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.

  • Increase online sales
  • Increase average order value.
  • Increase customer engagement levels.
  • Improve customer acquisition and retention.

Those are the not-so-surprising results from a recent survey of retail marketers. They were consistent in rating them as key priorities.

But this is what was even more revealing:

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

lexmod retail email example

Although email marketing landed in the No. 1 spot, many companies have yet to master this marketing channel — even though it can come with an average ROI of 4,300%, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

Are you one of those companies who doesn’t seem to be getting retail email marketing right?

81% of online shoppers who 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.

» Free Bonus: Click here to get access to free blueprints to proven retail marketing automation drip campaigns. Abandoned shopping carts, event reminders, welcome new subscribers, and more!

Getting it right with retail email

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…

Implementing a complete marketing automation strategy, you can send emails that take customization beyond the basics of name, gender, and geography.

You can grasp customer data that will have you sending emails that speak directly to them — based on the products that they’re most interested and the type of deals that get them clicking.

Marketing automation, personalization, optimizing for mobile, implementing a cart abandonment strategy, 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 them that has leveraged marketing automation with significant success.

cosabella retail email marketing example

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

The results?

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

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

cosabella email sign up popup form

Cosabella’s performance is comparable to what’s going on with retailers who successfully implement comprehensive email marketing strategies.

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.

Here’s another stat to think about:

These top-performing companies also implemented strong cart abandonment strategies.

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 retail email marketing campaigns, it’s likely you aren’t doing something right.

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

1) Not segmenting your emails

There must be a million ways to segment your emails.

If you’re not segmenting or just settling for three or four, such as geography, age, and gender, you could be missing out on one of the most effective ways to increase your email open rates.

segment email subscribers email marketing

About 77% of email marketing ROI can be attributed to segmented, targeted and triggered campaigns in 2015, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

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.

2) Not utilizing personalization


Now that you have the data gathered from segmentation, you won’t get anywhere without investing the time to use it to personalize your campaigns.

You probably know that.

Yet, as it turns out, a significant number of companies are forgoing this step.

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

Take a look at how Kate Spade sends emails to shoppers allowing them to find their nearest store or book an appointment at their nearest store with a single click.

kate spade retail personalization email example

That’s personalized.

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

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

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

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 using 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 Baymard 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.

abandoned cart email drip example

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

By sending an email within an hour of a person abandoning a cart, you could capture 20% of those sales, according to a study published in

A second email sent within 24 hours could lead to a 17.7% conversion rate, that same study revealed.

Helix provides shoppers that left a customized mattress in their online cart the chance to complete their purchases and includes a discount.

helix retail email example

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

  • Reminder email: This email could be as simple as reaching out to say “Hey, did you forget something?” Maybe the shopper got distracted. A reminder could get the consumer back to the task at hand.
  • 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 — not the first one out.
  • 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.

There are other reasons why shoppers abandon their carts. Maybe they are hesitating about the price of the item.

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

These alternatives could possibly overcome any misgivings the consumer may have had about the product that was placed in the cart.

4) Not using triggered emails

In its most simplest form, triggered email is like a two-way conversation.

Your subscriber takes an action, and you design your campaign to trigger a real-time response specific to that action.

You’re basically paying attention to that specific individual.

And it works through the power of automation.

This triggered email from 1-800 Contacts is sent out reminding a previous customer it’s time to reorder their annual contact supply:

1800 contacts personalized retail email example

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.

cuvee special promotion example retail email marketing

Occasional customers: When a consumer takes an action, such as checking on a product’s availability, setup 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.

usa hockey birthday email example

(Don’t forget to include a 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 hone 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: It wouldn’t make sense to send out blanket emails to all of your subscribers.

Those who have been with you six months should be getting entirely different emails than those who signed up yesterday.

Set up a retail email campaign that welcomes new subscribers.

allmodern welcome retail email example

Along with a warm welcome, add a note of genuine thanks for them signing up. Keep it brief.

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.

meijer retail email example

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 the ingredients of a well-dressed bed or tips on enhancing your workout.

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 an Apple-sized budget.

homeaway brand email example

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.

Videos could be a core component of your email marketing campaigns as a result of research into your marketing personas.

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.

stubhub service review example email

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.

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.”

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

In addition, 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 invaluable customer, as you already know.

Yet, some retail companies don’t treat them as the special gems that they are.

readers retail email example

You should NOT simply categorize them with everyone else.

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

You know … make them feel special.

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

Event campaign: It’s obvious the winter holidays — including Christmas and Hanukkah — are shopping seasons that require 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.

brewers of indiana retail email example

Be among the first to get your message out by sending helpful reminders about the days remaining before the event takes place.

6) Not stretching your email design to its fullest potential

Great design is critical to effective emails.

Go for clean email designs that will quickly engage your readers.

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

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 always keep those factors in mind, optimizing emails that can be easily viewed on a mobile device.

hayes and taylor retail email example

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.

It’s never a good time to take a break from building your subscriber list if you want to continue to gain more sales and more customers.

Here’s why.

Your email subscriber list is steadily shrinking — every single year, at a rate of about 22.5%, according to a study published in Hubspot.

The reasons vary — from subscribers opting out or 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.

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 a 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 important to review the common ingredients of a perfect retail email.

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

retail email anatomy 1

  1. “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.

  1. Subject Line: Make this one memorable in a just 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.

Some studies show that subject lines with about 61 to 70 characters perform best.

Even though they are short, take your time in crafting a subject line that will stand out.

  1. 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 some attention here as well.

retail email anatomy 2

  1. Email Copy: Keep thinking personalization, using the body of the email to have a brief conversation with the subscriber about the products and deals that are of particular interest to them.
  1. Images: Visuals are extremely important in the retail industry. Use quality images and videos to speak volumes about products that are relevant to your subscribers — again, based on their individual interests captured in data.
  1. 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.”
  1. A/B Testing: Always, always, always (it’s that important) incorporate A/B testing into your retail email marketing strategy.

Don’t waste your efforts on Plan A when a couple of tweaks could result in higher open rates for a Plan B.

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.

Download our latest ebook and you can learn how to get more shoppers to purchase online using a cart abandonment strategy.


Join the email marketing community at an upcoming event near you.