E-Commerce Email Marketing 101: 11 Must-Have Emails (w/ Templates) - iwise
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E-Commerce Email Marketing 101: 11 Must-Have Emails (w/ Templates)


There are many types of e-commerce emails.

And, with any luck, you’re probably sending many already.

But the following emails work for countless businesses and with a little tweaking and personalization, they’ll work for you, too.

I’ve categorized the following emails under three key areas, each with its own objective:

  1. Welcome
  2. Trigger
  3. Retention

While there’s no rule for the order in which you send the below emails, I’ve tried to organize them as logically as possible, simulating a new visitor’s journey from joining your company newsletter all the way to becoming a customer and beyond.

Let’s look at each email more closely.

Note: Many of the emails featured in this post come from our good friends at Really Good Emails. Be sure to check out their archive for more inspiring email newsletter examples.  

Part 1. Welcome Emails

1. The Welcome Email

You only have one chance to make a good first impression.

And if your introduction to a new prospect isn’t memorable, your follow-up campaigns won’t be, either.

Its role is to thank visitors for joining your company newsletter, pace expectations for what’s to come (including how often you’re going to email) and, when implemented correctly, simplify your sales process.

Outdoor Voices preface their email with playful copy to remind their readers they’re human, too:

Outdoor Voices Welcome Email

1stdibs, an online furniture company, allow users to browse their inventory by category (thus, removing one of the barriers to purchase):

1stdibs Curation Email

A few things to consider:

  • Aim for originality. There’s a reason Derek Sivers’ order confirmation email went viral: nobody had ever written an email like it before. Like Outdoor Voices, write in a fun, humorous way like you would a friend or colleague (read: no corporate jargon).
  • Design for simplicity. If you have multiple products, make it easy for new subscribers to browse by preference. Whether that’s by category (like 1stdibs) or something else, remove barriers for making purchases (think: the fewer the clicks, the better).

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

So, whether you’re welcoming new users to your community or pushing for a sale, make it count.

2. The Curation Email

One by The Beatles, The Immaculate Collection by Madonna, Gold: Greatest Hits by Abba.

What do they all have in common?

(Apart from being best of compilations?)

They’re some of the best-selling albums of all-time.

Bestselling Albums of All_Time

Because people love curated content.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s music—or, in our case, physical products—people love buying the best of the best.

The curation email is popular among many e-commerce businesses for this very reason.

One King’s Lane curates their previous week’s most popular content in their weekly newsletter:

One King's Lane Curation Email

Huckberry, opting for a more direct approach, curate their bestselling products:

Huckberry Curration Email

Curation is effective because it allows recipients to choose what they want to learn more about.

It’s why many online writers offer “Start Here” pages on their sites and why e-commerce stores often showcase their best stock, first.

But there’s another reason why it works well:

It allows email marketers to segment recipients based on interest.

Imagine you’re running an online furniture store (like 1stdibs) and your newsletter curates the best furniture under the following categories:

  1. Seating
  2. Lighting
  3. Storage cabinets
  4. Decorative objects
  5. Tables
  6. Serveware

If you’re using tagging with an email marketing service like Infusionsoft, and one recipient always clicks a link to, say, seating, you can begin scoring that prospect based on their click activity.

Over time, if you only email promotional campaigns related to seating, that prospect is more likely to become a customer AND remain on your list due to the relevance of your offers.

3. The Engagement Email

Back in the golden age of direct response marketing, copywriter Gary Halbert was famous for attaching dollar bills, $2.00 bills, Japanese yens, and even Mexican pesos to his sales letters.

Because he needed to get his prospects’ attention.

With the average office worker receiving as many as 122 emails per day, you need to get recipients engaging with your emails if you want visibility in their inboxes.

While attaching cryptocurrency to campaigns might not be a viable option, it is possible to increase engagement in other ways (and without breaking the bank).

Booklinen encourages engagement by offering free shipping in one of their newsletters:

Brooklinen Engagement Email

Brooklinen knows shipping is a common reason for cart abandonment and overcome it by giving recipients a chance to activate free shipping themselves. This is really smart. Mailing campaigns like the above not only encourages engagement; it builds a two-way relationship between Brooklinen and their customers.  

Whether you’re offering free shipping (like Brooklinen) or inviting recipients to start a free trial of your product (like we do, here, at Sleeknote), give readers a reason to engage with your campaigns and remember—make it memorable.

4. The Referral Email

It’s no secret that referring others is one of the most effective lead generating strategies in marketing.

In fact, according to a recent survey by Ogilvy, 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision.

You might already be asking for referrals on your thank you page (and if you’re not, you ought to be), but are you doing it in your email campaigns, too?

Bombas are a perfect illustration of asking for referrals. They not only instruct their recipients what they need to do, step-by-step; they ask in a fun, humorous way:

Bombas Referral Email

You might not be able to offer free socks (few can), but everyone has enough money in their marketing budget to offer an Internet high five at the very least.

Part 2. Trigger Emails

Otherwise known as “transactional emails”, trigger emails are emails that are triggered by a particular action taken by a recipient (such as visiting a product pricing page).

While trigger emails apply to any action (e.g. a recipient resetting their password), their primary purpose is to gently nudge a prospect along the buyer’s journey until they become a customer.  

In fact, a study by Experian found trigger emails not only have eight times higher open rates and click-throughs; they generate as much as six times more revenue:

Transactional Emails

So, with that said, here are four e-commerce trigger emails to include in your marketing.

5. The discount email

Discounting products is popular with many e-commerce businesses.

A study by VWO found 72% of Millennial shoppers are open to retargeting via discounts.

Moreover, 54% of shoppers are likely to purchase abandoned products if they’re offered again at a discounted price (more on that in a moment).

Blue Apron, an American meal delivery service, regularly offer discounts to their subscribers to entice more purchases (note their use of scarcity as a psychological trigger):

Blue Apron Discount Email

While discounting is effective, you need to strike a healthy balance when offering them.

Do it often enough and your profits will suffer (especially if your margins are thin). Do it sparingly and your customers might jump ship to a competitor.

The silver lining, then, is to offer discounts to prospects/customers who are already engaging with your marketing campaigns (e.g. opening emails, clicking links, etc.)

6. The cart abandonment email

They go to make an online purchase and something rivets their attention.

There’s a knock on the door, they get a Facebook notification, their phone rings…

…and their cart is abandoned without a second thought.

I've Abandoned My Cart

According to a recent report by Baymard Institute, 69% of all e-commerce visitors abandon their shopping cart with 61% of visitors citing shipping costs as their number one reason:

Reasons for Abandonments During Checkout

Dollar Shave Club turn cart abandoners (like me) into customers by addressing the above objection—shipping costs—and overcoming it in a follow up email:

Dollar Shave Club Abanondment Email

Knowing the lifetime value of your customers allows you to offer “risky” discounts like the above. Dollar Shave Club know the majority of people who try their service will become regular customers, thus, they can afford to take a hit on the front-end.

But what if your margins are too thin to compete on shipping?

In fact, that’s exactly what Ugmonk do.

After exiting their shipping page, I received the below email a few hours later:

Ugmonk Cart Abandonment Email

You can’t always convert abandoning shoppers, that’s a given. But you can make an effort to reach out to learn why they didn’t complete their purchase and use their feedback to improve your checkout process.

7. The order confirmation email

After analyzing 100,000 email receipts, Conversio made an interesting discovery:

Every order confirmation email earns e-commerce stores $0.25 of extra revenue:

Average Value of Receipt

Doesn’t sound like much, right?

I didn’t think so, either.

Until you look at the math:

For every 100 receipts you send, you can make an average of $25 of extra revenue with no extra effort.

Not bad for an automated email, huh?

While the order confirmation email is an additional way of utilizing the above (such as offering discounts, encouraging engagement, etc,), it’s also a way of pacing your customer’s expectations.

Joybird, an online furniture store, pace customer expectations by including an explainer video in their order confirmation email to outline their delivery process:

Joybird Order Confirmation Email

Your order confirmation email is prime email real estate. Yes, it’s nothing but a digital receipt, but it’s also a way of reminding shoppers that buying from you—rather than a competitor—was the right decision.  

8. The upsell/cross-sell email

You’re probably already familiar with upselling and cross-selling.

If you’re not, here’s a quick refresher:

  • Upselling is when you invite a prospect to purchase a more expensive item in an attempt to make a more profitable sale
  • Cross-selling is when you recommend a related or complementary product

It’s why McDonald’s asks, “Do you want fries with that?” and why Amazon reminds you of products that are frequently bought together:

Amazon Frequently Bought Together

With the average repeat customer spend 67 percent more in months 31-36 of his or her shopping relationship than in months zero-to-six, it’s no surprise many e-commerce businesses regularly upsell products to customers who have already made a purchase.

After receiving an order, Dollar Shave Club email customers the following:

Dollar Shave Club Upsell Email (Edit)

10KSubs Tiered Pricing

Part 3. Retention

So, how do you reduce churn and improve customer loyalty in the long-term?

By sending emails that remind your audience they’re still important to you.

9. The re-engagement/win-back email

It’s happened to me and I bet it’s happened to you, too.

You invest your time, attention, and energy in growing your email list only to have a percentage of your readers unsubscribe, or worse, emotionally disengage entirely (costing you money in the process).

Remember When You Used to Open Our Emails

After moving from Fotolia to a competitor (sorry Fotolia) and not opening any their campaigns for a few weeks, I received the below email to entice me back (note the scarcity with the offer):

Fotolia Re-Engagement Email

It doesn’t always work (again, sorry Fotolia) but it’s always worth reminding previous customers you’re still thinking of them (even if they’ve moved to a competitor).  

10. The survey email

Similarly, if you don’t regularly ask your prospects/customers what they’re looking for, how can you expect to give them what they want?

Surveying your audience does more than offer valuable insights into their goals, desires and pain points; it gives you an opportunity to improve your email marketing process.

A word on incentivising, though:

There’s no one size fits all approach.

Many brands, like Frye, offer recipients a chance to win a gift certificate with their submission:

Frye Survey Email

Others, like The Ask Method Company, founded by survey expert Ryan Levesque, argue otherwise.

“If you include a free gift for taking the survey, your data will be biased toward people who just want the free thing,” writes Levesque in his #1 national bestseller, . “If you do want to offer some individual incentive to increase your survey uptake, that incentive should be a discount off the paid solution to their problem in exchange for their feedback.£

Revolution Tea follows Levesque’s advice to a tee (no pun intended) by offering a discount to users after they’ve completed their survey:

Revolution Tea Survey Email

Asking what your customers want works for many companies, and it can work for you, too.

11. The customer appreciation/thank you email

Sometimes, we don’t say thank you enough.

And even if we do, rarely do we really mean it.

Thanking your audience goes beyond thanking them for subscribing to your newsletter or making a purchase; it’s about recognizing they’re the reason why you’re in business.

It’s why, once in awhile, companies like Brooklinen will write from the heart and really thank their customers for helping make what they do possible:

Brooklinen Thank You Email

It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday business life. But sometimes, it really pays to thank your customers.

How can you give back to the people who’ve made you are your company what it is today?

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