How is email useful for ecommerce? Keeping customers engaged

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 On October 29th, 1969, the first message was sent from one computer to another across a primitive network called ARPANET.

This historical event would mark the first iteration of email’s most widely-adopted and fundamental form of digital communication.

It wasn’t long before savvy entrepreneurs and businesses realized how powerful email could be for marketing products and services.

Decades later, email marketing is still one of the most cost-effective and profitable digital marketing channels.

Regardless of how many “email marketing is dead” scare articles you read, email isn’t going anywhere. It’s been around since well before social media and will likely outlast every passing digital trend that comes our way.

(Remember when everyone thought Snapchat, Vine, and Periscope would be the next big things for businesses?)

In this post, we’ll cover just how powerful email marketing is for ecommerce businesses and how you can leverage it to win more customers and better engage with your audience.

Why should you use email for your ecommerce website?

There are several reasons why email is such an effective channel for ecommerce businesses. Here are a few of the big ones.

It costs almost nothing to get started with email marketing

To do email marketing, you’ll need to invest in an email marketing platform such as ConvertKit, MailChimp, or AWeber

Fortunately, these platforms offer a free plan for businesses just starting to build their email lists. 

You’ll need to start paying for the software as you grow your list. But by that point, your list should be helping you drive more sales, making it an easy investment. 

Signing up for one of these services only takes a few minutes. Once you’re signed up, you can put an email signup form on your website and start building your list immediately.

Or, even better, create a lead capture form offering users a resource in exchange for their email address (this is called a “lead magnet”).

All of this is free (assuming you’ve got a website). Theoretically, you can start building your list today without spending a dime.

Email marketing is impervious to algorithm changes

Social media and PPC ads are important to your digital marketing strategy. However, they’re completely subject to the whims of algorithmic changes, pay-to-play advertising structures, and each company’s shareholders.

Nobody owns your email list except you. It’s a direct line to your customers that can’t be gated by “shadow banning” or rising ad prices.

Even if an email marketing platform goes out of business, you can easily export your list as a CSV and transfer it to another platform. 

Email marketing enjoys one of the best ROIs of any marketing channel

An email subscriber is someone who’s willfully opted in to hear more about your product or service.

They’re permitting you to contact them, either because they wanted to receive something in exchange for their contact info or because they’re genuinely interested in hearing from you.

It logically follows that the ROI of email marketing efforts would be quite high. After all, this isn’t an interruption marketing channel — your readers have willfully opted in to get your emails! 

The data proves this out. According to a 2019 study, for every $1 you spend on email, you can expect a $42 return (that’s a 4,100% ROI for those keeping score at home).

Compare that to the average ROI of 152% for Facebook ads.

Email marketing is the best channel for content distribution

After publishing a new piece of content, you want to get as many eyeballs on that content as possible. 

This is especially true if that content is part of a larger funnel for converting cold leads to warm leads and eventually paying customers.

As we’ve written in this post, you can use pay-per-click advertising to funnel traffic to your content. 

But that costs money, and the people who come to your site aren’t always qualified customers.

Email is the highest-converting and most inexpensive way to distribute new content to your audience.

However, you must have a list in the first place (something we’ll discuss more in the following sections).

Email marketing can be as simple or complex as you like

Email can scale with the complexity of your business. You can start simple: with a single lead capture form and a welcome email.

Then, as your business grows and you understand your customer better, you can build out segmentations. For example, customers from a particular industry can go into one list and receive emails custom-tailored to their pain points.

Or, you can segment even further by product type, sales funnel (ToFu, MoFu, BoFu), or any other relevant demographic factor.

Email marketing is extremely measurable

What gets measured gets managed, as Peter Drucker famously said. With email marketing, every user action is meticulously recorded. Everything from:

  1. Who successfully received the email
  2. When they opened it
  3. What browser or email client they used
  4. What links they clicked (if any)
  5. What actions they took after clicking the link (if you’ve got proper Google Analytics tracking configured)

Each of these variables can be tested and refined to improve your conversion rate further, making email marketing one of the most measurable and data-driven marketing channels available.

How to measure the results of your email marketing campaign

Most of the real success from email marketing comes from refining existing campaigns to progressively increase your conversion rate and, thus, your ROI.

Let’s review some ways to measure, analyze, and improve your email marketing campaigns. It all starts with defining some critical terms.

Open rate

Your email open rate, often formatted as a percentage, represents recipients who opened your email.

Email open rates directly indicate the efficacy of your subject line and preview text.

Writing great subject lines is one of the most challenging aspects of email marketing. You need to pique the users’ interest and convey value without being spammy — all in around 45 characters or less.

Subject line writing is both an art and a science and deserves a much bigger treatment than what we can offer in this post.

Here are three best practices for writing great subject lines that convert:

  1. A/B test subject lines to deduce what best resonates with your audience.
  2. Study your competitors’ subject lines and steal best practices.
  3. Avoid trigger words that activate spam filters.

Click rate

The click rate is a bit tougher to improve. Your click rate (sometimes called click-through rate) measures how many recipients clicked any link in your email. A low click rate could be contingent on several factors in your email.

Ask yourself the following questions as an exercise to optimize your click rate:

  1. Is the copy engaging, actionable, and directly relevant to the pain points of my audience?
  2. Is there a clear call-to-action “above the fold” of the email (near the top)?
  3. Is the design of the email engaging to my audience?

Don’t be deceived into thinking every email needs to be a work of art — it’s all about how your audience responds.

For example, Neil Patel is a digital marketing pioneer, and his emails are some of the simplest I’ve ever seen. Whenever he publishes a new piece of content, he sends out a 2-3 sentence email that simply informs subscribers of his new content and how it can help their business. 

There are no graphics, images, or buttons, and the entire email can be skimmed in less than five seconds. And yet, email marketing continues to be one of the biggest drivers of his business.

Click-to-open rate

Your click-to-open rate (or CTOR) is as close as you can get to a single metric that measures the overall efficacy of an email.

While the click-through rate measures how many recipients clicked a link, the CTOR measures how many recipients who opened the email also clicked on the email.

For example, if your CTOR is low, that may mean that your subject line was enticing, but the actual content of the email didn’t match the intent or expectations of the users. Or, it simply wasn’t interesting enough to warrant a click.

Utilize the same questions mentioned in the above CTR section to optimize your CTOR. 

Pro-tip: It’s important to scrub your list of inactive users often (ideally by the quarter). Inactive or “dead” users on your email list can deceptively tank your metrics, making it seem like your emails are far less effective than they are.

If a user hasn’t engaged with any of your email content in over six months, it’s a good idea to delete them off the list (or send them an email asking them if they’d like to opt-out first).

Six use cases for ecommerce email marketing

By this point, you should understand why email marketing is useful for ecommerce businesses and how to get the most out of your email marketing campaigns. Now, let’s walk through some examples of email marketing in ecommerce contexts. 

Feel free to steal these use cases and replicate them in your own business.

  1. Use email to reactive inactive customers

The flagship email marketing platforms (AWeber, MailChimp, ConvertKit) have powerful ecommerce integrations that allow you to sync your email list with your customer list.

Doing so helps you understand who on your email list has purchased one of your products and who hasn’t. From there, you can create a special campaign targeted just toward customers who haven’t purchased in six months or more.

Taking this logic a step further, you can create automation (a sequence of events automatically activated as a result of a particular trigger) that sends an email to any customer who hasn’t purchased in over six months. 

(As you get deeper into email marketing, you’ll soon realize the incredible power of automation.)

  1. Send abandoned cart emails

study from Baymard Institute found that shopping cart abandonment rates across all ecommerce industries landed just under 70%.

That means nearly 7 out of 10 of your customers will put something in their shopping cart and then abandon it for one reason.

Some of these reasons may be legitimate areas of concern that you need to fix, such as optimizing your product pages, creating a better checkout flow, or adjusting your prices.

But some abandonment is simply due to distraction or a lack of follow-through. Perhaps the customer is not sure they want to pull the trigger on the purchase and needs a bit more convincing.

This is where abandoned cart emails truly shine. Thanks again to the powerful integrations between ecommerce storefronts and email marketing clients, you can target only prospects who’ve abandoned their cart.

You can then create an automation to nudge them to purchase, perhaps with customer testimonials or even a discount. 

For example, you can have standing automation that sends an email to any customer who’s abandoned their cart three hours after their final session on your site.

The abandoned cart email is one of the simplest email marketing campaigns to set up (it often only requires a single email), but it’s directly tied to more sales. 

And with such an abysmally high abandonment rate, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by implementing cart abandonment emails. 

Once again, studying your competitors’ emails is the way to go here. This guide from HubSpot on how to write abandoned cart emails is also a great place to start.

Create nurture funnels to lead customers through the customer journey

One of the most exciting (and complex) uses for email marketing is to create email funnels (sometimes called nurture paths, drip emails, or drip funnels). 

These campaigns “drip” emails to prospects in a predetermined order to lead customers from the top of the funnel to a sale.

Nurture funnels can range from a simple five-email sequence to incredibly labyrinthine automations with dozens of emails segmented across several categories.

Modern email automation platforms will allow you to set up branching decision trees based on user engagement and some basic lead scoring. 

Capture top-of-funnel leads with lead magnets

A lead magnet is a free resource given to users in exchange for their contact information. If you’ve ever downloaded a free eBook, video training series, or PDF checklist in exchange for your email address, you’ve experienced the power of a lead magnet.

Lead magnets are highly effective, especially for ecommerce, because they capture leads who aren’t quite ready to make a purchase but are interested in learning more about your brand.

These are often qualified potential customers who just need a bit more brand touchpoints before they’re ready to purchase.

Create user onboarding paths or check-ins

For many businesses, retention, adoption, and future sales are just as (if not more) important than the initial sale.

It’s five to ten times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one, and proper onboarding can be the difference between a churned, frustrated customer and a lifetime evangelist of your brand.

And the best part? With automation, you only need to set up your onboarding path once, and it’s good to go (until your product or service necessitates a change).

Email marketing best practices

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you develop your email marketing strategy.

Study competitor emails of people ahead of you

We’ve mentioned it several times already, but it bears repeating — study your competitors. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Subscribe to your competitor’s email lists and study how they manage their email marketing. Do they use graphics? How often do they send emails? Are they offering discounts and lead magnets or promoting new content?

Studying your competitors for a few hours a week will get you further than reading 100 email marketing blog tutorials. 

Try to study the larger, bigger companies in your space. These organizations have a much bigger email marketing budget and have perfected their strategy.

Keep most valuable content above the fold

The term “above the fold” hearkens back to the days of newspaper publishing. Most newspapers fold horizontally, and the most important information in the entire paper (on the front page) is above that horizontal fold.

For websites, we consider things “above the fold” if the user doesn’t need to scroll to see them on a reasonably-sized display. 

Make sure your users don’t have to scroll to get to the main value of your email sends. 

Check appearance on mobile

Four out of ten emails are opened on a mobile device. If you’re not optimizing your email sends for mobile devices, nearly half of your audience is getting a bad experience.

Always send test emails and check that subject line, as many mobile email clients truncate the text.

A/B test to better understand your customers

A/B testing is when you take a single variable of an email (usually your subject line or the body of the email itself) and serve it equally to two different audiences.

All major email marketing platforms will do this for you, automatically splitting your audience in half.

Then, your platform will give you data on which variation performed better. A/B tests always work best like any experiment — beginning with a hypothesis and then testing it.

Final thoughts

Email marketing is one of the most inexpensive, versatile, and high-converting digital marketing strategies. It’s got an ROI that blows almost every other channel out of the water.

If every social platform were to shut down tomorrow, you’d still own your email list — it’s a powerful direct line to your prospects and customers.

ecommerce business owners can use email marketing in a plurality of ways, including:

  1. Reactivating old customers
  2. Onboarding new customers
  3. Lowering abandoned cart rates

For more tips on growing your ecommerce business, subscribe to our blog. 

Or, if you want to know how SkuVault Core helps you streamline inventory management to keep your business running smoothly and your customers happy, read about our platform here

Matt Kenyon

Matt Kenyon


Matt has been helping businesses succeed with exceptional content, lead gen, and B2B copywriting for the last decade. When he’s not typing words for humans (that Google loves), Matt can be found producing music, peeking at a horror flick between his fingers, or spending quality time with his wife and kids.