The Guide to Email Marketing for Retail Stores

What goals are at the top of the list for your retail store? If you’re like most people working in the retail industry, three things immediately come to mind. You want to:

  • Increase online sales
  • Increase customer engagement levels
  • Improve customer acquisition and retention

Those are the not-so-surprising results from a recent survey of retail marketers. Of all the possible responses, the points above were consistently rated as key priorities.

But even more revealing were these results:

The retail marketers surveyed all seemed to agree that the best channels for getting the job done included email marketing for retail (nearly 70%) and social media for retail (54%).

Although email marketing was number one, many companies have yet to master this marketing channel—even though it boasts an average ROI of $38 for every $1.

Is your company one that hasn't yet perfected email marketing for retail?

Studies show that 81% of those who shop online and receive emails based on previous shopping habits were at least somewhat likely to make a purchase as a result of marketing automation.

Read on to take a look at what other companies are doing to get it right—as well as the things you’re possibly getting wrong with your own email marketing strategy.

Getting email marketing for retail right

Before diving into the don’ts of email marketing, let’s take a look at how some companies are effectively using this channel to gain more sales and more engagement from their customers.

One major thing that differentiates modern email marketing campaigns is your ability to customize them based on each subscriber’s interests.

Think about that for a minute…

By implementing an automated, segmented email journey, you can send emails that are personalized every time.

The right customer data will have you sending emails that speak directly to customers—based on the products they’re most interested in and the types of deals that get them clicking.

Marketing automation, personalization, segmentation, implementing a journey, and providing incentives are just a few of the tactics that companies are using to get more sales.

Cosabella, a luxury lingerie retailer, is one of the companies that has leveraged marketing automation with significant success.

Using the right customer data gathered from a list of 50,000 subscribers, the retailer was able to customize better emails to target different segments.

The result?

Email open rates increased by 4%, and email revenue grew by 60% year after year, according to marketing director Courtney Connell.

Also, online sales now account for 15% of Cosabella’s sales—up from 8%.

Cosabella’s performance is comparable to what’s going on with retailers who successfully implement data-based email journeys.

In the 2016 Best Email Marketers in E-Commerce list, the 50 top online retailers had a 17.9% average growth rate—compared to 500 of the largest online retailers in the U.S.

They also shared another thing in common:

They managed about 40 email marketing campaigns a month, compared to an average of 13 for the typical online store in the group of 500.

Ready to stand out from the competition?

Take inventory of your own retail email marketing strategy to figure out where you may be going wrong.

9 don’ts of retail email marketing

If you’re getting less than remarkable results from your email marketing, it’s likely you have room to improve.

Take a look at this list of online retail email marketing barriers to avoid.

1) Not segmenting your emails

If you’re not segmenting, or you’re doing the bare minimum, you could be missing out on one of the most effective ways to increase your email open rates, an important part of email marketing for retail.

In fact, about 77% of email marketing ROI can be attributed to segmented, targeted, and triggered campaigns.

Include other segments, such as purchase interests, content engagement levels, changes in buying behavior, page views, and past history, to further customize your emails.

You want subscribers to feel that you “get” them. Think outside of the box on this one—any way you can segment your customers is another way you can learn about them.

Quick surveys are another great way to help with segmentation efforts. Do this as soon as people sign up for your email list. Ask them about their interests— use those interests to further dig into your email strategy.

2) Not utilizing personalization

Okay, now that you have the proper data gathered from segmentation, you have to actually invest the time and use it to personalize emails for your segments.

This may seem obvious, but a surprisingly significant number of companies are forgoing this step.

According to eConsultancy, only 5% of companies were using personalization extensively based on survey results.

However, studies also show that leveraging personalization leads to an average 14% increase in sales.

If you’re not convinced that personalization is worth the time, here’s one more statistic to consider:

Average email click-through rates are 2.5 times greater with personalization.

Use the data you collected from a survey to find ways to segment your list and further personalize emails.

You can even use cart abandonment emails, welcome emails, and thank you emails in your personalized campaign.

With the assistance of your email marketing vendor, you can take on the complexities of personalization with an effective marketing automation platform and guidance with your strategy.

3) Not utilizing abandoned cart emails

This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to generate more sales—getting back those consumers who filled their carts without completing the purchase.

In fact, carts are being abandoned at a rate of 69%, according to a recent study by the Baynard Institute.

Let’s break that down:

Only 31 out of every 100 consumers will actually complete their purchases after placing items in an online shopping cart.

If you’re not doing anything to get the attention of those consumers, you’re losing out on an audience that is already ripe for conversion.

This Adidas abandoned cart email is a great example of email marketing for retail companies.

Source: Really Good Emails

As you can see above, abandoned cart emails can be fun and interesting reminders for customers who haven’t yet completed a purchase.

Plus, a second email sent within 24 hours could lead to a 17.7% conversion rate. When you're practicing email marketing for retail, you want conversions directly from email.

That’s almost a 40% increase in revenue, just by sending a couple of automated emails targeted at people who already invested time in your site.

Bonobos provides shoppers a chance to finish their purchase with an easy CTA, as you can see below.

This Bonobos abandoned cart email shows how you can use email marketing for retail.

Source: Really Good Emails

Here’s a breakdown of the types of emails you can add to your cart abandonment email strategy:

A reminder email: This email could be as simple as reaching out to say, “Hey, did you forget something?” Maybe the shopper got distracted, so maybe a reminder could get the customer back on your site.

Discount email: How about a 10% discount? Provide consumers with an incentive to finish the purchase. Try implementing this as a strategy in subsequent emails.

Inventory email: An email alerting the customer that there are only a few products left in stock of something they’ve added to their cart is a great way to get customers back on your site.

Objection email: Perhaps you’ve detected that shoppers are abandoning their carts because of an unexpected barrier like shipping costs. If you see a pattern emerging, offer an alternative.

Offer a less expensive alternative for shipping or even free shipping to overcome that objection. If that’s not an option for your business, include a question in your FAQ that covers why your shipping costs are so high. If you’re a small business, customers are generally more forgiving when presented with the information upfront.

There are other reasons why shoppers abandon their carts. Maybe they are hesitant about the price of the item: A discount could be what they need to get over the hurdle, so keep that email in your back pocket.

Home goods retailers, including CB2 and, will suggest items similar to those in the abandoned cart.

These alternatives could help customers who are struggling to make the final purchase.

4) Not using triggered emails

Triggered emails are a perfect way to react (automatically) to your customers’ decisions. Your subscriber takes an action, and you design your campaign to trigger a real-time response specific to that action.

The process may be automated, but to the customer, it feels like your company is paying attention to that specific individual.

And it works through the power of automation.

This replenishment email from 1-800 Contacts is a perfect example of a triggered email that is personal to the customer:

You can use automation and triggers in your email marketing for retail, just like this 1800-Contacts replenishment email does.

Source: Milled

According to the Direct Marketing Association, effective triggered email campaigns result in 125% higher click-through rates.

And eConsultancy reports that open rates with triggered emails are four times higher than more traditional email newsletters.

By identifying actions and the responses that are triggered, you can make experiences much more engaging.

Consider different types of engagement based on certain events, such as the following:

  • Page triggers: If a consumer views the sale section of your email, you can develop a campaign that encourages further engagement based on their product interests.
  • Special promotions: Have an active purchaser? Do they like to stock up on your product? Send more frequent emails featuring special discounts on certain items to these consumers.
  • Occasional customers: When a consumer takes an action, such as checking on a product’s availability, set up your campaign to send a promotion related to that item or complementary products.
  • Birthday: Most consumers will appreciate some acknowledgment of a day that is particularly special to them, including birthdays and anniversaries.

(Don’t forget to include an optional request for birthdays in sign-up forms).

Extend offers for the entire birthday month to boost the likelihood that the consumer will engage.

Or offer a completely free deal—no strings attached.

Another consideration is celebrating the date that your subscribers signed up for your email list.

It’s a clever way to acknowledge the relationship between you and the consumer.

5) Not building any retail email campaigns

Along with failing to build email marketing campaigns around subscriber data, it would be a mistake to miss out on opportunities to develop campaigns that home in on special events and points in the customer’s journey.

Here are a few to include as an essential part of your retail email campaign:

Welcome campaign: Send welcome emails to brand new subscribers and continue to nurture them for the first several months. If you’re just starting your welcome campaign, consider sending unique emails to new customers at each stage of their customer journey: signup, first purchase, three months subscribed, six months subscribed, etc.

Nurturing campaign: Not every lead you gain through email marketing will be ready to become a loyal customer.

In fact, don’t count on any of them getting to that point without some nurturing along the way.

In this game, we’re playing for long-term customers that require some care and attention.

Don’t automatically veer toward offering discounts.

Say, for instance, you specialize in home goods or athletic apparel.

Develop posts that your audience will find interesting. They could include home improvement tips or information on enhancing workouts.

A nurturing campaign can offer invaluable information that can indirectly prompt your subscriber to become more interested in your products.

Brand awareness campaign: You want people to know who you are.

So, it should be your mission to repeatedly get your brand in front of people to increase recognition.

It’s possible, even without a massive budget.

Think of ways to reinforce your brand through design, tone, and content.

If your company is targeting a younger audience, examine that demographic to determine how best to approach them while staying true to your brand philosophy. This might include building various personas or looking into brand archetypes.

Tailor your emails to fit your brand—and your audience.

Product review campaign: This is a big one.

People like to read reviews before purchasing a product.

According to eConsultancy, a whopping 61% of customers will read an online review or testimonial before purchasing a product.

Reviews can be incorporated in your emails in numerous ways.

For example, if a customer abandoned an item in their shopping cart, you can send a reminder email along with an image of the product as well as several related product reviews.

This might also be a good time to send out video testimonials on products or your company. Video emails get more engagement than standard text emails.

New customer campaign: When an email subscriber makes a purchase, it’s cause for celebration!

Recognize their purchase.

You can simply say, “Wow! You have great taste!” or “We appreciate having you as a customer.”

A followup email with a discount code for future purchases may be a big step in establishing customer loyalty. If they’ve already purchased from you once, and you’ve provided a great service, they will come back.

Encourage reviews: “If you like it, rate us as a 10!” “If you don’t like it, please let us know.”

Additionally, you can send coupons and other incentives to encourage them to keep your business in mind for other purchases.

Make sure that the offers reflect their purchasing interests.

Repeat customer campaign: A loyal customer is an incredibly valuable customer, as you already know. And yet, some retail companies don’t treat them like loyal, long-time brand ambassadors.

You should not simply categorize loyal customers with everyone else.

Further engage them with exclusive previews of products, discounts, and customer loyalty benefits.

In other words, make them feel special. Not only are they frequent shoppers, but it’s much harder and more costly to acquire new customers than to retain the ones you already have.

And offer an extraordinary incentive for referring friends. Repeat customers could become your brand advocates—something all retailers dream of.

Event campaign: Many events require a push for marketing efforts. The holiday season especially requires extensive marketing plans.

Don’t forget other events, including Valentine’s Day, back-to-school season, your company’s anniversary, and close-out inventory sales.

Tailor clever campaigns to fit these events.

Or send event recaps and tell everyone how much fun you had.

Be among the first to get your message out by sending helpful reminders about the days remaining before the event takes place. A countdown timer is a fun way to celebrate the days ahead of an event.

6) Not stretching your email design to its fullest potential

Great design is crucial for effective emails, and with the right design, you can quickly engage your readers.

With a user-friendly design, you can quickly create email messages that highlight your product and encourage engagement.

High-performing email campaigns are designed with your customers in mind. They are easy to read, mobile-optimized, and relevant.

Also, keep in mind that one clear call-to-action (CTA) has been shown to be more effective than multiple CTAs.

7) Not optimizing your emails for mobile

There are two statistics that you need to keep in mind when considering how consumer behavior has changed over the years.

The first is this: One out of every four Americans will make a minimum of one purchase online a week.

The second one is even more mind-boggling—people with smartphones actually pick up this device about 1,500 times a week.

Your email marketing campaigns should always keep those factors in mind.

Also, consider button sizes and other attributes that will make it easy for mobile users to click through your message.

8) Not building your subscriber list

So, you have 5,000 email subscribers … or 7,500 or maybe even 100,000. That’s great! But if you want to continue to gain more sales and more customers, you need to keep growing your list.

Here’s why.

Your email subscriber list is steadily shrinking—every single year, at a rate of about 22.5%.

The reasons vary—from subscribers opting out to no longer using the email address they provided at the onset of the engagement.

Develop a strategy for gaining new subscribers to offset your losses—or, better yet, build upon the base you already have.

This is a great time to leverage your referrals for more email subscribers.

9) Not using the right retail email marketing platform

An effective retail email marketing strategy requires comprehensive strategic planning, along with the right tools and the right partner to guide you.

Retailers that buy into simplified marketing software are often frustrated by a solution that wasn’t tailored to meet the needs of their industry.

Without an integrated process and software that allows for seamless integration of messaging to segmented audiences, you could be missing out on opportunities to further engage with your audience.

The right retail email marketing platform will allow you to achieve all your communication goals with less effort and in less time.

Anatomy of the perfect retail email

Through the modernization of email marketing software, it’s possible to create messages that are perfectly suited for each individual on your subscriber list.

You really can deliver personalized emails that connect with your subscribers.

But it’s essential to review the common ingredients of a perfect retail email.

Take a look at what you need to include with each email strategy:

  • “From” Name: This is one of the first things that will show up in your subscriber’s inbox.

If you really want to reinforce your brand (and you should), simply use your company’s name, or someone at your company (e.g. Jim at Delivra).

Subject Line: Make this one memorable in a few words. Use the subscriber’s name—a tactic that leads to a higher open rate, according to studies.

Also, remember that the rules have changed now that subscribers are opening most of their emails on mobile devices, meaning you have even less room to work with.

Even though they’re short, take your time in crafting subject lines that will stand out.

  • Pre-header: This is the summary content immediately following your subject line. In many cases, it will be visible as subscribers scan through their inboxes.

Write in a conversational tone to grab attention here as well.

  • Email Copy: Keep thinking about personalization, about the products and deals that are of particular interest.
  • Images: Visuals are extremely important in the retail industry. Use quality images and videos to show products that are relevant to your subscribers—again, based on their individual interests captured in data.
  • Call-to-Action: As previously noted, use one short CTA to encourage further engagement. It could be as simple as “Learn More” or “Shop Now.”
  • A/B Testing: Always, always, always (it’s that important) A/B test. Don’t waste all your efforts one idea or design when you could be testing it against a better option.

Use A/B testing for all aspects of your email marketing campaign, including subject lines, body copy, and CTAs.

Make better retail email marketing

With advances in technology, retail email marketing has become a brand new way of giving your subscribers a personalized experience that is key to boosting sales and boosting customer loyalty.

But you must do it right to get the type of return that helps you hit all your goals.

By pairing automation with engaging messages and visuals—which all have been backed by studies about what works—you’ll be able to build a retail email marketing engine that will keep your subscribers—and your boss happy.

Wrap up

We covered a lot of material in this guide to email marketing for retail stores. We covered the nine don’ts of retail email marketing, which included things like:

  • Cart abandonment: These emails are a great way to capitalize on people who were previously shopping on your site. Don’t lose out on an opportunity to turn these into paying customers.
  • Mobile email optimization: Optimizing your emails for mobile is a critical, critical step that everyone needs to be doing. A significant number of emails are opened on mobile phones, so optimization is key to ensuring those people have a great experience.
  • Email segmentation: Not segmenting your emails is one of the worst mistakes you can make when it comes to email marketing. Even minor segmentation can lead to significant increases in click-through rates.

Don’t make these mistakes when setting up your email strategy. Use these tips to guide you to the right marketing strategy and automation workflow.

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