The definitive guide to ecommerce email marketing
Email marketing is one of the most effective tools at your disposal as an ecommerce brand. Sending marketing emails is a great way to spread brand awareness, drive conversions, and retain customers.
But creating an effective campaign is easier said than done — especially if you’re seeing little customer engagement with your emails.
Learn how to use different types of ecommerce emails to get the conversions and retention you want. This post will help you get started as we explore:
- What ecommerce email marketing is
- Why email marketing is important for ecommerce
- Types of ecommerce emails
- Ecommerce email marketing tips and strategies
- Ecommerce email marketing software
What is ecommerce email marketing?
Ecommerce email marketing is the practice of using email to promote your online store to current and would-be customers. Email is the perfect fit for ecommerce because it boasts the highest return on investment (ROI) of any digital marketing channel. According to Litmus, email marketing returns $36 for every $1 spent.
Ecommerce emails can be transactional or promotional.
- Transactional emails automatically go out to a buyer after they complete an action on your website. These emails might be order confirmations or shipping updates.
- Promotional emails are either sales-oriented or informational. A sales email might be a targeted campaign designed to drive conversions while an informational email could be a newsletter with updates. They go to customers and non-customers alike.
Transactional and promotional messages are key components of an ecommerce email strategy.
Why email marketing is important for ecommerce
A strong email marketing strategy is essential for ecommerce brands because it’s one of the most effective ways to reach online audiences. Email marketing is one of the easiest channels for customer outreach, fostering brand awareness, and nurturing customer relationships.
Good email marketing will expand your customer base. According to Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 87% of B2B and 76% of B2C marketers use email to reach customers. Even a targeted email strategy lets you directly reach a large audience with one campaign.
Promotional emails sent to non-customers can help convert these subscribers. Email marketing messages have one of the highest conversion rates of all digital marketing channels. A Barilliance study reported a 15% conversion rate for email marketing campaigns.
Once you’ve built a customer base, email marketing can help you retain them long term. Statista reports that 89% of marketers use email for customer retention, more than any other channel. Newsletters, relevant offers, and relationship-building messaging are just a few of the ways to deepen customer relationships via email.
Types of ecommerce emails
Promotional emails and transactional emails are the two most basic types of ecommerce messages. Within each of those categories are several types of ecommerce marketing emails. You may come up with some of your own, but here are a few of the most common.
Welcome emails are sent to a user after they opt in to your email list or set up an account. People read welcome emails more than other types of promotional messages, so optimize these messages. Omnisend saw welcome messages generate a 2.9% conversion rate — one of the highest rates of automated emails that are non-transactional.
Welcome emails often include a special perk for new subscribers, like:
- A discount or coupon for their first order
- A free gift with purchase
- Free content
In addition to a gift, it’s a good idea to set expectations by telling customers how often they can expect to hear from you moving forward and what kind of content you’ll send.
This welcome email from Levoit is sent to the consumer’s inbox less than five minutes after signup. It sets expectations, immediately offers a unique discount code, and includes a convenient CTA to encourage a quick conversion.
Birthday and anniversary emails
Anniversary emails can be sent to celebrate any kind of event — an initial sign-up, first purchase, birthdays, or other unique occasions. These emails are all about the user, so people like them. In fact, Omnisend reports that birthday emails have a 40.6% open rate. Consider asking for a customer’s birthday when they initially opt in to your email list.
Some strategies for good anniversary emails include:
- Offering a unique, special gift.
- Using the subject line of the message to make recipients aware there’s a gift inside.
- Hinting at a mystery gift in your email to encourage greater CTRs.
Target Circle, Target’s rewards program, sends subscribers a 5% off coupon on their birthday. The subject line is clear to encourage open rates, and the CTA is easily accessible.
Re-engagement emails are for any customer who hasn’t recently engaged with your brand. Maybe they haven’t made a purchase in a while, left items in their cart, or just haven’t been opening your emails.
Some best practices for winning these customers back include:
- Setting up a sequence of emails. Three to five emails targeted to customers who have lost interest are more successful than a single message.
- Adding a strong call to action (CTA) above the fold.
- Offering a discount to entice re-engagement.
- Providing an opt-out opportunity. If that customer really isn’t coming back, it’s best to get them off your email list.
This email from Sunday makes it clear that the brand has noticed the user’s absence, with a subject line that starts, “We miss you.” The subject line also promises a small discount, which the email immediately offers. Two combined deals and an easy CTA button are a strong enticement for the user to re-engage.
Promotion emails are just what they sound like — emails that let customers know about a sale or special offer. The goal of a promotion email is to move a customer from their inbox to your website.
Be clear about the deal you’re offering and how it will benefit the customer. Use copy and images that allow readers to envision themselves using and enjoying your product or service. Then add a strong, clear CTA that makes it easy to click through.
Society6 advertises fall deals in this warm-toned email. The offer is presented up front in bold, colorful type. After a short sentence of text, a matching CTA provides immediate access to the sale. The email even uses some unexpectedly playful CTA text to increase engagement and create a positive brand experience.
Loyalty emails go to anyone who is signed up for your loyalty or rewards program. You want to offer this group of customers special perks other people don’t get. This might look like early access, exclusive deals, or anything else that’s specific to your program.
Loyalty emails are an excellent way to forge long-term customer relationships and increase customer lifetime value. They may help you gain new customers too — existing participants often spread the word about how happy they are with the loyalty program experience.
Get creative with your loyalty emails.
- Use visuals to show a customer how close they are to their next reward.
- Send an interactive survey that loyalty members can use to offer feedback on your brand.
- Gamify the experience by offering incentives for social media shares.
Panera Bread offers an Unlimited Sip Club that functions as a monthly subscription to the restaurant’s beverages. This loyalty club email reminded the customer to use their “sips” (free drinks). A relevant photo and clever copy lead to a “Redeem My Cup” CTA.
Ecommerce email marketing tips and strategies
It might take some time and testing to figure out what email strategies resonate most with your audience, but there are several email marketing best practices that are helpful across the board.
1. Segment your audience
The simplest way to personalize emails is to segment your customers into groups based on demographics, buyer journey stage, or other factors that are meaningful to your brand. Once customers are categorized, you can strategically target emails to increase open rates and purchases.
You might choose to segment your audience by:
- Household income level
- Job title
- Education level
- Past purchases
- Purchase frequency
- Level of engagement
Where relevant, collect this information when customers first sign up for your mailing list.
2. Get personal
Personalization is arguably the most important strategy when it comes to email marketing. Consumers are used to personalized communication from brands, so don’t fall behind — make people feel like you’re catering directly to them.
Here are a few personalization strategies you can use.
- Include the customer’s first name in the subject line or the first line of the email.
- Send triggered emails based on browsing behavior or data from your CRM.
- Capitalize on birthdays or other anniversaries.
In this personalized email from Amazon, the retailer suggested a new book from Brigid Kemmerer — an author whose books the customer had purchased before.
3. Cross-sell and upsell
Emails are a great way to cross-sell related products after a customer has browsed your site or completed a purchase. Omnisend saw a conversion increase of 45% with cross-sell emails.
To make the most of cross-selling email marketing:
- Suggest add-ons that would go well with the purchased item, like an accessory to complement a piece of clothing or decor that matches a recent furniture purchase.
- Describe the value of this additional product in the text of the email.
- Use social proof by explaining that other customers who purchased the same item also bought the new one you’re recommending.
- Use images to show the item that was purchased with the item you’re recommending.
- Offer a limited time discount or free shipping on the additional item.
Similarly, you can use email marketing to upsell, recommending a higher end product if a customer left something in their cart. Provide a CTA with a direct link to make the upgrade easy and painless.
4. Focus on the subject line
EarthWeb estimates the average person receives over 100 emails per day. This is why your subject line is important — it’s your chance to grab a customer’s eye before they delete your message.
Here are a few ways to make the subject line concise, catchy, and intriguing.
- Limit it to 50 characters or less.
- Place important words toward the front of the subject line.
- Use words that appeal to people’s FOMO and create a sense of urgency like “secret,” “free,” or “win.”
- Consider using emojis to add color and make your email stand out in a crowded inbox.
The example subject lines shown here are clear about what’s inside the email but still try to entice readers to open. You probably noticed two of them first — Cinnaholic used seasonal emojis and Easton used numerals to visually break up the text.
5. Use images
Quality images are a great way to grab customers’ attention and get them to click through. The right image communicates more efficiently than text and can convey much more than words.
Here are some tips for getting imagery right in your email marketing.
- Don’t use free stock photos that are recognizable across the web — use original high-resolution product photos.
- Use a JPG file format to help the images load quickly.
- Don’t overdo it. More than three images per email starts to overwhelm users and make emails load slower.
Brooklinen’s email advertising a set of sheets includes a photo that shows the color and texture of the item. It shows how the sheets can work together with other products like a duvet or pillowcases.
6. Consider frequency
Figuring out the right schedule for your marketing emails may take some time and testing but it’s worth the effort. Every industry, niche, and audience will prefer a different schedule, so test your assumptions.
- Start by sending one email per week and monitor engagement metrics like opens and clicks. Then, add a second email per week and notice how the metrics change.
- Mix up the types of emails you send. If you start with a weekly promotion email, for example, add a more informative newsletter email on a different day of the week.
The frequency you send emails might vary based on the time of year and what’s going on with your business. For example, leading up to Black Friday or before a new product launch you may need to schedule emails more often to make sure customers know about your offers and promotions.
7. Carefully choose words and tone
The copy in your email is a big part of the overall message. It should speak directly to your target audience, be persuasive, and be true to your brand voice. Check out the following tips for getting the copy just right.
- Start by writing what you want to say, and then go back and edit the text to cut out unnecessary words and replace weak terms with more descriptive synonyms.
- Review the text to make sure there are at least a couple sensory words. The copy should invite the reader into the experience your product creates.
- Tell the reader to do something. At least one sentence in the short text should incite the reader to action.
This example message from Crate & Barrel features copy that’s creative, clever, and seasonally appropriate. Words like “spooky” and “creeping” convey the tone and the reader is clearly encouraged to “get your party essentials.”
8. Nurture the relationship
Ecommerce email marketing is all about building and maintaining long-lasting customer relationships. Don’t just send out emails trying to get a quick conversion — think about providing a pleasant customer experience that will lead to better customer retention. You can do this via:
- Birthday and anniversary emails to celebrate your audience
- Prompt customer service replies that exceed expectations
- Post-purchase check-ins to make sure the customer is happy
- Requesting feedback or offering a survey to gather thoughts
This HyreCar email is probably part of a re-engagement campaign, but it’s also building a customer relationship. The brand clearly cares about the user, even after only one purchase. The survey request is positioned as HyreCar’s attempt to be a better company and the email offers a potential reward for participating.
9. Test and optimize
No ecommerce email campaign is one-size-fits-all. That’s why split testing is important. Some elements of your email marketing to split test include:
- CTA text, color, and placement
- Subject lines
- Time and day of send
- Message length
The key to split testing is to experiment with one variable at a time. It can take a few campaigns to test even a short list of elements. That means every email you send is an opportunity to test and optimize your messaging.
Ecommerce email marketing software
You’ll need email marketing software to successfully create effective ecommerce campaigns. Many solutions aren’t a great fit for ecommerce-specific emails, so look for software capable of meeting the complicated needs of an ecommerce company.
An email marketing solution for an ecommerce brand should be able to:
- Connect with your ecommerce platforms, tools, and CMS.
- Create email templates and build your email list.
- Personalize and customize messages.
- Store customer information and data in a singular location.
- Protect customer information.
- Provide data and analytics.
- Use automation for simple and repetitive tasks.
Get started with ecommerce email marketing
Ecommerce email marketing converts a new audience and retains the shoppers you have. To get started, build an email marketing campaign based on insights and customer profiles from data gathered across your channels.
Once you have your email marketing plan in place for your ecommerce brand, consider whether it’s time to upgrade your software.
Adobe Campaign connects with ecommerce platforms and utilizes automation while allowing you to retain creative freedom over your branding, voice, and images. Take your email marketing from good to great by accessing the data you need to capture attention and retain customers. Request a demo to see how Campaign can help your email marketing efforts.