April 15, 2014
Case Study

Email Marketing: Big ROI for simple B2B alerts

SUMMARY: Some products are in stock for only a limited time. When you know customers want the product but they have no idea it's available, what's a fast, cheap and powerful way to get them to buy?

This B2B supplier of used goods sends a targeted alert message to customers when a product they want is in stock. The simple emails often generate more than $10,000 in a single send.
by Adam Sutton, Senior Reporter


UsedCardboardBoxes.com sells just that: used cardboard boxes. The company partners with Fortune 500 companies to collect used inventory for resale.

The trouble with buying and selling used goods is the inventory is temporary. Customers can never be sure that a specific product is in stock.

"We don't stock boxes. If we get in a load and someone buys it, it's gone," said Marty Metro, CEO, UsedCardboardBoxes.com.

A major portion of UCB's revenue comes from selling used boxes to companies in bulk. Since these customers tend to want only boxes of a specific size and type, this presents a challenge. The customers want a specific product, but they never know if it is in stock.

How could UCB tell customers that a box they need is in stock and ready to buy?


UCB launched an inventory alert email. The message told customers when a type of box they bought was coming into stock.

The simple, cheap program generates big returns. It even helps UCB gauge the demand for certain boxes before it buys them.

Here are the steps the team followed.

Step #1. Segment the list

The goal of the campaign was not to send batch-and-blast emails to customers every time a new box was in stock. UCB wanted to send customers alerts only for the boxes they had shown interest in.

To build the list, UCB asked customers to opt-in when they made a purchase or requested a quote.

Two pieces of information were important to the segmentation of the inventory alert emails:

  • Preferred box size — Business customers typically want only boxes of a specific dimension or type. By tracking customer purchases and quotes, the team could anticipate a customer's preferred size and type of box.

    When a new box came into stock, only customers who had shown prior interest in similar boxes received an alert.

  • Location — UCB also targets customers by their proximity to the new stock. For example, if a new stock is purchased in Portland, customers in Oregon are more likely to receive an alert than customers in Maine.

Small and targeted lists

Although the alerts are typically sent to less than 1,000 customers, the narrow focus of the audience and the relevance of the message generates big results.

For each alert, the audience consists of business customers who have either purchased or expressed interest in buying a specific type of cardboard box in bulk — hardly the average person off the street.

Step #2. Send the alert email

When new stock is available, UCB alerts specific customers with a simple email. The message is straightforward and utilitarian.

Aside from a company logo and footer, it includes only:

  • Subject line — "UsedCardboardBoxes.com has used Gaylord totes in your area. Reply requested ASAP. (SKU #474037CB1)"

  • Headline — "Available for Immediate Shipment:"

  • Link — SKU number of the box, which links to a one-page PDF with a product description and images. This is generally the most-clicked link of the email

  • Images — One or more pictures of boxes of the same size and shape.

  • Description — In the center of the message is a list of details, such as the dimensions, shape and ideal uses for the box.

  • Final link — A "mailto:" link with the text "Click Here For a Price Quote." This creates a reply email from the reader to UCB.

Step #3. Gauge interest in opportunities

Like every merchant, UCB has to buy the right inventory. Not every type of box is guaranteed to sell.

To anticipate demand, UCB will often send an inventory alert to customers before buying a load. After all, it doesn't make sense to buy thousands of boxes that no wants.

For example, say UCB learned that a company in Timbuktu wants to get rid of 1 million boxes that are 12 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches and is taking bids.

"We would do a geographical search around Timbuktu who has ever bought a 12 by 12 by 12 box or anything close to it. We would then send out an inventory alert to all those customers,” Metro said.

UCB uses the response it receives to the alert to gauge how aggressively to bid on the inventory.


This simple and inexpensive program has been very effective for UCB. A single alert campaign can generate more than $13,000 in sales.

"The ROI is very high," Metro said. "Our average order on the business side is around $5,000. If our inventory alerts create one order, and they often create a lot more than one, then [the program] pays for itself."

Here are two samples of UCB's alert emails and engagement rates:

Email #1

Sent: Sept. 10, 2013

Subject line: UsedCardboardBoxes.com has used Gaylord totes in your area. Reply requested ASAP. (SKU #474037CB1)

Open rate: 10.94%

Clickthrough rate: 1.78%

Email #2

Sent: Aug. 26, 2013

Subject line: UsedCardboardBoxes.com has used Gaylord totes in your area. Reply requested ASAP. (SKU #483851FB1)

Open rate: 17.11%

Clickthrough rate: 1.45%

Small stats yield big results

Though the engagement rates are not jaw-dropping, it only takes one order to shoot ROI through the roof, Metro said.

"When done correctly, I can't even describe how good it is," Metro concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. September alert email

  2. September alert PDF

  3. August alert email



Related Resources

Email Marketing: Back-in-stock alert emails achieve 22.45% conversion rate

Lead Gen: 17% lift in lead capture by including more details in email [Email Summit 2014 live test]

Email Marketing: 133% ROI for B2B's first-ever lead nurturing program

Email Deliverability: 8 tactics help you overcome rising B2B challenges

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