How important is email marketing to your eCommerce business?

For many online stores, it’s all about the product, brand, social and PPC – eCommerce email marketing is an afterthought.

Millenials and the next generation might feel like email is on the way out. A boring old tactic that doesn’t have the same appeal as the shiny new social networks and the direct outcomes of AdWords.

That is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking…

Why eCommerce Email Marketing Still Matters

It may not be fancy, but it’s effective and considerably more sustainable than many other tactics.

Here are two reasons why eCommerce email marketing is still relevant:

  • Unlike PPC and social media advertising, email marketing doesn’t cost you any money to acquire customers. You have a list and you can email them an offer whenever you want to. You don’t need to “turn the tap off” when you have to reduce your monthly spend to improve cash flow.
  • Unlike social media marketing, you own your audience with email. You aren’t hunting on someone else’s property. No one can all of a sudden change an algorithm and make you pay to send a message to your email list, it’s on your turf.

It’s as simple as that, with eCommerce email marketing you own your audience, don’t need to play by someone else’s ever-changing rule set, and you won’t be all of a sudden forced to start paying to communicate with them.

Ok, so email is still relevant and important for eCommerce businesses… but how do you make the most of it?

I’ve found examples from 10 of the best eCommerce brands and grouped them under key headings that capture the essence of a well put together email marketing strategy. Use this as inspiration to take your eCommerce email marketing strategy to the next level.

Part 1: On-Site Conversion

Perhaps the most important, and often overlooked component of effective email marketing is how well you optimize your website for email capture.

It’s all very well to get tons of website traffic and set up automated back-end email sequences, but if people come to your website and never come back again then it’s all pointless.

That’s why on-site conversion optimization is a crucial element of eCommerce email marketing.

Here are some tips on how you can optimize your eCommerce site to capture email addresses:

  • Include an email capture form on your homepage. For most eCommerce stores the highest traffic page is their home page, which is why it is an essential place for capturing people’s email addresses.
  • Make your form prominent and above the fold. If people want to sign up for your email list, don’t make it hard for them. Include a form near the top of the screen on important pages, as well as multiple prominent forms elsewhere on these pages to increase the chance of someone filling them in. When you first land on the Converse website, they have a popup modal primed and ready to capture your contact information:

Converse - eCommerce Email Marketing

  • Leverage social proof to get more signups. More people are likely to sign up for your email list if they think that lots of others have already done so in the past. Include testimonials and subscriber numbers to influence the human psychology of your audience.
  • Emphasize your value proposition. Make sure it is super-clear exactly what someone will get from signing up to your email list. Is it a discount? A weekly email newsletter with helpful content? Whatever you are offering in exchange for their email address, articulate the benefit as close to the capture form as possible. Below is an example from J Crew, where they have clearly articulated what a user will receive by joining their list:

J Crew - eCommerce Email Marketing

Part 2: Personalization

Email personalization goes beyond the inclusion of a “First Name” tag in your email broadcasts. It’s much more than that.

When done well, personalization helps your eCommerce business stand out in your prospects’ inbox. It increases your open rates, click-throughs, and eventual purchases. It tightens the bond you have with your customers.

It’s so important that 33% of marketers believe personalization is the most important capability to develop in the future.

So what exactly is personalization and how can you use it for your eCommerce email marketing strategy?

Here are some examples of email personalization to illustrate its potential:

  • Product recommendations. Use previous purchasing behavior and website data to deliver customers relevant product recommendations in your email campaigns. Below is an example of this from BirchBox:

Birchbox - eCommerce Email Marketing

  • Page-specific automations. Trigger and automate email campaigns based on a user’s behavior on your website. One common example of this type of personalization is to send abandoned cart emails. Levi’s use a time-bound discount to encourage people who abandon their shopping cart to take action:

Levis - eCommerce Email Marketing

  • Smart list segmentation and contact scoring. Make the most of contact scoring and smart list segmentation to send relevant emails to your entire database, instead of mass-emailing everyone the same message.

Part 3: Design

Email is more than the simplistic text-based form of communication it once was.

Widespread use of custom HTML emails means that beautiful design is a prerequisite for effective eCommerce email marketing. Your customers expect eye-popping visuals, engaging graphics, and an amazing experience in their inbox.

Here are a few key elements of email design that contribute to the inbox experience for your customers:

  • Consistent colors and branding
  • Responsive formatting and device optimization
  • Relevant and consistent calls-to-action
  • Smart content and copy organization
  • Engaging visual elements

Here is an example of a beautifully designed email from Starbucks which captures the essence of their brand with consistent colors and design elements:

And another example from Stylemined, which does a great job of highlighting the calls-to-action throughout the email with contrasting colors, button design, and discount offers:

Stylemined - eCommerce Email Marketing

Creating an enticing email design involves a winning combination of style and substance. Consistent branding, responsive formatting, jump-off-the-page calls-to-action, and smart content organization, are critical to the way your emails are engaged with.

Part 4: Messaging

Having a beautifully designed email is important, but if your messaging and copy are misaligned with the outcomes you are trying to achieve for the business then it’s all wasted energy.

Your messaging needs to entice visitors to open your emails, click on your calls-to-action, engage with your content, and purchase products from your store. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point?

There are a number of things you need to consider when it comes to your messaging. Some of which relate to the technical side of email marketing and some relate to customer engagement. Let’s take a look…

  • Follow best practice so you make it into the inbox in the first place. Confirm a user’s subscription when they first sign up, encourage them to whitelist your company’s email address, avoid common spam words, and adhere to unsubscribe laws. Don’t waste all of the effort you put into converting prospects into subscribers by turning up in their spam folder all the time.
  • Optimize your campaigns so that prospects open them every time. Test and optimize subject lines, leverage personalization, send the email at the right time, and make sure you focus on providing value to the receiver. Product Hunt, for example, uses curiosity elements and emojis in their subject lines to increase opens:

Product Hunt - eCommerce Email Marketing

  • Increase your click-through rates when someone opens your emails. Split test your copy, limit the number of calls-to-action, use descriptive links, segment your list for more refined targeting, and personalize the offer based on their behavior.

Your email messaging should all lead to one outcome – the user taking action. This means you need to find a way to turn up in their inbox, get them to open the email, and entice them to click on the link you want them to.

Part 5: Automation

A guide to eCommerce email marketing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning automation.

It’s estimated that automated email messages average 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than normal email broadcasts. This is largely due to the fact that you can test, iterate, and optimize their performance over time.

There are three primary uses of email automation for eCommerce businesses:

  • To build trust with lead nurturing campaigns. Automated email sequences such as welcome emails and drip campaigns enable you to engage with prospects without manually sending out new broadcasts all the time.
  • To convert prospects into customers. Email automation helps you send the right messages to prospects at each stage of the funnel.
  • To re-engage lost or previous customers. Trigger campaigns can be used to re-engage people at key touchpoints, such as when they abandon a shopping cart on your website.

Smart email automation can save you time, help you optimize your approach to email marketing, and deliver your sales on autopilot.

Part 6: Event-Based Offers

Running email campaigns that center around event-based offers is a core ingredient to a healthy eCommerce business. They are not a standalone broadcast, but a series of emails that are sent to your database to promote a new offer or a specific sale.

It’s estimated that 60% of people prefer email as a form of communication when it comes to promotions and offers from businesses. Compared to social media and other channels.

One way to approach event-based email campaigns for eCommerce stores is to plan the year ahead of time. Look at your calendar and earmark a number of critical events that present an opportunity for a promotion.

Some common examples include:

  • The launch of a new product
  • An end of season flash sale on old stock
  • Campaigns related to trade shows and conferences
  • Consumer holidays and important events such as Easter or Valentine’s Day
  • Well-known eCommerce sale periods such as Black Friday.

When you are looking at your email calendar for the next 6-12 months, start to plan these event-based campaigns as a way to spike sales during these periods.

Iconfinder leveraged Halloween to generate interest and offer subscribers a discount:

Iconfinder - eCommerce Email Marketing

And here is a Black Friday email from Urban Outfitters that includes relevant products in the email:

Urban Outfitters - eCommerce Email Marketing

Conclusion

Most visitors won’t buy from your online store on the first visit. So with all the time, money, and resources you put into driving traffic to your website, it makes sense to find as many ways as possible to reconnect with these people.

One way of doing so is with retargeting ads. But your relationship with these users is still somewhat cold in nature. Email marketing, on the other hand, is permission-based. People have knowingly given up their contact information to your business so that you can communicate with them in the future.

On top of being a permission-based form of marketing, your email list is an asset that you own. You don’t have to play by the rules of the social networks, or a 3rd party advertising platform.

So think strategically about your eCommerce email marketing strategy. Optimize your website for email conversions, personalize the experience for your subscribers, create beautifully designed email templates, deliver compelling messages, and combine both event-based offers and automation.

Rukham Khan
Author

Rukham is a writer and a budding content marketer. He believes trust should be the basis for all marketing communications.