The eCommerce Email Marketing Playbook – InboxArmy

Written by: Chris Donald

Published on: 23-05-2024

Chris is Managing Partner at InboxArmy and has more than 25 years of experience in email marketing

Before the internet was invented, email was already almost 10 years old.

We know what you’re thinking. How can email still be relevant over 50 years since it was created?

Because it’s been around since the start of the digital age, it is known and (mostly) loved by all. Of the 8 billion people on earth, close to 4 billion are active email users. Even with new privacy regulations, email has the edge over the 3.5 billion social media users.

The icing on the cake? Email ROI can hit a whopping 4200%.

With the help of Email Marketing software, e-commerce businesses can deliver personalized product recommendations, new product announcements, seasonal discounts, and tailored content, without breaking the bank.

What is E-commerce Email Marketing?

To start with the basics, ecommerce email marketing is part of your marketing strategy that involves sending promotional and educational emails to potential customers who have interacted with your online store or shown interest.

There are a million different emails you can send as an ecommerce business. From transactional emails to automated workflows to product offers & sales, the key is understanding what works in email marketing and for your specific audience.

Effective email marketing drives immediate purchases and nurtures long-term customer relationships through communication and value-added content. Which makes choosing the right emails and when to send them even more important.

The Benefits of Email Marketing for E-commerce

Email marketing is a must-have for any e-commerce brands. If you are selling products, your customers expect to receive email confirmations of their orders, shipping updates, and communication relating to their orders.

But these emails are just the tip of the iceberg.

A great email strategy ensures that each email is tailored to meet the needs and behaviors of your customers at that stage of their journey with your brand.

Let’s get into the benefits of implementing a well-rounded ecommerce email marketing strategy for your ecommerce store.

1. Email Offers Insanely High ROIs

Want to make $44 for every $1 you spend? Those are the kinds of ROI email is capable of bringing in.

To hit this high ROI, it’s not as simple as sending basic transactional emails. You must implement a robust ecommerce email marketing strategy. That means setting up, improving, and automating email marketing campaigns tailored specifically for your ecommerce business.

To turn those emails you send into dollar signs, iterate and test as you go to find what works best for your subscribers and your product.

2. Your Customers Prefer Email

Despite the hype over other channels such as social media, chatbots, and text messaging, consumers still prefer email as their top communication channel when interacting with their favorite brands.

Shoppers interested in your products know that subscribing to emails is their best shot at discounts and special offers. So, if you’re not using email to keep in touch with your customers, you’re sabotaging your own success.

3. Email Marketing Campaigns Are More Personal

Of all the marketing channels you may have in your toolbox, none allow you to create and send personalized campaigns at the level that email does. By leveraging tracking and analytics tools, email marketing gives you insights into who your clients are and what they’re looking for.

These emailing platforms also function as data warehouses, allowing you to integrate and view customer behavior from other channels. As a result, you can easily tailor a message that converts better than any you can post on social media or elsewhere.

That’s why emails have more impact than social media posts, push notifications, and other messages. You can talk directly to your subscribers and build customer loyalty. Even if that email is sent to thousands.

What Kinds of Emails Should an Online Store Send?

For your online shop, you can send many different types of emails. Everything from promotional emails, shipping emails, upsell emails, and holiday emails. Your emails are there for two main reasons: selling and education.

Ultimately, these emails aim to boost online sales and enhance customers’ shopping experience, the legs supporting your e-commerce strategy.

So, what are the top types of emails you should send for your e-commerce business?

Welcome Emails

Welcome emails are your first interaction with new customers or subscribers. These set the tone for your brand and are a great opportunity to make a positive first impression. Engaging email subscribers from the start with a well-crafted welcome email is crucial for building a strong relationship.

Use these emails to introduce your company, offer a special discount, and provide useful information about what your subscribers can expect from your future emails.

Utilizing email marketing software to automate your welcome email series can significantly enhance the efficiency and consistency of your communications, ensuring that every new subscriber receives a warm introduction to your brand without delay.

Depending on your product and the amount of nurturing your subscribers need before purchase, your welcome email series will vary in length. We recommend A/B testing different offers, designs, and products in these emails to find what works best for your audience.

Levis Welcome Email

By default, the human brain is wired to retain information that comes in three’s. Levi’s nails that perfectly in their simple 3-block welcome email. They offer a 20% discount to first-time buyers for signing up, what to expect with their emails, and links to shop. This is a great example of hitting all the necessary aspects of a welcome email without overdoing it.

Levis Email

Old Navy’s Welcome Email

Old Navy’s email looks more like a poster or spread you’d see in the newspaper, with all the information handy for the customers. From getting a 20% discount to a list of new arrivals, this welcome email is worth taking note of.

Old navy' email

Abandoned Cart Emails

If you’ve ever shopped online, you’ve added something to your cart but ultimately didn’t buy. Shopping cart abandonment emails help bring these shoppers back and complete their purchases.

These emails are highly effective at recovering potential sales. Many times, shoppers online are doing more than one thing, so a gentle reminder or a special offer in the email can motivate customers to come back to your website and buy. Additionally, by strategically using abandoned cart emails, businesses can convert one-time buyers into repeat customers, enhancing customer loyalty and increasing sales over time.

E-commerce stores are increasingly leveraging abandoned cart emails to boost their conversion rates and recover sales that would otherwise be lost.

Van’s Shoes Abandoned Cart

Van’s email design is an extension of its website, seamlessly matching its aesthetic. It elevates the simple abandoned cart email with a section of similar products to give shoppers options they may not have seen.

Promotional Emails (& Special Occasions)

Promotional emails inform subscribers about sales, special deals, or new product launches. A great way to leverage promotions is in line with special occasions like holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. They can effectively drive sales—think Black Friday—and increase engagement by tapping into customer’s celebrations. Additionally, targeting existing customers with promotional emails can significantly enhance engagement, as they are more likely to respond positively to exclusive offers from a brand they already trust and have purchased from.

Birchbox’s Paper Puzzle Promo

Birchbox takes the minimalist route with this promotional email, which engages users to participate in a game and claim the price. The typography is distinct, and so is the visual used in the email. All in all, it comes together as a kickass email that does justice to the brand and its core offerings.

Birchbox’s Paper Puzzle Promo email

Transactional Emails

Transactional emails are triggered by your customers’ actions, such as purchasing or updating their account information. They include order confirmations and cancellations, shipping confirmation email, and payment receipts.

These are essential to providing customers with information and reassuring them about their transactions. Forgetting them might lead to an onslaught of emails from worried customers about the status of their orders.

Upsell and Cross-Sell Emails

Upsell and cross-sell emails introduce your customers to complementary items or more expensive alternatives to what they’ve already bought. These emails can increase the average order value by recommending products that enhance or are related to the customer’s original purchase. Integrating upselling and cross-selling emails is crucial for the success of ecommerce email marketing campaigns, as they play a significant role in personalizing the shopping experience and boosting revenue.

Meet the New Mac Email

Apple’s email campaign to promote the new Mac is an incredible upsell email. The email is clear, concise, and precise in true blue Apple style. There’s no scope of customers’ attention wavering elsewhere but on the messaging, and that’s what makes the email an absolute delight for the recipients

New Mac Email

Product Emails

Product emails focus on specific items, providing detailed information, highlighting benefits, and sometimes offering special deals on those products. They can be used to introduce new products or re-engage customers with products they’ve shown interest in. Effectively leveraging product emails is crucial in tapping into the growing segment of retail e-commerce sales, representing a significant and expanding portion of global retail transactions.

Soak and Sleep’s Product Announcement Email

The announcement emailer from Soak and Sleep provides clear-cut messaging on their product range. It not only directs the readers to browse the products but also gives a quick glimpse of them. And to add on, they also have social proof in the form of customer reviews, which makes a strong case for buying their products.

Soak and Sleep’s Product Announcement Email

Lush’s Simple Product Email

In this email, Lush emphasizes foot care. They keep things simple and minimalistic with a CTA to take customers to their product page. In addition, it highlights their USPs and announces a social media contest, helping to retain customers’ interest almost instantaneously.

Lush’s Simple Product Email

Customer Lifecycle Management

Customer lifecycles are designed to build a relationship with your customers. They can ask for feedback, request product reviews, or encourage social shares. These emails foster a community feeling and help gather valuable customer insights, and boost your social proof.

Each type of email serves a specific purpose in nurturing the customer journey and maximizing the revenue opportunities for your e-commerce brand. You can ensure robust and dynamic customer lifecycle management by strategically implementing these emails.

Win back campaigns are a great way to recover lost revenue. They help reactivate inactive clients who haven’t purchased in a while. You’ll need to analyze your data to determine the best time to send win-back campaigns.

For example, if your customer’s purchase history shows that they buy on average every 4 to 5 months, you can consider sending a win-back email after 6 months without purchase.

Eyebob Appointment Email

Eyebob’s email has a prominent CTA—Book an Appointment—along with a range of eyewear in the next fold and the brand’s benefits. It’s clean and minimal and does what an e-commerce emailer should do—retain customers’ interest and lead them to take a call to action.

Eyebob Appointment Email

You can also check out our detailed article on eCommerce email examples, where emails are categorized to cater to diverse needs and objectives.

E-commerce Email Marketing Strategy Best Practices

E-commerce Email Marketing Strategy Best Practices Banner

Don’t let all those email types overwhelm you. Email marketing can be easy if you follow some best practices, especially with the growing trend of mobile commerce emphasizing the importance of mobile responsive templates.

We have 10 tips to help you get started or optimize what you’ve already got, ensuring your campaigns are effective across all devices, particularly mobile phones, where more and more e-commerce transactions occur.

1. Start a Welcome Email Series

What time is the best time to start an email marketing campaign? When someone’s just signed up on your website. They voluntarily gave you their contact details, and you’re currently at the top of their mind.

The length of your welcome series will vary by industry, but a good place to start is with three emails. Typically, this would be an introduction, an educational, and an offer email.

Using a series like this will let your new customers get to know you better before they start receiving any weekly or one-off emails. Once you build this rapport, you can tailor their messages and get guaranteed open rates thereafter. Here’s a post on our welcome email series, which will give you a better perspective.

2. Segment your email list

Your subscribers are different, so segmenting your list based on demographics, behavior, interests, and preferences is crucial. This will allow you to tailor your messages to each group and improve your targeting and conversion rates.

3. Always personalize subject lines and content

For any ecommerce brand, understanding that you may have multiple target audiences you’re trying to reach via email is crucial. But what if you know you can’t reach your entire audience with a single message? That’s where personalization comes in.

Personalization is key to making your emails more engaging and relevant to your subscribers. Use their name, location, or other data to personalize subject lines and content and make them feel valued.

4. Use mobile responsive email templates

More and more people are checking their emails on their mobile devices, so using email templates optimized for mobile is important. This will ensure that your emails are readable and accessible on any device.

The message must be delivered clearly and succinctly to the recipients with a memorable design. With limited screen real estate, you must check the UI/UX twice as much.

5. Always A/B test

A/B testing involves sending two versions of the same email to a subset of your list and comparing their performance to determine which version is more effective. Always test different elements such as subject lines, CTAs, or visuals to optimize your emails and improve your results over time. Little humor works fantastic for e-commerce brands.

You can always experiment with tongue-in-cheek, punny, subject lines that make the recipients notice. Try it a few times, and if it works, then there is nothing like it. You’ve nailed the strategy and hooked your audience!

6. Clean your email list regularly

Over time, your email list may accumulate inactive subscribers or invalid email addresses, harming your deliverability and engagement rates.

Regularly clean your list by removing inactive or invalid subscribers and sending re-engagement campaigns to those who haven’t interacted with your emails in a while. At the same time, keep growing your email list.

7. Avoid using “no-reply” in the sender address field (it’s a total turn-off)

Using a “no-reply” email address can make your emails seem impersonal and unapproachable. Instead, use a real person’s name or a general email address that subscribers can reply to if they have any questions or feedback.

8. Offer incentives to increase open and engagement rates

Incentives such as discounts, freebies, or exclusive content can motivate subscribers to open your emails and take action. Use them strategically to boost your engagement rates and drive conversions.

One such method is through members-only discounts. The best example is Starbucks. Their card lets members upgrade their drinks and get a freebie on their birthday. While this is not an e-commerce example per se, you get the drift.

Also, remember when the social media channel Clubhouse launched? It dwelled on members-only exclusivity, which worked like a charm.

9. Use an Email Service Provider that aligns with your business model and goals

An email service provider (ESP) is the software you use to send emails. Choose an ESP that offers features and integrations that align with your business model and goals and fit your budget and technical requirements.

10. Never rent or buy email lists

This is a big no-no in email marketing. Not only is it unethical, but it can also harm your brand reputation and lead to legal issues. Instead, focus on building your own email list organically through lead magnets, opt-ins, and other strategies.

E-commerce Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

It would be unfair if we only mentioned best practices without warning you about some common email marketing e-commerce mistakes you must avoid.

Any slip-up could increase your email marketing cost. So, here are the top e-commerce email mistakes you need to avoid:

  1. Failing to get permission: Use double opt-in to always have clear permission to contact your subscribers. With regulations changing, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Sending too many emails: Set up a preference page and give your subscribers control over the frequency of communication. This is usually a feature included in your EMS
  3. Weak email copy: Often, emails get bogged down and are overly wordy. Readers are skimming, so be short, sweet, and to the point. If you find yourself struggling, get an expert to help.
  4. Poor email design impacts user experience. Choose simple templates that are optimized for mobile and dark mode. What looks great on your desktop may look like a mess to a customer.
  5. Mistakes, although unwanted, happen: Sometimes an email goes out with the wrong link, a broken discount code, or a simple typo. Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes, these mistakes lead to more engagement. Readers love to point out errors and even laugh with you at funny blunders.
  6. Making the call-to-action hard to find: Your CTA is a critical component of your email and should always be prominent. Don’t hide it within a paragraph of copy, make sure your buttons are clear and easy for your reader to find.
  7. Using image-heavy emails: Images make emails load slowly and can even flag spam filters. Some email clients and users turn images off by default, and when this happens, your emails will become unreadable.

These 7 email marketing mistakes should be avoided like the plague. They have the potential to ruin your emails success and tank your revenue.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Email Marketing Campaigns?

If you want the best results for your e-commerce business, you need to measure the success of your email campaigns. While there are several ways to do so, here are some of the metrics you should keep an eye on:

Open Rate

Open Rate is a widely used and uncomplicated metric for email marketers. It tells you the percentage of subscribers who open a particular email.

Crafting an effective subject line is crucial for improving open rates. A compelling subject line acts as a preview of the call to action, encouraging the reader to open the email and engage with its content.

With Apple’s new privacy settings, this metric can be skewed, so use it as a litmus of success and not your North Star metric.

Click-through rate (CTR)

CTR indicates the percentage of subscribers who clicked on the links in your email.

There are several ways to improve the click-through rates when crafting an email, such as including links throughout the email and incorporating attention-grabbing call-to-action buttons.

Compared to open rates, click-through rates are typically much lower (slightly above 2%) and benchmark numbers vary by industry.

Mobile click rates are usually much lower than desktop click rates. These may be affected by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature, which recently went into effect.

Conversion rate

When you know how much you have invested and the number of subscribers who purchased, it becomes easier to evaluate the effectiveness of your campaign and determine whether the money invested is yielding positive results.

Conversion rate provides valuable insight into your return on investment—and the overall success of that email.

To calculate email conversion rate, divide the number of recipients who purchased by the number of emails delivered to recipients. Multiply the result by 100 to get your percentage.

Bounce Rate & Spam Rate

Bounce rate measures the number of subscriber email addresses that didn’t receive your email due to an issue.

You have two kinds of bounces: soft and hard. Soft bounces are temporary problems while hard bounces are permanent problems like incorrect email addresses.

A high percentage of hard bounces indicates low-quality email lists, which can affect your email deliverability if you continuously have high bounce levels. To decrease bounce rates, add a double opt-in requirement.

Spam rate measures the number of times your emails have been marked as spam. A high spam complaint rate may lead to email service providers acting against you. So, avoiding spam filters is important to maximize email campaign results.

Unsubscribe Rate

This measures the number of people who unsubscribed from your email. If you are seeing a high number of unsubscribes, it indicates that your list likely needs to be cleaned or that you’re targeting the wrong audience.

Always include the opportunity to unsubscribe in your emails (a requirement for data privacy in Europe) as it builds trust with subscribers.

List Growth Rate

Growth rate measures the rate at which your list is growing. You can calculate this by taking the number of new subscribers minus the number of unsubscribes, divided by the total number of email addresses on your list, and then multiplying by 100.

(# New Subscribers – # Unsubscribes)/Total Subscribers in Your Database X 100

Forwarding rate/email sharing

Measures the percentage of recipients who shared or forwarded your email to a friend through social media.

This can help you identify brand advocates and what percentage of subscribers recommend your emails to others. You might want to consider adding one if you see numerous recommendations and don’t have a loyalty program.

Calculate this by dividing the “share this” clicks by the total emails delivered, then multiply by 100.

Overall ROI

One of the top metrics for any marketing channel is overall ROI. This tells you the overall return on investment for your email marketing campaign.

It is calculated by taking the money made from the campaign minus the money spent, dividing by the money invested, and multiplying by 100.

While this is not a comprehensive list of email marketing best practices, it is enough to get you started scoring big wins with your email marketing.

Future Trends in E-commerce Email Marketing

Worldwide email marketing revenue is expected to exceed a whopping $22 billion in 2025. Email marketers need to stay updated with the latest developments and trends to make the most of this, especially as data privacy and communication regulations start popping up all around the globe (GDPR, for example).

As email marketing strategies evolve, promoting products and services available on online marketplaces is becoming increasingly important. This shift reflects how businesses want to engage with and capture their audience’s attention in highly competitive digital environments.

Here are some of our predictions for the future of email marketing.

The First-Party Data Shift

First-party data is becoming increasingly critical for e-commerce email marketing, especially as privacy changes and regulations like GDPR take center stage. This type of data is collected directly from your customers through interactions with your website, surveys, subscriptions, and other engagements.

First-party data is valuable because it is accurate, highly relevant, and collected with user consent, making it a gold standard for personalization and targeting.

As e-commerce businesses face restrictions on third-party cookies and other data sources, leveraging first-party data allows for more precise and effective email campaigns. It empowers marketers to tailor communications based on verified customer behavior and preferences, enhancing the relevance and effectiveness of their messages.

The strategic use of first-party data in email marketing will be essential for building deeper customer relationships and driving more personalized shopping experiences, ultimately influencing customer loyalty and increasing sales.

AI & Machine Learning Powered Personalization

70% of millennials hold an unfavorable view of brands that don’t send them personalized emails. Customers now want brands to speak directly to them.

Marketers can easily enhance personalization by integrating AI and machine learning technologies. These tools analyze vast amounts of data from users’ browsing histories, purchase behaviors, and interactions, enabling the creation of dynamic content that adapts in real-time to each customer’s preferences and actions.

This advanced approach strengthens the relationship between brands and their customers and significantly enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of email marketing campaigns.

As we look to the future, integrating AI and machine learning in email marketing will become a cornerstone for engaging customers deeply, personally, and strategically.

Engaging content & Interactive elements

Engaging email content can increase click-through rates and drive customer engagement. If your readers aren’t clicking through, consider A/B testing your email campaigns to increase that metric.

Whether that means a beautifully designed and balanced static email or an interactive email with engaging elements, they are proven to drive more conversions.

Polls are one interactive element that can help you better understand your audience’s preferences and interests. Quizzes can educate and entertain your audience, while surveys can help you gather customer feedback about your products or services.

Interactive emails typically require custom development, and businesses use HTML coding to add features such as radio buttons, drop-down menus, and form fields. However, not all email service providers can handle this message type due to its complexity.

Mobile Optimization

Smartphones are increasingly important in our lives, and more and more people are checking their emails on them. As a result, it’s essential to ensure you send mobile-friendly emails that are easy to read and navigate on small screens.

This means using a responsive design that automatically adjusts to the device’s size and keeping the content simple and easy to consume. The classic drag-and-drop editors will have a mobile view when building your emails, so be sure to review them before sending them.

Additionally, a mobile-optimized online store is crucial for businesses to accommodate the growing trend of online shopping via smartphones.

Adopting automation

Automated emails can help businesses generate online sales by sending emails to customers triggered by a specific action. A great use of automated campaigns is sending a thank you email to customers who have purchased, including a survey or a request for a product review.

Automation does not just mean creating email campaigns, it can also be used to add tags, send information between platforms and add subscribers to lists. This not only takes tasks off your plate, it removes human error from the equation.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table – Every Email Counts

Knowing every e-commerce email you must send and when to send it is critical to growing your business. Leave out one type of email for ecommerce in your campaign, and you are leaving money on the table.

Need help? Get in touch with our Ecommerce Email Agency.

FAQs

What is the best email marketing tool?

There are many different email marketing tools you can use for your business, choosing which one is right for you depends on what you are looking for. If you are a beginner to email marketing, you may be more interested in a platform like Klaviyo or MailChimp, which is largely simple to set-up & integrate with other marketing tools. For more advanced teams platforms like Customer.io give marketers more freedom to build what they need.

Does Shopify offer email marketing?

Yes, Shopify does offer email marketing tools. Merchants can design emails using customizable templates, import customer lists, and send out campaigns. It integrates seamlessly with your store, making it easier to showcase products, promotions, and updates directly in the emails you send to your subscribers.

Additionally, it provides insights into campaign performance, helping you understand customer engagement and optimize accordingly.

How does ecommerce use email marketing?

E-commerce brand use email marketing to communicate with customers, promote products, and enhance the shopping experience. Customers expect to receive email updates about their orders and online window shoppers are always on the hunt for sign-up discount codes.

By leveraging collected customer data, e-commerce stores can send tailored messages based on the most loyal customers’ behavior, preferences, and previous interactions with the store. Email marketing for ecommerce ensures relevant and timely communication that drives engagement and sales.

What are the different types of email marketing for e-commerce?

You can breakdown all the emails you should send for e-commerce into two categories – emails for sales and emails for education.

Sales emails are straightforward. They include transactional emails, promotions, VIP and member offers, abandoned carts, back-in-stock emails, and more—think of any email where your goal is to get the reader to buy.

Educational emails are all the rest. They educate your audience about the product, pain points, your business, and any information they may need to purchase. These emails likely will still highlight your product, but the goal is to educate them on the value of your product as they are in the evaluation stage of your funnel.

How often should e-commerce send email?

The number of emails and how often to send them depends entirely on your business and products. Many business owners worry about “annoying” their subscribers with too many emails, but the reality is that your emails are likely hitting their promotions folder or getting deleted immediately.

Send more emails rather than less. That’s not to say you should bombard your subscribers with 20 emails daily. But a few a week, or even more during sales and festive periods, helps keep your subscribers updated on what products are available and at what price.

Any subscriber who no longer wants to receive emails will unsubscribe. If you start to see your unsubscribe rate climb, investigate the cause.

About Author

Chris sent his first email campaign in 1995. He’s worked directly with Fortune 500 companies, retail giants, nonprofits, SMBs and government agencies in all facets of their email marketing and marketing automation programs. He’s also a BIG baseball fan, loves a good steak, and is mildly obsessed with zombie movies. For more information follow him on linkedin

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