Email Marketing Guide for Online Retailers

Email is among the most used forms of digital communication. We send emails on a personal basis, use them for internal communication in the workplace, and many other purposes. It’s quick and simple. If you don’t have an email account, you’re simply not online!
But we’re not talking about personal emails here, we’re looking at the importance of email as a marketing tool for online retailers. What is email marketing, exactly? What should you be doing to ensure your email marketing campaign reaches the right audience? What are the different types of marketing emails, and what are the ultimate goals of an email marketing campaign?

These are all questions we will be answering in the following article, but perhaps most pertinent of all is this: how do you get started with your email marketing campaign? Before we get into the details of putting together effective email marketing campaigns, a bit more is needed about what email marketing entails, and we also have some interesting statistics that will help inform you of the importance of email marketing. So, without further hesitation, here’s a brief description of email marketing.

Table of Contents

What Is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is a method of promoting your brand and product to your target audience. Let’s take a step back to how things were and compare them to how they are now.
In the pre-digital days, it would be the norm to get home from work and find a pile of posts for you, much of it promotional material. This could be for any type of product. Mailshots were – and remain – notoriously poor in terms of success because much of that promotional material would be irrelevant to the recipient.
It used to work as such: businesses would buy lists of addresses – simply blocks of hundreds in one area – and send their promo to those addresses. Let’s say the retailer was in the gardening realm: a good number of those letters, adverts or brochures would go to people without gardens, or without an interest in gardening.
Then came the more sophisticated direct mail, which would segregate individuals not just by location, but by more personalized information. This came about when people began creating an online presence. Still, however, direct mail is poor in its reach and ability to target an audience.
When email first began to be used for marketing it was equally random and not targeted. Things have come a long way in a few years.
In this article, we will be talking about three areas that are important in successful email marketing campaigns, and that differentiate the 2021 version from that of 10 years ago: Consent, Segmentation, and Personalization.

Consent in Email Marketing

It is not only essential that you obtain consent from consumers to forward marketing emails to them, as in some countries it is a legal requirement. In the USA your email marketing campaigns must comply with the TCPA – the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This applies to email as well as to other forms of marketing such as SMS and phone calls. In Europe, you need to ensure compliance with the GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation.

Sign up
However, there is more to gaining consent than compliance. In the example we used above – that of direct mail from a gardening company sending promotions to uninterested consumers – we have an example of why consent helps your marketing campaigns: when you ask a consumer to opt in to your mailing list, they will only agree if your product or service is or may be of interest to them. Consent ensures you are not sending emails to people who have no interest.

Segmentation in Email Marketing

To further streamline your email marketing campaigns, you will implement segmentation. What does this mean? When you start building your email list, which we will talk about shortly, you gather as much information as you can about the consumers. This information can then be used to break down your list into smaller segments by way of a variety of criteria.
Segmentation in Email Marketing
You may have products that are for younger people, so age can be a factor in segmentation. You might have information on the interests of your email subscribers that relate to your products. Perhaps you offer a service and want to target a certain geographic location, in which that can be a factor. Then there is the purchase history of your consumer: someone who has bought a particular product will want to know about other items that complement it, or that are accessories.
Segmentation is simply creating smaller, more targeted groups to send emails to, and reducing the waste element even further.

Personalization in Email Marketing

Personalization is something that the consumer expects and should be a crucial element of your email marketing strategy. Your email contacts don’t want promotional messages beginning ‘Dear Customer’ but one that has their name on it. They want an email that appears to have been created especially for them. Of course, it will go to many others, but as we have seen from the above it can be personalized to a certain degree. For example:

‘Dear Jane, we see you’ve bought our face cream a few times, and we want to let you know about a new range of beauty products we’ve just introduced.’
Personalization in Email Marketing
Add a few words about the range, a link to the product page, and a call to action inviting them to have a look. That email says you’ve kept up with what they buy from you, and you have a new product you want them – personally – to have a look at.
That’s three core elements of a marketing email. We want to move on now to explain the importance of email marketing to your online business and give you some informative statistics that may be eye-openers.

The Importance of Email Marketing to Online Businesses

We should make it clear that email marketing, while an essential part of any marketing campaign, is not a stand-alone solution. Here’s an interesting fact: a person is likely to open an SMS message within no more than 3 minutes of receiving it. Email, on the other hand, may not be opened for 90 minutes. The reasons are varied, but in the main, it is because of the ubiquity of the smartphone as the device of choice.

SMS is important as people are likely to access it on the move. If a notification is given when on the bus, train, or in the street they will open the SMS right there. An email can wait. Hence using SMS to direct people to emails is part of the email marketing strategy. That is, of course, another subject.

Before we start to explain how to begin your email marketing campaigns, we thought it would help you understand the importance if we offer you some informative statistics, so let’s have a look.

Some Informative Statistics about Email Marketing

According to Statista, but 2023 there will be 4.3 billion active email users in the world. That is more than half the population. Put simply, if you are running a business for developed-world customers, you need to be using email along with other marketing channels. Here are some further reasons why:
Put simply, your customers want to hear from you, and the above statistics include some that are indicators of the essential form of email marketing. So, now we’ve got this far, how do you begin?

How to Begin Email Marketing?

Starting your email marketing campaigns is not as simple as bringing up all your email subscribers and sending them a generic email. We’ve already explained the wastage that will occur if you take that approach. There are many aspects to starting your email campaign, but the first thing you need to do is ensure that you have the relevant information in your database to enable those three core elements we talked about – Consent, Segmentation, and Personalization. Let’s look first at how to build your email list.

Building an Email List

Ultimately you will want a large part of your email campaign to be automated. We will be talking about email automation towards the end of the article, but we feel it will be helpful to start by explaining some of the features you need to incorporate in your website or other media to begin building that customer list.

Sign-up Pages

Your first thought should be about the signing-up requirements. When asked to join a list many consumers don’t feel happy giving away personal information. In the first instance, however, all you need is their name, their email addresses, and perhaps a telephone number. These should be the three first elements of your sign-up page.
But you really want more than that, so how can you entice a customer to give you more? Your sign-up page is a subscription, but what are your customers subscribing to? What benefit will they get from registering their information with you? Be clear about what sort of content you will be sending them. Will you send a weekly newsletter, or regular updates when new and relevant products come into stock? Also, always offer a unsubscribe link in case they change their minds and decide to opt out.
Sign-up Pages
This should be made obvious to the new subscribers, who want only relevant information and not content that does not interest them. Perhaps you could offer an incentive to sign up – a first-purchase discount, for example, to give them the impetus to join – and if this is implemented you may find them willing to provide information on where they live, their interests, and more – all of which can be used in your database.

Top tip: don’t overdo it. Customers quickly become annoyed if they are constantly sent irrelevant information or emailed too often.

Opt-in Forms

We’ve mentioned the legal and business reasons for including an opt-in form, but you may need to ask for more than one opt-in acceptance. You must make opting in to receive your emails a priority. Once again, a consumer that does not opt in is clearly not worth targeting. One that does is signifying a willingness to receive marketing promotions from you. Ensure that you state this is the type of content that they will receive.
Opt-in Forms
Ecommerce stores usually have an opt-in form on the home page, landing page, or at checkout. Also ensure that if you have any partner businesses, they are asked to opt in to emails from those too. Your business comes first, however, so make sure the opt-in is in an obvious place that the visitor to your site, blog, or social media pages will see straight away.


Pop-ups are a great way of enticing website visitors to become customers. Once again, be careful not to make them too prevalent as they can become annoying if they are everywhere. Here’s an example:

A visitor has been on your product page for some minutes. An automated pop-up could offer a discount if the consumer signs up to your list in the next 15 minutes, with a countdown attached. The pop-up could include a link to the sign-up and opt-in pages.
This is a method that is widely used by online retailers to grab visitors who are undecided but are prompted by the special offer.

Lead Magnets

Lead magnets come in many forms and can be a successful way of getting visitors to give you their email addresses and other information. Offer them an exclusive e-book, for example, when they sign up to your email list. Give them access to competition for signing up, or perhaps offer a discount as already mentioned.
Lead Magnets
The modern consumer wants to get a bargain but may be reluctant to give away the information you need. However, once you get them to sign up and purchase, you then have their address to add to the information. You should also analyze which lead magnets get the best response and record that with each customer as a behavioral factor, as this can be extremely useful in terms of lead generation.
When preparing your email marketing strategy, growing your email database should be the first step on your to-do list.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of building your email database, including the sign-up and opt-in essentials, we need to think more about what your campaign aims to achieve, and what steps you should take once you have brought a lead on board.
The next section will look at devising or designing and optimizing an email campaign.

Devising and Optimizing an Email Campaign

Clearly, the aim of an email marketing campaign can vary – to draw in more customers, drive sales, stay in constant contact with customers, and keep them engaged. We’ve talked above about the initial steps involved in this routine, but what are the overall goals of your email marketing campaign? We’re going to talk about the types of emails you need to be using, but first, your email marketing campaign needs to aim to achieve three things: an improvement in email open rates, more click-throughs, and a better conversion rate than average.
Let’s have a look at each of these areas and what can be done to achieve these goals.

Improved Open Rates

The open rate is the ratio of the number of recipients who open your email to the total number you sent it to. How do you get the best open rate from an email marketing campaign? This is quite a complex area of marketing that needs to be seriously researched, so to give you some ideas, have a look at the following suggestions as to how to attain optimum open rates:
Segment your list

into the demographic that you are aiming at using the information gathered from your sign-up forms and also from past behavior. You can also use other information that you have gained over time. For example, if you are promoting a special offer on a particular product, it is easy to create a list of those who have bought it or similar and target them. You may also segment by location, by age, and by interests if that information is to hand.

Keep your list fresh

by analyzing the responses you get from your regular newsletter. This way you can find out which customers have dropped away and perhaps start a regeneration campaign for those who have been absent of late. They may have changed their address and might still be interested in what you have to offer.

Create a standout content line

that is enticing and engaging. You’re not a copywriter? Not everyone is but that’s no problem as there are plenty out there who will work with you to create the perfect content. Content, in addition to the mainline, needs also to be great, fresh, and relevant. Relevance is essential, as irrelevant emails will be binned straight away.

Personalization is the key

to grabbing the attention of the consumer. Our advice is to write as you would to a specific person. As you are segmenting the list to go to those of like minds, you should – or your writer should – be able to get an idea of what they want to see and hear from you. Make sure your email marketing software can include a person's name in the subject line – remember that statistic that shows one including a name is 50% more likely to be opened than one without.

You will find many people advising that timing is also key to open rates. While this is so, the jury is still out on the specifics. For example, MailChimp performed some detailed analysis on this data and found that while a weekday is likely to get a response over the weekend (a surprising fact in some ways) no single day was better than another.
The above is not a comprehensive list but we hope gives you a good picture of the approach you need to take to get a better open rate. Now that your recipient has opened the email, you need them to make the next move which is to click through.

More Click-Throughs

How many people who open a marketing email take the next step? That’s what the click-through rate is all about. You’ve gone out of your way to ensure you have the best open rate for your email campaign, but now you need the consumer to move on.
What is a good click-through rate? Recent research by GetResponse puts it at around 3.5%. Now a great deal, is it? That figure makes it look like you are doing a lot of work for little in the way of results. It varies between industries – the health and beauty industry, for example, has an average of 4.5% – and if you’re getting above 3.5% whatever market you are in, you’re doing well.
With such a low rate you need to optimize your click-through, and a lot of that is done already as you have optimized your open rates. The points we made in the section above all apply here, but there are a few more steps you can take to raise the chances of someone clicking through. We would start with a great, engaging, and exciting copy but we’ve covered that above, so look at the following factors for inspiration:
Be clear with the objective

of your email. Make one marketing email about one product or offer. Many businesses make the mistake of offering too much in one go. Remember you have targeted these consumers for a reason. There is a phenomenon known as ‘choice paralysis’. This is where so many options are available that the consumer becomes frustrated at the decision. Avoid overloading them at all costs.

End with a strong call to action

that gives the reader the tool to move forward there and then. Make it simple, make it engaging, and make sure the copy leads up to this vital invitation. Once again, a great copywriter will know how to get it just right.

Use social proof

in the form of customer testimonials and reviews. A short one can be included in the email, and links to these can also be offered in the form of ‘see what our customers are saying about'. The modern consumer bases trust in a brand on social proof in a big way.

Create urgency with your emails

by using countdown timers and also stating that stocks are running low. This is a great way of encouraging those who are interested in your product or service to make the next move.

Resend to those who don’t open

as it has been proven that a second marketing email may elicit a response 50% of the time, a not insignificant figure.

A/B test your emails

as it's the only way to prove which email campaign brings you success. You can check different versions of a single email to see how small changes impact the results. Choose what you want to test, as the subject line or a CTA button or content, and compare results to find out what works for your audience. A/B testing will help you optimize your future campaigns and make your email marketing efforts pay off.

AB email testing
Once again, this is not a comprehensive list but one that should be taken alongside that above. Now that you’ve done all you can to get the consumer to open and click-through, how do you improve your chances of them making a purchase?

Better Conversion Rate

A lot of the work towards ensuring a sale has been done via the optimization ideas listed in the above two sections. So, what more can you do now that you have the customer on the product page? Let’s have a look:
Always place a Call to Action (CTA) button

on your product sales page. Research by Uxeria shows that 70% of small businesses fail to do so. This is largely because they spend time and money on a beautiful-looking website without due consideration to the consumer experience. The consumer is looking for ease of use, and a CTA button is a one-click solution to placing an order.

Getting the visitor to the product in the fewest steps

is vital and as we’ve shown you how to optimize your emails for click-throughs you have done all the pre-website work already. You need to ensure that when they click, they go straight to the product, without having to indulge in any form of search.

Get the presentation of the product right

in terms of information on specifications, professional and quality descriptions, easy access to reviews, and clear prices and delivery costs on the product page. A lack of the latter two is the main reason for cart abandonment, which we will be talking about shortly.

A smartphone-friendly layout is a must

if you are to grab the customers who shop on the move. Think font size, ease of navigation, and clear images. Optimizing for smartphones is not something you should think about but something you must do if you expect satisfying campaign performance. Mobile devices now account for more than 50% of consumers' time spent online, and 63% of the traffic that comes to websites across the board.

Email Deliverability

Email deliverability is the foundation upon which email marketing is built. It is the set of processes responsible for placing an email into your subscriber’s inbox. Many factors are taken into account by mailbox providers before sending any email campaigns.
Reputation checks are one of the most essential factors of inbox placement. So, what should you check before sending your email campaigns?
Engagement is the most important factor in email deliverability since it directly impacts the sender’s reputation. It includes bounce and spam complaint rates for your sender, domain, and server.
We believe we have given a good selection of email marketing tips and advice on getting your list started, and how to optimize for clicks and conversions.
Now we need to look at another important area of email marketing, and that is the different types of emails that may be involved, and what each one aims to achieve.

Types of Emails

We are concentrating in this article on the use of email as a marketing tool. However, there is much more to consider than simply an email that is selling something. As we have said already the email is not a stand-alone marketing channel, but it is central to communicating with customers and keeping them engaged. There are many different emails that you need to think about during your campaign, with the following six – some of which have already been mentioned – being vital to a successful email marketing campaign. Let’s start with the one that should be automatic – the ‘welcome email’.

Welcome Emails

A welcome email is an essential first step once you have engaged the customer enough for them to sign up and give you their details. It shows you care, and that you intend to treat them with the respect they deserve. The welcome email does not need to be of great length.
Welcome Emails
Welcome Emails
A simple ‘Welcome to our store and thank you for becoming a valued customer should be the general core of the message, with perhaps a promised discount voucher code, and a link to your latest content. Also remind them that you will be in touch with future promotions as agreed, and they can look forward to a newsletter or other promised content.

Offer and Discount Emails

Offers and discounts are part of the drive to keep your existing customers interested and to show new ones that you have plenty to offer. These should be used with new products or can also be useful for end-of-line products that you are replacing. By giving your existing customers exclusive access to discounts you are enhancing their loyalty to the brand. This sort of email is also one that can be used to re-engage with customers who have not been on your site for a while.
Offer and Discount Emails
Offer and Discount Emails
Perhaps use their purchase history to offer them a discount on a product they used to buy to try and bring them back on board. A tip with the ‘lost customer’: always ask them if they would mind telling you why they no longer shop with you, as this is useful information to your marketing team.

Countdown Timer Emails

There are various ways the countdown timer mail can be used. For example, you have a product that is running low on the stock that you are not planning to restock. By segmenting your list into the customers who have previously bought this product you can email them a countdown with perhaps ‘Get in quick, selling out in 24 hours’ as the message explaining it is the last chance to get hold of it.
Countdown Timer Emails
Countdown Timer Emails
Or you may use it alongside a promotion or discount offer with ‘On Offer for the next 24hrs only’ or similar. One effect of the countdown is for new customers, with a ‘7-day introductory offer’ for example being the message.

Personalized Recommendations

We have talked in some detail about personalization, and you can easily tailor an email offering recommended products based on a customer’s prior purchase history. This is a proven and successful method of adding to revenue. The customer likes to be treated as an individual and has given consent to receiving marketing emails that are relevant to them, so the trick is to ensure that you recommend products that they are likely to be interested in.

personalized emails
One thing to avoid is sending such recommendations too often, as this can overload the consumer who will be getting such from other businesses too.

Cart Abandonment Emails

The subject of cart abandonment cannot be overlooked in online retail as it represents a very real problem. Here are a few figures that should highlight the problems with cart abandonment:
Those are just a few of many statistics we could give you to highlight just what a massive problem this is. There are things you can do to reduce the chances of abandonment including making your shipping costs clear before checkout, making it easy to sign up for an account, and ensuring your pages load quickly (astonishingly, 57% of shoppers say they will abandon a cart if they have to wait more than 3 seconds for a page to load!)
Cart Abandonment Emails
Cart Abandonment Emails
There is plenty of advice on optimizing your website to attack the cart abandonment problem, yet we’re interested in the email aspect of it.
An email service provider will send automated emails to the consumer a certain time after the cart has been abandoned. This will prime them to reconsider, and perhaps offer a discount for future purchases should they go through with this one. There is evidence to suggest that emails sent to a consumer who has abandoned a cart do have an effect.
The rate of conversion varies depending upon the research accessed, but it would appear possible to recover between 25% and 40% of abandoned carts. Given the high abandonment rates, even the lowest of these represents a considerable amount of revenue.

Thank You Emails

Finally for this section, an automatically generated thank you message by email is simply a polite and reassuring thing to send after transactional emails. This is most often done when the customer has made a purchase and should be brief and include an invitation to get in touch if they need any help. It can also include a ‘you bought this so we thought you might like this’ message for upselling purposes.
Thank You Emails
Thank You Emails
So, there we have six of the main types of marketing emails, and we are sure you have got a good picture of how to start and the necessary methods means.
Let’s take a little time to recap on the overall goals of an email marketing campaign before we look at some of the best practice advice.

The Goals of Email Marketing

The goals or aims of an email marketing campaign cover a variety of areas. Following is a short explanation of how the campaign can help in six vital areas of an online business.

Traffic Generation

Getting traffic to your website is part and parcel of the daily running of an online store. Email can do this by reminding past customers of your service and products, and also by targeting new ones that have come by your website from other sources.
It is a direct method of getting to the consumer, rather than one where the results are difficult to quantify such as social media. By using email in conjunction with other marketing aids such as social media, your blog, and SMS marketing you can increase your traffic on an organic basis.

Brand Awareness

When an email appears in someone’s in-box and has your brand name clearly in the introductory title that’s instantly enhancing your brand awareness. The recipient may be one who ships with you regularly or one you are retargeting, and either way, email is a great way of keeping your brand in the public eye.
Most people are very choosy about who can send them emails – remember they’ve opted in for this information – and as they allow you to send them mail you are able to remain more visible.

Lead Nurturing

When someone signs up to your mailing list you have a lead. It’s that simple. We’ve talked about how to nurture that lead in some detail so no need to go into it here. It’s sufficient to say that once you have those details, using the optimization methods we have described is your next step.

Brand Loyalty

Customer loyalty is one of the strong points of email marketing for small business owners. By keeping your customers informed about new products, inviting them to virtual launches, offering them loyalty discounts, and many other ways of using email to remind them you care about them – personalization, don’t forget – you are engendering loyalty. If they get the attention, products, and service they are looking for from you, why would they go elsewhere? That’s the mindset your email marketing campaign needs to instill.

Revenue Generation

Revenue generation is the ultimate aim of any marketing campaign. Using an automated email marketing software package makes lead generation and improved conversion figures easier, as well as enhancing your customer retention rates.
Our final sections look at what to do, and what not to do. While email marketing is great when you get it right, there are some things that are easy to get wrong!

Email Marketing Best Practices

We want to finish with a comprehensive look at the best practices when devising and running an email marketing campaign for an online retail business, so let’s start with an important point, that of automation.

Email Marketing Automation

We’ve mentioned email automation at many points in the article, and it’s a vital factor if you want to get the most efficient performance from your email marketing campaign. Emails can be automated in many areas – the welcome mail, the thank you mail, and the cart abandonment mail are three that come to mind – and should be if you want to get the best use out of your time.
Email Marketing Automation
Many email marketing platforms also allow segmentation by integrating with your customer database and can therefore be used for mass targeted emails across various criteria. It is strongly recommended you look at some of these email marketing services and read customer reviews to discover which has the elements you need for your business.
Some further advice on best practices follows, in which we may repeat some things we have already written about.
Use the best opt-in methods

available for consumer reassurance. Remember that offering an opt-in for email and other marketing material is a legal requirement in some countries. It is also what your customers expect to see. Where possible use a double opt-in method. This is where new subscribers are sent an automated verification email to which they need to respond to confirm their email accounts. This adds extra reassurance to new customers.

NEVER be tempted to buy email lists

that you may be offered. Some businesses specialize in providing such lists and it can be tempting as building an email list does take time and effort. However, you can end up in deep trouble by buying such lists as unsolicited emails are not only frowned upon by consumers – or end up in a spam folder – but are also illegal in many jurisdictions. It may look like a cheap shirt-cut, but it’s dangerous to your website security too.

Make sure your emails and website are optimized for mobile

devices as this is commercially necessary in a world where shopping on the move is rapidly becoming the choice, especially among the influential millennial demographic. We’ve covered this subject in the text above and here’s our top tip: get a professional to do it, and you’ll get value for money.

Email quality is important

as it is all too easy to create mail that gets mistaken for spam. You need to ensure your subject line is relevant, that the mail is personalized and that it gets past any spam filters the consumer may have installed. Of course, as they have opted in with you this should not be a problem, but poorly written and constructed emails can be interrupted easily.

The timing of marketing emails

is important. We touched on this in one of the many sections above where we mentioned research that showed weekdays are more likely to elicit a response than weekends. Going into more detail, it’s also essential you don’t send emails at a time they are unlikely to be noticed (the middle of the night, for example, which may occur if you have clients in foreign countries and do not take into account the time difference). Here’s an interesting fact for you: in France, it is against the law to send marketing communications of any kind on a Sunday, on public holidays and after 10 pm!

Test your email subject line and content

again and again. You are doing all this work to ensure the highest open, click, and conversion rates, but if your subject line and content are not hitting the spot you are largely wasting time. Your email service provider will include analysis tools that allow you to undertake A/B testing and see the best results. It’s time worth taking, as it will help you optimize your content.

Update your database regularly

including retargeting customers who have fallen off the radar. A clean and up-to-date database is always more efficient, and the circumstances of clients will change over time. Set a time of 6-months, for example, at which subscribers have had no interaction and your automated system can send them an email about your latest products and invite them to have a look.

The above advice – and the content that precedes it – should give you a good idea of how to develop and run an effective email marketing campaign for an online retail business. The key lies in getting that first ‘yes’ when you ask the new customer to opt in to your marketing material. Once you have that acceptance you know you have a potential customer who has an interest in the products you sell, and you can set to work building a relationship.

How to Choose the Best Email Marketing Service?

What are the best email marketing services? Difficult question! You can find on the market a large variety of email service providers to help you create email marketing campaigns. An easy-to-use drag and drop email editor, appealing customizable email templates, A/B testing features are only some of the benefits provided to the user to find which email marketing platform fits email marketing the best. Most of the email marketing tools have are free trials allowing you to find a tailored solution. You can also find a free email marketing service up to a certain number of email accounts you upload to the platform.

We hope this article has helped you understand the importance of email as part of a marketing strategy and given you some handy advice on how to optimize your email campaigns.

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