73% of marketers rate email marketing as the number one marketing channel for ROI, and this is even more effective in the eCommerce world. Brands of all sizes and industries rely on email marketing as one of their most lucrative channels.
In this chapter of our eCommerce guide, we go over everything you need to know about email marketing. Literally - everything, with the right tools + strategies + and examples.
For a quick summary on the topic, here’s an incredible interview we did with one of the world’s top email marketers Chase Dimond, it’s full of insights + tips + and best practices.
Let’s dive in.
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What is email marketing?
Here’s how Wikipedia defines email marketing:
Email marketing is the act of sending a commercial message, typically to a group of people, using email. In its broadest sense, every email sent to a potential or current customer could be considered email marketing. It involves using email to send advertisements, request business, or solicit sales or donations.
To put it simply, email marketing is when an eCommerce brand sends a message to their customers, through an email.
How did it all start?
Let’s go back to the very beginning.
History of email marketing
The first email in the world was sent by computer engineer Ray Tomlinson in 1971. It was a test message to himself sent via a computer network in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ray was is also known for introducing the “@” sign as the locator in email addresses.
The first commercial email was sent by Gary Thuerk, a Marketing Manager at Digital Equipment Corp, in 1978. He sent it to a list of email addresses, and that was enough for him to claim the title “King of Spam.”
Incidentally, that was a huge win for Gary - he sent the email to 400 customers and made around $13 million in sales.
Email marketing timeline
Here are a few more interesting historical points in the development of email marketing.
1988 - SPAM is added to the Oxford English Dictionary
I guess people were already upset with irrelevant email blasts, even before the internet.
1989 - experts predict that other technologies would soon replace email
Have you heard the phrase - “email is dead”? This is when people talk about chatbots, social media, and text messages replacing email marketing. Well, experts already predicted the death of email back in 1989, they erroneously thought that fax machines will replace it. They really couldn’t envision a paperless world.
That same year, AOL recorded the famous “you’ve got mail” greeting.
1991 - the internet goes live
When the internet went live in 1991, email was used by universities and large corporations. It was still too expensive to use and the general public has not adopted it yet.
1996 - Hotmail launched the first free email service
On July 4, 1996, Hotmail launched the first-ever free email service. Within two and a half years the service gathered 30 million users and sold to Microsoft for $400 million.
2003 - the CAN-SPAM act was introduced in the US
The first act was passed to limit unsolicited emails. All email senders were now required to add an unsubscribe link and provide details on each subscriber.
2009 - Responsive Design was created
Just 2 years after the first iPhone came out we got responsive design. Businesses could now create emails that were mobile-friendly.
It feels like a blip in a history book but it took a lot of hard work and new tech to bring eCommerce brands the ability to target their customers via email.
But is email marketing all that it’s made out to be?
Does email marketing work?
Studies show that for every $1 spent, brands make an average of $38. That’s a very high return on investment (ROI), higher than any other marketing channel. We covered it extensively in our guide to email flows.
The real reason that the ROI of email marketing is so high is because consumers still expect to be sold via email. Virtually all customer communication leads to an email.
Think about it.
Text messages, Messenger interactions, lead magnets, popups, affiliate traffic, and influencer campaigns all lead to a user subscribing to your email list. When users sign up for an offer they expect to get an email and continue checking out through it. That’s why the average order value (AOV) of an email is 3X higher than on social media.
As the saying goes - all roads lead back to Email Marketing. So the first thing you need to do to start selling your products via email is - to build an email list.
How to build an email list
First, you need to create a way to convert your site traffic by creating a way to capture leads on your site. That means - popups, banners, lead magnets, countdown timers, special offers, you name it. Pick those things that will resonate the most with your audience and publish them on your site.
Then, use the various marketing channels you have to drive traffic to your site. You can use social media to bring people to the site directly, create a giveaway where customers have to sign up to enter, or run an ad.
If you are a brick-and-mortar store you can even use a traditional sign-up sheet. Get people on your list as soon as possible and then focus on creating the best email marketing content that will delight your audience and convert them into paying customers.
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure which email tool to use or want to see if a particular feature is available on the one you are using then check out this comprehensive list of email tools & platforms.
Here are the ways you could create and grow your email list:
-Add sign up forms or popups to your site
-Leverage your social media audience
-Run a giveaway
-Use an influencer to drive traffic to your site
-Run an ad
-Use a sign-up sheet if you have a physical location
Once you build a list, there are a few email marketing terms that you should know.
Email marketing terms every marketer should know
Here are the most important ones.
Open rate - the percentage of customers that open your emails.
Click-through rate (CTR) - the percentage of customers that clicked through on the email.
Unsubscribe rate - this is the percentage of people that have unsubscribed from your email campaign. If you see this rate is high then there was a message mismatch with your audience or perhaps you’re using a low-quality email list.
Revenue per recipient (RPR) - this is the average amount of revenue per recipient. Email flows or automation typically have higher RPR than a promotional campaign.
Spam rate - this is the percentage of subscribers that mark your email as spam. A super important metric to keep track of to improve your email content.
Bounce rate - this is the percentage of emails that bounce and never make it to the recipient's inbox. There are two types of bounces - a soft bounce and a hard bounce.
A soft bounce - an email that couldn’t be delivered for a temporary reason. The email box could be full or the file could be too large. Not to worry, the system is going to try to deliver this email again soon, there’s nothing you should do here.
A hard bounce - an email that couldn’t be delivered for a permanent reason. It could be a fake email or that the server blocked your email address. You should regularly remove all email addresses that hard bounce, in order to keep your delivery rate high and your email list healthy.
Email deliverability - is your ability to deliver an email to the subscriber’s inbox. It’s super important to keep this high because the lower you go, the worse your reputation becomes with the Email Service Providers (ESPs), and the more it will negatively impact your ROI.
Best practices to improve email deliverability are:
- Use a double opt-in
- Have an unsubscribe link on every email
- Send your emails from a business domain
- Make all your emails responsive
- Keep images at 600 px in width or less
Personalization & dynamic content- personalization is the act of personalizing your emails to better fit your customer. For example, inserting the first/last name of the customer, their company name, or their location is called personalization. The particular content used is called dynamic content that is displayed and triggered based on the subscriber’s data.
Email segmentation - this is the act of dividing your list into customer segments. You can do this by geography, gender, interests, purchase habits (past purchases), or the subscriber’s activity on your site.
Now that you have a better grasp of the different terms, let’s explore which email campaigns you need to send to grow your eCommerce brand.
Email drip campaign
Perfect your product launch drip campaigns
We’ve saved perhaps the most powerful tip for the end of our guide. This one is really special and works especially well for B2B companies but the same idea could be used for any B2C product.
Many businesses focus the bulk of their time on product development and on-site optimization and they forget to properly introduce their products to their audience. If you do a proper product launch email campaign you could significantly increase your sales and see some amazing short-term results.
There are many ways to structure a product launch drip. Here’s a really great one that Bryan Harris used to make $200K with his product launch.
Bryan breaks his series into three parts - the pre-launch, the launch, and the post-launch.
In the pre-launch series, he introduces the problem that his product is going to solve for the consumer. Then, he agitates the problem, and this is crucial. He writes a detailed email really painting the picture of the consumer’s need for the product, and hitting on all the pain points. Then, in the third email, he introduces the solution.
The middle part of the launch series is more geared towards B2B businesses and that’s where Bryan offers a 48-hour challenge. If you are a B2C company you could offer a giveaway with a 24-hour deadline, or launch a UGC challenge for example.
Also, spacing out your emails is always good, you don’t have to follow these same sending times.
The post-launch series is a really simple set of four last emails where you offer your product at a discount one last time. Overall, this is a super-effective product launch drip and you could use some of these principles and email examples and adapt them to your own business.
Regardless of the templates that you use, you could always combine them with your ConvertCart set up to personalize the emails based on the customer’s browsing and shopping data. You could also A/B test each product launch drip to get better conversions. And finally, you could involve your influencers and UGC elements in the emails.
The 8 Top Email Campaigns You Need
What types of email campaigns should you send?
Here are all the types of email campaigns you should set up for your eCommerce business.
Cart abandonment is the most lucrative of all email campaigns because you are targeting the customers that have just added something to the cart and then left the site. They have the highest buying intent in your entire email list.
Studies show that these emails get 50% open rates and 20-30% CTR.
Here’s a great example of a cart abandonment email from Allbirds:
Cart abandonment best practices:
- Display the product the user added to their cart (most email tools have this feature)
- Have a clear CTA (always important)
- Show other similar products below the main product image
- Send 3-4 follow-up emails and space them out (30 minutes, 1 hour, 3 days, 7 days)
- Add customer reviews and social proof
Here’s an example of an abandoned cart flow in Klaviyo:
You guessed it, this email campaign goes out to the customers that haven’t added anything to the cart yet, they simply browsed your site and then left. You are only able to email them if you have their information, which is only possible if they have previously left their email on your site.
Here’s an example from Parachute:
Browser abandonment best practices:
- Remind your customers what they liked. Show them the same products they browsed on your site
- Segment based on how many times the user viewed a product
- Include a sense of urgency (like a countdown timer or offer)
- Include UGC and customer reviews
- Pro Tip: use a variation of your best performing cart abandonment emails
Promotional email campaigns
The most common use of email marketing is to send a promotional campaign around a holiday or a special event. These are really built for those subscribers that are motivated by discounts and should be used sparingly.
If you send too many promotional emails without talking about your brand and product value you will eventually exhaust your list and decrease your customer lifetime value.
Here’s an example of a New Year’s campaign from the mattress company Purple:
Promotional campaign best practices:
-Display a prominent eye-catching image at the top -Have the offer and CTA clearly visible. -Include content about your brand, tell your story, add UGC images.
Post-purchase email campaigns
Email isn’t just used to convert a visitor to a customer, it’s also critical in delighting the customer post-purchase and turning them into an ambassador for your brand.
Here are the emails that you need to send after the customer purchases your product:
The most crucial email post-purchase is the order confirmation email. This is your chance to provide a confirmation for the customer, display all the relevant information for them, set delivery expectations, and showcase your brand.
Here’s an example from Asos:
The main elements of a good order confirmation email:
-Order number and delivery date -Image of the items that were bought -Return & guarantee information -Similar or recommended items (upsell/cross-sell)
The next customer touchpoint is the shipping notification email. This is where you notify the customer that the product has been shipped. It’s a great time to present your shipping insurance if you have one, your return policy, and any other guarantees that will increase the customer’s trust in your brand.
Here’s an example from Ritual, the vitamin brand.
Shipping notification best practices:
-Display the delivery date front and center -Use a visual delivery app like Route to display the product in transit -Invite your customer to interact with your social media pages -This is a great place for a referral widget (for products with smaller AOV)
Once the product arrives you should send a delivery confirmation. This is a great time to showcase a video with instructions on how to use the product, a short 30-60 second clip on how to unbox properly (if you’re a mattress brand), and show user-generated content to give your customer some ideas of how other people use your product.
Here’s an example from Abercombie & Fitch.
This email is a bit long, but bear with me, it has all the elements of a flawless delivery confirmation email.
The main elements of a perfect delivery confirmation email:
-Display the order & shipping details -Show a picture of the exact product(s) delivered -Provide all the necessary info to return or exchange the item -Provide all the ways your brand can be reached for questions -Display similar products -Ask for a review or a rating of the customer’s experience
A review/feedback request
After the product is delivered it’s a great idea to ask the customer for feedback and a review. The timing of this email is obviously going to depend on the particular product and industry of the brand.
If it’s a hair product in the $30-$50 range there’s a good chance that the customer will use it within the first week of receiving it. If it’s a suitcase, the customer might have plans to travel somewhere and you might want to wait 1-2 months before asking for a review.
Here’s an example from LSKD:
Pro Tip: the best reviews are images and videos of your customers using your product. In this email example, the brand incentivized their customers to create the highest quality user-generated content (UGC) and it’s a great way to get those images and videos.
Upsell / cross-sell
Some brands sell an upsell or a cross-sell email on the first email in the welcome flow (after the customer purchases the product). Other brands send the cross-sell offer with a complimentary product 30-45 days after purchase.
Here’s an example from the Dollar Shave Club.
I love this email because it is so simple.
There is a clear “ADD” button on each product that takes the customer directly back to the cart. It’s super simple, it explains the value of these products and is designed beautifully.
Now that you know the types of email flows that you should set up let’s talk about the copy and design of your emails.
Email Best Practices for eCommerce
Email copy & design best practices [with examples]
All emails are not created equal.
Every brand has its own color theme, tone of voice, and selection of images, but there are some general best practices.
Here they are.
Copy best practices
1) Use power words
2) Use short paragraphs (3-5 sentences)
3) Make the subject line personal, engaging, and relevant (and use humor if it fits your brand)
4) Don’t use all CAPS in the subject line
5) Add an emoji to make your subject lines stand out
6) Subject lines should be 65 characters long
7) Optimize the preheader or preview text to be more engaging
Here’s a comparison of the right and wrong use of a pre-header:
Design best practices
1) Use dynamic content, like this email from Adidas that displayed different content based on the gender of the recipient.
2) Use the inverted pyramid layout, where all of your content visually leads the user to the CTA
3) Email width should be 640 pixels maximum, don’t go beyond that
4) Make images 600-640 px wide
5) Always use alt text
6) Use images to describe the content better, not just to fill the space
7) Optimize all of your emails for mobile - keep the subject line short, use preheader text, minimal copy in the body, use only one clear CTA button, increase the font size to 16 px if it's too small, and make sure the images look right.
Let’s say that you’re sending emails but they’re not getting the sales you’re looking for. What do you do? Do you frantically redesign everything and re-write all the copies? Nope.
You might have a lot of good elements in your email already, that you would want to keep.
The first thing you should do is to rule out these fatal errors:
- Emailing your list too often - are you sending too many emails?
- Bad email list - how good is your list? Maybe you should check your list health, deliverability issues, spam rating, etc.
- Overly promotional content - are you always sending a promotion? How much do you educate your customer on your brand and product value?
Once you checked all the boxes above, let’s look at each of your emails.
Email marketing experts recommend focusing on one variable at a time and testing every change along the way. So here are some of the best ways to improve your emails.
How do you improve your open rate?
The main driver of open rates is the subject line. Look at your subject lines and see how you can improve them. Test out adding emojis, using humor, making them shorter and clearer.
How do you improve your click-through rate (CTR)?
First, look at your content. Make sure that it aligns with your audience. Test out emails that are not promotional, set up your transactional flows (post-purchase, shipping notification, etc)
How do you improve your unsubscribe rate?
First, look at how often you email your customers. The best practice here is going to vary by industry. If you sell shaving cream then you can expect your customers to re-order every few months. If you sell furniture, you should not be sending your customers monthly promotions. Chances are that they buy furniture once or twice per year.
You could also work on segmenting your list correctly, which means sending the right content to the right group of customers.
Let’s talk about segmentation.
Email segmentation sounds really complex, but it’s actually very simple. A lot of email marketing tools today have email segmentation features built-in that let you set up everything in a few minutes.
But first, what does email segmentation even mean?
What is email segmentation?
Email segmentation is the division of your email subscribers into smaller segments based on a set of criteria. Typically, email segmentation is used as a personalization tactic to deliver more relevant content to subscribers based on their geographic location, interests, purchase history, gender, and much more.
Types of email segmentation
Here are the different criteria you could use to segment your email list and send more targeted and personalized emails.
Demographic email segmentation - this is the most obvious way to segment your list. We’re talking about demographic factors like gender, age, income, etc.
Geographic email segmentation - segment your list based on where they live (if that has an effect on your industry). For example, if you are in the fashion industry, climate and weather patterns have a huge effect on what people wear.
Behavioral email segmentation - segment your list based on the user’s behavior on your site. That means sending different emails based on which products the user looked at, how many times, how often they have opened or clicked through on your emails in the past, and more. Think: cart abandonment and browser abandonment flows.
Besides segmenting your emails correctly, you also need to send your emails to them at the right time.
First, you should select an optimal time to send your emails.
Here’s some research from Campain Monitor and CoSchedule where they highlight the best time to send emails:
Next, you should drill down by your industry.
Here is a study from CampaignMonitor that has the open rates, CTR rates, and unsubscribe rates broken down by industry.
If you’re using Klaviyo then you have access to other more advanced features that help you better select your send time.
- Spread your send over 24 hours
- Gradual send over several hours
- Time your send based on the timezone of the recipient
- Use the optimal time based on your email data
Now let’s talk about email deliverability.
This is another super important aspect of email marketing that’s critical for every eCommerce brand. Email deliverability is about getting your emails delivered. And there are several things you can do to improve deliverability.
Manage your sending limits
Every brand has an established sending limit provided by the ISP that they’re using. So if you are just starting your email marketing you want to make sure that you don’t go over those limits. The more emails you send the more your sending limit goes up. So the best way to be in compliance here is to slowly ramp up your emails.
Look at your spam rates
You should carefully look at your spam rates - the rate at which your emails are being marked as spam by your subscribers. A normal spam rate is anything less than 0.1% (or 1 complaint out of every 1,000 sent messages).
You should deliverability of different ISP’s to see if there is a significant drop in your open and CTR rates. Perhaps one of your ISP’s (gmail, yahoo, etc) is sending your emails to the spam folder.
Improve the quality of your email list
Above all, you should create a sunsetting email flow that targets those people that haven’t opened or interacted with your email in the last 90-120 days. Send several emails to your inactive subscribers and remove those that don’t open the email.
This will guarantee that your email list stays in good shape and will improve your deliverability over time.
All this talk about the quality of your email list runs contrary to a marketer’s natural impulse to “sell, sell, sell”.
This perspective is focused on looking and optimizing something called the customer lifetime value.
Customer lifetime value
An eCommerce brand sends a promotional email every week, with a discount on their products.
They don’t focus on educating the customer on their brand, they don’t tell the brand story, they only focus on their product features.
If they could, they would fill the entire email with CTA buttons.
What happens in the long-term? After a few months, this brand will see a significant drop in engagement on their emails. Their customers will get tired of all the promotions and probably unsubscribe.
What is customer lifetime value?
The lifetime value of a customer, or customer lifetime value (CLV), represents the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend in your business, or on your products, during their lifetime.
It’s basically the value that each customer will bring to your business over the entire relationship.
Here’s a visualization of how it’s calculated:
Here are 2 scenarios:
A. Bob buys a pair of shoes for $249, gets 15 promotional emails, and unsubscribes.
B. Sally buys a pair of shoes for $79, gets 3-5 transactional emails (order confirmation, shipping notification, review request), and then gets a monthly email that talks about the brand story and values, pictures of customers wearing their shoes, influencer shots, and occasional relevant promotions. Sally then goes and buys 3 more pairs in the next 5 years, and recommends the brand to all her friends, and 3 of her friends buy a pair each.
*relevant promotions means the brand uses segmentation and personalizes their emails to offer relevant content and promotions to each subscriber.
In scenario A the brand made $249 <-1 angry customer.
In scenario B the brand made $553 <-4 happy customers.
We’re not even fracturing the profit margin in this example but you can quickly see the results.
Those brands that don’t focus on the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) have to continuously spend more money on ads and their customer acquisition cost grows from year to year.
Those brands that do focus on their CLV have happier customers, generate more word-of-mouth and referral business and their customer acquisition cost falls over time. They can grow organically and focus on developing new channels rather than throw more money at Facebook ads.
Speaking about developing new marketing channels, a lot of these can work together really nicely with your email marketing campaigns. Let’s look at those.
We wrote an entire post on Omnichannel Marketing for eCommerce brands, so we’re just going to touch upon this topic briefly to give you an idea of how this works. Omnichannel marketing is when you communicate with your user along the customer journey through different marketing channels.
For example, you could send your customer a promotional email in the morning and then follow up in the afternoon with a text message or a chat message from your chatbot on Messenger.
Omnichannel becomes really powerful when you take into account the customer journey and the customer experience. Study your customer persona and determine which channels of communication are most appropriate and will make the most sense.
Here are several channels that you should consider:
- SMS or text messages
- Push notifications
- Site chat widget
If you are using Klaviyo, for example, they have a feature that lets you send SMS campaigns to your subscribers and segment them using the same data in your database.
You can use tools like MobileMonkey and Recart to send SMS, web chat, and Facebook Messenger campaigns to your customers around the time you send your email campaigns.
Head over to our Ultimate Guide to Omnichannel Marketing to learn more.
Email marketing is by far the most powerful marketing channel you have as an eCommerce brand. It’s robust, full of data, and plays nicely with the other channels in the sandbox.
Don’t spam people, don’t saturate your list with too many promotions. Focus on your customer lifetime value, educate your customer on your brand, and send appropriate messages at the best optimal time.
Follow the best practices that we’ve outlined in this chapter of our eCommerce Guide and you will see a steady rise in your email marketing revenue and healthy organic growth for your brand.