Ecommerce Email Marketing Tips: The Basics
It's a fact: every business needs marketing.
It’s also a fact that there are so many different types of marketing. You can use direct mail to send physical flyers to customers. You can deploy clever guerilla marketing and canvas your entire town with pamphlets. These days, you can even reach subscribers through SMS marketing.
All of this is well and good, but what do e-commerce businesses do?
How can an online brand — one that may not even have a physical location — reach new customers?
The answer to that question is digital marketing, and you’ll want to pay particular attention to your email marketing.
What Makes Ecommerce Email Marketing Special?
This is going to be a long lesson, so I’ll dive in immediately!
Let’s start with the basics.
What makes email marketing so special, and why should ecommerce brands be so interested in it? After all, it’s just one of many channels, and learning to properly use email marketing software takes a long time. Why not invest that time in building out a robust social media presence instead?
When the dust has cleared and your marketing is launched, it’s all about the customer journey.
Email marketing has the power to lay foundations for a close relationship between a brand and its customers. With the right planning, you can easily convert a subscriber into a new customer. Then, you can convert those new customers into loyal customers.
Emails Create a Digital Experience
It all starts with an email campaign.
Your first welcome email is the digital equivalent of greeting someone at the door. Your cross-sell promotional emails are your website’s version of chatting with customers as they peruse the aisles.
When you’re an ecommerce business, you don’t often have a brick-and-mortar location. You’re also facing competition from millions of other brands, ecommerce businesses, and warehouses. All of this makes it hard for any online store to find a foothold, and don’t get me started on the absolute nightmare that brand new companies face!
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these hurdles.
A smart ecommerce business will focus on creating digital experiences with its marketing. In other words, its content will be aimed at building a strong relationship with its customers. Its email list will be full of loyal customers, and those individuals will feel as if they’ve been personally catered to without ever stepping into a store!
What Is a Digital Experience?
The lack of physical interaction between a customer and an online store doesn’t just impact marketing. It also alters the entire customer journey.
Think of it this way…
Imagine that you’re going to the grocery store.
You walk inside, and you get the experience all of the sights, sounds, and smells of the produce. You can feel the weight of a cereal box and smell the aroma of fresh herbs.
Now, what happens if you make the experience virtual?
Suddenly, you lose many of the essential experiences that drive sales!
You can’t hold a box of pretzels online. There’s no way for you to quickly sample a product, nor can you immediately compare different options.
These drawbacks are some of the biggest challenges that ecommerce businesses face every day, and it’s why content marketing is so important.
Digital marketing needs to recreate all of these interactions, yet it has limited resources to do so.
How Email Marketing Helps
Fortunately, a good email marketing agency knows how to overcome these challenges. To these marketing pros, inboxes are endless sources of intrigue.
A promotional email has the power to connect with potential customers in a way that impersonal social media ads cannot. In addition to basic bite-sized campaigns, email inboxes are amazing avenues for long-form content.
With the right people and an amazing email marketing service, an online store can quickly grow its influence through abandoned cart emails, transactional emails, word-of-mouth marketing, and more!
How to Get Started With Email Marketing
Now that I’ve explained why you need email marketing, let’s explore the how.
I’ll start by saying that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. If you’re planning to found your own email marketing empire for your online store on your own, know that you’ll face plenty of challenges. You’ll also have a fairly steep learning curve.
Consider Getting Professional Backup!
First of all, I always recommend that clients form a partnership with a trusted email marketing agency. This relationship grants you, as a business owner, all of the perks of email marketing without having to deal with its drawbacks. Your designated experts — like the team you’ll find at The Email Marketers — will handle the entire process for you.
However, I won’t let this recommendation stifle the lesson! For the curious and intrepid, I still have plenty more to say, so stick around and learn some more!
1. It Starts Out With a List…
The first step of any email marketing campaign is a list.
There are plenty of ways to acquire contacts, so let me make things perfectly clear… You should never fall for the temptation to purchase an email list! Never, ever, ever! You just don’t do it!
Aside from being remarkably shady, these lists won’t net you much profit.
Instead, you want to gather leads organically. Hopefully, you’ve been gathering contact information. If you haven’t, then you can try to scrape some data from past purchases.
Regardless of how you build your email list, you’ll want to keep it clean and free of clutter. Every now and then, go through your subscribers and prune out inactive accounts. This can be done through re-engagement and unsubscribe campaigns.
2. And You Sort It Like This…
Once your list is a decent size, it’s time to take a close look at your audience.
Who is subscribed to your emails? Are they mostly new subscribers, repeat customers, or first-time buyers? Each of these groups will require a different marketing strategy, and you can’t expect to boost sales without knowing your audience.
If you have an email marketing service — something like Klaviyo or MailChimp — you’ll be able to do this step automatically. And, if you have an email marketing team, they’ll do this step for you. However, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the basics and sorting your list with a spreadsheet or pen-and-paper!
This process — of refining your audience and grouping customers together based on different traits— is known as segmentation.
3. Where to Go From Here?
Okay, enough with the song references!
The first two steps of the email marketing process are fairly easy. In fact, you don’t even need fancy software to handle these steps.
Most ecommerce platforms have the ability to gather contact information and store it on the server, which can then be exported to different programs and websites.
This is where things get tough! At this point, you’re ready to start drawing up your email marketing strategy, and that requires a lot of information, insight, and — most of all — lots and lots of planning.
Planning Your Ecommerce Marketing Strategy
Now that I’ve covered the basics, it’s time to take a closer look at the strategy that supports your email marketing.
My first tip for aspiring email marketing pros is to take things slow.
There are a lot of moving parts in this industry, and getting everything to align properly isn’t easy. Don’t expect everything to work from the outset. Even after you’ve gotten the ball rolling, you can still expect to encounter hiccups.
Email marketing is an ever-changing industry. Every transactional email is a new start, and every new customer is blank slate. Even your most solid email templates will evolve over time, so never get too comfortable!
Consider Your Industry and Audience
The first thing you should do when you sit down at the drafting table is look at your audience.
First things first: know your audience, know your product, and know what your customers like.
People buying computers will be interested in different things than people buying riding boots. The customers clamoring for a nice set of D&D dice probably won’t be looking at cheese presses. Everything has its place, and every market is different.
Find the Right Offers
It goes without saying that most email marketing will offer a discount to users.
Less obvious is the work that goes into finding out what the discounts will be!
In addition to basic discount codes, brands can also offer plenty of bonuses to their subscribers, such as free shipping and first purchase bonuses. All of these tactics are meant to draw a customer further down the transaction pipeline.
However, you can’t just hand out discounts willy-nilly! You have to be strategic. Giving everyone free shipping can get expensive, and appending massive first-time-deals to all of your welcome emails is a surefire way to end up in the red.
Be strategic with your discounts.
Take a close look at your finances and study current trends to figure out when to hold your sales. It may be true that everyone loves free things, but no business can keep its sales going indefinitely.
Pick Your Tone
Here’s something that many first-time marketers don’t think of: tone.
Your brand needs an identity, and you form that identity by picking a tone.
Most brands will opt for a friendly, casual tone. You’ll find plenty of emails that are written like my blogs. After all, people response well to conversational messaging. However, you don’t have to stick to the norms.
Some brands may have a more serious tone, and others will opt for an extremely laid-back style.
It may not be an email, but this snippet from the FAQ for Age Hams — a novelty card company — is an amazing example of finding the right tone. To match their silly product, this brand embraced the weird side!
(As a disclaimer, this is a bit of an extreme example. Many brands won’t be able to pull off something this wonderfully weird.)
Finding the Right Marketing Automation Software
Ideally, you completed this step before you got too deep into your segments. However, as I said, you can always wait to do this step afterward.
I’ll preface this step by pointing out that there are umpteen different email marketing software options, and I don’t have enough time to go over each one. That would be a waste of my time and yours.
So, with that said, let’s keep the ball rolling!
What Does Email Marketing Software Do?
Why do you need an email marketing service, and what do they do?
For starters, marketers usually call these software packages “email service providers”, and they’re invaluable resources.
Without a good ESP, you’ll have to do everything manually. You will be responsible for assigning segments to different individuals, and you will be the one sending each email.
An email service provider takes those responsibilities out of your hands. Depending on the complexity and subscription level, your ESP will handle everything. It will segment your list, sort your past and future campaigns, automate your messaging, and schedule your campaigns. It’s a digital marketer’s Swiss army knife, and it’s well worth the investment.
TL;DR: an email service provider helps brands run their email marketing campaigns. They obviously won’t do all the work, but they definitely make things a lot easier for everyone.
What to Look for When You’re Shopping for an Email Service Provider
I know I’ve said it plenty of times, but I’ll say it again! There are so dang many ESPs on the market, and not all of them are created equal. That’s not to say that there are any bad ESPs; rather, it’s a word of caution. Every email service provider has its own pricing plan, and you’ll find a wide range of prices in your search for the perfect software package. That’s why it’s so very, very important that you have a solid vision for your email marketing strategy.
All of that was a very long way of saying that I can’t tell you what you need in your individual plan. Every brand is different, and no two ecommerce businesses will have the same needs.
Nonetheless, I can still give out a few tips and tricks!
1. Rich Analytics and a Solid Campaign Monitor
It doesn’t matter what your ecommerce business sells. It doesn’t matter what email campaigns you plan to run. It doesn’t even matter how many emails you plan to send. Everyone needs to have a solid campaign monitoring platform.
I’ll say it again because it is that important: everybody needs good analytics.
If you invest in an ESP with poor analytic capabilities, then your ecommerce store may as well flush your money down the storm drain!
You need that data. You need to know how many people your transactional emails brought in, and you need to know if you lost sales due to a poorly performing campaign.
Analytics do more than track your digital marketing’s effectiveness. They also keep tabs on essential key performance indicators. Trying to run marketing campaigns without rich analytics is like trying to park a car while blindfolded. It’s unnecessarily hard, outrageously silly, and downright dangerous!
2. A/B Testing
One of the best parts of having analytics — well… aside from all of the other parts — is the ability to run A/B tests. These experimental email campaigns are used to test your audience and determine the effectiveness of your brand’s messaging.
In simple terms, A/B testing is the process email marketing experts use to create the best campaigns possible. Through careful control and consideration, elements of an email are tweaked and refined according to the results of each test. In one set of tests, the marketing team might try out different subject lines. In another round, they could change up the call-to-action.
A/B testing features are essential if you’re planning on sending anything more than a basic newsletter. I’d also recommend having the tools available for your newsletters!
Proper A/B testing has the ability to dramatically improve your email marketing strategy, boosting everything from your conversion rates to your cross-selling abilities.
So, with all of these benefits in mind, you’ll obviously want your ESP of choice to include A/B testing features.
3. Marketing Automation Tools
It may seem obvious, but a good lesson covers all its bases.
You want your ESP to come with the right automation tools for your ecommerce store. This will look different for everyone, but the most basic features to look for are:
- The ability to create a basic welcome email series
- Email campaign sorting
- Integration with your ecommerce platform
- Scheduling and queueing
- Simple triggers
If your promotional emails will be more complex, then you’ll obviously need more features.
To figure out what tools you’ll need, I recommend reaching out to a marketing pro. They can guide you through the planning process and advise you on what you’ll need to do to get your marketing platform up and running.
4. Email List Segmentation and Sorting
Finally, you’ll want basic segmentation capabilities. On the broadest possible level, you’ll want to be able to separate your new subscribers and your existing customers.
Finding the right balance of cost and features can be a bit thorny when it comes to segmentation, so take your time as you search. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your mailing list and consider your audience.
Some of the key questions to ask yourself as you try to find the right segmenting tools are:
- Do I have a loyalty program in place?
- Do I have a referral program in place?
- How can I reward loyal customers for their continued business?
- How do I want to sort my audience?
- How will my mailing list grow in the future?
- What product am I selling, and how will this impact the audience?
- Will I be sending recommendation emails?
Depending on which platform you pick, you may have to upgrade to a higher tier to access the segmentation features that you need.
For example, MailChimp keeps some of its advanced segmenting tools restricted to mid or high-tier subscribers. Klaviyo, meanwhile, gives every paying subscriber access to all of its segmentation tools.
Best Practices for Email Marketing
You’ve plotted your course and found the right email service provider to help you pilot your email marketing ship.
But don’t set sail just yet!
Before you start to roll out those promotional emails, you’ll want to go through them and make sure they meet all of the industry’s standards. These guidelines may sound boring, but they’re in place for a reason. Without these basic features, users may be confused by your messaging, and the customer journey will suffer.
However, that’s not the only thing that matters! Pay close attention to these basics because they also prevent your marketing team from veering into legally dubious territory.
Always Remember to Personalize
If you want a surefire way to boost your email campaigns to the next level, then you have to start personalizing. Aside from being polite, these often small touches can dramatically improve your customer lifetime value and keep subscribers engaged.
You don’t need to be very fancy, either.
Even something as basic as including your subscriber’s name in a message can elevate your email marketing.
There are also situations where you have to personalize the email message. Abandoned cart messages and welcome email campaigns are two prime examples of obligatory personalization. Both of these campaigns depend upon a sense of individualism and personal commitment, and failing to include the recipient’s name is a great way to instantly ruin the customer journey.
Be Upfront and Transparent
It may be tempting to send out emails with loud, eye-grabbing headlines, but it’s poor form to act on those urges.
Always keep your email marketing upfront and transparent. Your subject line should tell your subscribers what the email is about, and your copy should clearly convey your message.
Now, don’t take this tip the wrong way! I’m not saying to make everything sound like it was written by the most boring person in the universe. There’s still plenty of room for your team to insert on-brand puns, jokes, and clever asides!
Don’t Sleep on Social Proof
A social proof email is a type of campaign that aims to gather user-generated content. Generally, this means that you’re fishing for feedback, photos, and reviews. More creative versions of this email category may ask for videos or written testimonials.
When done properly, the content that you gather from these campaigns becomes an invaluable resource. People listen to other people more willingly than they listen to a faceless brand. Even after you’ve established yourself as a friendly presence, you remain a sort of commerce ghost in your subscribers’ inboxes.
To set yourself apart, you’ll want to take advantage of any positive customer reviews that you receive. These testimonials boost sales like you wouldn’t believe, and all you have to do is get permission to use them.
Keep It Brief
Let’s be honest. How many people are going to sit to read a newsletter for every single brand that they’re subscribed to? We all know the answer is “not many!”
To make sure your email campaigns are getting through to your audience, follow the email marketer’s golden rule! Keep things short. If you’re not sending out a newsletter, then your email message should take a few minutes to read. Otherwise, you’ll lose customers to disinterest.
This is particularly important when you’re dealing with promotional email campaigns, which rely on grabbing and maintaining your subscribers’ collective interest.
Perfect Your Subject Line
One of the most important parts of any email is the subject line. This is the first thing that users see, and it’s what will draw them in further. If you want to see any of your stats rise — from your conversion rate to your open rate — you have to nail your first impression.
There are thousands of different strategies for crafting unique subject lines, so I won’t delve too deeply into this topic. I can, however, give you two big tips!
First of all, you want to think about your mobile users.
The vast majority of customers check their emails with their phones, which means that your email campaigns should be built to fit the platform. Keep your subject lines short to make sure they appear properly on mobile devices. Ideally, your subject line should be no more than 30 characters long.
Secondly, remember to use a catchy header. Studies have shown that including a promotional offer in your subject line can increase the open rate by as much as 50%!
Even something as generic as abandoned cart emails should be carefully timed.
In email marketing, it’s all about timing. You need to catch potential customers when they’re interested. Otherwise, you’ll be seeing plenty lost sales.
However, this tip is particularly important when you’re handling time-sensitive emails. (Obviously!) Purchase receipts, shipment notices, and welcome email campaigns absolutely must be automated. They should be sent out promptly, and the preferred window of opportunity is 5 minutes after performing the action.
Examples and Ideas to Improve Your Email Marketing
This blog post has gotten pretty long, and there’s a lot of information to digest.
Before I wrap things up, however, I want to tie everything together with a few examples. These sample emails can serve as great inspiration, but you shouldn’t copy them. Instead, put your brand’s twist on them!
Abandoned Cart Emails for the Soul
I’ll start with a ubiquitous fixture in modern email marketing.
Cart abandonment emails are simple to send and easy to implement. Most modern ecommerce platforms have built-in tools for cart abandonment flows, which will automatically send an email when someone leaves an item in their cart for too long.
Homes Alive, a Canadian pet store chain, has a lovely example of a simple abandoned cart email…
It’s nothing fancy, but it perfectly embodies the brand’s playful tone. Paired with the eye-catching design, this adaptable email is a great way to put the “commerce” back into your ecommerce brand.
Maybe your commerce brand has an even simpler aesthetic. If you’re in charge of a brand with a minimalist look — or, perhaps, you simply don’t have the budget for flashy graphics right now — you can still pull off gorgeous campaigns.
This abandoned cart campaign was sent out by Thousand Fell, an ecommerce business specializing in footwear. Its original subject line was, “Get your gift while it’s hot 🔥”.
Aside from the clear message, this cart abandonment email effectively utilizes a mix of mild urgency and incentivization.
A Confirmation Email That Proves Basic Doesn’t Mean Boring
In the virtual commerce world, few emails are as commonplace as the confirmation email. Often — and wrongfully! — viewed as simple digital receipts, these transactional emails can actually be used to enhance your ecommerce brand’s customer journey.
Redbubble’s confirmation email templates may not seem like much, but their simple design is a reliable staple. Once a customer has made a purchase, they can simply use their email to check their order’s status, ID, and expected delivery date.
You can also use these transactional emails as a way to promote new products or do a bit of cross-selling.
Here, Frontier expertly finds its customers’ pain points and takes a fine-pointed needle to each. They also provide a solution in the form of add-on branded planning services, plane tickets, and more!
Show Off Your Drip… Marketing!
There are many ways to offer a discount, but there are only so many major holidays. To overcome this pesky challenge, ecommerce email marketing teams need to get creative.
Keeping subscribers engaged with your email marketing goes deeper than a few holiday messages after your welcome email. Drip email campaigns fill out the gap, and few are as adorable as this celebratory message from FluffNest, the independent producer of PuffPal plushes…
Aside from the obvious 20% incentive to purchase a cuddly new pal, the brand invites its subscribers to consider their friends. (While not included in the image, the message also contained a longer copy, which noted that FluffNest’s plushes are amazing gifts!)
From a design standpoint, I want to highlight the brand’s attention to its adorable visual style. The bold lettering and rounded visuals are a surefire giveaway for the FluffNest brand, and that level of recognition is incredibly valuable. Yes, you should have a written tone, but your visual style is just as important.
Warm Greetings With Welcome Email Campaigns
The lesson is almost over, but this ecommerce email marketing class has time for one last example!
Aside from tending to each customer’s shopping cart, ecommerce brands need to pay attention to their new customers. Whether they’ve arrived through organic discovery or your referral program, these new subscribers are now part of your brand’s family, and you need to welcome them as such!
Of the many examples and email templates that I found, one of the best examples of a welcome email that I could find was from Duolingo.
What really sets this example apart from other welcome emails is its clever website linking.
Both of the bold call-to-action links lead customers to the ecommerce brand’s website, and those clicks ultimately drive up engagement. The more engagement the brand accrues, the higher it rises on search engines.
It’s a remarkable example of ecommerce email marketing, and it’s the perfect way to close out our lesson!
Don’t Let Ecommerce Email Marketing Get You Down
Okay, this has been an exhausting post, right?
This was a lot of information to cover, but I hope it’s been worth it!
Now that you know some of ABC’s of email marketing, you can start to get a little fancy with your content. Now, you should feel confident enough to doll up your messages with your newfound knowledge or dazzle your subscribers with a new confirmation email template.
However, there’s still so much more that you can learn about ecommerce email marketing!
For example, have you considered the advantages of drip marketing? If so, why not dive into the exciting world of interactive email campaigns?
If you’re an ecommerce store looking for some digital marketing help, then it’s time to upgrade. There’s never a wrong time to ask an expert! Give me a call, and we can chat about your goals! We can also discuss your next steps, and those might just include hiring an amazing email marketing team.