eCommerce Email Marketing: The Complete Guide

Successful eCommerce store owners are always looking for innovative ways to drive revenue and build lasting relationships with your customers. But email marketing has been around just as long as the email address, and it’s still one of the most powerful tools you can use to accomplish both of these goals. 

Sometimes the classics are classic for a reason. 

You may be skeptical. Perhaps you’ve tried email marketing in the past and found it didn’t quite work for your business. However, I’m here to assure you, with the right strategies and techniques, email marketing can be your most effective marketing channel

In this blog post, we’ll show you how to leverage the power of email to build strong relationships with your customers, increase brand loyalty, and drive sales. 💰

We’ll explore the key components of a successful email campaign, including:

  • Subject lines 
  • Design
  • Content
  • Calls to action

We’ll also share best practices for segmentation, personalization, and automation, so you can tailor your emails to your customers’ specific needs and preferences.

Whether you’re new to email marketing or looking to improve your existing campaigns, this post will provide you with the insights and strategies you need to succeed in the competitive world of eCommerce. 

Table of Contents

What Makes Email Marketing Unique

Email marketing is very effective, and it has everything to do with the unique qualities that differentiate it from any other marketing channel. To fully understand the strategies we’ll cover, let’s start with what makes email marketing special. 

Direct & Cost-Effective Communication 📨

Email marketing allows businesses to communicate directly with their customers in a one-to-one manner. 

You can contact your subscribers as often or as little as you wish. And it’s incredibly affordable. Reaching out to an individual subscriber only costs a few cents. Compare that to the cost-per-click of online advertisements or paid sponsorships which are in the single to tens of dollars per click.

On average email marketing has a 36X return-on-investment (ROI). Meaning for every $1 you put in you can get $36 out of it.

Ownership of the Customer Relationship 👋

We’ve all noticed (and griped about) how the subscription model is creeping into the pricing of a multitude of software and services. It means you never truly own these sorts of programs. While the infinite cost can be frustrating, even more concerning are the constantly changing terms of service you must agree to in order to use these products. There’s always a possibility that one day the new terms will ban your business from their platform.

We saw that happen with Shopify in 2018.

Maybe you focus your marketing strategy on SEO. You spend a lot of time (and possibly money) to create content that’s optimized for Google’s algorithm – at one point in time. But the algorithm changes, and small changes to their user interface can have a huge impact on how well your page ranks. 

You have no control over how other businesses run the advertising channels you use. But your email list belongs to you. It’s arguably the only marketing channel you own.

Even if your email marketing software changes, you can move your list to one of the hundreds of other email service providers without skipping a beat.

Email marketing also allows you to directly communicate with your online customers. Removing the marketing middlemen can lead to better, more personal relationships with the people who want to support your brand. 

Measurable Results 📊

Email marketing provides businesses with measurable results that can be tracked and analyzed in real-time. This empowers businesses to examine which emails perform well and which emails need improvement. You can continually optimize your campaigns.

The data’s accuracy isn’t perfect (especially with recent changes to iOS operating systems). But any marketing tool that can both drive sales and also teach you what your audience responds to is very powerful.

Automation & Segmentation 🤖

Automation is the savior of the small business owner. Email services like Klaviyo and ConvertKit have built-in tools that give you the option to design sequences of emails that start automatically.

You can set up your email service so that each new customer receives a series of emails which:

  • Welcome the customer to your community
  • Give the customer instructions to enjoy their new product or service
  • Send information about complementary products
  • Request a product review

Although you only have to set up the automation once, this email marketing sequence creates an opportunity to:

  • Build a relationship with your new customer
  • Optimize the customer’s enjoyment of the product or service
  • Offer potential upsells
  • Gain social proof for your product

When I think about building a defensible business that can last decades, I think about investing in email marketing. 

Get Started with Email Marketing

Email marketing is easily one of the best marketing channels you can utilize. But it’s the second marketing channel you should invest in. That’s because you’ll need another marketing channel to start capturing email addresses. 

The good news is –

Once you’ve built a relatively small mailing list, email marketing can multiply the productivity of every other marketing channel. 

Did you get $1,000 from Facebook ads? Awesome. With effective email marketing campaigns and automation you can turn that into $2,000 of repeat purchases.

Email marketing multiples other channels
Email marketing multiples other channels

How to Collect Email Addresses

But when it comes to eCommerce there are two conventions that most stores use to collect email addresses:

  1. Request email addresses at checkout. ✉️ Ask every customer to sign up for your mailing list every time they make a purchase. Customers going through the checkout process are more likely to be in good spirits (love that shopping related dopamine rush) and it’s one extra checkbox in the checkout. 
  2. Offer a discount or free item for signup. 🎟️ Many eCommerce stores have some sort of promotion or discount code they offer in exchange for an email address. 

Any website can collect email addresses through opt-in forms, pop-up forms, exit-intent forms, and content upgrades at the end of blog posts. And all of these can work well depending on your business and many stores in ECF use these techniques to capture emails.

Besides those two very popular ways to collect email addresses here are some other popular ways to collect emails from the ECF forums.

How eCommerceFuel members capture email addresses
How eCommerceFuel members capture email addresses

One ECF member who sells outdoor equipment has been running an A/B test on his 10% off discount and is testing if the chance to win a $200 gift card could be more effective at collecting email addresses and less expensive overall.

I followed up and here’s his A/B test after 2 months of data:

“The $200 gift card has performed better than the 10% signup. The initial results over the first couple of weeks were about 2.5-3x better, but then the performance has come down to be about 60 percent more effective.

Since we no longer offer the 10 percent signup, our discounts as a percentage of sales have dropped about 40 percent. […] The 40 percent reduction in discounts is a huge saving over the $200 that we give away each month.”

In this case a $200 gift card for an email is a win-win. 60% more effective at collecting emails and they’re giving away less money each month for those emails. 🙌

Ultimately, how you collect email addresses depends on your brand and business. However, virtually every business should ask for emails at checkout. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t.

If you are a brand that uses discounts then also consider collecting emails through a promotion or giveaway on your site.

Creating the Right Content For Your Emails

Once you have people on your email list it’s time to send them content. If you’re new to email marketing you might be wondering what on earth do I send that’s interesting for someone else to read?

An ECF member sho sells womens-clothing shared the email campaigns he runs:

  • NA – New Arrivals 
  • Catalog 
  • STO – Shop The Outfit 
  • Made in US 
  • FC – Featured Collection 
  • BIS – Back in stock 
  • Best Reviews 
  • Category 
  • Sale 
  • Editorial

And here’s what their editorial calendar looks like: 📆

Email content calendar
A content calendar for email

Repurpose Content As Often As Possible

The key to sending tons of emails to your list frequently is to re-use as much content as possible. 

Out of all of the types of emails above. Only 1/10 of them (the editorial email) is an email that needs to be written from scratch. The rest of the emails use existing product photos, existing product descriptions, real user reviews, and only need tweaking before sending out the door.

If you think it’s just one member on the ECF forum who sends emails daily you would be mistaken. At ECF Live Sean McGinnis spoke about how he revamped the email marketing strategy for Kuru Footwear to send 5 days a week. Sean described their email strategy as: 

“Send an email for ANY valid reason to inform customers”

At Kuru footwear they send the following emails:

  • New style
  • New color
  • Status update
  • Back in stock
  • Product Themes (eg color)
  • Tell a story (customer showcase)
  • Feature a review (especially for new products)
  • Promotions
  • Content (blog) (typically Monday)
  • Tips & tricks
  • Change of seasons 
  • PR stunts

When you reuse content the whole process speeds up. Kuru Footwear usually plans just a few weeks in advance. You don’t need a 3-month or 12-month plan. Plan a month at a time and start executing. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t as you go.

Researching The Competition for Inspiration

A top recommendation in the forum is to use Milled. You don’t have to subscribe to all of your competitors’ emails and have them fill your inbox. Instead, use Milled to review what types of emails your industry sends and see how you might take what they do and make it better or add your own spin.

“It’s like for emails.” A Search Engine for Newsletters

One other solution, which is also highly recommended, is Really Good Emails. Additionally, their newsletter provides content ideas with no spam. 

The Two Secrets to Writing Effective Emails

While there’s a lot to learn about your audience and how they like to read your emails there are some best practices that should make your emails more effective right out of the gate.

Mobile first! 

Over 50% of emails are opened on mobile. You should optimize every email for mobile first so users can read them on their tiny screens. 

Daniel Reifenberger, our resident Email Marketing expert at ECF summarized the the key aspects of mobile optimization for emails: 

  • 🤏 – Short subject lines so they are not truncated 
  • 📰 – Place the call to action above the fold 
  • 🔠 – Increase mobile font sizes  
  • 🔦 – Optimize for dark mode so content appears correctly for both light and dark 
  • 💻 – Optimize email file size (not including images) to avoid the bottom being truncated by Google

Experiment with Plain Text and HTML Emails

Just because you can send pretty HTML emails with logos, banners, graphics, etc doesn’t mean you should. 

Sometimes plain text emails benefit from a less-is-more mentality. A simple subject line, a sentence or two, and a link (call to action) can be the best email you send all year.

Ultimately, test both HTML and plain text emails for your brand and discover what works for you.

To find a starting point for your industry you can use Milled (mentioned earlier 👆) to research the competition and see what works for them.

How Often Should You Send Email? What is the Frequency of Emails?

The advice from stores who are already earning 10-20% of their revenue from email is that you should, generally speaking, send more!

We already pointed out two ECF members who send at least 5 emails a week. 

One of our members decided to test the “more email” theory with an A/B test.

A/B Testing Sending More Email

And the results are in. Emailing more improved the conversion rate by 6% which is massive! An extra 6% of your list ordering from you is a lot of money.

“Emailing more improved the conversion rate by 6%”

They were also 13% more likely to order twice in that month. So more people are ordering and the ones who do are more likely to order a second time.

Finally, for the users who didn’t order they are 10% more likely to click a link and land on the website which means you can use retargeting ads on Facebook for more effective advertising.

Classic Email Launch Formula

Most businesses have at least one sale throughout the year. Sales are a great opportunity to monetize your email list. 

In one case study, an experienced email marketer for 20 years boils down the four essential steps in launching a sale to your email list.

  1. Pre-sale notice 
  2. Sale launch 
  3. Last chance 
  4. Thank You

Step 1: Pre-Sale Notice 

The goal is to warm up your audience. Most people don’t buy from a random email with no warning. If you send an email introducing your audience to the idea they’ll be waiting with card in hand when the sale starts.

A simple way to achieve this is to include a short announcement with timers and calendar reminder links. Include educational content related to the product. You can also include a note from the founder.

This step can be enhanced by sharing this notice outside of your email list. Consider using other channels like handwritten cards, postcards, SMS, Messenger, or voicemail drops. 

Step 2: Launch the Sale

Send a graphic email or a simple email announcing the sale. 

You can include additional content such as educational content, FAQs, or relevant reviews.  However, you don’t have to. Many times just telling users the sale is live with a button to the landing page is enough.

Step 3: Last Chance Email

Create urgency by sending a final reminder before the sale ends. Ex. “24 Hours Left” .

Urgency is highly motivating and often just the deadline is enough to get credit cards out of wallets. These emails often generate high revenue. 

Step 4: Thank You 

After the sale, send a sincere thank-you email, especially if the product sells out quickly. 

A genuine message from the founder/CEO/team establishes a connection with customers, makes them feel part of your success, and creates anticipation for future promotions. It also trains them to expect limited availability and fosters a sense of urgency.

Writers Note

I’ve managed numerous sales. The only piece of advice I’d add to the above is that you should experiment by sending emails every day during the sale. 

You can of course use segmentation to exclude people who have already purchased during the sale, and you can use segmentation to send more emails to some subscribers and less to others. But every time we’ve sent an email we see a bump in revenue. So take advantage of each day in the sale.

The Magic of Segmentation & Automation

One of the superpowers of email marketing is being able to segment your list. That means sending emails to users based on actions they’ve taken or who they are.

The easiest way to segment your list is to create dynamic segments in your email marketing software. Most platforms have a feature that lets you group users into highly engaged users, recent purchasers, and/or frequent purchasers. 

These segments will help you send the right emails to the right people. If someone just purchased $200 of product you don’t need to hit them over the head with a new sale. Maybe you only send them one email about the sale instead of four emails.

Alternatively, if someone hasn’t purchased from you in 90 days maybe it’s time to nudge them to purchase a new product.

Starting Segments

Segmenting your list can be as simple or complex as you want. If you have full-time marketers on your team you can probably afford to setup additional segments and send out additional emails.

If you’re looking to maximize your segment game, here are some advanced segments from the forum.

Customer Life Cycle: 

Helps understand business performance, churn rate, and predict customer behavior. 

Sub-categories include active, churn, reactivation, and dormant customers. 

Discount Purchase Behavior: 

Determines optimal offers based on customer buying patterns. 

Sub-categories include holiday-only buyers, full-price buyers, and discount buyers. 

Email Engagement: 

Improves open and click rates, reduces spam and opt-outs. 

Sub-categories include recent openers, recent clickers. 

Left a Review: 

Enables targeted communication with customers based on their review. 

Sub-categories include positive, negative reviewers. 

Website Behavior: 

Personalizes messages based on customer actions on the website. 

Sub-categories include item viewers, article readers, and subscription page visitors.

Email List Hygiene – AKA Maintaining Healthy Email Lists

Email Marketing is one of the best marketing tools out there. However it does come with some maintenance. 

You should be regularly emailing your audience. Maybe that’s once a month or maybe it’s 5x a week. The cadence is specific to your business, however, you don’t want your audience to forget who you are if you take a break for 6 months. Cold audiences are less likely to open and click your emails and they’re more likely to mark you as spam.

An unengaged list can hurt the deliverability of your entire email list so the best practice is to be consistent with your list.

What If You Do Have an Unengaged / Cold List?

Of course, mistakes happen. Business gets busy and you forget to email your list for an entire year. What do you do next? 

You can run an email re-engagement campaign where you warm up your list little by little and eventually delete unengaged subscribers. By warming up your list and deleting inactive subscribers, you can improve email deliverability, increase engagement, and even save costs. We did this for the ECF mailing list and improved our open rates by 25%+. 🤯

Final Thoughts: Email Marketing for eCommerce

Email marketing has the potential to be a game-changer for your eCommerce store. While you may have encountered challenges in the past, implementing the right strategies can turn email marketing into a significant revenue driver. 

By focusing on building strong relationships, increasing brand loyalty, and driving sales, you can unlock the full potential of this marketing channel. 💪

Throughout this blog post, we have delved into the essential elements of a successful email campaign, such as optimizing for mobile, engaging design, valuable content, and effective calls to action. We have also emphasized the importance of segmentation, personalization, and automation to ensure that you are sending emails to the people who need them, and your emails resonate with your customers on a personal level.

By approaching email marketing with the right mindset, you can harness its power to grow your business and foster long-lasting relationships with your valuable customers.

Want to Master eCommerce Email Marketing? Learn from 1,000+ Merchants How They’re Sending Emails That Get Opens and Clicks.

Join eCommerceFuel and link arms with over 1,000 7- to 8-figure store owners dedicated to growing their online businesses. There are 700+ conversations about email marketing.

Whether you are new to email marketing or seeking to enhance your current campaigns, the insights and strategies shared in the eCommerceFuel community will equip you with the tools needed to thrive in the competitive eCommerce landscape. 

You can learn more about our community of email marketing professionals, or apply to join today.

Patrick Rauland

Post by Patrick Rauland

Patrick loves entrepreneurship and teaches eCommerce, marketing, and WordPress courses at LinkedIn Learning. He’s also developed both eCommerce and membership software. When he’s not in front of a screen he loves to paint tiny toy miniatures.

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