Essential Guide to Ecommerce Email Marketing for 2021

Want to grow your ecommerce business without spending a fortune on marketing channels you hardly control?

In this article, I’ll show how you can increase your ecommerce sales using a channel that, unlike many others, isn’t pay to play.

We’ll talk about email marketing for ecommerce for online retailers.

Specifically, we’ll cover:

Let’s dive right in.


Want to grow your ecommerce store more easily? Try GetResponse ecommerce email marketing software. It packs all the right tools an ambitious ecommerce business needs to grow – email templates, email automation, transactional emails, web push notifications, paid ads, and live chat. Plus it integrates with all major ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, PrestaShop, WooCommerce, and more.

What is ecommerce email marketing?

Ecommerce email marketing is the strategy of using emails to generate sales for your online store. It can be simple, like sending a message presenting your latest offer to your whole mailing list. Or complex, like sending highly targeted emails triggered by your customers’ actions on your ecommerce site.

Online retailers use ecommerce email marketing as their standard practice to grow their business and build a loyal customer base. As you’ll read more in a few moments, this often involves coming up with different strategies aimed at attracting new buyers, turning first-time buyers into repeat customers, and fostering relationships with loyal customers.

Some of the best examples of using email marketing campaigns to boost ecommerce sales include:

To help you better understand the type of marketing communications we’re talking about, check out this great example of a cart abandonment email sent by an ecommerce company, MCM.

Cart abandonment email from an ecommerce brand, MCM. Source: ReallyGoodEmails

Notice that this email not only reminds a user about the products they left behind in their online shopping cart but also contains a list of recommended products they may be interested in, too.

We’ll discuss why you may want to consider sending abandoned cart emails and other ecommerce messages to your own audience a bit later in this guide. Plus, we’ll show you how you can do with the right email service provider, like GetResponse.

If you’d like to go over the foundations first, consider reading our beginners guide on how to do email marketing.

Types of ecommerce email marketing campaigns

Every ecommerce email marketing strategy is different, but they all have something in common – they utilize these three types of marketing emails:

Promotional emails

This is when you use email to inform your subscribers about deals in your store, new product lines, new collections, etc. These include:

Transactional emails 

These are functional emails sent to the customer with key information about a specific transaction in your store, like:

Lifecycle emails

Lifecycle emails are automated emails triggered by your shopper’s action and depending on where they are in their customer lifecycle such as:

Naturally, you don’t need to use all these types of messages in your marketing strategy. However, as you keep growing your online store, you’ll want to make sure your communication is versatile and tailored to users at different stages of your funnel. If you keep sending only promotional messages your shoppers will quickly get tired, they’ll stop opening to your messages, and your conversion rate will drop, so it’s important to sequence your emails thoughtfully.

Speaking of conversion rate, let’s look at the different benefits your company can take advantage of if it follows a solid email marketing strategy.

Ecommerce email campaigns benefits

While the benefits of using emails for ecommerce are endless, here are the six most important ones for you to consider:

10 ecommerce email marketing best practices

So what can online retailers do to make sure their campaigns move the needle? Here’s a list of 10 tips that’ll improve your ecommerce email marketing strategy.

While we’re focusing here on online stores, don’t forget to follow these general email marketing practices, too.

1. Send your emails at the right moment.

One of the easiest ways to keep your email list engaged is to send your subscribers relevant information at the right time via proper email sequencing.

You can either do this with behavior-triggered campaigns in your email marketing automation workflows or with send-time optimization algorithms that are available in email marketing services like GetResponse.

While the first method requires that the user performs an action (e.g. a visitor leaves a site without completing the purchase), the second one just requires that your platform notes down your recipient’s geolocation (e.g. using their IP address) or looks at when they’ve previous engaged with your messages.

Both methods are great, and to no surprise – they deliver remarkable results. Here are the average email opens and clicks for various types of messages, including triggered campaigns. Notice how they outperform regular newsletters? That’s because they’re timely and relevant.

How the email engagement rates compare for triggered emails and other message types. Data from the Email Marketing Benchmarks report.

And if you’re wondering if using send-time optimization is difficult – you’ll be relieved it only takes one click to switch it on. The rest’s taken care of by your email marketing platform.

GetResponse Perfect Timing feature automatically adjusts the send-time of your emails for best results.

2. Personalize your email campaigns.

Don’t just rely on generic emails that aren’t aimed at anyone specific (a.k.a. email blasts). Make sure the content, arguments, and incentives you use in the communication are relevant to the target audience you’re trying to convert.

Personalized email announcing a price drop on the product a user added to their wish list. Source: ReallyGoodEmails

Not sure what kind of data you could use to tailor your email’s content? Here are five ideas that’d work for any ecommerce business:

And if you’ve never used personalization before, here’s how you’d add it to your email subject line:

Using subscriber’s name and geolocation to personalize the subject line inside GetResponse

3. Make your content engaging.

If you want your brand to shine then you need to understand what type of content resonates best with your audience. Are these emails with user-generated content like testimonials and reviews? Maybe these are your latest blog posts? Or perhaps videos explaining how to use your products? Analyze your results and use the data to engage your subscribers better.

Engaging email content from Patagonia

Dig into your email marketing service’s reporting dashboard and integrate it with your analytical tool, like Google Analytics. By powering the two together, you’ll understand your audience better so that you’ll be able to provide them with a better customer experience.

GetResponse New Analytics dashboard providing you with all the insights about your campaign’s performance
GetResponse New Analytics dashboard – detailed view on bounces.

4. 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 mailings – use data to formulate A/B tests and optimize your campaigns and win in the long game.

The best thing about A/B tests is that they’re easy to set up, yet they can have an enormous impact on your sales results. Think about it: if one of your email subject lines performed better by 5% and that resulted in 5% more click-throughs, how much more revenue that could mean for your businesses? And now multiply that for every marketing campaign you launch – the numbers keep adding up.

Here’s what the subject line A/B test configuration looks like in GetResponse:

Email subject line A/B test setup

5. 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 or send them a direct live chat link to get to know them better, to improve their customer experience, and improve your marketing campaigns.

Example of a survey email from Timberland

And don’t put roadblocks preventing your subscribers 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. This will help you improve your brand image, drive more visitors to your site and bring you more sales in the long run, too.

6. Use social proof to improve your conversion rate.

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 pieces of marketing you’ll ever have. And when it finally happens, make sure the customers who shared their opinions are appreciated and that others know about it.

Mahabis featuring quotes from happy customers in their email campaigns

People generally seek others’ opinions before making a purchase online. So by encouraging your shoppers to provide their feedback, you’ll have a higher chance of converting your future store visitors.

7. Segment your audience

Not all customers are the same, we all know that. But only a few marketers change how they communicate in their emails based on who they’re targeting. Those that do, however, tend to see impressive results.

Take Submission Technology, for example. This GetResponse customer actively segments their audience and continues to see average click-throughs far beyond the industry benchmarks – often as high as 6-7%.

And what about those that don’t segment their audience? They often do OK, but nothing close to the above-mentioned results.

So if you want your company to thrive then take the time to analyze your audience. Try to identify individual segments that you can use to tailor your messaging and drive more sales from your emails.

Here are five customer segments most ecommerce businesses would find useful:

Should you be treating them the same way as people who’ve only subscribed to your newsletter and never bought anything? Absolutely not!

So think about it before you’re going to launch your next email program. I’m sure that among your own subscribers there are people at different funnel stages that’d be more convinced to make a purchase if you tailored your communication.

Below’s a great example of an email marketing campaign that started with segmentation. Huel looked at their current customers and identified those who haven’t tried their latest product yet. By knowing these customers already trust their brand, they used a simple piece of information (no purchase history of this particular item) to create an effective and personalized email campaign.

Personalized email campaign targeting existing customers who haven’t bought a particular product.

Also, if you’re wondering whether setting up segments is difficult – it’s not. Here’s how you’d set up a segment of people who’ve purchased a specific product in your store:

Using ecommerce data to segment your audience based on the specific product they bought.

8. Improve your email templates with compelling copy

Ecommerce emails often focus on beautiful images and flashy design. But that’s not all there is to successful email programs. 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 call to action buttons.

They all should reinforce your message and help you drive more sales for your ecommerce store.

Magic Spoon using compelling copy throughout its message

For copywriting guidance, consider reading this guide by Joanna Wiebe on how to write newsletters that get read, opened, and clicked. It’s packed with email marketing tips that’ll help you write more compelling copy throughout all your message elements.

9. Aim for all devices

It’s been said too many times already, but I’ll say it one more time.

When designing your email templates, 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 frictionless as possible.

This email from Kiva checks all the right boxes.

Mobile-responsive email that looks great on a mobile device from Kiva.

10. Pay attention to your mailing frequency

Every once in a while, we all get tempted to send just one more message. 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 from receiving emails is that they receive too many of them 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 email engagement rates change with higher email frequency. Data from Email Marketing Benchmarks report.

Now that you’re familiar with these 10 ecommerce email marketing best practices, it’s time to explore how you can track revenue from their ecommerce mailings.

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 messages, 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 programs 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 emails 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 their shopping cart, start the checkout process, complete the transaction, or abandon it – you’ll have all that information in your Google Analytics dashboard.

Google Analytics report showing the transactional information from Google’s demo store. Note: Here they’ve not configured email as a separate channel so the transactions are counted along with the “Direct” channel.

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 emails.

Be it abandoned cart emails, product upselling emails, or product recommendations.

Now let’s go over this 10-step strategy that’ll drive more visitors to your store and will help you convince them to purchase from your more often.

Ecommerce email marketing strategy – from basics to advanced

Step 1. Start building an email list

Most ecommerce brands start with little or no email list. What they do have, however, are website visitors, social media followers, and of course – existing customers.

To start growing your email list, consider doing the following:

Pro tip: Offering a discount or free shipping is probably the easiest way to convince folks to opt into your email list. And if you don’t want to offer deals right away, you can always make the offer available only on their second purchase.

Here’s an example of a popup form created inside GetResponse you could use on your site:

GetResponse Signup Form Builder.

And here’s an example of a giveaway contest run by one of GetResponse customers, Sabaton, where one of the key actions the contestants had to take was to sign up for the newsletter.

Sabaton’s giveaway contest where one of the action’s you can make is to opt in to their email list

Step 2. Welcome new subscribers, automatically

Now that you’ve started collecting new email subscribers, it’s important to onboard them with a welcome email.

A welcome email is the single most engaging email you can send – it gets an average open rate of over 80% and a click-through above 20% according to our Email Marketing Benchmarks study.

A great welcome email can serve several purposes. It can help you:

There’s also another key benefit welcome emails can help you achieve – great email deliverability. That’s because, unlike email blasts that are sent to the whole of your email audience, welcome emails are delivered to individual subscribers by your email automation platform.

This steady flow of highly engaging emails shows to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Gmail or Yahoo that you’re a solid email marketer and that your emails should be filtered into the mailbox, skipping the spam folder.

Here’s an example of a simple marketing automation workflow that’d send the welcome email for you, automatically.

Welcome email workflow built with GetResponse Marketing Automation.

Bear in mind that you could build out this workflow even further and turn your welcome message into a whole series. This is especially useful if you’re offering a wide variety of product categories and you don’t send promotional/sales emails all that often.

This is the approach one of GetResponse’s customers, Landcafe, took when they developed a whole educational series for their new subscribers. Their six-email series not only helps to tell the brand’s story and guide their customers through a variety of different coffees they sell but also helps them generate revenue. In fact, 54% of their sales come from their onboarding sequence.

The visual below portrays what their educational email series looks like:

Landcafe welcome email sequence.

Step 3. Start sending promotional emails, regularly

With the first two steps out of the way, it’s time to get into the habit of sending promotional emails to your audience.

Although you don’t want to overwhelm your subscribers with too many messages, you do need to make sure they remember about your business and visit your website. The best practice is to send at least one email per month, but ideally, you’d be looking at a weekly or biweekly schedule – depending on how versatile and engaging your content is.

Most email marketing services come with ready-made email templates you can fill in with your own copy, images, and colors to match your branding. Building your marketing messages this way won’t take too much of your time and will help you drive more sales from your ecommerce shop.

Here’s an example of an email template you can find inside GetResponse that’s been designed with ecommerce businesses in mind.

Email template available in GetResponse.

And here’s a walkthrough video that shows you how you can build an email from scratch using our new Email Maker.

Step 4. Send reminders to those who did not convert

Once you’ve started sending your emails more regularly, you’ll probably notice that not all of your recipients will open all of your messages. And that’s natural – our inboxes get cluttered or our schedule becomes too busy.

Given that newsletters get an average open rate of just over 22%, it means that roughly 80% of your email list won’t open your message. This is still a great result compared to other marketing channels, but sometimes you may want to present your offer to those who didn’t open the first time, once again.

To do that, all you need to do is pick a different email subject line and leave your message content as it were. After all, they haven’t seen it yet 🙂 Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to send the message to those who’ve not opened your first email.

Now, depending on the email marketing service you use, there may be several ways to launch such a message.

In GetResponse, you can do this in three ways:

1) By selecting those who didn’t open the message directly in your email analytics report.

2) By looking up those who received your email and didn’t open it, and then saving them as a segment in Search Contacts.

Like this:

3) By setting up a marketing automation workflow that’ll automatically send your reminder message after, e.g. 48 hours from your initial message.

Like this:

Keep in mind this tactic shouldn’t be used too often as you may end up resending your messages to recipients who are genuinely no longer interested in your brand. And if you do find such contacts among your segments, you’ll want to try and reactivate them with a win-back campaign.

Step 5. Segment your audience and tailor your communication

As your email marketing list grows, you’ll want to ensure you keep your audience engaged. The best way to do that is by segmenting your recipients and tailoring the content to these individual groups’ needs.

With the right approach, you can help your customers move along your marketing funnel more effectively, which will of course lead to more repeat customers and sales.

A moment ago, I’ve presented five customer segments you’ll probably want to set up in your email marketing service. These are high spenders, loyal customers, trendsetters, one-time buyers, and recent buyers.

On top of that, here several more segmentation criteria that are particularly helpful for ecommerce brands:

Here’s an example of how Submission Technology tailors their email content to target males and females, individually.

Once again, starting with email segmentation’s super easy. Here’s an example of how you’d set up a segment comprising of people who’ve not bought anything in your store and signed up within the last 30 days.

Step 6. Retrieve lost sales with abandoned cart emails

Finally, it’s time to optimize your conversion rates. Given that you’ve already invested so much into getting visitors onto your site, it’s natural you’ll want to maximize the chances of them finishing their order.

A simple email reminding users about the product they’ve left in their shopping cart can help you achieve that. To set it up, you’ll need to integrate your ecommerce platform with your email automation tool and build a workflow like this one:

All the workflow does is wait for the signal from ShopifyMagentoPrestaShop, or any other platform you’re using that a user has left the website without finishing the transaction. When we get that signal, we launch whatever message or sequence of messages you’ve added into your workflow and help you win back the customer.

Once again, you can use an email template to build your message and launch it to your audience in no time.

Ecommerce email template available in GetResponse.

Step 7. Reactivate subscribers with win-back campaigns

Over time, some of your subscribers may become unengaged and reluctant to open your messages. Even though this is expected, it’s not something you’ll want to leave unattended.

Unengaged subscribers not only cost you money (they use up space in your database) but also affect your email deliverability. Their lack of activity shows to the ISPs that your content is unattractive and that you don’t keep your list hygienic. These signals then are used to filter your messages and placing them in the other subscribers’ mailboxes.

That’s where win-back programs come into play. Their purpose is to not only try to win back those who may still be interested in your brand but also to keep the “lost-cases” away. Recipients whom you’ve failed to reactivate on multiple occasions should ideally be moved away to a different segment that you won’t communicate with regularly or be removed altogether.

While parting ways with your inactive subscribers may seem scary at first, it’s a process that can have a tremendous impact on your deliverability and revenue.

Once again, the process of setting up a win-back campaign is simple.

Here’s what your segment could look like if you used the GetResponse Engagement Score feature to identify people who signed up for your newsletter more than 60 days ago and have the engagement score of 1 indicating that they’re “unengaged”.

And here’s the workflow that would first wait for 90 days, then check if the recipient’s present in the inactive segment, and then would send them an automated reminder. Should the recipient ignore the reminder message, they’ll be assigned a tag “lapsed-customer”.

Step 8. Ask buyers for their feedback

I’ve already mentioned why social proof is important and how you can use it in your email marketing program. Now it’s time to encourage your buyers to provide their feedback so that you can use it throughout your marketing communication.

The process is simple, all you need to do is to build a workflow that’d send an automated message sometime after someone’s made a purchase. This could be a week, two, or maybe a month – depending on how long it takes to both deliver your product and get a good feel for it.

Here’s a workflow that you could use to ask your buyers for feedback about your products:

Step 9. Send recommendations based on shoppers’ behavior

I’m a big fan of Netflix and how they use recommendations to offer me the best movies and shows based on what others like me enjoyed. If you’re like me, you’ll be happy to know that you can the same approach in your email marketing program.

Once you’ve connected your store with your email marketing service, all you need to do is set up a workflow and prepare a message that would contain your product recommendations.

This quick walkthrough shows how you can set this up in the GetResponse Email Creator:

And here’s the workflow that’d deliver the product recommendation email to your recipients two weeks after they bought from you:

Step 10. Take advantage of transactional emails to build customer loyalty

Last but not least, you’ll want to take advantage of transactional emails in your email marketing program.

While they require slightly more technical abilities to set them up (in GetResponse you can currently set up transactional emails via API or SMTP), they’re definitely worth it.

Transactional emails not only provide the reassurance that the transaction was processed correctly, but they also give you an opportunity to strengthen your customer relationships.

Take this example from MeUndies, an online retailer selling underwear. Doesn’t this email look fun and enjoyable? Even though it’s just a transactional email, it shows the brand’s personality and sets the tone for the long relationship they’re trying to build with their audience.

Fun transactional email notifying the recipient that the product has been shipped. Source: ReallyGoodEmails

Finally, let’s look at some noteworthy ecommerce email template examples you may want to get inspired by.

Read other industry guides:

1. Hotel email marketing guide

2. Email marketing for non-profits

3. Retail email marketing best practices

10 amazing ecommerce email template examples

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 examples – those that can help you build stronger relationships as well as those that are aimed to sell more products.

1. Welcome email

Here’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.

Welcome email containing a discount code – from Adidas.

2. Onboarding campaign

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. Here’s a newsletter that delivers on that premise from Huckberry, an ecommerce brand that backs up its products with inspirational content.

Onboarding email showing the various product categories available in the shop from Huckberry.

3. Flash sale campaign

Flash sales are designed to help you deliver on short-term results. They create a sense of urgency, get your customers to act quickly, and generate revenue fast. Here’s an example from Casper that follows this approach and does it very well:

Flash sale message from Casper.

4. Cart abandonment email

Although emails are not sent very frequently, they’re aimed at visitors who are *this close* to buying from you. And since many customers expect to receive cart abandonment emails, they often get average open rates of 40-50% and CTRs above 15%. Here’s an abandoned cart email example from American Giant that’s particularly good.

Cart abandonment email from American Giant offering you an easy way to return to the checkout.

5. Browse abandonment email

The idea is similar to the one above. The only exception is that they’re aimed at people who’ve not added the product to their cart but they’ve shown interest in them (e.g. clicked on it in another email). Here’s how Timberland uses this approach:

Browse abandonment email featuring the product you saw plus recommendations from Timberland.

6. Product recommendation email

Product recommendation emails are powerful and you can send them even if you’re targeting new users. All you need to do is pick the best-sellers from your store and present them in an email like this one from MVMT:

Promotional email featuring best selling watches from MVMT.

7. Review email

Asking recent buyers for feedback? Here’s an example of how Target asks their audience to write anything positive or negative about their latest purchase:

Survey email asking users to rate their last purchase Source: ReallyGoodEmails

8. Transactional email

Here’s a great activation email example that asks the user to confirm they wanted to set up an account with their email address. What’s worth noting is that it carries on the same branding the company uses across all their email marketing campaigns.

Email confirming the setup of a new account in the Huel’s shop.

9. Email campaign using user-generated content

User reviews, testimonials, and even social media posts can make your email marketing more authentic and impactful. Here’s how MeUndies uses posts from Instagram to drive more engagement with their marketing communication:

MeUndies using Instagram quotes to make their email communication more authentic.

10. Referral email

Turning those customers into brand advocates? Here’s how Huel does this in their onboarding sequence. Note: the email was originally in Polish, but I’ve translated it to English so that you can get a better feel for its content.

Referral email marketing message from Huel offering you 50 PLN discount for recommending the brand to your friends.

Want to see more ecommerce newsletter examples? Here’s an in-depth guide that explains what email marketing automation is & shows over 30 examples of automated emails that’ll work great for your business.

How will you grow your ecommerce company?

Now that you’ve seen how email can help your ecommerce business grow (even if you’re mostly brick-and-mortar!), it’s time you answer this one simple question:

What’s the first step you’re going to take?

If you’re going to follow the sample strategy I’ve described above, you’ll probably want to use a tool that’ll help you achieve your ambitious goals.

And if you’re shopping for an email marketing service provider, I highly encourage you to give GetResponse a try.

It comes with 30 days free trial and you don’t need to provide your credit card details. And on top of emails, it’s packed with plenty of other tools that’ll help your shop grow.

So go on, connect your online store with GetResponse and launch your first email marketing campaign today.

The above article is reproduced from GetResponse’s Blog | Essential Guide to Ecommerce Email Marketing for 2021

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