traffic is free, but its limited to the size of your audience.

Both are effective and are worth combining to maximize your list building efforts. So, below, we’ll show you how to get more emails using a combination of both approaches.

1. Why Even “Beginners” Are Able to Use Facebook Ads

You don’t always need traffic to get quality leads.

Facebook lead ads are the ads that appear between posts in your newsfeed. The best part? You can use them to tap into an audience of 2.19 billion monthly active users.

Here’s an example from Thrive Market:

It gets better. Users can sign up in two clicks—and without having to leave their newsfeed. This makes online shopping more convenient for consumers (meaning more business for you).

You can also target specific audiences with your lead ads and create more personalized, targeted messages for all types of Facebook users.

To learn moreread Rikke’s post, “How to Create Jaw-Dropping Facebook Ads.”

ProTip: Pin a Facebook lead ad to your Facebook Business page so new users will see your ads.

2. How to Turn Likes Into Leads (à la Chairish)

There’s a simple, yet overlooked opportunity on your Facebook business page.

And that’s your Facebook Signup form.

With it, you can add a tab to your business page where users can sign up for your newsletter.

Here’s an example from Chairish:

When you click the tab, there’s a form for users to get notified about new arrivals:

It takes seconds to set up. And while it might not be the biggest contributor to your list’s growth, it’s a tactic worth trying.

3. Add a Link to Your Instagram Bio

Instagram is the third most popular social media platform, only succeeded by Facebook and YouTube.

But what’s more interesting is users spend, on average, upwards of 53 minutes a day on the platform

This gives you a big opportunity to reach your target audience.

The first thing users see when they click on your Instagram profile is your bio. So why not try to catch their attention at this point and ask for their email address?

For instance, you could offer your Instagram followers something in return for their email—just like ban.do:

They offer not one, not two, but three incentives (free shipping, freebies, and a giveaway competition) for people to join their email list.

When you click the link, you go to this landing page:

Scroll further and you see a form where you can enter your email address and join the competition:

Further down, you get to a form where you can enter your email address to join the competition:

Ban.do uses a competition to promote their newest collection of lifestyle items while also collecting email addresses.

Offering items from a new collection as prizes creates awareness. And if subscribers don’t win, they’re more likely to shop for the collection anyway. Why? Because they already imagined owning these items when they entered the competition.

Pro Tip: When you link to a landing page from your social media profiles, make sure the landing page is specific to the offer you’re promoting. Use the same design (colors, images, etc.), reference the copy, repeat the offer, and use the same call-to-action.

4. Combine Instagram Posts with Surprise Competitions to Get More Subscribers

When used right, Instagram can help you grow your email list significantly.

Instagram posts have a wide reach because they appear in your followers’ newsfeed. Plus, if you add hashtags to your posts they will appear in searches for those hashtags.

You aren’t allowed to add any links to your post descriptions, so you need to link to all promotions from a link in your bio.

Here’s an example from Bombas who uses a competition as an incentive:

As you can see in the description, it says “The link to this amazing prize package is in our bio,” which refers to the one link you’re allowed in your bio.

When you promote giveaways, discounts or competitions, remember to let users know when the offer expires to tap into their fear of missing out.

5. What to Do When You Tell Instagram Stories

Much like the “My Story” feature on Snapchat, you can create Instagram Stories for users looking to share short videos for a limited time.

The difference between Snapchat Stories and Instagram Stories for brands is the tagging and linking capabilities.

With Instagram Stories, you can tag other users in your stories (like influencers featured in your videos), and add a link to your story meaning you can link to the offer you’re promoting.

Here’s an example from MAC:

MAC link to the product page featured in the story and ask visitors to sign up for their newsletter:

When you click the link in the form, MAC redirects you to a page where they “sell” the benefits of the newsletter and invite you to opt in:

ProTip: Reference the traffic source in the copy so the optin is personalized to the user. For instance, if users click an Instagram story promoting a new pair of shoes, you can use that in your opt-in form by saying: “Hey Instagrammer. Like our new shoes? Enter your email to get exclusive deals on shoes like these in the future.”

6. A Clever Way to Use Pinterest Posts

Pinterest is a powerful platform for e-commerce stores.

With 55% of pinners using the platform to shop, it makes sense to use it to grow your list.

In fact, Pinterest has recently made it easier for e-commerce brands to do so by launching “Buyable Pins.”

These are ads that allow users to go to your landing page in one click.

Here’s an example from Away:

This ad links to the product page for their Carry-On bag. Then, Away ask visitors to join their newsletter using a scroll-activated popup:

When you use a form like this on your product pages, make sure it’s relevant to the page it appears on so visitors know the benefits of joining your list.

7. What the Best Online Stores Know About Reddit That Almost No One Does (*Cough* Use Animated Ads)

Reddit recently passed Facebook as the third most visited website in the world. And in doing so, is expanding its ad business.

It’s no surprise, then, that more online retailers are now exploring Reddit as a viable advertising platform.

Much like other ad platforms, businesses can buy ad space to target users—and capture potential buyers.

Let’s take a brief look at two ways you can approach Reddit Advertising.

7.1. Use Promoted Posts

If you’ve ever browsed Reddit’s newsfeed, you’ve likely seen Promoted Posts. These are ads masquerading as user-submitted posts.

Ikalogic recently used Promoted Posts to build a target list of potential buyers for a new product they were launching.

When I clicked on their ad, they invited me to opt in to get notified of its launch date.

Promoted Posts are fast becoming a popular list building strategy. But a word of warning: leaving comments enabled can invite abuse from users. So, approach with caution.

7.2. Create a Display Network Ad on Reddit

Yes, Reddit display ads are part of the Google Display Network (GDN). But we’ve included it here to showcase how one brand is using them to get more subscribers.

PatPat is an online store that specializes in affordable children’s clothing.

To distinguish themselves from competing ads, they use a HTML5 ad with (1) ultra-specific copy (64% is more enticing than 60%, right?) and (2) several offers to the choose from.

When I clicked on one of the items, PatPat redirected me to the relevant product page (it varied depending on the option I chose). And when I tried to leave, they offered me a coupon code in exchange for my email.

It’s a textbook example of combining paid advertising with lead generation—and it’s worth stealing.

8. The Real Reason Why Youtube Is so Popular (Hint: It’s a List Building Goldmine)

With YouTube now the second largest search engine, it makes sense that more advertisers are turning to it to grow their audience.

If you’re one of them, there are two ad formats you need to familiarize yourself with.

8.1 YouTube In-Video Overlay Ads

If you don’t have an ad blocker enabled, chances are you’ve seen in-video overlay ads while watching YouTube videos.

Popular with channels that are part of YouTube’s ad program, overlay ads are semi-transparent ads that appear on the lower 20% part of a video.

Here’s an example from Shein:

Much like the earlier PatPat example (Strategy #7.1), if you click the ad, Shein redirect you to a product category page and show you a popup offering money off your next order:

When combining paid advertising with lead generation, remember to personalize a campaign’s copy based on traffic source.

For instance, if you’re sending traffic to your site from YouTube, you could create a condition so it only shows for that source. Then, you can reference it in the copy by writing something like, “Coming from Youtube? Get $5 off Your Next Order (Free Shipping for Orders over $50).”

It’s the little things that make all the difference.

8.2. Create a Display Network Ad on YouTube

Much like Google Display Ads, YouTube displays ads appear to the right of the feature video and above the video suggestions list.

We already looked at how one brand is using Google display ads on Reddit to get more subscribers (Strategy #7.2). Now let’s look at how to combine it with the world’s second largest search engine—YouTube.

At the time of writing, Caliroots is using a display ad to promote a flash sale (don’t judge my viewing habits):

And, like the above examples, they’re using a popup offering a coupon to convert their ad traffic into subscribers.

It’s important to mention again here that personalization and user experience are key. So, if you’re considering the above, use user-friendly popups. After all, no one likes interruptions when they’re shopping online.

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Part 2: Website

In Part 1, we showed you how to get more visitors to your site using social media. And, from there, how to convert those visitors into subscribers using lead capture forms.

In Part 2, we’ll show you how to get more emails from users coming from other sources (including organic, email, referral, etc.). Plus, a few other best practices we recommend following.

Let’s continue…

9. Popups + Personalization = More Targeted Leads

We all know there’s never a second chance to make an impression. It’s why we put our best foot forward when meeting new people. And why site owners go out of our way to write good copy for their site’s homepage.

But as we’ve seen, so far, common sense isn’t always common practice when it comes to capturing leads.

Take the below store for example:

Much like the overzealous salesperson greeting a first-time visitor, this site shows an intrusive popup that asks for my email as soon as I enter their site. Not a good start.

But if they offered me a personalized experience, one that made me feel like the offer was for me and me only, THEN I would feel more inclined to take them up on their offer.

One of my favorite brands that personalize the user experience is Fabletics.

When you visit their site for the first time and click “Get Started,” they show a survey popup asking you your favorite way to get fit among other preferences like your favorite place to workout and which colors best match your style:

After completing the survey, they ask you to enter your email in exchange for an “exclusive offer”:

Fabletics have nailed their popup for three reasons:

  • They’re creating hyper-targeted user segments. Yes, there are many steps, and Fabletics are likely to collect fewer leads. That’s a given. But those leads are likely to be of higher quality and easier to market to, given the information they have (they even ask for size and body type).
  • They personalize the user experience for return visitors. Ever been asked to join an email list you’re already on? Annoying isn’t it? Fabletics know that, too. So, they show ONLY the end screen to return visitors that have completed the survey but have NOT entered their email. Clever.
  • Their copy is unique and ultra-specific. Unlike other sites that ask users to “Subscribe for Exclusive Offers,” Fabletics specify WHAT their offer is (“2 leggings for $24”), include free shipping and even attach a dollar value (“$99 value”). Don’t assume the user knows what you know. Tell them.

ProTip: Help users segment themselves based on preferences. Then, deliver relevant marketing messages based on that information.

10. How to “Supercharge” Your About Page

Did you know you can drive more conversions by adding an optin to your about page?

It’s true.

You can assume that people who browse your about page have an interest in learning more about you and your brand.

So, give these visitors an incentive to subscribe to your newsletter—and let them know what they getting in return.

Here’s an example from AYR:

As you can see, all you need is an optin form and a line of benefit-driven copy to persuade them to opt in. It’s that simple.

11. Use Content Upgrades (With a Twist)

We’ve all seen content upgrades. They’re post-specific bonuses used to encourage more signups. But did you know you can use them on product pages, too?

A quick story…

I recently went online looking for an electric bike (not for myself, of course).

And while searching, I landed on Evelo—a site that sells, well, electric bikes.

As a newbie to the exciting world of electric bikes, I wasn’t ready to buy yet; I was browsing for more information so I could make an informed decision later.

After browsing the same product page at Evelo for a while, a popup appeared offering me a guide to buying an electric bike.

This is a great example of a content upgrade for e-commerce because it considers where users are in the buyer’s journey.

Because I had browsed the page for a while without taking action, Evelo, assumed I wasn’t ready to buy (because I wasn’t).

So offering me this guide isn’t only valuable to me as a potential buyer, but it’s also valuable to Evelo, who gets a hot new lead for their list.

Visitors who fill in this form qualify as good leads because they said yes to a guide on choosing the right product. What more could you ask for?

Note from Editor

Watch the video below to learn how to offer content upgrades on product pages using Sleeknote:

12. The Best Defense Against Cart Abandonment

You hear about it every day. You know it’s important. And you do everything you can to prevent it…

I’m talking, of course, about cart abandonment.

Yes, it’s unavoidable. Not everyone will complete their purchase. I’ll grant you that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t re-engage them later, off-site.

Take Burrow, for instance.

Like many online retailers, they use a cart abandonment popup on their checkout page to re-engage abandoning buyers.

When the user tries to leave the page, Burrow shows a popup offering $50 off a future order.

But we know the real reason they’re doing it:

Offering a discount is an effective way of turning users into customers through another channel like email marketing.

Is it annoying? Yes. If, like other strategies, you ignore best practices. But it works. And with cart abandonment rates on the rise, there’s never been a better time to try it.

Note from Editor

Watch the video below to learn how to create a cart recovery popup using Sleeknote:

13. A Simple Change You Can Make to Your Confirmation Page to Double Your Optins

Your confirmation page has the potential to become one of the best lead generating pages on your site.

I mean, think about it:

A customer has just bought from you. And they’re feeling like they’re on top of the world (at least, that’s how I feel when I buy new things—don’t judge). So, they’re more likely to convert again—like giving their email.

If they haven’t already subscribed to your newsletter before, or during checkout, now is the time to ask.

After all, they just bought from you, and they’re unlikely to buy again, so avoid discounts, here. Instead, promote something like your loyalty program and get them one step closer to becoming brand evangelists.

Another good incentive is to offer to save their receipts (including the one for the purchase they just made). You can also offer to reward points for each purchase (again, including the one they just made).

Here’s an example I created to show you how it might look:

14. Revealed: The Best List Building Strategy We’ve Ever Seen

It’s no secret that e-tailers want to increase their customer’s average order value. And for many marketers, an effective way to do that is to upsell a relevant offer.

With that in mind, I have an upselling strategy for you, one that you might not have seen before. But it isn’t just good for upselling, it’s also a great way to grow your email list:

Upsell upcoming products before they’re available.

Here’s an example using FiftyThree and one of their product pages (note: they no longer use this strategy due to them moving their inventory to Amazon).

When you scroll to the bottom of the page, they promote upcoming products related to the product you’re viewing:

Then, when you click to get notified, a popup appears where visitors can enter their information and get notified when the new products are available:

The best part? They also include a checkbox where visitors can opt in for their newsletter.

Pretty cool, huh?

15. How a Simple Adjustment to Your Catalog Page Can Give You More Optins

Yes, they’re old-school. But catalogs still work. In fact, in many industries, they’re making a big comeback.

According to the American Catalog Mailers Association, consumers who receive catalogs spend an average of $850 annually on catalog purchases.

That’s a LOT of money to leave on the table.

Granted, catalogs aren’t for everyone. And they might not be for you. But if you’re pushing a big product line, there’s no reason why you can’t use them to get more sales. And, while you’re at it … capture more emails.

Sweaty Betty knows this better than anyone. On their catalog page, they ask users to give an email to get a catalog.

You might be thinking, “But why would they need the user’s email address if the user is only requesting a catalog?”

And that’s the point:

There are countless opportunities where you CAN ask for an email. But, for one reason or another, you don’t. And in the process, forgo good list building opportunities. This is one example. And there are many others like it. So it begs the question: how many others are there in your business? Something to think about.

16. What You Can Learn About List Building from Cotton Bureau

It’s easy to assume that anyone looking to contact you is already a subscriber.

But we know, of course, that isn’t always the case.

One of my favorite, little-known list building strategies is asking for a user’s email on your contact page.

I’ll use Cotton Bureau to illustrate how it works.

When you go on their contact page, you see the normal input fields you would expect from a contact form. But when you scroll to the submit button, you see the following:

Not everyone will be relevant, of course. But it’s an effective way of maximizing an otherwise lost list building opportunity (see above comment).

ProTip: Remember to add recaptcha to prevent spam emails.

17. How to Get The Most Out of Your 404 Page

Your 404 pages are just like any other page on your website, and you can edit and optimize it for lead generation.

Let’s be honest: It can’t get any worse than it already is, so why not have some fun with it, and put a smile on people’s face when they see a 404 page on your website?

Adding a signup form to your 404 pages is quite simple. Here’s an example from Boho Buys:

This is a simple version, and you should try to be even more creative with your own 404 page.

Try offering a bonus or a discount in exchange for an email address on this page.

Being creative with your 404 error page will not only help grow your email list it, but it will also give people a much better experience on your site.

18. The Best Single Rule to Remember if You Use Live Chat

Offering live chat in today’s world is more than a nicety; it’s a necessity.

Consumers’ expectations for exceptional customer service is increasing … while their patience is decreasing.

Live chat is perfect for inviting visitors to reach out when they need it—and handling any objections they might have.

Best of all, you can use live chat for list building.

Asking for an email address before connecting visitors to a live chat representative is not uncommon for many e-commerce sites.

Here’s an example from Nordstrom:

What’s great about asking for an email address in this step, is that you can ask visitors if they would like to receive offers at the end of the chat if they’ve had a positive experience.

They’ve already entered their email address beforehand, so saying yes to a freebie after doesn’t hurt.

Many live chats include an option to receive a transcript when the chat ends. So why not use this opportunity to grow your email list with qualified leads?

19. A Simple and Unobtrusive Tactic to Get More Emails

Here’s the deal:

You know you have fewer than eight seconds to capture a user’s attention.

So in a bid to get more emails, you consider showing visitors a popup as soon as they arrive at your site. But you also know Google prioritizes a good user experience. And anyone that ignores that is likely to get penalized.

So how can you get more subscribers (without hurting the user experience)?

Give users the option to opt in when they’re ready.

One brand that has nailed this strategy is Calvin Klein. When users click, “Sign Up for Newsletter,” they see a drop-down optin appear below the navigation bar:

Giving users a choice over their optin preferences gives them a better on-site experience, and it keeps you on the right side of Google. Win. Win.

20. What Facebook Know About Engagement That Almost Nobody Else Does

If you have an iPhone, you’re familiar with red notification badges:

They’re impossible to ignore, and clicking on them, even to disable them, is unavoidable.

Yes, they’re annoying. But they’re surprisingly effective. In fact, research has found they activate our brain’s dopamine pathways … making them super addictive.

It’s no surprise, then, that many sites, e-commerce and otherwise, use similar technology to engage users.

Beardbrand combines a badge notification on their site with a click-activated popup:

Users see a red notification badge, feel compelled to click it, and see a popup asking them to opt in.

Granted, it won’t work for everyone, but for those who are curious (or accustomed to it), it might be enough for them to click and subscribe to their brand.

21. An Ingenious Way to Validate New Markets with Popups (2 Methods)

I came across this clever list building tactic while researching our post on Harry’s Marketing.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you don’t deliver outside your country. But you plan to someday. What do you do if a prospect from another country wants to buy from you?

One way is to offer to email them when you begin shipping to their country.

There are two ways to do this. Either, through a customer service representative, as shown in the bonus resource for the Harry’s post:

Or, through a popup on your product pages like Tuft & Needle

It’s not for everyone, of course, but it’s perfect if you’re looking to gauging interest from other markets.

22. The Quickest and Easiest Way to Improve Your Footer Optin

If you have an online store, chances are you have an optin in your site’s footer. After all, if your competitors do it, it must be a good idea, right?

Not exactly.

While it is a good idea to add an optin there, many sites fail to use it to their full advantage.


Because few companies leverage an irresistible offer.

Take ASICS Tiger, for example:

As much as marketers might wish, no one wakes up in the morning wishing they had more newsletters in their inboxes. But saving money or getting a discount off a future purchase? Now that’s something to get behind.

Charish positions their offer well. Rather than write something generic like, “Join Our Newsletter,” they invite users to get money off their next order.

If you’re asking for emails in the footer, continue doing so. But give users a good reason to opt in.

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Want More Growth Marketing Strategies?

We’ve put together an exhaustive list of 100+ growth marketing strategies our fastest-growing e-commerce customers are using to grow their traffic, get more customers and boost their revenue (organized for your convenience).

Which List Building Strategy Will You Choose?

So, there you have it: twenty-two e-commerce list building strategies to help you get more emails. We learned a LOT writing this post and we hope you got a lot out of it, too.

Now we want to turn it over to you:

Which e-commerce ist building strategy are you going to try now? Are you going to use content upgrades on product pages? Or, are you going to use personalized popups? Leave a comment below.

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