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Retargeting Customers: How Can You Reach Someone Who’s Not on Your Email List?

Earning your first sale is hard, and while it may be easier to turn an existing customer into a repeat customer, that’s doesn’t mean it’s easy. Once someone has bought from your store for the first time, how can you keep their interest and earn the next sale? That’s what we’re tackling today on Ask Shopify.


What are the best ways to retarget customers after a purchase? I know they’ve bought from me, and what they bought, but I can also see that my customers aren’t all opting in to my newsletter or following me on social media. What kinds of strategies should I look at to communicate with them and encourage repeat purchases?


A customer who’s already purchased one of your products has confirmed their interest, and as long as you deliver on promises made, there’s a real chance they’ll consider making a return visit. But as you noticed, not every customer takes the next step necessary for you to stay in touch.

When that happens, not all hope is lost. Retargeting is a paid ads strategy that allows you to show ads on different platforms to people who have already visited your website, as long as you have the right tracking mechanisms in place. You can choose to retarget based on what someone has done on your site, including showing ads only to people who have completed a purchase.

To help you get started, we spoke with two experts about the hidden value of retargeting and how to set up your first campaigns. Brent Stirling runs paid social media here at Shopify, and Reza Khadjavi is the founder of Shoelace, software that helps store owners automated their retargeting campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.

They shared a few different strategies that will help you retarget your customers to build your business—even if they don’t subscribe to your list or follow you on social media.

Use ads to build audiences

When you want to encourage people to buy from your store again, it can be easy to focus on that singular goal: Get more sales. However, there’s a lot you can do to retarget your buyers earlier on in the purchase process, and both Brent and Reza recommended thinking of ads in the context of your entire marketing strategy.

“One way to keep people engaged after a purchase is to show a retargeting ad that encourages them to opt-in to your newsletter,” says Reza. “You’d create a retargeting ad that says something like, "Hey, here's all the cool stuff we send out in our newsletter. If you subscribe alongside the 50,000 other people on our list, you'll get access to all this cool stuff."

There’s a lot you can do to retarget your buyers early on in the purchase process.

You can easily identify everyone who has completed an order if you have a Facebook Pixel on your site, with no need to rely on the email address they used to complete their purchase. From there, you can set up a Facebook ad reminding them that your newsletter is a great way to stay in touch.

“Don't always feel the need to get somebody to buy something,” advises Reza. “You can use a retargeting campaign to get them to sign up to your email list, because then it's free for you to reach out to them anytime you want.”

However, you’re not done once that customer is signed up for your list, since they’ve yet to hit “Buy Now” on their second order.

Think beyond the inbox

Even as your email list grows, it’s not a magic bullet on its own. Reza has seen firsthand that email marketing works best when working in tandem with a retargeting campaign, and strongly advises using them together to build more effective campaigns.

“Email is always a great channel,” says Reza, “but even when people have opted into your list, sometimes your emails wind up in the Promotions tab, and people won’t see it.”

“Even when people get the email and open it, there's a lot of value in reinforcing that message through retargeting. Because they might see the email, but they're on the go and they forget to act on it. If you’re retargeting them, later they might see an Instagram ad that has the same messaging as the email and say, ‘Oh right, I knew I wanted to buy that.’”

Pairing these efforts is what’s known as a multi-touch campaign, where you communicate a consistent message to a target customer across different touchpoints. If you haven’t run a paid ad before, you can simplify your first retargeting campaign by taking the following steps (or using Shoelace, which automates this process for you).

  • When you’re sending an email campaign, translate the content to fit the format of a Facebook or Instagram ad

  • Set up your new ad to run just after the email goes out, and test out how it performs to different audiences

  • If you want to hit just your email list with a retargeting ad, you can upload the list of emails to your ad platform, and if they use the same email in both places, you can show the ad directly to them

  • You could also target the ad to all previous purchasers if you’re using a Facebook Pixel

Start small, and know your margins

Your best source of learning will come from getting some skin in the game and actually running a few ads. That’s why even seasoned pros will start small to test the waters when they’re running new campaigns. Brent advised starting with an understanding of your profit margins to make sure you’re not going over budget.

“There are a lot of variables when you run Facebook ads,” says Brent. “Starting out, be sure to set a small daily or lifetime budget with conversions as the objective. A lot of marketers will also set a bid cap per conversion, but doing this requires knowing what your margins are. If your average cart size is $60, what are you comfortable spending to get that order? This can take a bit of time to figure out the sweet spot—you want to maximize conversions without  overspending to get them. Maybe it's $10 per conversion, maybe it's $20. Each business will be different.”

Your best source of learning will come from getting some skin in the game and actually running a few ads.

To put Brent’s advice into action, it’s time to take a look at your business’ budget to understand your profit margins. In simple terms, your profit margin is your sale price, minus all of the expenses you incur to produce the product. That can include:

  • Fixed expenses, like your internet, hosting, and cell phone bills

  • Variable expenses, like the cost of materials to create your products

  • One-time expenses, like a laptop or camera

When you start running paid ads, you’re adding a variable expense to the mix. It’s important to know your numbers ahead of time so that when you do, you can ensure you won’t be selling at a loss.

There’s no quick-and-easy way to find your profit margins without first knowing what’s happening with your business’ money, but we’ve got you covered with The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Small Business Finances.

Ads are a powerful tool to convert repeat customers

Once someone’s already purchased from you, they know your business and your products, so you’re not starting from scratch with your marketing. Even if those customers aren’t on your email list or following you on social media, retargeting them using paid ads can be a strong way to keep them engaged and earn that second (and third, and fourth…) order.

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