Ecommerce

Building an Ecommerce Email Marketing Strategy: 5 Key Steps for Getting it Right

Sarah BaxterInka Wibowo

By Sarah & Inka

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ecommerce email marketing

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Picture this: You wake up, grab your morning coffee, and open your inbox only to be greeted by an endless flood of emails. Amidst the deluge of deals and discounts, one email stands out. It’s interesting, eye-catching, and perfectly timed for your morning browse.

Email marketing is an incredible way to boost sales, with a very high return on investment. In this article, we'll look at how savvy marketing can make your ecommerce email the one that shines in the clutter of a modern inbox.

I’ll also showcase successful email marketing campaigns, and explain how to use proven strategies for your ecommerce business (including the ones that have worked best for my own online store, Unicorn Corner).

Whether you’re just beginning to explore email campaigns or are a seasoned ecommerce marketer, I'm here to help you make the most of email marketing.

If you’re just getting started with your ecommerce email marketing strategy, look for Essential Tips highlighted in blue for beginners.

For those who are more experienced, we'll provide Next-Level Tips highlighted in yellow with advanced strategies for optimizing your campaigns.

Here’s what’s ahead:

  • The 5 key steps to take when building and implementing an ecommerce email marketing strategy
  • The different types of ecommerce emails that you should include in your marketing strategy
  • Best practices to ensure that your emails are delivered successfully (without being spammy!)
  • Behind-the-scenes tricks of ecommerce email marketing, like segmentation and automation
  • A quick comparison of top email service providers that can help you meet your marketing goals
  • Future trends in email marketing so you can stay ahead of the curve

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive in!

Implementing Your Ecommerce Email Marketing Strategy in 5 Steps

Step 1: Decide on what emails to send

Before we get started, it’s important to emphasize that you should never send an unsolicited marketing email. Not only is it illegal in most places, it’s also just annoying. So before diving in to your ecommerce email marketing strategy, be sure you have built a list of email subscribers who are excited about hearing from you.

There are several types of ecommerce emails and each serves a different purpose. By understanding the various types of ecommerce emails, you can be sure that you’re sending the right message at the right time, and that your email content is appropriate for the customer's stage in the buying journey.

Here are the key types of emails that you should include in your ecommerce strategy:

ecommerce email marketing video

Transactional Emails

These are sent after a purchase and include order confirmations, shipping notifications, and delivery updates. In many jurisdictions, including under the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, the primary purpose of a transactional email must be to provide essential information to a customer.

If a customer has opted out of marketing emails, promotional content should be excluded from transactional emails. Due to the challenges of tailoring transactional emails based on marketing opt-ins, I suggest refraining from including promotional content in transactional emails unless you are able to segment your audience effectively.

uniqlo transactional emails

Some brands, like Uniqlo, include promotional content in transactional emails, but be aware of its legal complications.

Abandoned Cart Emails

In the marketing world, abandoned cart emails are widely considered one of the most effective types of emails. They’re so good at driving sales that most ecommerce platforms (like Wix and Shopify) include abandoned cart solutions with your subscription.

These emails serve as reminders to customers who added products to their online shopping cart but didn't complete the purchase. They often include incentives like coupon codes or free shipping to encourage a sale.

Essential Tip: If you haven’t started sending emails for your ecommerce store and aren’t sure where to start, begin by customizing transactional and abandoned cart emails in your ecommerce email builder to include your brand colors and logos.

Next Level Tip: If your transactional emails are landing in spam folders, your website hosting provider might be to blame. Consider migrating to a transactional email service like SMTP2GO.

unicorn corner email

I use Shopify’s templates to create abandoned cart emails for my ecommerce business, Unicorn Corner.

Welcome Emails

Sent to new subscribers or first-time customers, these emails introduce the company, set expectations about the type and frequency of future emails, and often offer a welcome discount to encourage a first purchase.

Next-Level Tip: In your welcome email, invite customers to complete a short survey where they can indicate their preferences on email frequency and content type. Use their responses for more precise audience segmentation, ideally using tagging. With these insights, you can fine-tune your emails to ensure your message hits the mark every time.

the sill welcome email

Online plant shop, The Sill, encourages a first purchase with a discount code in their welcome email.

Promotional Emails

Promotional emails highlight specific products or sales events to encourage purchases. These types of emails make up the majority of marketing communications. Some examples include new product launch emails, flash sale alerts, discounts or coupon codes, seasonal promotions (like Black Friday sales), or emails promoting a loyalty or rewards program.

aran islands email

Aran Islands Knitwear, a small family business based in Ireland, uses promotional emails to encourage seasonal Father’s Day sales.

Re-engagement Emails

These automated emails target customers who've been inactive for a while. Re-engagement emails might start with a friendly message like “We've missed you!”, followed by an incentive such as a limited-time discount code or a brief survey, with the goal of reigniting customer interest in your brand.

Step 2: Decide How to Send Your Ecommerce Email Campaigns

Most ecommerce businesses either implement their email marketing campaigns directly through their ecommerce platform, or by integrating an external email service provider (ESP). There are pros and cons to each, but here is a quick overview of both options.

Email Marketing directly from your ecommerce platform

I recommend using your ecommerce platform's default email service if you're new to email marketing, or just want to keep things simple. This is a convenient starting point and is usually sufficient for small businesses launching their first email marketing campaigns. Platforms like WooCommerce and Shopify offer basic email functionality.

For example, I use Shopify Email to send my ecommerce email marketing campaigns. Shopify’s current limit of 10,000 emails per month for free is more than enough for my small business. And as I have no experience with coding and prefer to keep things simple, Shopify’s templates and editing tools are perfect for my needs.

shopify email discount codes

Working with Shopify's drag-and-drop email editor to build my ecommerce emails

However, as you get into the swing of email marketing, you might notice that your business is starting to outgrow your ecommerce platform’s default email service.

In our experience, these tools often lack important features such as advanced automations and reporting – a feeling echoed by email marketing strategist Ivy Brooks, who we interviewed for this article. She told me that she finds the email services built into most platforms to be “clunky and underdeveloped.” She noted that the primary focus of your ecommerce platform is to facilitate online shopping, so it may not be optimized to function as the best email service provider.

If you find yourself limited or frustrated with your platform's email service, it may be time to upgrade to an email service provider.

Email Marketing using an external Email Service Provider

Consider using an email service provider that integrates with your ecommerce platform if you need advanced features like:

  • More sophisticated tools for automation, segmentation, tagging and personalization
  • High-volume email sending (many ecommerce platforms limit the number of emails you can send)
  • Multilingual emails
  • Detailed analytics and reporting tools to help you monitor and optimize your email performance.

Popular Email Service Providers for Ecommerce

If you decide to launch your marketing campaign with an email service provider, here are a few of EmailTooltester's favorites that integrate with all major ecommerce platforms:

Omnisend

omnisend ecommerce email marketing

Omnisend ranks highly in our reviews, and provides features like signup forms, landing pages, product blocks, and automated discount coupon codes. It enables personalized email campaigns, SMS, and web push notifications.

Omnisend’s generous free plan allows you to access advanced features. However, it falls short on email deliverability and real-time reporting.

> Try Omnisend for free

ActiveCampaign

activecampaign ecommerce email marketing

ActiveCampaign, our top pick for the Best Email Marketing Tool of 2023, provides powerful and sophisticated automation capabilities for any need, from birthday discounts to product interest follow-ups. When you compare ActiveCampaign to platforms like Klaviyo, you’ll see it’s miles ahead in terms of automation and segmentation options.

Other notable features include comprehensive reports, fantastic email deliverability, and landing pages for the Plus plan. However, ActiveCampaign doesn't offer a free plan and is on the pricier side. The extensive features may also require a steeper learning curve.

> Get a free trial of ActiveCampaign

Klaviyo

klaviyo ecommerce email marketing

Despite ranking slightly behind Omnisend in our review, Klaviyo remains a good option for ecommerce email marketing. Its user-friendly interface and easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor are worth noting. Klaviyo's built-in Customer Data Platform (CDP) stands out, as it helps amalgamate customer data from various sources for advanced analytics. Klaviyo could improve some of its basic automation capabilities, and we wish it provided email support for free plan users.

> Try Klaviyo for free

MailerLite

mailerlite ecommerce templates

MailerLite won our Best Email Marketing Tool for Ease of Use in 2023, thanks mostly to its user-friendly, intuitive interface. MailerLite is ideally suited for beginners or budget-conscious business owners who seek an easy-to-use platform for their ecommerce email marketing needs.

Its generous free plan includes capabilities like automation, split-testing, surveys, and quizzes for up to 1,000 subscribers. It also has excellent email deliverability. However, MailerLite has limited ecommerce automation and the reporting feature could be improved.

> Try MailerLite for free

Essential Tip: What you sell could limit which email service providers you are able to use. For example, Mailchimp does not allow marketing of CBD-related products, but MailerLite does. Restrictions can vary depending on the ESP and the applicable laws and regulations in different jurisdictions, so be sure to check the provider’s terms and conditions before you sign up.

Step 3: Understand (and Follow) Best Practices for Building an Ecommerce Email Marketing Strategy

Regardless of the type of message you’re sending, you should be adhering to email marketing best practices. Every time you send an email, you are building (or breaking) your sender reputation. Having a positive sender reputation is important because it helps ensure that your emails are not marked as spam or blocked by filters.

To enhance your reputation as a trusted sender and increase the chances of your emails reaching customers' inboxes, keep the following in mind when crafting your email campaign:

Consistency in Sending Emails: Strike a balance

Sending emails at regular intervals, whether daily, weekly, or monthly, is key to successful ecommerce marketing. Too many emails may annoy subscribers and lead to unsubscribes or spam reports, while too few may cause them to forget about your brand. Send enough emails to stay relevant, but don’t overwhelm your audience.

Essential Tip: If you’re just getting started, I recommend sending no more than one marketing email per month, not including transactional or welcome emails.

Next-Level Tip: Some customers may be receptive to more frequent emails than others. Use open rates to segment your contact list and send more emails to customers who open them, adjusting your strategy to best suit different audiences.

High-Quality Content and Design: Give the people what they want

The content of your email should be visually appealing and consistent with your brand image, not only to engage the reader but also enhance your credibility and professionalism.

Ivy Brooks has found that incorporating fun, seasonal elements into her campaigns yields profitable results. For instance, in one campaign she used drink-themed coupon codes, like “MOJITO,” to capture the excitement of summer. And by including holiday-themed imagery during a Christmas campaign, Ivy saw an increase in average order value of about $10.

seasonal email example

From witches' spells to jingle bells, this craft store's emails are a seasonal sensation.

Use of Compelling Subject Lines: Get Straight to the Point

The subject line is the first thing your recipient sees and can significantly influence whether your email gets opened. It should give a clear, honest idea of what the email contains. In fact, in many places there are laws to ensure that email subject lines are not deceptive or misleading. If you need help writing subject lines, try an AI tool like ChatGPT (or similar) to generate ideas.

Essential Tip: Experiment with our Subject Line Tester to preview how your subject line will look on several mobile devices. Be sure it’s readable before sending!

Next-Level Tip: A/B test different types of subject lines – from using emojis to posing questions or creating a sense of urgency – to see what impact they have on open rates. Use this data to understand what resonates with your audience to optimize your subject lines in future campaigns.

chatgpt subect line suggestions

ChatGPT is a great tool for generating subject line suggestions.

Including Calls to Action: Drive Sales and Engagement

Every email should have a clear purpose, such as boosting visits to your website, selling a product, or increasing subscribers. Use a prominent and persuasive call to action (CTA) to ensure your marketing campaign meets your goals.

Examples include:

  • “Shop Now”
  • “Claim Your Discount”
  • “Learn More”
  • “Add to Cart”
  • “Start Your Free Trial”

call to action button in email

A family-owned ecommerce company, Nuts To You, includes a “SHOP NOW” call to action button in their promotional emails.

Step 4: Build Campaigns Targeted to Your Buyers (and Their Needs and Preferences)

Most people who receive a marketing email never consider what goes on behind the scenes to create that message. Beyond the slick graphics, punchy subject line, and convincing call to action, there are multiple tricks that expert email marketers use to craft successful campaigns. These strategies may not be apparent to your customers, but they have a huge impact on email marketing performance.

Here are a few ways you can take your ecommerce emails to the next level:

Personalization

Personalization goes beyond addressing the recipient by their name. It's about sending relevant content that resonates with the individual customer. This might include product recommendations based on past purchases or browsing history, or personalized offers on special occasions like birthdays.

When done right, personalized emails can significantly improve click-through and conversion rates.

Segmentation

Segmentation involves dividing your email list into smaller groups based on criteria such as demographics, buying behavior, location, or engagement level. Then, different emails are created for each of these smaller groups in a process called targeted email marketing. This allows for more relevant content to be sent to your customers.

Next-Level Tip: Ivy Brooks believes that personalization and segmentation are the secret weapons of the biggest brands. She suggests dividing your list into ‘Customer' (already purchased) and ‘Subscriber' (never purchased before). Then, try sending different emails to these segments just to test them temporarily. You may find the split is insignificant, or it may become a permanent part of your strategy.

For example, Ivy implemented a strategy of sending monthly special offers to VIPs and affiliates at Shop Skinnygirl, but did not include general subscribers in these blasts. This approach led to higher open rates because the VIP and affiliate segments were far more engaged than the subscribers who hadn’t made a prior purchase. Their engagement indicated that they would open more emails without unsubscribing.

Automation

Rather than sending single, isolated emails, many marketers set up automated sequences that guide potential customers through a series of messages. Ecommerce marketing automation not only saves time, but also ensures consistent and relevant communication with your customers.

In Ivy Brooks' experience as an email marketing strategist, she recommends small business owners focus on setting up four key automated email series for effective email marketing.

1. A “Welcome Series,” consisting of 1-3 automated emails that new subscribers receive upon signing up. Ivy recommends also sending these emails to individuals who have already subscribed but never received a welcome series. For example, if you include a “Message from the Owner” email in your Welcome Series, you could also send this as a standalone email campaign to other subscribers.

2. An “Abandonment Series”, which Ivy considers the most lucrative revenue-generating flow, and includes cart and browse abandonment emails.

3. A “Winback Series” creatively encourages customers to make repeat purchases and thanks them for their business. It can also serve as a last chance to re-engage before moving subscribers into the sunset flow.

4. A “Sunset Flow Series” is triggered by profiles displaying a lack of engagement. This automation helps improve email engagement rates and sender reputation by clearing inactive users from your contact list. An added benefit is a reduction in costs.

Next-Level Tip: When building your automated email strategy, create a map of the customer journey. By visualizing the stages that customers go through, from brand discovery to repeat purchases, you can leverage email funnels and ensure that you’re not missing the chance to engage and convert customers.

Mobile Optimization

With more people checking email on mobile devices, savvy marketers prioritize making their emails display and function well on small screens. This might involve using larger text, simpler layouts, and clearer calls to action.

Mobile-optimized emails prevent subscribers from deleting the email or unsubscribing due to poor viewing experiences.

mobile optimized vs non optimized email

The email on the left uses larger text and a simple layout to look great on a mobile screen. The email on the right is difficult to read and looks cluttered.

Testing and Analyzing Email Performance

Continually testing different elements of your emails can help identify what’s working (and what’s not!). These metrics are known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and they’re crucial to making data-driven decisions about your email marketing campaigns.

Ivy Brooks suggests digging around for data that helps you answer important questions about your customers and their journey. The important KPIs will be different depending on your business model and what you sell.

For example, when Ivy worked with EBY on a lingerie subscription box, their primary goal was to maintain long-term subscriptions to their service. So for them, customer and subscriber retention rate was a crucial KPI.

Essential Tip: Start by conducting basic A/B tests on your email subject lines. A simple change in wording or tone can have a significant impact on your email open rates.

Next-Level Tip: Take your marketing further by analyzing industry benchmarks and key statistics to see how your ecommerce emails compare. Adjust your strategy to align with current trends.

Step 5: Create an Ecommerce Email Marketing Strategy for the Long Haul

The landscape of ecommerce email marketing is continuously evolving. Based on our research, here are some of the most notable future trends to watch for:

Beyond Discounts

Customers crave a connection to the brand that goes beyond transactions. They want emails that provide an insider's view, showcasing the brand's story. Subscribers also want added value in their inbox, like tips and tricks to use a product, recipes, or freebies.

As Ivy Brooks notes, “[B2C] customers don't only want to be made offers and given promotions. They also want to see your company behind the scenes, see your staff's picks, and know how you crafted your best seller. Don't make your entire strategy ‘discount driven' because it trains your list to be discount driven, too. You'd be surprised how much revenue is generated from campaigns WITHOUT an offer.”

the sill email

We love how The Sill sends emails with tips for beginners, which feature helpful, educational content rather than aggressive, discount-driven selling.

Role of AI and Machine Learning in Email Marketing

There's no doubt that the future of email marketing is going to be heavily influenced by the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These aren't just buzzwords; they're transformative technologies that sift through vast data oceans, enabling businesses to gain a deeper understanding of their customers' behaviors and tastes.

AI can also automate many aspects of the email marketing process. It can learn continuously from past campaigns to improve future ones, and make your email marketing efforts more efficient over time.

I strongly recommend getting familiar with AI now, because your competitors probably are!

Rise of Interactive Emails

Interactive emails are becoming increasingly popular in ecommerce email marketing. Picture emails featuring cool elements that people can play around with – things like sliders, drop-down menus, fun quizzes, and embedded videos or GIFs.

In the future, you can expect to see more ecommerce businesses using interactive elements in their emails to increase dwell time and create immersive experiences for their customers. Check out our article dedicated to creating interactive AMP emails to get started.

Increased Emphasis on Privacy and Security

As consumers become more concerned about their digital privacy, ecommerce businesses will need to place a greater emphasis on security in their email marketing. This means being clear about how you collect, use, and store customer data, and making sure you're in line with data privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA.

In the future, businesses that prioritize privacy and security in their email marketing practices can not only avoid potential legal issues, but also build trust with their customers.

Final Thoughts for Building an Ecommerce Email Marketing Strategy

Email marketing is a powerful tool that can set your ecommerce business apart in the competitive digital marketplace. Whether you’re a beginner just starting your email marketing journey or a seasoned pro looking to up your game, the insights and best practices discussed here can serve as a valuable resource to guide your efforts.

Remember, the world of ecommerce email marketing never stops evolving. Staying in tune with emerging trends and consumer preferences is a must. So keep your mind open to innovation and don't be afraid to tweak your ecommerce email marketing strategy. With the right approach, email marketing can become a driving force behind your business's growth and success!

> Find the best ecommerce email marketing platform for your store

The authors

Learn more about us

Sarah Baxter

Hi there! I’m Sarah Baxter. I opened my first online shop way back in 2009, and have been developing my own ecommerce websites since then. I’ve had countless hours of first-hand experience using online tools to build my business. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and my goal is to share that knowledge with other small business owners here at EmailTooltester.

Inka Wibowo

Senior Content Manager

Hi, I'm Inka! I spent the earlier part of my career in agency land, helping businesses of all sizes get their email marketing campaigns up and running. Now, at EmailTooltester, I'm using my experience to help businesses like yours find the best email marketing services for your needs.

Learn more about us

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27 Mar 2024 - Added video

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This article has been written and researched following our EmailTooltester methodology.

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