Your Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Email Marketing

More brands than ever are putting digital sales first or functioning entirely online. In fact, ecommerce retail sales hit $4.9 trillion in 2021 (yes, trillion) and are projected to grow to $7.4 trillion by 2025. 

But when your business is online, your digital marketing becomes more important than ever. One of an ecommerce brand’s most important tools is ecommerce email marketing. 

When you combine email’s incredible reach with its affordability and the ease with which you can personalize and automate it, email is the perfect tool to create superior customer experiences and drive ecommerce sales. But new and small businesses may still be wondering: where do you start? 

In this article, we’ll cover ecommerce email marketing, why you need it, and how to use it to acquire, retain, and win back customers.

Table of contents

What is ecommerce email marketing?

Ecommerce simply means buying and selling things online. Email marketing is communicating with and appealing to potential customers through email, which makes it a natural fit for ecommerce. 

Simply put, ecommerce email marketing is the use of email to sell things online.

But from there, it gets more complex, with campaigns, segmentation, personalization, and more (all of which we’ll cover later).

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Ecommerce email marketing

Ecommerce email marketing can look like a straightforward sales pitch, but that’s just 1 part of your email marketing strategy. Your email marketing also delivers value to recipients, builds trust and brand loyalty, rewards customers, and collects feedback. 

You don’t have to do everything all at once, but it’s important to remember that not every email is meant to close a sale.

Why you need ecommerce email marketing 

Email is fast, cheap, and accessible. And 37% of brands surveyed planned to increase their email marketing budget in 2022. 99% of people surveyed said they checked their email every day. Most people check it several times a day, and when smartphone users were asked their preferred medium of business communication, email was the top choice

Three icons labeled “fast,” “flexible,” and “effective”
Ecommerce email marketing is fast, flexible, and effective

So we know that people check their email (sometimes obsessively), and we know that people prefer it for business communication. But marketers also find email marketing very effective. A survey of marketers found that every dollar invested in email marketing brought in $36 for brands. And email marketing ROI was highest for retail, ecommerce, and consumer goods.

Ecommerce email marketing leads to:

  • More engagement
  • More conversions
  • More revenue

Plus, ecommerce email marketing is highly flexible and adaptable. Modern email marketing software makes it easy to implement highly-relevant customer experiences and track key metrics, such as conversion rates. In short, email gives even the smallest teams the ability to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Types of ecommerce marketing emails 

Although there are nearly endless ways to use email marketing for ecommerce, there are a few categories that most of these messages fall into. Each type of email plays an important role in acquiring, engaging, and retaining customers.

Transactional emails

These are emails that consumers expect and often want to receive. They are messages confirming purchases, communicating order statuses, and more.

Some messages that fall into the transactional emails category are:

  • Account creation or registration emails
  • Notification emails
  • Confirmation and purchase receipt emails
  • Shipping and delivery emails
  • Password recovery
  • Feedback emails

For example, when you order something from an online store, you expect to receive an order confirmation email. While it might not seem that important, customers have been trained to expect these messages. The confirmation email is such a normal part of buying online that customers are likely to think something has gone wrong if they don’t receive one.

A screenshot of an order confirmation email
An order confirmation email (Image Source)

Shipping emails and even “package delivered” emails come next. Finally, there may be communication regarding a purchase, maybe feedback or a “how did we do?” email. This falls into the category of transactional emails when you ask customers to rate a particular buying experience (as opposed to a more general customer survey).

It’s also important to note that transactional emails do not require the user to opt-in (performing the transaction is essentially their opt-in).

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Promotional emails

Promotional emails are the type of messages you most commonly think of as “marketing.” They are messages that try to entice the recipient into making a purchase. They can be either time-bound or not. For instance, you might be promoting your core products, or you could be promoting a seasonal product or service.

Some messages that fall into the promotional emails category include:

  • Time-sensitive sales or discounts
  • Seasonal promotions
  • Newsletters
  • Lead nurturing emails
  • Birthday emails
  • New products and services
  • Member or email subscriber deals

For example, Third Love used a promotional email to alert customers to new product lines. Naturally, your call to action should be easy to find when you’re trying to entice readers to make a purchase.

A screenshot of a promotional email from Third Love
A promotional email from Third Love

Offering a coupon code or discount is another common way that ecommerce brands encourage recipients to return to their site.

A screenshot of an email with a five dollar discount
An email with a five dollar discount

Behavioral emails

Sometimes called lifecycle emails or customer lifecycle emails, these are messages triggered by a customer’s actions (or lack thereof). Perhaps the most common behavioral email is the cart abandonment email. The Baymard Institute found that nearly 7 in 10 ecommerce carts are abandoned. 

Other messages that fall into the behavioral emails category

  • Welcome email series
  • Cross-sell or upsell emails
  • Win-back emails
  • Customer loyalty or reward emails
  • Account milestone emails

Whether it’s a single message or a drip campaign of blog posts and other content, welcome emails are 1 of the most common behavioral emails. A great welcome email acknowledges that the user has opted into something and is your chance to start the experience off with relevant content that helps communicate your brand. 

A screenshot of a welcome email from the Headspace app
A welcome email from the Headspace app (Image Source)

As mentioned above, you can also send a behavioral email for which the behavior is doing nothing at all. In ActiveCampaign, for instance, you can create an automation to send a special offer when someone hasn’t engaged with your emails for a certain period of time (more to come on winning back customers).

Ecommerce email marketing strategy 

Your ecommerce email marketing strategy is your plan for how you will use email marketing for your particular brand and audience. A strong email marketing strategy will almost always include a mix of the 3 main types of marketing emails.

Creating an excellent welcome email (or email series) is a great place to start since all your new contacts and potential customers will receive it. When they make a purchase, following up with clear and helpful transactional emails gives them peace of mind.

For promotional emails, audience segmentation is a key element of a good ecommerce email marketing strategy. Not all customers will be interested in the same products or content. Dividing your email list into a few different groups will allow you to send them the kind of email campaigns that will appeal to them. 

For example, eyewear brand L.G.R. World identified several key characteristics that should affect how they market to people (gender, geography, sales funnel position) and uses those factors to segment their email list. This allows them to send more targeted emails.

Images of people wearing sunglasses with male and female symbols
L.G.R email marketing (Image Source)

Like promotional emails, behavioral emails are your opportunity to speak directly to a customer’s interests or needs. With the right email marketing software, you can create workflows and automations that ensure every incomplete transaction is followed up with a cart abandonment email. Behavioral emails also allow you to reward loyal customers for their continued engagement.

As you develop your unique ecommerce email marketing strategy, you should consider:

  • Audience and industry preferences and standards
  • Email frequency
  • Design and aesthetics
  • Customer lifecycle stages

Email marketing software for ecommerce 

The email marketing software you use can greatly impact how you use ecommerce email marketing. It affects how easy it is to design and create new emails and campaigns, segment your email list, and provide personalized content. 78% of marketers use personalization to make their emails more relevant when targeting specific audiences.

A screenshot of the email creation interface of ActiveCampaign
Email creation interface of ActiveCampaign (Image Source)

Workflows and automation are also important considerations when choosing your email software. As your business grows, it can quickly become impossible to manage highly relevant email experiences without setting up workflows and automations. And for small businesses with limited manpower, the hours you save with automations allow you to focus on more creative and impactful tasks.

A diagram of an email automation workflow
A diagram of an email automation workflow

As with any software or tool, ease of use is very important—particularly when you’re getting started. As you develop your ecommerce email marketing strategy, continually ask yourself if the tool you have is serving you not only now but in the future as you grow in email sends and marketing complexity.

Frequently asked questions 

Here are some of the most common questions about ecommerce email marketing.

How can I grow my ecommerce business with email marketing?

Email marketing gives even a one-person shop or a brand new business the ability to reach many people quickly.

Growing your email list is an important part, so creating forms and other subscription opportunities is an important step. From there, you can create a mix of transactional, promotional, and behavioral emails to drive potential customers toward purchases.

How do I write an ecommerce email?

An ecommerce email can be broken down into a number of basic components. 

The main elements of an ecommerce email are:

  • The subject line
  • The headlines
  • Image(s)
  • The body text
  • The call to action

Asking “what is the end goal of this email?” is a great place to start when writing your first draft. Your call to action should give the customer the opportunity to engage with your website or products.

Whatever the contents of your email, it’s a good idea to brainstorm many subject lines and headlines and then choose the best (or use A/B testing for the best conversion rates).

How do I win back customers with email marketing?

A win-back or re-engagement email is designed to get a customer’s attention who has stopped buying or even interacting with your emails. 

Some common approaches are

  • Addressing that they haven’t been opening your emails
  • Offering a discount code or limited-time offer
  • Sending a highly-personalized email

Many brands create a series of re-engagement emails to win back lapsed customers.

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Ecommerce email marketing and automation

For ecommerce, email marketing is a must. It’s fast, affordable, scalable, and effective. Now that you understand what ecommerce email marketing is and the main categories, you can develop (or improve) your email strategy to grow your ecommerce business.
As your business grows, so will the importance of creating automations and workflows to provide potential customers with the right content at the right time. To make your email marketing smarter and more efficient, claim your free trial of ActiveCampaign.

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