17 minute read time
This guide was originally published in June 2016, and was updated in March 2020.
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.
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 $44 in return on investment (ROI) and gives marketers the broadest reach of all the channels available to them.
Retail businesses see this opportunity and have been using email marketing to drive real business results with automation, personalization, interactive emails, and enhanced integrations. That’s because email results in a huge ROI. Brands like Rip Curl reap the benefits of solid email marketing—and you can, too.
While email marketing is effective for many types of businesses, here’s why it works so well for retail:
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 (updated for 2020) to prove it:
The stats speak for themselves. Retailers see firsthand how email delivers more ROI than other channels, in part because email gives them a direct line to their customer base.
Social media can do wonders for a retail business, but it’s difficult to target specific customers directly. Most of the time, you post a general message and hope for engagement. Email, in contrast, provides you a direct line to a prospective or existing customer. Because email marketing allows for distinct and specific personalization, emails can be individualized.
Retailers increasingly utilize automated and personalized emails to communicate with customers directly. Sephora, for example, features their subscribers’ favorite products and even their preferred location in order to best meet their customers’ needs.
But personalization goes much farther than simply adding a first name to a subject line. These days, technology allows you to integrate your customer data and provide a personalized experience for each of your customers. In fact, customers expect you to gather data, and they expect you to use it for their benefit.
Consider making recommendations based on a person’s previous purchases or sending your customers curated content similar to their expressed interests. As technology such as artificial intelligence improves, you should go above and beyond to dream up new ways to serve your customers and make their lives easier.
Consumers trust and seek out longer-form content as the pendulum swings yet again. Initially, Instagram allowed users to post only one photo and one short caption at a time while Twitter limited tweets to 140 characters.
Now, however, both platforms have shifted to allow longer-form content, another signal of shifting consumer preferences. For instance, Instagram now allows users to post a series of photos and even includes now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t stories. Twitter, meanwhile, has doubled its 140 character limit to 280.
But these platforms still have limits. And email, on the other hand, enables you to send out larger, more substantial messages to your subscribers. Not to mention, because email is the original source for long-form messages, your biggest fans already seek authentic, in-depth content in their inboxes.
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.
Using email, they were able to share much more: photos, an offer, and a promotion for 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.
It used to be extremely difficult to send automated and personalized emails. You had to rope in an engineering team to code your messages 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 sign up forms on your website so that prospective customers can easily subscribe to get your email updates.
Online marketers often get so focused on web conversions that they forget how email can powerfully drive customers to 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 online and offline 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.
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.
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.
Retail customers want to receive frequent updates about their orders, promotions and sales, as well as other relevant offers. Automated emails are used to keep customers updated on purchases and account activity, and they’re often transactional or “triggered,” 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 without taking away from their other duties.
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.
From welcome emails to shipping notifications to requests for product reviews, there are plenty of ways that retailers can use email automation.
Some of the most common automated emails in retail are:
Here are some of the best ways retailers are using email automation:
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 want 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.
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.
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 customer’s 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.
Order updates, account registration, and shipping notifications aren’t always the sexiest emails, but they’re arguably some of the most necessary. These types of emails boast high open and click-through rates, since they contain information that a customer needs to know.
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.
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?
Chewy automates renewal emails for customers who have bought products in the past. Chewy collects information about the particular subscriber—such as which products they bought—and then sends automated emails when that subscriber is due to buy their next round.
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, Salesforce, 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.
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.
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.
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 by utilizing 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, hobbies, average order size, and more. Here are some of the categories that marketers use to segment their lists:
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.
Retailers around the world are using dynamic content to personalize their email campaigns. Here are a few clever examples:
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.
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, 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.
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.
When it comes to retail, your store’s image matters. People have to be willing to proudly wear your brand’s goods, so it’s essential they can see your personal touch 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.
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.
You’ve spent significant time and effort developing your branding, so don’t throw it away when it comes to email. Your branding helps familiarize customers with the products 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.
The average adult has an 8-second attention span (less than that of a goldfish!), which means they skim your emails for information they want, rather than reading word-for-word. This means you need to design emails that can be read and digested at a glance.
Not only should you 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 they’re promoting, which makes the content of the email—as well as the CTA—easy to understand in a few seconds, whether the subscriber opens the email at work or on the go.
Mobile design grows more and more important to email marketing as each year passes. These days, more emails are opened on mobile devices than on desktops and 37% of customers say that emails influenced their purchases. The iPhone is still the most common device for people to open an email.
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.
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.
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 to their marketing strategy, as there are a ton of opportunities to integrate email marketing with your 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?
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.
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.
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 their 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.
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.
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.
Turn your POS or dedicated tablet into a subscription station so that you can capture email sign ups at a brick-and-mortar location. All types of businesses collect email addresses in person, and all you have to do is create a signup form in Campaign Monitor and pull it up in a browser on your device.
Additionally, 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.
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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