This post was written by Joyce Chou. Joyce is a Content Marketing Strategist at Compose.ly, a content platform that matches businesses with seasoned freelance writers. Apart from writing for Compose.ly’s blog, Joyce also contributes to other publications about digital marketing and ecommerce.
Almost 7 billion email accounts exist as of 2020, 5.6 billion of which are active. Just like a physical mailbox, most people check their inboxes every day and rely on them for correspondence—so it only makes sense to reach out to ecommerce prospects via email.
But contacting someone who’s consented to give you their email is one thing; sending them a barrage of unsolicited spam is another. In this guide to ecommerce email marketing, you’ll learn the right way to contact leads, how to keep them engaged, and what tools you need to get started.
We’ll start by breaking down the concept.
What is ecommerce email marketing?
Ecommerce email marketing refers to the practice of using email to cultivate customer-brand relationships and generate sales. It can take multiple forms—for instance, a cart abandonment email notifying customers they’ve left something in their shopping cart.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for email marketing; campaigns can be simple or complex. However, regardless of their complexity, if you think of your email marketing efforts as an opportunity to get to know your audience rather than simply a means to extract money, your recipients will be far more receptive to your message.
Why invest in email marketing?
Not sure if it’s worth spending resources on email? Let the data convince you:
- According to a survey by Marketing Sherpa, 72% of U.S. consumers prefer to receive communication from brands via email. This preference was consistent across nearly every demographic surveyed, with the exception of women who were 65 or older.
- Compared to traditional marketing channels like direct mail, email is simply cheaper. Whereas direct mail campaigns cost $825 per 1,000 potential customer engagements, email marketing sits at a more cost-effective $310 per 2,000 potential customer engagements.
- For small- and medium-sized businesses, 80% of retail professionals shared that email marketing consistently drove customer acquisition and retention. The next best channel, organic search, lagged behind significantly; only 62% and 36% of respondents, respectively, felt that SEO drove acquisition and retention.
- The returns on email marketing are tremendous, with a median ROI of 122%. In fact, in one study, email ROI was more than four times greater than that of direct email—28.5% compared to 7%.
In short, there’s plenty of research to support the efficacy of using email to reach consumers, regardless of the size of your company and budget.
Tools for Effective Email Marketing
A successful email marketing strategy generally includes the following key elements:
- A well-written email
- Email marketing software
- Pop-up software
The Right Email
The first and most important tool in your kit probably won’t surprise you: an email. There are multiple subtle aspects of a message that can derail your efforts before a prospective customer even opens one. Luckily, those mistakes are easy to avoid.
So what goes into the perfect marketing email?
Sender information is made up of the “from” name and email address attached to a message. Your company name will do just fine; it immediately tells the customer who’s trying to contact them. Other common formats brands tend to use include:
- Employee Name from [Brand Name]
- Employee Name @ [Brand Name]
- [Brand Name] Support
- [Brand Name] Digest
As for the email address, avoid using a generic no-reply one. While practical from a business standpoint, messages from these email addresses are often flagged as spam. Moreover, from a recipient’s perspective, the obvious automation of these email addresses makes them feel cold and impersonal—and users are less likely to engage as a result.
Email subject lines act as the first impression of a message, so it’s crucial that you make them interesting, but not misleading. Customers may perceive clickbait subject lines as spam and delete them without further consideration.
Additionally, you should avoid using exclamation points and caps lock in excess; going overboard with either increases your message’s likelihood of getting caught in a spam filter. Not to mention, they create a poor reading experience, as the recipient may feel like you’re yelling at them.
An email’s pre-header text is the brief snippet that users see in their inbox, which acts as a sneak peek of a message. Use it to entice readers into opening your email. Creating a sense of urgency is fine, but don’t get pushy or immediately use a hard sell. Instead, inspire curiosity about the rest of the message.
For the body of the email, strike a balance between branding, images, and text. Too much of one or the other and the email risks looking too busy or getting marked as spam.
In addition, make sure your copy gets to the point without being overly coy or cutesy. People are already opening an email from someone they don’t know; they want to find out its purpose sooner rather than later.
Email Marketing Software
Once you’ve crafted an email, you’ll need software to distribute it to current and prospective customers.
With that in mind, the best email marketing software:
- Provides analytics on metrics like deliverability, open rate, and click-through rate
- Automates email send time for better results
- Offers A/B testing so you can experiment with different messages and designs
- Allows for list segmentation
Some email software integrates with other widely used programs like Shopify to pull in additional data and give you a more well-rounded picture of each contact. That allows for more granular targeting in your marketing efforts—a major advantage for any business in the ecommerce space.
Shop around to see which program works the best for your business, budget, and ecommerce platform. Although many companies use MailChimp, plenty of email marketing software alternatives exist, including:
- Get Response
Pop-ups are tricky—use them too much, and people get fed up and click away. But use them too little, or not at all, and you’re missing out on an opportunity to get people onto your email list.
In this way, pop-ups are an important tool for your email marketing efforts, albeit one that requires tasteful design and use.
Fortunately, using software like WisePops, you can customize your pop-ups to work cohesively with the rest of your content strategy. For instance, you can create a pop-up that appears as a front-and-center overlay or a more subtle one at the bottom of a page. You can even include interactive features like a survey or video, and gamify your pop-up to encourage user engagement—like this example from online bridal shop Azazie.
8 Best Practices for Ecommerce Email Marketing
You’ve collected the tools needed for emailing leads—now it’s time to put it all together for one cohesive email marketing strategy. Follow these eight best practices to convert more ecommerce leads into paying customers.
1. Understand your buyer’s journey.
Not all of your target customers are prepared to make a purchase. While some need only a gentle coaxing, others require more persuasion about why your product is worth considering in the first place.
In other words, customers are scattered across different points of the conversion funnel—and you need to understand these different points in order to better cater to their interests. When it comes to email marketing, pay attention to these three stages:
- Interested. This stage encompasses users who’ve shown interest in your product or service by visiting your site, checking out a certain product, or signing up for a newsletter. Users at this point are intrigued but haven’t bought anything yet—so the goal is to get them to make a purchase.
- Engaged. These users have either already bought something from you, or they’re a repeat customer. Regardless, the goal is to continue engaging them for more repeat business. Generally, this means continuing to build customers’ trust in your brand by presenting it in the best, most professional light possible.
- Lapsed. This group isn’t opening emails or buying products from you anymore. Your goal is to get them to “reactivate” by engaging with your company somehow.
To be clear, these three groups aren’t the only stages in the sales funnel. However, they represent three distinct types of users that your email marketing strategy should target.
2. Create unique messaging for each stage of the journey.
With a more nuanced understanding of your buyer’s journey, you’ll be better equipped to design segmented emails targeting customers in each stage. This kind of customization helps to guide users not only further along the sales funnel but also into becoming loyalists to your brand.
Stage 1: Interest
If you’re targeting someone in stage one—interest—you’re nudging them to make their first purchase. Effective messages for these users include:
- An introductory or welcome email thanking users for their interest
- A “get to know our brand” email
- An interactive survey
As a token of appreciation for a user’s interest, consider including a coupon or other incentive here to reel your leads in closer, just like RedBubble does below.
Stage 2: Engagement
Stage two customers are better targeted via thank you emails and tailored product recommendations from your company. Show products that complement or are similar to ones they’ve already bought. Of course, be sure to avoid making random suggestions, as this will likely annoy them.
Besides thank you messages and product recommendations, you can also work on engaging this group through other means like:
- Encouraging users to reorder a product from you, e.g., refillable products
- Inviting users to share their experience with your product on social media
- Starting a conversation through quizzes or contests
It’s possible a single email can do more than one. For instance, printing service UPrinting follows up customer purchases with an email that both invites users to reorder and showcases other products.
But that’s not all—UPrinting’s email even includes a customer testimonial and call-out for users to share their own experience.
There are many components to UPrinting’s email, with many CTAs for the recipient to act on. For some brands, this can get messy, but when designed well, such an ambitious email is effective for further engaging current customers.
Stage 3: Lapsed Customers
Stage three is best suited for customer re-engagement efforts—but it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t expect 100% success.
At this point, it’s appropriate to send “We miss you” emails encouraging users to come back and look around. In a world inundated with so many brands, these messages remind customers of your company. They can also invite a conversation by asking users for any feedback they may have.
However, if users don’t respond, you can unsubscribe them. After all, they don’t want to hear from you, and your energy’s better spent targeting more engaged customers.
Other messages worth sending to users in this stage include:
- Discounts and promotions like free shipping to sweeten the deal
- Cart abandonment emails if a customer has made moves to buy something but exited before checking out
The fashion marketplace Poshmark does this for users that view and favorite an item but don’t make a purchase. Take a look at one of its emails below, where it reduces shipping for a limited time.
3. To build your email list, offer value.
Your email list is your direct line to your customer base, and it’s a vital part of both building your business and increasing its revenue. Today’s shoppers are wary of giving out any kind of personal information for any reason, especially email addresses.
But the fact remains that, in order to build your list, you need to ask people for their email address. So how do you do it?
The best way to get people to agree to give you their email is to offer something in return. Maybe that’s a weekly or monthly newsletter with baking tips, or coupon offers that newsletter recipients get before anyone else. Want their email? Make it worth their while.
The way you ask for their email is also important. Make it easy for customers to opt-in, should they choose to—but don’t go overboard with pop-ups.
Some of the better ways to ask for an email address include:
- An exit intent pop-up
- Including a newsletter signup link in your sidebar
- A newsletter link in your company’s social media bio
- An opt-in checkbox after a customer makes a purchase
Customers value their experience with a company even more than the cost of the product. In fact, according to a study by Deloitte, they’re likely to spend 140% more at a company they have a positive experience with—and one of the main places you shape that experience is through email.
4. Add a personalized touch.
Users are far more likely to engage with an email when it’s personalized. In fact, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.
But subject lines aren’t the only way to give your emails a personalized touch. You can also customize them in the following ways:
- Address users by name in the email salutation.
- Provide recommendations based on a user’s purchase or browsing history.
- Include birthday wishes or congratulations for important dates specific to a user.
- Include the date a user last took action.
- Refer to how long a user has been a customer or member.
What makes personalization so effective? It enhances the customer experience by making users feel like individuals rather than just another prospect or lead. In the long run, this means better customer retention and a greater sense of brand loyalty.
Just don’t go overboard with it. User data is key for effective customization—but too much personalization runs the risk of being creepy. One example: Google Maps. While some may appreciate its Timeline recap emails, others find it unsettling.
5. Optimize your CTA.
Remember that every email you send should have a clearly defined purpose. Oftentimes that involves persuading users with a call to action (CTA).
For optimal results with your CTA:
- Use descriptive, actionable language. Phrases like “click here” do little to entice readers into action.
- Make it short. Get right to the point, e.g., “Shop Now” or “Save 15%”.
- Place it above the fold. If users have to scroll, they might not even make it to your CTA. At the top, it’s immediately visible after opening.
- Use contrasting colors. Don’t let your CTA blend in. Make it stand out, whether that’s as a bright button or a different-colored link in your text.
- Incite urgency. Use FOMO to encourage recipients to act. Make it clear that whatever you’re emailing about is exclusive or only available for a limited time.
Online motorcycle gear brand RevZilla does a perfect job of grabbing readers’ attention with its email CTA.
In RevZilla’s message, the CTA is succinct and to the point; moreover, the bright red button easily stands out against the darker image background. Compare this to SEMrush Content Marketplace’s expiration email reminder.
SEMrush’s CTA also stands out, and even creates a sense of urgency. However, the button copy is too long. A simple “Extend Now” would have made a far more effective call to action. What’s more, the copy above the CTA button is rather odd—the email is clearly calling for readers to extend their subscription, yet it also notes that users will be charged and have their subscription extended on the trial expiration date anyway. If anything, the text feels redundant; it hardly encourages users to actually click on the CTA.
6. Maintain a consistent brand voice.
As you craft messages for your email marketing strategy, remember to adopt the same brand voice used across the rest of your business’s content.
If your tone or language is inconsistent with your brand’s overarching content strategy, your emails will come off as disjointed. It may be confusing to users, and worse, scare off your target audience.
For some inspiration, check out the dog-centered subscription service BarkBox. It carries the same playful tone from its website over to its emails, using language like “puppy pal” and lively, doodle-like graphics.
This works for BarkBox given the brand’s cheery, lighthearted voice, but it wouldn’t fly for a more serious ecommerce business. For example, take a look at how Best Buy follows up with customers after a purchase.
Best Buy’s straightforward, no-nonsense tone aligns with the rest of its brand voice; a cartoon or emoji would look out of place.
7. Make your email mobile-friendly.
Smartphones are more ubiquitous than ever. In fact, there are at least 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide.
Needless to say, the widespread usage of mobile devices has big implications for email marketing. According to the latest email stats, nearly 62% of email opens now occur on mobile devices… Meaning it’s an absolute necessity to make your emails mobile-friendly if you want your email marketing strategy to succeed.
Most email software offers mobile responsive templates that automatically adapt messages to their display screen. However, that said, you can still make emails more mobile-friendly by following these principles:
- Make your font legible. For a more pleasant reading experience, use a font size of at least 14px so that your readers won’t have to strain their eyes. Also choose contrasting colors—for instance, avoid neon yellow text on a white background.
- Use a single column layout. On a phone screen, two columns of content can appear crowded and visually overwhelming. Stick with just one column to make it easier for readers to take in.
- Avoid stacking links. Stacked on top of one another, text links are difficult to tap on with a finger—chances are readers will click on the wrong one. For better usability, use white space, images, or more text to separate links.
- Less is more. Given the smaller screen size of mobile devices, more content means more scrolling. A long email may thus feel overwhelming for readers, who’d rather you get right to the point. With that in mind, make your emails concise—aim for less text and images.
- Test emails on a variety of devices. Most email software can generate a mobile preview of your messages, but these aren’t always accurate. When possible, send a test message to your own inbox and to colleagues with different devices; then compare the results. Alternatively, if you have the budget for it, use Litmus’s paid email testing service to ensure mobile friendliness.
Ideally, your readers should have a seamless experience when viewing your email, no matter what device they use.
8. Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe.
Give your recipients the chance to opt out of your emails at any time. Sounds counterintuitive, right?
But there are legitimate reasons to make it easy for users to unsubscribe:
- By removing users who are truly disengaged with your messages, your email metrics will improve.
- Your reluctance to let readers opt out may violate the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM Act.
- What’s more, not giving readers the chance to unsubscribe may damage your brand’s reputation.
According to the CAN-SPAM Act, you’re legally obligated to include an opt-out option in your emails. While most brands adhere to this guideline by simply placing an unsubscribe link in their footer, it doesn’t hurt to take it a step further.
Check out career website Fairygodboss’s approach below:
Fairygodboss’s email succeeds for a few reasons. First, it clearly reflects user segmentation—only unengaged recipients who haven’t opened the company’s previous emails received it. Second, the message reiterates Fairygodboss’s value before finally telling readers upfront how they can unsubscribe. Doing so makes it obvious how to opt out, rather than making readers scroll to the footer, where unsubscribe links are commonly found.
From the outset, it may feel disappointing to see that users have opted out of your emails. However, it’s better for your brand in the long run—you only want to keep the most captivated users, after all.
Business owners are constantly trying to find ways to bring in new leads, keep their interest, and convert them into satisfied repeat customers. And increasingly, they’re finding that email is an effective channel for doing so.
As a direct means of reaching customers, this communication channel has far-reaching implications from a marketing standpoint. But done poorly, email marketing can turn potential customers away.
The bottom line: value is the key to any ecommerce email marketing strategy.
Provide value to the customer and respect their digital space, and they’ll reward you by patronizing your business. Do it well enough, and you’ll build up an engaged, loyal group of repeat customers more than ready to tell their friends about you.