The Ultimate Guide To eCommerce Email Marketing (Online Retailers, This One’s For You…)


Imagine having email campaigns that trigger automatically — based on how someone interacts with your company and your website.

These “automated” campaigns then go out to do your bidding…

…they build relationships and trust… they indoctrinate subscribers into your brand (so they buy from you instead of your competitors)… they keep peopleengaged (so they never stop opening, clicking and buying)… and finally…

…they drive a predictable stream of sales, every day of every week of every year.

And that’s just the automated side of things.

Then you’ve got the manual side of things… and while it might be manual, it’s no less important than the automated side.

  • Regular promotions
  • Segmented blasts
  • Reengagement campaigns

… there’s a lot of money to be found.

So let’s get into it, but first…

What is eCommerce Email Marketing?

Ecommerce email marketing is the art and science of using email to generate sales for your store.

It can be simple, such as sending an email to people who abandon their shopping carts. Or complex, like having numerous campaigns that work together synergistically to multiply sales exponentially.

At the end of the day, when you look behind the promotions, offers, free shipping coupons and lead nurturing emails —email marketing is about building relationships.

…Nothing more, nothing less.

If you approach email marketing for online retailers with this perspective in mind, you’ll do much better:

  • You’ll create better promotions that sell more product.
  • You’ll nurture your subscribers better, which will lead to more long term sales.
  • You’ll segment your database more effectively, which will (once again)generate more sales.

Email marketing isn’t about blasting the crap out of your database any more than sales is about cold-calling people and screaming through the phone at them.

You’ll learn more about this when you read about lead nurture email campaigns in this guide.

There’s a lot more to email marketing for eCommerce stores and online retailers than simply sending a weekly email and one cart abandonment email.

But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at your tools, because like any good craftsman, we need the right tools.

eCommerce Email Marketing Tool #1: The Perfect eCommerce Email

When we get into the campaigns section, you’ll see specific examples of each type of email. Before we do that though, let’s dive into the pieces of the perfect ecommerce email.

The “From” Name

The “From” Name is the name that appears next to the email address when the email appears. It looks like this in the inbox:


…and this when the email is open:


Now, some companies like to get all fancy by using a personal name in the “From” field. They do this because they think it’s going to get them attention.

However, in our experience, if your brand doesn’t revolve around like a specific person, like Oprah or Dr Phil, you’re better off using your brand or company name, just like the example above.

From Email

This is where I see a lot of otherwise smart companies make a silly mistake.

They send emails from a “no reply” email address, such as

But if you force people to go find your contact form on your website, or your support area, do you really think you’re going to hear from them whenever they have something important to tell you?

Of course not.

Make it easy for people to contact you by using an email address that they can send emails to, such as You’ll look more approachable, you’ll get more customer feedback, and you’ll be more successful as a result.

Plus, by using an email address people can actually reply to, you can ask people to reply to your emails in your various campaigns (which we’ll get to in just a moment).

Subject Line

Check this out:

Neil Patel, content marketer and founder of CrazyEgg, crunched some Experian data and created this incredible graph:


In other words, of everything listed above, spend most of your time focused on your subject line.

This reminds me of the famous quote from David Ogilvy:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Don’t get caught up trying to perfect your…

  • from name
  • your design
  • time of the day
  • call to action

…Employ best practices, and invest your creative juices coming up with compelling subject lines and testing them. Because that’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

Here are some tips for your subject lines:

Employ the “4 Second Test”

Litmus, an email marketing tool, discovered you have only 4 seconds to capture someone’s attention and get them to open and read your email. So when you’ve written your subject line, study it carefully and see if it gets you hooked in 4 seconds.

Ideally, you should get that down to 1 second.

Avoid Sales Words (and Other Overused Words)

Great marketing is about pattern interrupts, but if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, you’ll blend into the furniture and no one will pay attention.

So don’t use words everyone else uses when selling something. Words like…

  • free,
  • help,
  • percent off,
  • reminder, and so on.

Personalize with Their City Name

When email first began, personalization with someone’s name was new and got people’s attention. But today, it’s easy and everyone’s doing it, so it doesn’t work anymore.

Instead, personalize with their city name. MailChimp research suggests it works even better.

Mix it Up

Most newsletters and email campaigns begin with high open rates, and then decline over time.

To mitigate this happening, don’t re-use subject lines, and don’t make your subject lines too similar to each other. Remember, great marketing is about interrupting someone’s pattern, and to do that, you need to keep it fresh.

Shorter is Better

As a general rule of thumb, stick to 50 characters or less.

Since most people scan their inbox, make it easy on them when figuring out whether to open your email. If you absolutely must have a longer subject line, make sure that the first 50 characters are the juiciest part.

Don’t save the punchline for the end of the subject line because most people will miss it.

Don’t be in a Rush to Promote Something

Yes, it’s fine to promote your products in the subject line, but no, it’s not ok (nor is it effective) to use promotional subject lines in every email you send.

That means…

  • avoid bombastic promotional phrases,
  • avoid ALL CAPS,
  • and go easy on the exclamation marks.


Have You Tried Asking Questions?

Subject lines framed as questions tend to perform better.

Don’t Mislead

The first time you trick a subscriber into opening your email by using a misleading email, they’ll be annoyed at you. The second time, they’ll ignore you.

Clarity trumps persuasion.

Be honest and direct about what your email contains, while also being compelling.

Use Urgency, but Don’t Over-do It

 Businesses use urgency (ie. 24 hours left!) because it works, but like any marketing strategy used too often, it loses it’s effectiveness if you over-do it. Use urgency when it makes sense, but don’t come to depend on it.

Always be Testing

I can’t mention this enough. Test, test, TEST. While I’ve described best practices here for email subject lines that will work for most companies, you’ll need to test, tweak and optimize to find the perfect subject lines that work for your company.

Once you have your subject line written, use a free rating tool to evaluate your subject line.

Alright. That’s it for subject lines.

We could talk about subject lines all day, but we have to get moving.


The pre-header text is the text that appears in your email next to your subject line. It’s what people see after they’ve read the subject line, and plays a role in determining whether they’ll open the email, so you want to get it right.

Think about your pre-header text as a continuation of your subject line. Use it to expand on your subject line, and dial up the curiosity and emotion that is already associated with the subject line.

Ramit Sethi does a great job with his pre-header text, beginning with a story:


DODOCASE, not so much:


Don’t even get me started on Fitocracy:


It’s obvious what you need to do. Don’t let it go to waste. It’s valuable real estate, and it pays to take advantage of it.


Generally speaking, when it comes to eCommerce email marketing, less is more.

Less images. Less fancy design elements. Less “pizazz”.

While the debate between what converts best — text emails or HTML emails — continues to rage (read about it here and here), you can be certain of two things:

  1. If your email is 100% text with no branding elements whatsoever, it will probably get marked as spam because people won’t know immediately who the email is from (this happened to a campaign we sent a few months back).
  2. If you go too heavy on the fancy design elements – like beautiful images, animated GIFs, and crazy layouts – your email is more likely to be picked up by email algorithms and sent to the promotions tab or folder.

You have to strike a balance; simple enough that your email feels at least somewhat personal, fancy enough that it gets attention but without triggering the promotions tab (or worse, the SPAM folder).

Email Copy

As with design, keep the copy simple and to the point. Avoid being clever or cutesy. Be clear and concise.

The magic of many of the campaigns we’ll be discussing below is due to the timing and behavioural nature of the emails, not a result of having the best copy.


I’m sorry, but I have to tell you that… when it comes to timing, the honest answer is:

It depends.

Despite what some companies will tell you, or what you probably want to believe, there is no “perfect” time for sending eCommerce emails that works for every company out there.

Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to timing emails, I encourage you to invest time and energy into thinking carefully about it.

Who are your customers and when do they like to read emails? You might already know this from historical data, or you might be able to figure it out based on your customer demographic.

Most emails are read within 4 hours of being sent, so think carefully about what people are likely to be doing in the few hours after sending your email. Are they likely to have some free time to read your email in the few hours after you send it? Are they going to be in the mood to buy?

Take a look at revenue and orders for time of the day. This will give you an idea of when people like to purchase, and these times will typically work best for sending emails (especially if you time your emails to go out just before buying spikes on a given day).

Lastly, hop on over to your competitors’ websites, sign up to their mailing lists, and see when they send their emails.

However, be careful about data gathered with this approach, as your competitor might have no idea what they’re doing with email. Be sure to test whatever you discover against your other preferred sending times.


Interestingly, when considering mobile optimization, it pays to keep your emails simple. The simpler the content, the easier is it to design and optimize for mobile display.


If images are disabled, does your email still make sense?

I’ll lead with an example from WhatCounts, a boutique email marketing agency:


Who is this email from? What’s it all about? Is this relevant TO ME?

If the value of your email isn’t crystal clear the SECOND someone opens it, you’ll lose them. In this email above from WhatCounts, the reader has to dig to see who it’s from and what it’s about. Don’t make someone dig for the value, or they’ll delete you.

Instead of leading with a large image, use HTML for the text and the image for the background. This way, if the image doesn’t appear, at least the reader will be able to read your headline.

This email improves towards the bottom, in the sense that I can read some text and figure out what they want me to do (click a link to view a blog post or ebook).

The lesson?

Always send a test email to an account that has images disabled and check to see if it makes any sense at all. If it looks like the WhatCounts email above, update the email so that it makes without the images.

Note how this email from Tony Robbins is easy to understand even if the images are disabled:


Now, let’s talk about Tool #2…


eCommerce Email Marketing Tool #2: Email Marketing Software

Chances are, you already have email marketing software.

Most email marketing software isn’t ideal for eCommerce companies — usually because most email marketing software is simple.

In other words, using the right email marketing software for your store will go a long way to helping you capture the potential available revenue.

If you don’t have email marketing software yet (or if you’re prepared to switch platforms), use Klaviyo.

Klaviyo was designed specifically for eCommerce companies and online retailers, and powers some serious players. It’s what we use for our clients, and recommend to everyone we speak with. Also, I’m not affiliated with the company, and get nothing if you sign up with them (or for mentioning them here).

Klaviyo integrates with Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce and all the other platforms.


eCommerce Email Marketing Tool #3: Pop-Up Software

When people buy, you’ll capture their email address.

But to send campaigns to people who haven’t bought anything yet, you’ll need to capture their email address before they purchase.

While you could fork out $4,000 a month to deploy a pop-up service, you can get similar “exit intent” technology from Picreel and ExitMist at a fraction of the price (from $14/month and $19/month respectively).

You can find other software out there for regular pop-ups, sidebar pop-ups, slider pop-ups, and it’s probably worth testing all of them. However, you’ll tend to get the best mileage from an exit-intent pop-up, since this gives people the space to purchase if they want to — without distracting them with a regular pop-up. Then, when they go to leave your website, your exit-intent pop-up appears, and makes them an offer.

Here’s DODOCASE with their exit-intent pop-up. It’s simple, clean, and easy to understand – the key components of all good pop-ups. There’s no way you could be confused by this pop-up.

Sign up and get 10% off. Easy.


Here’s another simple example from Finch Goods, a men’s fashion and lifestyle company.

It’s almost identical to the DODOCASE pop-up, except instead of offering a percentage discount, it’s offer a specific cash discount ($5).

They could bump their opt-ins here by adding an attention-grabbing image of 5 x one-dollar bills, or 1 x five-dollar bill.


While Cloudways isn’t an eCommerce company, this example is still instructive.

Instead of offering a discount or credit, Cloudways reminds people of their “double your money back” guarantee.

I wanted to include this example, because it highlights the fact that you can make virtually any offer in your pop-up. In an ideal world, you’ll test this on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and find the offer that leads to the best revenue over 30-90 days (or similar).

Instead of a discount, you could remind people about your guarantee, or offer them free shipping on orders above $40, or refer them to a specific product category, or feature a product that’s HOT right now.


In this example from Clearly, you can see that instead of getting people onto their email list, they’re using their pop-up to remind people about the discount and free shipping (as well as targeting it towards first time shoppers only).


In my opinion, this is a poorly designed pop-up.

First, they should be collecting emails. Second, they are distracting people from buying by sending them to their social profiles. You’ll see companies doing this a lot. Forsaking email and sending people to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. So sad.