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Email Marketing Strategy: How To Plan and Schedule Ecommerce Emails That Drive Sales

email marketing strategy

An email marketing strategy is a plan of how you’ll communicate with people—both prospective and existing customers—via email.

Email is one of the most effective ways to market your online business. Meet people where they want you to, in their inbox. For marketers, it may be the only direct line of communication you have to generate sales for your online store.

Here’s how to create an email marketing strategy for your online store.

1. Choose an email service provider

An email service provider (ESP) is the software that allows you to collect email addresses, contact your customers in bulk, and track email analytics. As Lucy Kelly, owner of bel monili, says, “Your email list is the most valuable asset in your business: these are the people who either have already purchased your products or are likely to in the future. Investing in email marketing is similar to purchasing property: you don't ever want to build your castle on rented land.”

Email service providers that integrate with Shopify stores include:

2. Start to build your mailing list

You can have the best email marketing strategy in the world, but if nobody signs up to hear from you, you’ll have a hard job at turning it into a profitable marketing channel.

Give your target audience something in return for signing up, such as discount codes, exclusive content, or quiz results. You could also host a social media giveaway that requires email opt-in to register.

Regardless of what you’re offering, communicate these incentives with a combination of formats, such as:

  • Splash pages
  • Standalone landing page
  • Pop-ups that trigger based on exit intent and scroll depth
  • Contextual calls to action, such as the end of a blog post or category page

Purple and green pop-up box containing a woman giving a tattoo. Text says “Get 15% off your first order” above an email address text box.

Hush Anesthetic encourages website visitors to subscribe to its email list with a pop-up box that offers 15% off their first purchase.

3. Familiarize yourself with email marketing laws

Email is a sensitive marketing channel; you need subscribers’ explicit permission before emailing them. Pay attention to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules for EU subscribers, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US.

Best practice is to use double opt-in email signup, which confirms you have somebody’s permission before emailing them. This second step could be an introductory email that asks them to confirm their subscription.

Email from Beneath Your Mask that asks new subscribers to confirm their email address with a bright blue “Yes, I want to subscribe” button.

This email marketing example from Beneath Your Mask confirms people want to subscribe with a double opt-in signup form.

Alongside this double opt-in, make it easy for people to unsubscribe if they no longer want to hear from your brand. That might sound counterintuitive (you want everyone to stay subscribed for as long as possible). But hiding your unsubscribe link means your strategy isn’t compliant with anti-spam and privacy laws.

4. Prepare transactional emails

Transactional emails are functional. They happen when an event occurs that involves an individual subscriber, such as:

Most ecommerce platforms (including Shopify) preconfigure transactional emails for you, but customizing them can improve customer experience across the entire lifecycle.

Take it from Beardbrand. The online retailer customizes its order confirmation emails to share extra information with subscribers, including a “Thanks for your order” message and update on delivery delays.

Beardbrand email with a banner showing a man wearing a white tee, black jeans, and black boots. Beneath is a message that tells customers about a delay to shipment times.

Beardbrand’s order confirmation emails tell customers about delivery delays. Source: Really Good Emails.

5. Schedule triggered lifecycle emails

Lifecycle emails send when a customer completes an action (i.e., the email is “triggered”). Examples include:

This level of personalization doesn’t require you to delve into data mining of consumers. Use email marketing tools to monitor how subscribers interact with your content (like the items somebody left in their shopping cart).

Or, run a quiz to collect zero-party data on your target audience’s preferences, like this one from Hunter & Gather:

Personalized product recommendation quiz that asks people which of the following is most important: gluten and grain free, dairy free, seed-oil free, or refined sugar free.

Hunter and Gather collects zero-party data from email subscribers, which it can use to send triggered lifecycle emails, with a quiz.

6. Decide how often you’ll email your subscribers

When starting your first email strategy, it’s tempting to email subscribers every day. You want to shout about the incredible products you’re selling. But this is risky—people can unsubscribe (or worse, report you) if you’re emailing them too often.

Omnisend found the less frequently you email subscribers, the higher your open rate will be. Between two to four emails per month is a good starting point when you’re starting out.

Bar chart showing how open rate and click-through rate decrease when ecommerce brands send more email marketing campaigns.

The fewer marketing emails you send each month, the higher the average open and click-through rates.

When planning an effective email marketing campaign, Lucy Kelly, of bel monili, recommends to “start simple and be consistent. Tell your audience what to expect from you—whether it be emailing once a week, once a month, or once a quarter—and then be sure to deliver on that.

“Your emails don't need to be perfect, so start sending while your list is small and improve as you and your list grow.”

7. Diversify your regular newsletter content

Newsletters form an important part of any email marketing strategy. It’s the regular communication you’ll have with your subscribers outside any other transactional or triggered email campaign.

Diversify your newsletter content with a mixture of:

Email with a globe cartoon character that shows the best deals of the week, including mango spread and veggie penne pasta.

Martie sends its “Smartie Saver” email, which rounds up the best deals of the week. Source: Really Good Emails.

If you’re unsure of what’s working, use split testing to compare two different elements of the newsletter, such as the email subject line, call to action, or customized messages, and compare email analytics between the two.

But remember: tweak one thing at a time. It’s the only way to confidently say which element performs best.

“The beauty of email is that everything can be scheduled well in advance, so if you’re planning at least a few weeks into the future, there is no excuse to not be consistent and stick with your strategy.” —Ryan Turner, founder of Ecommerce Intelligence

8. Tag and segment subscribers

Email personalization is no longer just a nice-to-have. Studies show that 71% of consumers expect some degree of personalization, and brands that do it will see a 40% increase in revenue.

Group your subscribers by shared traits and personalize your marketing messages based on the interests they share. Example segments include:

  • People who’ve never bought before
  • First-time customers
  • Repeat or loyal customers
  • VIPs, such as customers with lots of social media followers
  • Inactive subscribers

Milo Cruz, CMO of Legend Cookware, recommends to segment “the different customer groups in your market and map out the buyer’s journey for each one.

“This involves identifying customers’ pain points, the factors that influence their purchase decisions, and the specific solutions you can provide. From there, you can create an email marketing strategy that guides customers down the path to purchase.”

9. Configure email automations

Marketing automation tools automatically email your subscribers when an event happens.

With Klaviyo, for example, you can run effective email marketing campaigns that pull your Shopify data in real time. Use the tool to:

  • Send a custom “thank you” message to regular customers
  • Deliver customized coupon codes when people browse a specific category
  • Remind people of a welcome discount code if they haven’t used it within X days
  • Run a reengagement campaign to cross-sell items specific to what somebody has already ordered

Klaviyo interface showing how people viewing bedroom furniture products will get an exclusive 20% discount code emailed to them.

Klaviyo’s email marketing software allows you to personalize marketing emails at scale.

 

10. Improve email deliverability

You can put time and effort into emailing customers, but if your emails get stuck in their spam filters, they won’t see them.

Improve email deliverability on future campaigns by:

  • Authenticating your sender’s address
  • Avoiding sales tactics like capital letters and exclamation marks
  • Using small-sized images
  • Making your emails responsive for mobile users
  • Regularly purging your list to remove inactive subscribers

Email marketing is a powerful channel for any ecommerce business

Use this email marketing strategy to attract subscribers and convince them to open your emails.

From building your list to automating regular emails depending on a subscriber’s actions, email marketing is an untapped digital marketing channel that can drive thousands of dollars in revenue each month.

Email marketing strategy FAQ

What is an email marketing strategy?

An email marketing strategy determines how you’ll market your business through email. It includes everything from how you’ll get subscribers to join your mailing list to the regular content you’ll send via the newsletter.

What is the main purpose of email marketing?

An ecommerce business typically uses email marketing to drive sales. Other goals include brand engagement, customer education, and building loyalty.

How do you attract customers through email?

  • Offer discount codes
  • Give exclusive content
  • Run a giveaway
  • Quizzes
  • Gated content

What are some email marketing strategies?

  • Choose an automated email marketing tool
  • Diversify your calls to action
  • A/B test your email subject lines
  • Promote recent blog posts
  • Regularly clean your list
  • Tag and segment your audience
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