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Introduction

As a retail marketer, you want to be as connected with customers as possible. When you have a new product, you want your fan base to know so they can get to your store or to your website to make a purchase.

Not only do you want subscribers to receive timely messages about new products to help drive revenue, but you also want to keep them up-to-date whenever they make a purchase. You need to send payment confirmation emails, shipping notifications, and other transactional updates.

Retailers can also use strategic email marketing to improve customer retention, improve buyer trust, and increase conversion rates. With email, it’s simple to showcase products and reach customers right where they are.

In this guide, we’re breaking down email marketing for retail. We’ll discuss why email is the best marketing channel for retail businesses, as well as how to automate, personalize, and design beautiful emails to captivate and delight your customers and prospects. We’ll also give you helpful tips on how you can integrate your email marketing efforts with existing systems.

Email marketing for retail

Unlike software companies or marketing agencies, retail businesses sell physical products. While other types of companies hunt for relevant stock photos for their email efforts, retailers can show off images of their products, letting the goods speak for themselves.

Although email marketing has been around longer than most social media platforms and digital ad networks, it continues to drive impressive results. For every $1 spent, email marketing generates an average of $38 in return on investment (ROI) and gives marketers the broadest reach of all the channels available to them.

Retail businesses are seeing this opportunity and are using email marketing to drive real business results with automation, personalization, interactive emails, and enhanced integrations. That’s because email is resulting in a huge ROI. Brands like Rip Curl, JaybirdSephora, Adidas, Birchbox, and Topshop are reaping the benefits –and you can too.

While email marketing is effective for many types of businesses, here’s why it works so well for retail:

 

Email delivers the best ROI

Retail businesses need a diverse marketing strategy that leverages many channels, but email needs to be front and center, as it ties directly to customer acquisition, conversion rates, and general purchase behavior. Here are a few stats to prove it:

  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. (McKinsey)
  • 72% people prefer to receive promotional content through email, compared to 17% who prefer social media. (MarketingSherpa)
  • Email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social. (Monetate)
  • A message is five times more likely to be seen in email than via Facebook. (Radicati)
  • Email’s ROI was 28.5%,  compared to just 7% for direct mail. (Chief Marketer)

The stats speak for themselves, and retailers are seeing how email can deliver more ROI than other channels, in part because email gives them a direct line to their customer base.

 

Email is a direct line to prospective and existing customers

Social media can do wonders for a retail business, but it’s very difficult to target customers directly. Most of the time, you post a general message and hope for engagement. Email, in contrast, is a direct line to a prospective or existing customer. It’s personal and can be individualized.

Retailers are increasingly using automated and personalized emails to communicate with customers directly. Sephora, for example, uses subscribers’ first names in many of their marketing emails to make the message feel personal.

Sephora


Email allows for a larger, more substantial message

On Instagram, you’re limited to posting one photo with a caption. On Twitter, you have 140 characters. But when it comes to email, you can send out larger, more substantial messages to your subscribers.

Take this example from retailer Peter Werth. For the spring season, the retailer did a summer style campaign, as they sell men’s apparel that’s perfect for warm weather. On Instagram, they posted a simple image, plus a short caption.

 

PeterWerth-IG


Using email, they were able to share much more — photos, an offer, and a promotion of multiple products. The email provides more opportunities for subscribers to get to know Peter Werth and continue to the retailer’s site for more information.

 

PeterWerth

 

New features allow for easy automation and personalization

It used to be extremely difficult to send automated and personalized emails. You had to rope in an engineering team and dedicate substantial time and energy to schedule emails in advance.

But with today’s email service providers (ESPs), that’s become far easier. You don’t need to be a software engineer to figure out how to send abandoned shopping cart emails, shipping notifications, or personalized campaigns.

Campaign Monitor offers transactional email, dynamic content, A/B testing, and a number of features that make beautiful and effective emails easy for retailers. You can also embed signup forms on your website so that prospective customers can easily subscribe to get your email updates.


Email can support brick-and-mortar efforts

Online marketers often get so focused on web conversions that they forget how email can powerfully connect customers with physical retail locations. Many shoppers like to check out products in person.

Some retailers operate only online, but many others have physical store locations, or larger brick-and-mortar retailers carry their products. Email allows retailers to integrate their on- and off-line efforts.

For example, De Beers uses email marketing to help connect subscribers with brick-and-mortar locations. During the holiday season, they sent out an email encouraging customers to locate a store, or shop online. In this way, they helped subscribers find their local retail location if that was their preferred shopping option.

Debeers

The power of email automation for retail

Email automation gives you the ability to send emails automatically, without having to manually create and send new emails each time. When someone makes a purchase, adds an item to their shopping cart, or signs up for updates, they can automatically receive a pre-determined series of emails.


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When it comes to retail, email automation reigns supreme. Automated emails allow retailers to have multiple touch-points with prospective and loyal customers. Automated emails bring in substantial ROI, as they are sent based on a subscriber’s behavior or a period of time. 

Why retailers love email automation

Retail customers want to receive frequent updates about their orders, promotions and sales, and other relevant offers. Automated emails are used to keep them updated on purchases and account activity, and they’re often transactional or “trigger-based”, which means they’re sent because of something the customer did.

Because of this, emails that are sent automatically based on a customer’s behavior have eight times more opens and clicks than any other type of email, and can generate six times more revenue, according to Experian. Additionally, automated emails average 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than other marketing messages, according to Epsilon Email Institute. Not only that, 75% of all email revenue is generated through transactional campaigns, rather than one-size-fits-all email blasts, according to the DMA.

Email automation is no longer a nice-to-have feature — it’s a must-have. Plus, automation gives small teams the ability to build robust email marketing strategies.

Email automation helps marketers keep customers updated with the most pertinent information, and can encourage them to make more purchases. Automated emails bring in the bacon, and retailers are set on getting a slice.

How are retailers using automation?

From welcome emails to shipping notifications to requests for product reviews — there are many ways that retailers can use email automation.

Some of the most common automated emails in retail are:

  • Welcome emails
  • Order confirmations
  • Shipping confirmations
  • Email address confirmations
  • Password reset emails
  • Support notifications
  • Cart abandonment emails
  • Purchase receipts
  • Registration confirmations
  • Related product emails
  • Review request emails

Here are some of the best ways retailers are using email automation:

Welcome emails

According to research, 96% of visitors to your website aren’t yet ready to buy. However, these people are interested in what you offer and may be desire to sign up for your email list, which is a much smaller commitment than handing over their money.

But once these people subscribe, you need to give them a warm welcome. Seafolly, an Australian swimwear company, welcomes new subscribers with an email that shows off their apparel. The email makes subscribers feel like they’re part of the Seafolly squad.

seafolly

Birchbox

Shopping cart abandonment emails

Did you know that an average of 68.63% of online shopping carts are filled, only to be abandoned? That’s a lot of money left on the table for online retailers.

According to a survey conducted by VWO, 54% of shoppers will purchase products left in shopping carts, especially if those products are offered at a lower price. The key to recovering those carts? Automated emails.

If a customer fills up a shopping cart at Birchbox, they’ll receive an email reminding them that they have items in their cart. This automated email encourages the customer to go back to the site to complete the purchase and provides images of the products left behind to remind the customer what they’re missing out on.

Birthday or anniversary emails

There’s nothing that makes a customer feel better than a birthday card. That’s why many retailers send out birthday or anniversary emails to commemorate their special day. This type of email can be easily automated, as long as you have your customers’ birthdates.

Monica Vinader, a jewelry retailer, celebrates customer birthdays by giving a gift of 10% off their products. By recording the customer’s birth date, Monica Vinader can send out an automated birthday email that reminds customers to engage with the brand, which can lead to more sales.

MonicaVinader

On4

Order updates and shipping notifications

Order updates, account registration, and shipping notifications aren’t always the sexiest emails, but they’re arguably the most necessary. These types of emails boast high open and click-through rates, as they contain information that a customer needs to know.

Review requests

After a customer makes a purchase, you want to know what they think. Was the product everything they hoped for? Did the shipping process go smoothly? If the customer contacted customer service, did they have a positive experience?

Knowing this information can help you improve your product, as well as your overall customer experience. And it’s easy to automate these review requests using email.

For example, Jaybird, which makes Bluetooth earbuds, sends out an automated email to get post-purchase product feedback. This email goes out after customers have received their earbuds, and have had time to try them out.

surveyjaybird

Product re-purchase

There are many products that wear down from overuse or simply deserve to be upgraded. How can you encourage customers who’ve bought a product to replace it with a new one?

On, a Swiss running shoe retailer automates “shoe renewal” for customers who have bought shoes in the past. On collects information about the particular subscriber– such as which shoes they bought, and how many miles per week they run– and then sends automated emails when that subscriber is due to buy a new pair of shoes.

When it’s time to get a new running shoe, the customer gets an email reminding them that it’s probably time to buy again. This helps the customer assess the state of their running shoes, build brand loyalty, and ultimately purchase another pair of On shoes.

Powering your automation efforts with integrations

Campaign Monitor offers many amazing integrations that can make it easy for retailers to automate their efforts. You can integrate your email marketing with Magento, Shopify, GetFeedback, and many other e-commerce and billing platforms.

You can use integrations to automate personalized campaigns so that data stored in your CRM can be used to inform which email subscribers receive. For example, with the Magento integration, you can use your rich customer data in Magento to segment your customers and send hyper-targeted personal emails.

Our integration with Shopify is particularly powerful. You can use out-of-the-box segments to connect two solutions. The moment you’ve connected the two solutions, you’ll find a series of pre-built segments in your list, which enable you to target your email campaigns based on specific purchase criteria. You can send campaigns to your VIP customers, repeat customers, first-time customers, and newsletter subscribers.

 

shopify-segments


The integration also offers seamless data sync. If you setup the integration once, you can then watch your customer’s Shopify activity flow seamlessly into your Campaign Monitor list.

Additionally, our integrations make it a cinch to build email campaigns. Our library of pre-built templates and drag-and-drop email builder makes it incredibly easy to build professional email marketing campaigns in a matter of minutes – without a single line of code.

It’s simple to integrate Campaign Monitor with today’s top e-commerce solutions. You can automatically add customers to your list and send automated campaigns based on your customer’s buying behavior.

For more information on how to leverage email automation, read our guide.

Using dynamic content to personalize emails

Sending personalized emails is one of the most effective strategies in marketing today, and it works particularly well for retail. Using personalization, marketers can send tailored emails to their subscribers, segmenting content by gender, age, past purchases, and general interest.

The results from personalized campaigns are incredible– emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened and marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns. When subscribers receive content that’s tailored to them, they’re more likely to open emails, click-through to your website, and purchase products.

Thanks to powerful and easy-to-use email service providers like Campaign Monitor, as well as robust integrations, it’s easier than ever for retailers personalize their email campaigns in ways they never imagined were possible.

 

How to personalize your efforts

To get started with personalization, you’ll need to segment your email lists. Using data you already have, you can sort customers based on a number of attributes, such as gender, age, past purchases, or geography. You can gain this information through your sign up forms, or use integrations to pull data from existing systems, such as a CRM or Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce.

Once you’ve created these segments, you can use specific offers that will only be seen by that segment. This can be done easily using dynamic content.

For example, an electronics retailer might create an earbuds customer segment to target their earbud-loving customers. The retailer could create a segment of a group of customers who have bought two or more pairs of earbuds in last year. These customers may receive special offers on earbuds, or receive emails that direct them to other products they might enjoy.

Beyond past purchase behavior, you might also consider segmenting your audience by gender, age, interests, and more. Here are some of the categories that marketers use to segment their lists:

  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Interests
  • Transactional data such as past purchases
  • Behavioral data such as customer vs. prospect


What is dynamic content?

Dynamic content may sound complicated, but it’s simply the ability to swap out information based on who you’re targeting. Dynamic content allows you to personalize your campaigns by conditionally displaying content, based on custom field values in your subscriber lists, or on membership in your lists and segments.


Clever examples of retailers using dynamic content to personalize

Retailers around the world are using dynamic content to personalize their email campaigns. Here are a few clever examples:

Sephora personalizes based on customer status

Sephora, a makeup retailer with a booming online business as well as brick-and-mortar stores, has a customer loyalty program where customers can reach VIB or VIB ROUGE status. When customers spend enough to become a VIB or VIB ROUGE, they’re privy to special promotions and offers.

Customers that are part of the loyalty program receive emails with promotions exclusively for them, such as this one which promotes a gift from Caudalie when customers spend $45. Customers who are not VIB or VIB ROUGE may receive the same email, but the email might ask them to “explore” Caudalie with no mention of a free gift.

Sephora makes sure to include the customer’s first name to make the campaign feels even more personal.

Sephora2

gender

Adidas segments by gender

When it comes to apparel, men and women have different preferences. Knowing this, Adidas segments their email campaigns by gender.

In a recent campaign that promoted lines from Pharrell and Rita Ora, Adidas used dynamic content to send an email meant for men, and another meant for women. The men received an email featuring Pharrell wearing men’s apparel, while the women received an email of Rita Ora decked out in women’s clothes.

On sends emails based on location

On, a Swiss running shoe company is a global brand and uses personalization to reach customers wherever they are.

On sends running maps based on a subscriber’s location. These running maps not only show routes through a given city, but offer suggestions on what landmarks to stop at, and what cafes offer the best treats.


On


With customers around the world, On sends emails in different languages, as well. Using dynamic content, On substitutes a different language to ensure that the recipient gets an email written in their native tongue.

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On-J

How to create a beautiful email for retail

When it comes to retail, image matters. People have to be willing to proudly wear your brand’s goods, so it’s essential that they can see them in emails.

Beautiful emails are extremely important in retail, as these emails help support your branding efforts. But it’s hard to give a formula for what  beautiful design is, as it’s often a reflection of taste, branding, and preference. Even still, you know a beautiful email when you see it.

We’ve seen a lot of emails from retailers, and we’ve learned some go-to tips on how to design one that’s beautiful.


4 tips on how to design beautiful emails


1. Use big, bold hero imagery

The most engaging emails today have images that stretch full-width across different screen sizes. They use clear, compelling text over images with strong calls to action that motivate subscribers to act.

 

Jaybird

 

2. Stay true to your branding

You’ve spent significant time and effort developing your branding, so don’t throw it away when it comes to email. Your branding helps make customers familiar with what you offer and provides a sense of security. Branding is important– and it needs to be prioritized in your email design.

Campaign Monitor offers design customization and flexibility with thousands of fonts, colors, layout designs, and easy to adjust padding around logos, images, and text. This ensures that you can make your emails look like you.


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3. Make your emails easy to read

The average adult has an 8-second attention span (less than that of a goldfish!), which means they’re skimming your emails for information they want, rather than reading word-for-word. This means you need to design emails that are easy to read.

Not only do you need to write copy that’s clear, convincing, and concise, but you also need to use large text and carefully-placed headers to get your message across. 

In this email, Topshop makes it very clear what their promoting, and that makes it easy for customers to digest the content.


TopShop

 

4. Design across devices

We’ve found that about 53% of emails are opened on mobile devices and that 23% of readers who open an email on a mobile device open it again later. Additionally, from 2011 to 2013, email opens on mobile phones devices increased by 30%. The iPhone is the most common device for people to open an email.


oneill_mobile

 

In this environment, you have to create emails that look amazing on every device. As a retailer, you should think mobile-first, assuming that your emails will be opened on a smartphone.

For more information on responsive email design, read our Email Marketing in the Mobile Era guide.


Using A/B testing to figure out what resonates with your audience

It’s hard to know what will resonate with your audience, which is why A/B testing is important. With A/B testing, you can test two different email variants to learn which encourages higher open and clickthrough rates. With Campaign Monitor, you can A/B test subject lines, from names, as well as content and layouts.

Clever ways to integrate email with brick-and-mortar efforts

Unlike other types of businesses, retailers often have brick-and-mortar efforts running alongside their online marketing campaigns. Although online marketers often have web-oriented goals, it’s essential that brands take a holistic view, as there are many opportunities to integrate email marketing with brick-and-mortar efforts.

Retailers want to send emails that also help them with their brick-and-mortar efforts. How can they connect customers with their local stores?


How retailers are integrating efforts


Running side-by-side campaigns

Rather than making discounts exclusive to in-store or online shoppers, Sephora sends out discount emails alongside coupons. VIB customers receive a mailing that contains a 15% off coupon, but they also receive emails with the same deal.

Not only does Sephora send out email campaigns and print coupons, but their emails encourage customers to shop wherever is right for them, whether that be online or in their local store. They allow customers to save their email to Apple Wallet so that in-store shoppers don’t have to find, or print, the physical coupon.

By combining email and brick-and-mortar efforts, Sephora provides a holistic experience and creates excitement around their 15% off sale.

 

Sephora3

 

Providing information on brick-and-mortar retail in email

New stores open, and parties are held. How are you going to tell local customers? Retailers now provide information to local customers via email, connecting brick-and-mortar retail with online efforts. This strategy can be used to promote in-store events, as well as special in-store sales.

For example, Fred Perry sent out the following email to their customers who live in New York to invite them to their pop-up event. The email functions as an event invitation, giving customers the date, time, and location of the event.


fredperry

 

Connecting web visitors with dealers

On sells shoes on their website and via retailers, and always wants to create a seamless experience between online and offline. To create this experience, On has a digital dealer program.

Customers can go to the On website, and browse dealers where they can try on and buy shoes. Customers can then book appointments with dealers directly through our website. On customers give information– why they want to book an appointment, what shoes they’re interested in– and On uses Campaign Monitor to send an email directly to the dealer.

 

On3

 

The dealer gets info about the customer booking the appointment and can then prepare to receive them. The customer receives automatic notification email confirming their appointment. In this way, On connects local dealers and customers, creating a connected experience.


Encouraging in-store customers to sign up for email updates

When someone comes into a brick-and-mortar location, are you finding ways to connect with them online? Many retailers require email addresses for loyalty programs, or simply ask if the customer would like email updates at checkout.

Enlist turns your iPad into a sign up form so that you can capture email sign ups at a brick-and-mortar location. All types of businesses are collected email addresses in this manner, and it works particularly well if you’re hosting an in-store event. The app even works without WiFi.

 

enlistappcoffee

In addition to this method of collecting customer emails, Shopify POS allows merchants to send digital receipts to customers, then collects their email addresses in the back end for use in email marketing initiatives. You can also associate customers with their orders through POS, as this data could be useful in creating a personalized email campaign based on previous purchases.


Wrap up

With the use of automation, personalization, and beautiful design, you can develop an email marketing program that increases touch points with customers and encourages them to convert and ultimately purchase from your business. You can integrate your efforts with brick-and-mortar ones, becoming a retail business that harnesses the power of email marketing to drive epic results.

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