DotDigital's Guide To Email Marketing For E-commerce

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There's a myth that email marketing is dead. Untrue, according to the marketers who's email results say otherwise. In this special guest post, Chris Cano of marketing automation specialists DotDigital shares his secrets to a successful email strategy for your business.

Email continues to be the most powerful of the online channels. The average ROI for every dollar spent on email marketing is USD$50 (DMA, 2019). That’s the value email can drive in your e-commerce strategy. The unique ability to connect different data and enrich insight is what drives the success of email marketing for e-commerce merchants. Email automation for marketing helps you create personalized conversations with your customers at scale, from sign-up to long-term loyalty programs that drive brand advocacy. The goal is to deliver seamless engagements across the entire customer lifecycle, and email is the perfect channel for that journey. 

How to make your email marketing strategy work for your business

The myth of the death of email continues to perplex marketers whose email results say otherwise. Email continues to be the most powerful of the online channels. The average ROI for every dollar spent on email marketing is USD$50 (DMA, 2019). That’s the value email can drive in your e-commerce strategy. The unique ability to connect different data and enrich insight is what drives the success of email marketing for e-commerce merchants. Email automation helps you create personalized conversations with your customers at scale, from sign-up to long-term loyalty 

Growing your email list

The number-one rule for your contact list is this: Quality beats quantity every time.

While having lots of contacts is great, having bad data isn’t. It’s important to focus on contacts who proactively interact with your brand, and use behavioral data to communicate with them effectively. Emailing unengaged lists carries the risk of damaging your deliverability - and having a poor sender reputation could lead to an embargo of your ‘wanted’ email campaigns.

Here are three simple best-practice methods to grow your lists effectively:

Email pop up advertising Sainsbury's products

1. Popovers

Adding a popover to your website is a tried-and-true way to increase your email subscribers. You can use a survey tool to build your popover, making sure it’s prominent but not too intrusive. You can incorporate an inviting offer unto the sign-up process as an incentive for people to hand over their email address. It doesn’t have to be a discount – it could be an invitation to a learning series or webinar, for instance. Sell the benefits, whether that’s great content, unmissable product tips, or special sales promotions.

2. Forms

Forms are an awesome way to acquire new contacts as well as enrich the information you hold on existing customers. From preference centers to feedback forms, surveys can help you stay relevant and improve the customer journey.

The perfect time to include a preference center is during a welcome program. Ask customers what type of content they’d like to receive (suited to their interests) and how often.

Similarly, asking for feedback after a purchase is a nice customer-first touch. It shows that your brand cares and values the opinion of the customer. It’s also a great way to improve your products and online shopping experience, plus garner that all-important social proof online.

3. Social media and competitions

Social platforms can help you maximize your brand reach across audiences and increase sign-ups. Hosting competitions on your social networks is a foolproof way of growing your contact list organically, as there are so many sharing capabilities between friends and followers online. So, social platforms can help you maximize your brand reach across audiences and increase sign-ups. Dig into our top 10 social selling tips for your e-commerce business for more advice.

If you have an in-store presence, don’t forget you can collect email addresses via self-serve tablets or your POS system. Either way, it’s an effective method to grow your marketing database. You can also ask your customers if they’d prefer to receive e-receipts while asking them whether they’d like to opt into marketing comms. 

Now that we’ve covered some organic list acquisition tactics, and before deep-diving into the must-have automation, let’s go through some email basics.

Friendly from name

The 'from' or 'sender name' is the inbox field that tells the recipient who has sent the message. Be careful about what you put here – or what’s put there automatically – because if your subscriber doesn’t recognize you, they may mark your message as spam. Make sure your 'friendly from' name is 100% on brand.

Go for stand-out subject lines

The first rule of thumb is that your subject line accurately reflects the email’s content. You don’t want to mislead your recipients. That being said, it needs to be engaging enough to motivate the subscriber to open. Remember, your email is competing against a barrage of other emails, so you need to be noticed and stand out from the crowd. And if you’re worried about how this might impact your results, it’s sensible to A/B test different variations to see which option performs best. If you want some deeper advice from DotDigital on how to write subject lines that get opened, check out their blog on the subject.

Use the preheader text

The preview or preheader text supports the subject line with more context about the email’s contents. It’s a summary that follows the subject line within the inbox display. We’re in a mobile era now where anywhere between 40% and 60% of emails are opened on a mobile device1. It’s therefore important for e-commerce retailers to use the preview text as a further tease to boost opens. Like subject lines, you can A/B test the preheader to see what captures the subscriber’s attention. 

Email automation systems that will grow your business

Email pop up from The Body Shop with yellow background

1. Welcome Program

The welcome program is by far the most important automation program to implement. Not only does thanking a subscriber for signing up show that you care, but it’s a prime opportunity to introduce your brand and collect valuable data. This is the time to ask for preferences and start tracking click-through behavior. And by creating the right first impression, you’ll be maximizing your chances of turning prospects into customers.

What to include:

  • Reassure subscribers that joining the mailing list was the right thing by communicating the benefits
  • Build brand credibility: showcase your customer reviews, user-generated content and links to social media communities
  • Attract new customers with current offers, like a welcome discount code
  • Bring subscribers closer to your brand: share inspirational tips, product reviews, and invitations to special events

74% of consumers expect to receive a welcome program2. Otherwise, it casts doubt on whether they signed up in the first place. And because they’re super-relevant it’s no wonder they get 4x more opens and 5x more clicks than regular emails.

The Body Shop’s welcome email hits the mark. It introduces you to the brand, its heritage, and the products available. Plus, you get a free welcome gift!

2. Transactional emails

Transactional emails are triggered by a customer-initiated action. That might be a purchase or an event registration. Be careful with these, as a ‘vanilla’ brand experience can disrupt the customer journey. To avoid this, make sure you’ve got your transactional data feeding into your marketing automation platform. Then use your design tool to send on-brand transactional emails that mirror your marketing’s creative tone.

Email pop up advertising Uniqlo products

It’s also a good idea to:

  • Say thanks to the customer for their order
  • Confirm payment process, product details and delivery
  • Introduce the customer to your social media communities
  • If they haven’t already, encourage customers to subscribe to your marketing emails
  • Provide contact details in case they need to get in touch

Uniqlo’s e-receipts couldn’t be more branded. It even looks like a real receipt!  

3. Post-purchase program

The aftersales program engages the customer further along the lifecycle than the welcome program, but both series share similar principles. Intended to build brand credibility, this program aims to excite the customer about their recent purchase. This ultimately brings customers closer to your brand.

What are the benefits?

  • Saying thank you for an order builds customer loyalty.
  • Giving tips on how to use the product drives brand value and minimizes returns.
  • Recommending complementary products helps generate repeat purchase opportunities – remember to do this with tact, and keep the suggestions close to the type of purchase made.
  • Collecting extra data at this point helps you personalize the online customer experience further.

Reaching out to shoppers after they’ve purchased is an effective way to re-energize the customer relationship. It’ll mean your brand is put in front of the mind. An important aspect is collecting valuable customer feedback – on the product purchased as well as the online shopping experience. You’ll be able to action the insight you gather, improving your products, services, and user experience.

Email pop up advertising Beer Hawk products

Here are a few more things to consider:

  • Make sure the email is timely, so the customer’s experience remains fresh – within a couple of days of your delivery is ideal
  • Include an image of the product so the message resonates – the visual relevancy will remind the customer what they’re reviewing
  • Include customer service info so that the customer can resolve any issues directly without having to post a negative review
  • Boost customer response rates with an incentive for a review (5% off your next purchase, for instance)
  • Use marketing automation to thank customers after they leave a review

Beer Hawk does a great job of asking for product feedback. The incentive is spot on too – who wouldn’t want to win £100 worth of beer?

Screenshot from matchesfashion website

4. Abandoned cart program

The average cart abandonment rate online can be as high as 80%.3 There are many reasons why consumers abandon the checkout process - they vary from hidden shipping costs to annoying site navigation.

A cart recovery program aims to reduce that rate by addressing the reasons why your customers might close the browser before completing a purchase.

What can these email series do?

  • Remind the visitor what they’ve left in their cart, that their items have been saved, and if they want to check out now it’s super-easy
  • Reemphasize credibility by linking through to reviews, testimonials, and social media
  • Reinforce FOMO by employing urgency or scarcity into the message with a limited time offer or product stock alert (maybe try this in the subject line) 
  • Recommend related items alongside what was abandoned in the cart to give visitors more options or increase their average order value (AOV)

Whether you send one nudge or three, timing is everything. Send the first email within an hour of cart abandonment – then test and tweak based on results. Depending on your brand, you might want to send another email 24 hours later, and a final one 48 hours after that. For time-poor prospects, it can be really effective.

This year’s DotDigital Hitting the Mark winners, MATCHESFASHION, do a stellar job of the abandoned cart email. The message is hyper-relevant, with all product details and images included, plus contact details for customer service. 

Email pop up advertising converse products

5. Abandoned browse

If people browse your website and then leave, it doesn’t mean they won’t someday be a customer. There are ways to tempt them back. Using web tracking behavior, you can set up a super-relevant abandoned browse program that sends customers content based on their browsing activity. The objective? To capture their attention and draw them back to your website so they can take the desired action.

You can target those who have browsed a product catalog or an event booking page. And although they haven’t shown as much intent as an abandoned cart visitor, the ROI can still be substantial.

Here are the key elements to the abandoned browse email:

  • Send the email within one hour of browse abandonment
  • Suggest similar products to help the visitor make an informed decision
  • Build brand credibility – with recognizable creative and inspirational content
  • Include customer service information and social proof points
  • If there are any additional benefits to your products, like free delivery or discount, let people know

Converse is a pro at abandoned browse campaigns. Not only is the visitor complimented with having a terrific taste, but there’s a sweet discount in there to incentivize the purchase, plus a couple of complimentary product recommendations too. Find out how to make your site search box work harder to keep those abandoning visitors at bay.

mail pop up advertising Graze Shop products

6. Product replenishment program

Marketing automation is a highly effective way of increasing repeat sales and revenue, especially if your products are consumable or have a short lifespan. If so, the fact that they need to be replenished is the perfect excuse to get in touch. You’re effectively refreshing the need the customer had in the first place. Examples include wine, body lotion, and baby clothes.

A powerful replenishment program helps you:

  • Pinpoint the product lifecycle and triggers for re-stocking
  • Segment customers based on their shopping behavior, such as purchase frequency
  • Test incentives and CTAs to maximize conversions – do discount codes work for every type of shopper? Try mixing offers to find the best blend

Subscription businesses like Graze know how to do replenishment programs well. Check out this contextual email, timed perfectly for when the customer needs a top-up on their snacks.

7. Customer retention program

Brand building

The focus of the customer retention program should be the customer relationship rather than sales. It’ll pay off in the long term. Keeping your brand at the forefront gives customers the chance to become lifelong advocates. To help things along, content marketing should be the star of the show.

Here are some great content ideas to drive your brand loyalty:

  • Contests and prize draws
  • Video content
  • User-generated content (like social mentions or images)
  • Exclusive event invitations
  • New product reviews
  • Advice and guides for your customer
  • Customer feedback forms – the key to maximizing customer retention – that run off the back of transaction and customer profiling data
  • Product how-to guides/care hints and tips

VIP customers

Segmentation lets you group customers together based on specific criteria and target them more effectively. That criteria might be based on high spend, for instance, which allows you to identify valuable customers that would benefit from an exclusive loyalty program. You can apply the RFM – recency, frequency, monetary value – model to email marketing to help you understand who your best customers are and where you should put your retention efforts. One thing is for sure: by actively retaining your VIP segment, you’ll be maximizing the revenue you can generate through your email campaigns.

Data that can help you identify your most valuable customers:

  • Recent visits and purchases
  • Frequency of visits and purchases
  • Average order value (AOV)
  • Total spend or customer lifetime value
  • Email marketing engagement – opens and click-throughs
  • Product returns
  • Reviews and social engagement

Loyalty program

If you’re an online retailer then introducing a points-based loyalty scheme is a must. Building consumer trust and loyalty for your business are key and you can set up email automation – using your contacts’ preferences and purchase history – that incentivizes and rewards customer loyalty. Depending on how sticky the customer is, you could build different programs that encourage them to spend and earn more.

Part of Beer Hawk’s loyalty strategy is beer tokens – every time a customer places an order they earn 5% back on every £1 they spend on beer. 

Email pop up advertising Swoon products

8. Recommendation and upsell programs

Personalization has been proven time and time again as a revenue-driving email tactic. Using email marketing automation and e-commerce data, it’s quick and easy to send smart upsell programs and clever product recommendations.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Test your cross/upsell automation program by segmenting on AOV or last order data, to identify groups of customers who are likely to purchase from you again
  • Base your recommendations on specific preferences as well as past browsing behavior, wish list contents, and purchase history
  • Pull in images of your product recommendations to add some visual relevancy
  • Include inspirational content that adds value to your recommendations
  • Link through to independent customer reviews
  • Always encourage customers to leave reviews if they purchase
  • Make sure you test your discount codes in upsell programs – the offer, copy, and call-to-action

Swoon occasionally promotes its bestsellers via email. There’s a nice balance between imagery and copy, plus products that complement one another, throughout the email.

Email pop up advertising Sainsbury's products

9. Lapsed customer program

It’s only natural that customers will lapse, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever come back. With the right marketing technology in place, you’ll be able to re-target them and capture their interest once again – before they become fully lost. Understanding who’s right for this program comes down to having a good understanding of your data; look at the last purchase date to determine who runs the risk of lapsing.

  • Make the message contextual – “We miss you” or “It’s been a while”
  • Drive relevant content based on what customers have previously bought and browsed
  • Spur re-engagement with actionable incentives like money-off discounts
  • Learn and adapt - ask customers for feedback on why they have lapsed in the first place
  • Add compelling and valuable content that inspires customers to return, re-nurturing that all-important brand advocacy

Sainsbury’s personalized ‘We’ve missed you’ email is a great example. The message is highly relevant and the CTA clear; we loved the light use of urgency with the time-limited offer, too.   

10. Date-driven programs

Personalized data programs

Some dates hold a special meaning to your customers – and email marketing can complement almost every occasion. Birthdays and anniversaries are prime examples. These emails are simple quick wins that generate that excitement factor. Delivering content that’s date-sensitive isn’t only relevant, but taps into the customer’s emotions and therefore have a higher likelihood of engagement.


  • Offer a unique discount code, free sample or gift to celebrate the occasion
  • Encourage the customer to spend some of their birthday money on your website
  • Invite customers to create or update their wish lists with friends and relatives
  • Recommend products based on important life milestones or where they are in the customer lifecycle

UK bar chain Be At One’s birthday email is a yearly treat to cocktail enthusiasts. It’s a great way to draw birthday revelers in and generate a much higher spend. 

Get started with email marketing programs

Successful email marketing is about tracking, testing, and adapting. Start with important email programs like the welcome series and post-purchase program, then ramp up with other automation along the way. Remember to test everything from message to content and segments. What works for one recipient might not work for another, so always give subscribers and customers options about what content they receive and through which channel.

For more inspiration, visit https://blog.dotdigital.com/.




1 - Mobile Email Usage Statistics

2 - Why welcome emails are so important

3 - Cart abandonment rate statistics