How to Use Email Marketing for Ecommerce
Setting up an ecommerce business is easy.
You can build an online store in a couple of days and start shipping products you haven’t even seen with your own eyes.
But what’s hard is setting up an ecommerce business that:
- is different than other online stores in the same category
- continues selling its products throughout the year – not only during the big holidays like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
So, when I say that setting up an ecommerce business is easy, I don’t actually mean that starting and growing a successful online store is simple.
I’m only referring to the first stage, i.e., setting up an online store.
As for the second stage – growing and promoting your ecommerce business – that’s often a completely different story.
But with this article I want to show you that it doesn’t have to be this hard.
There are many proven ecommerce marketing strategies you can test and apply to your own business.
With the following ecommerce marketing ideas, you’ll soon see that selling online isn’t so complex after all, especially if you’ve done your reading ;).
Ecommerce marketing strategies
If you’ve already decided that you want to join the ecommerce revolution and sell your products online, I’m sure you’ve considered approaching your customers one of the following ways:
- social media (organic and paid)
- display advertising
- content marketing
- search engine optimization
- search engine marketing
- affiliate marketing
They’re all very effective ways of reaching your customers online, so definitely read up on them, if you aren’t familiar with some of the items listed above.
You can, for example, start with this article by Barry Feldman – the CHEAPSKATE Approach to Ecommerce Marketing.
But if you had to choose a single online marketing channel, based on its return on investment only, then we’re missing an important element on this list.
Know what that is?
Yep, it’s the good ol’ email marketing.
According to the DMA, email generates an average of $38 in return for every $1 invested. Similarly, in our report email ranked as the top digital marketing channel in terms of effectiveness.
It’s not hard to believe either, taking into account Facebook’s constant updates to the News Feed algorithm update, Google’s changes in their ad layout, or their Zero-Results SERPs experiment.
The trend seems to be clear – you have to pay to play. And if you want to acquire more customers for your ecommerce business, you have to keep increasing your advertising budget.
Luckily, this isn’t the case with emails.
Once you’ve got your contacts’ permission, you can run email marketing campaigns without worrying about your organic reach and external algorithms.
Provided that you pay attention to your email marketing metrics, like open rates and deliverability, of course.
In this article, I’d like to show you why using email marketing is a must if you’re running an ecommerce business.
- read about successful ecommerce email marketing campaigns
- see examples of inspiring ecommerce newsletters
- get ecommerce email design tips and ideas
On top of that, with the help of ecommerce experts from The Baby Sleep Site, Only in Your State, and Happy Bunch, I’ll also show you how to use email in your marketing communication strategy.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Why use email marketing in your ecommerce strategy?
I’ve already mentioned the 3,800% ROI. But that’s sometimes hard to relate to if you don’t know exactly how much you’re paying to acquire new customers.
Other metrics such as the average email open and click-through rates may be more meaningful. Especially if you’ve been running online marketing campaigns using social media or display advertising.
In our Email Marketing Benchmarks report, every quarter we analyze the average performance results of businesses across industries. As I’m writing this, the global average open and click-through rates are 23.67% and 3.83%, respectively.
In other words, every fourth person you send your email to, give or take, is going to open it.
Compare that to your organic reach on Facebook and you’ll know that this is a solid figure.
And that’s an average result, taking into account all the different types of emails, industries, and businesses that sent them.
If you look only at triggered emails, the results are even higher – they score an average open rate of 45.88% and a click-through rate of 10.38%. More than double the clicks you get with simple newsletters.
What’s not included in the report are conversion rates and sales revenue.
And that’s because they happen past the email – in your store or on your website.
Since we don’t have this data and every business has their definition of a conversion, what I can suggest is that you start measuring these yourself.
How to track revenue from your ecommerce email marketing campaigns
The easiest way to measure the revenue you’re making from email marketing is by adding UTM parameters to your email campaigns, setting up goals in your analytics tool (e.g. Google Analytics), and looking at the conversion rates and generated revenue over there.
Although it’s the simplest way to measure your email marketing ROI, it’s not the most accurate one.
That’s because when setting up goals you have to assign the value of the goal conversion yourself.
If you only sell several products and they have different URLs, then it’s not a big problem. You can set up several goals and assign them a specific value.
The problem appears only if someone decides to buy several items of the same product within one session. That’s because Google Analytics would count that as a single goal conversion.
This way your email marketing campaigns might not be getting enough credit.
Your sales revenue from this channel would only be an approximate one.
At the same time, measuring this way is better than not measuring your sales revenue at all.
The second slightly more advanced way to track revenue from your email campaigns in Google Analytics is to use the Enhanced Ecommerce Analytics plugin.
This plugin lets you track user interactions with products on your ecommerce website.
If they view a product, click on it, check product details, add it to cart, start the checkout process, complete the transaction, or abandon it – you’ll have all that information in your Google Analytics dashboard.
More importantly, you’ll get accurate information on how much your customers spend with their transactions, because the value of each individual transaction will get automatically sent to GA.
And if you connect your ecommerce store to GetResponse, you’ll be able to use that information to create customer segments and send targeted email marketing campaigns.
Be it cart abandonment emails, product upselling campaigns, or product recommendations.
But more on that later :).
How to use email marketing for ecommerce?
One of the main advantages of email is that it works perfectly across the entire customer lifecycle.
No matter if you’re looking to:
- acquire new leads,
- convert your leads into paying customers,
- or retain your existing customers,
…email’s going to help you grow your ecommerce business.
Let’s take a look at exactly how email works for each of these funnel stages.
Acquiring new customers with email marketing
No business can exist without an effective customer acquisition strategy.
This is especially the case with ecommerce businesses. You’re not normally looking to serve only a handful of customers – even if they’re very profitable – but instead, you’re doing everything you can to get as many people into your online store as possible.
So how does email fit into the equation?
First of all, thanks to email signup forms and landing pages you can ask your store visitors to stay in touch.
If they provide you with an email address, you can send them newsletters and keep sending them updates about your offers or special promotions like flash sales.
This is especially important if your prospects aren’t ready to make a purchase when they first come in contact with your brand.
Here’s what Nicole Johnson, the owner of The Baby Sleep Site, says about this:
Email marketing is very important to our customer acquisition strategy. Our clients need time to get to know our philosophy and what our company is about, so email marketing allows us to build relationships.
Also, email can supplement your other customer acquisition campaigns, using different digital marketing channels.
Maura Hughes, Head of Ecommerce for Only in Your State, further explains this concept:
Email marketing is a core part of our customer acquisition. It’s the part of the consideration and awareness stage of our customer journey. We drive traffic to our pages through social media marketing and search and then from there, we implement webforms and welcome series to help convert prospects into buyers.
There are several reasons for which prospects would be interested in joining your email list. For example:
- To get a discount code (e.g. 10% off the first purchase)
- To get a free delivery
- To be among the first ones to get the latest offers
- To get exclusive offers
- To get updates when a specific product is on sale or back in stock
And another example, this time from Applecrumby and Fish.
Notice how their offer is first about providing safer products for your baby. The information about savings on your first order comes only second.
When you’re coming up with ideas for what you could offer your customers in exchange, be sure to match the incentive with your customers’ buyer persona.
Your freebie or lead magnet should reflect who you’re trying to win over.
For example, it’s probably not the best idea to suggest joining a loyalty program to prospects who are only going to make a one-off purchase.
At the same time, if you’re selling something exclusive, offering a 10% off discount may make your brand look a bit cheaper.
If you’re interested in learning more about using email for customer acquisition, here’s an article that shows you how to build an ecommerce email list, focusing on SEO, PPC, and effective landing page design.
With the first stage out of the way, let’s look at how email marketing can help improve your ecommerce conversions.
At the very least, you can run promotional campaigns or blowout sales on retail holidays like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
But that’s only going to work for people who are ready to buy.
As Nicole Johnson from The Baby Sleep Site already mentioned, not all prospects are ready to buy from you right away. That’s when you might want to run what marketers call lead nurturing campaigns.
In short, lead nurturing or email drip campaigns are used to turn prospects into buyers by sending a series of messages in specific time intervals.
One email at a time, their purpose is to strengthen the relationship between the prospect and the brand by offering additional value.
Nicole goes on to explain their approach in more detail:
We use email marketing to convert contacts to buyers by sending them a series of free content emails as well as emails describing how we can help and what is involved in our process.
Similarly, Only in Your State uses welcome email series to convert prospects into customers. And email automation is just one of the tactics they use to get on average 50.55% unique open rates. You can read more about this in our case study.
Note that you can start your lead nurturing process at any chosen moment, not just after signup.
That’s why companies like Happy Bunch use email to increase their conversion rates:
Joanne Ho, CEO & Founder of Happy Bunch Malaysia & Singapore:
Email marketing plays a pivotal role in our customer experience and acquisition strategy. We use it help build relationships with our users and convert prospects into buyers. We also have an automated cart abandonment campaign to supplement our remarketing efforts across our social media channels.
Below you can see an example of a cart abandonment email that has a similar objective as your typical lead nurturing campaign.
This is a single message from a four-email series sent by American Giant, a US-based online retailer – all focusing on a different aspect that makes their offer special.
If you don’t complete the purchase and buy this particular hoodie, you’ll likely receive:
- one email saying that “your new favorite” hoodie is still available
- one email letting you know about their “lifetime warranty”, which lets return the product anytime, free of charge, as they’re “built to last a lifetime”
- one message explaining the story behind their “Classic Full Zip” and how it has been named the “Greatest Hoodie Ever” by Slate magazine
- one final email repeating the fact that you can still complete the purchase and return the product for free, anytime.
Most often, lead nurturing is used for:
- customer onboarding campaigns – to turn newly acquired prospects into paying customers
- top of mind campaigns – to become the first choice for those who aren’t ready to buy but are interested in the offer
- re-engagement or win-back campaigns – to win-back those leads who either showed intent or have previously bought something from you
In one of our recent webinars Getting started with ecommerce communication, we looked at how a company called Casper used lead nurturing (example below) for their onboarding program. You can check out the recap and the recording if you want to learn more about what they do to convince their prospects to buy mattresses online.
If you’re interested in running lead nurturing campaigns – or any other campaigns aimed at converting your leads – it’s worth considering using marketing automation for this process.
Marketing automation makes it easy to send the right content, to the right people, and at the right time.
Why does this matter? Because your audience is more likely to act upon your offer when they get relevant content.
You can read more about this and see how easy it is to run lead nurturing campaigns using automation templates in our recent article – 5 Marketing Automation Workflows to Skyrocket Your Ecommerce Conversions.
Holly Sutton recently wrote a great article on why retention emails are as important as sales emails. And I couldn’t agree more.
To acquire a new customer, you often have to settle down for a minimal profit margin. By offering a free delivery or 10% discount, you’re often barely covering all the costs you had to incur up to that point.
You do that through repeat sales that lead to high customer-lifetime value (CLV) – and hope to get that money back in the long run.
Email campaigns are great for this. That’s because there are many ways you can use them to drive customer engagement and build brand loyalty.
Even in your list opt-out, welcome, and re-engagement emails you can convince your contacts to take action.
For The Baby Sleep Site, Nicole Johnson uses yet another tactic:
We use cart abandonment emails to learn more about how our readers are thinking at the time of purchase. We send an email automatically to ask them for feedback on the website and the reason they abandoned their cart.
Unquestionably, survey emails can work wonders.
Maura Hughes of Only In Your State says this about how they use emails for customer retention:
We use win-back campaigns to attract customers who have not purchased or are not engaging with the brand anymore, we have an automated cart abandonment campaign, and we offer loyalty campaigns offering discounts for new products to existing customers.
We also use a post-purchase follow-up campaign to strengthen customer loyalty, increase product reviews, and offer best-selling products.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to use emails to retain your ecommerce customers.
A thing to keep in mind: start thinking about customer retention as soon as possible. How you communicate at the beginning of your customer journey is just as important as how you do it at later stages, when they become inactive.
Win-back campaigns are a great way to drive retention. At the same time, a well-designed message containing shipping information could be the one that strikes the right chord with your audience.
Must-have ecommerce email campaigns
We’ve just discussed how email marketing can be used by ecommerce brands to facilitate their customers’ journey.
Now let’s take a look at the best ecommerce email campaigns – those that can help you build stronger relationships as well as those that are aimed to sell more products.
5 ecommerce newsletter ideas:
Someone visited your store, became interested in your offer, and signed up for the newsletter – now’s the time to delight them with your welcome message.
The welcome email might be the most important email you’ll ever send. Not so surprisingly, the average open rates for welcome emails are often above 80%.
But what goal does a welcome email serve?
There are many, but the most important one is to reinforce your brand and get people to click-through to your website.
Whether it is to learn more about the offer, redeem the discount code, or see the latest trends – your welcome message should delight your new leads and convert them into paying customers as quickly as possible.
Below’s an example of a welcome email from Adidas. Notice how it successfully makes you feel like you’re part of a community and gets you back on the site, to shop for your new favorite clothes.
Soon after the welcome email comes the time for your onboarding emails.
The goal of an onboarding email series is to familiarize your new recipients with the brand and the full-range of products and services you’re offering.
It doesn’t have to be long. It could be a short, two to three email series. Just make sure that in your email communication you discuss the most important elements of your offer.
These could be the types of categories you’re selling, your best-rated products, or the terms of free returns and delivery.
For your inspiration, here’s a newsletter from Huckberry, an ecommerce brand that backs up its products with inspirational content.
Flash sale campaign
At the end of the day, your ecommerce email campaigns should be designed to generate sales revenue, both long-term and short-term.
While the previously mentioned types of campaigns are focusing on the long-term results, you shouldn’t forget about the quick, time-bound campaigns.
Flash sale campaigns are designed to do just that. Create a sense of urgency, get your customers to act quickly, and generate revenue fast.
How can you achieve this? Do a blow-out sale flash campaign that lasts for 24 hours or throughout the weekend.
Send a couple of reminders to a selected customer segment – those who engaged with the email, click through to the site, but haven’t placed the order. Or those who haven’t even opened the first email.
Just make sure that the offer is worth it. You don’t want to create a fake sense of urgency when there’s no actual value for the recipients.
Cheap tricks will end up costing you money in the long run. So when focusing on short-term results, make sure your brand image stays intact.
Cart abandonment email
I’ve already mentioned the cart abandonment emails, but it’s such an important message you cannot ignore it.
Because cart abandonment emails can have a high impact on your sales results.
They’re sent less frequently, but they’re aimed at people who are *this close* to buying from you.
All they need is to get a reminder, perhaps an additional incentive, or be reassured that they can trust your website and they’ll get value out of this deal.
And since many customers expect to receive cart abandonment campaigns, they often get average open rates of 40-50% and CTRs above 15%.
Here’s one more example of what your win back campaign could look like:
Product recommendation emails
There are only two options: your email recipients either have or haven’t already bought from you.
In either of those scenarios, you can send product recommendation emails and try to convince them to take action.
If they haven’t bought anything from you yet, go with the best-rated products.
Got the information about the source of the lead or what they’re interested in?
Yes – Good, then use it to send personalized emails.
No – That’s fine, just go with the best-rated products, but make sure to test that in the future.
If they’ve already bought from you before, the situation’s easier. Just recommend them the best products, based on their behavior. Use an automated algorithm or your own knowledge to offer them whatever fits their situation best.
Product recommendation emails are relevant and that’s what makes them successful, too.
Here’s an example of a product recommendation email that was sent to me at the right moment. When was that? In this case, shortly after I made the first commitment and bought my first product from that brand.
Want to see more ecommerce newsletter examples? Here’s a list of over 30 automated emails you could be using for your business.
Best practices in ecommerce email campaigns
So what can you do to make sure your campaigns move the needle? Here’s a list of 10 best practices for effective ecommerce email campaigns.
Send your emails at the right moment.
Marketing automation workflows will help you send triggered emails when your leads are most likely to convert.
Personalize your email campaigns.
Don’t just rely on generic email campaigns that aren’t aimed at anyone specific. Make sure the content and arguments you use in the communication are relevant to the target audience you’re trying to convert.
Make your content engaging.
Know what type of content’s most engaging for your customers. Do these emails contain videos? Or maybe it’s user-generated content? Analyze your results and use the data in your favor.
Always be optimizing.
Your gut feeling’s important, but we’re often biased and choose things we’re more familiar with rather than what’s best for us. The same goes for your email campaigns – use data to formulate A/B tests and optimize your campaigns and win in the long game.
Ask customers for their help.
When optimizing your email communication don’t forget the key element behind all of what you’re doing – your customers.
Ask your customers for their feedback to learn more about what it is they’re looking for.
Use survey emails to get to know them better, to overcome their doubts, and improve your email campaigns.
And don’t put roadblocks preventing your customers from sharing their voice. Change that no-reply email address to something more human.
Don’t make it a marketing stunt.
Start caring more about your customers’ opinions and whenever possible, fix things where others have found problems.
Use social proof for more effective marketing campaigns.
Once you’ve gone with the previous best practice, don’t stop – turn your customers into brand advocates. Customer reviews and opinions are the best piece of marketing you’ll ever have. And when it finally happens, make sure the customer’s appreciated and that others know about it.
Segment your audience
Not all customers are the same, we all know that. But only few marketers change how they communicate in their email campaigns based on who they’re targeting.
So be different and figure out whether your best customers, high spenders, those with the high average order value, or trendsetters, should all be treated the same way.
Do they all need a discount code to be convinced to buy your new line of products? Or maybe it’s enough that they’ll be the first ones to get it? These are the types of questions you’ll want to answer before your next email campaign.
Use power words to make your copy even more effective
Ecommerce email campaigns often focus on beautiful images and flashy design. But that’s not all there is to successful email campaigns.
Email copy is just as important. So pay attention to it.
First, start with your subject line. Over half of all email recipients base their decision whether to open the email on that one single factor.
Then go with the preheader, header, and your call to action buttons.
They all should reinforce your message and help you convert your recipients into buyers.
Aim for all devices
It’s been said too many times already, but I’ll say it one more time.
When designing your email campaigns, landing pages, and ad campaigns – focus on all the devices your customers might be using to access them.
If a single element in this equation’s not working, you might be wasting your marketing budget and your customers’ interest.
Pay attention to the images, size, and placement of your call to action buttons, the product page, check out process, and everything else your customers might encounter on the way.
You’ll want the experience to be as smooth and friction-less as possible.
Pay attention to your mailing frequency
Every once in a while, we all get tempted to send an additional email campaign. We do it thinking that there’s little harm in it and the outcome can only be good for the business.
While in many cases that might be true, the data from our study seems to be telling a different story.
Before you decide to increase your mailing frequency make sure to analyze the data carefully and take note of when you’re making the changes.
The number one reason why subscribers opt out of email campaigns is because they receive too many emails in general.
At the same time, the total revenue you’ll make from the campaign may outweigh the costs of attracting new customers to replace the ones who unsubscribe.
Whatever you decide, make sure your long-term goals aren’t sacrificed by your short-term plans.
How will you grow your ecommerce business?
Now that you’ve seen how email can help your ecommerce business, it’s time you answer this one simple question:
What’s the first step you’re going to take?
If I had to choose a campaign I’d launch for my online store first, it’d definitely be one of the following – welcome email, post-purchase follow-up, or cart abandonment email.
But even if you don’t have a product to sell just yet, you can use email to introduce a new one.
So go on, connect your online store with GetResponse and launch your first email marketing campaign today.