A quick guide to Email Marketing for Ecommerce

Despite the recent technological advances in online shopping, email is still the best-converting channel in ecommerce, with an average conversion rate of 3.6%, way ahead of Google Adwords (1.75%) and Facebook Ads (1.42%).

According to a recent survey organized by DMA UK and Email Hub, Email marketing has an ROI of 3800%. This means that for every dollar you invest in Email Marketing you get $38 in return. Top performers report an ROI of over 70:1.


In this article, we’ll talk about how to use email to achieve big returns on investments, acquire email addresses with micro-conversions and send emails that people will want to read to grow sales.


As we’ve seen in our article about improving conversion rates, the journey that each person takes, from not even knowing about your store’s existence to becoming a client, is not very straightforward.

As a rule, only 3% of your customer base is ready to buy from you right now. But the majority of your target market will need to learn more about you and your products before making a purchase.

Asking someone to buy your product with no background information is like approaching someone you’ve never met and asking them to go straight to bed with you. Seriously. If they don’t know a thing about your product, it’s not going to happen. You have to build trust.

Large brands, such as Target or Amazon, have famous and trustworthy brands, which helps them convert visitors into shoppers much more easily. Ecommerce startups, however, still need to make themselves known to their target audience before they can sell them anything.

This concept is important because you’ll soon run out of the 3% “low hanging fruit” customers and will need to generate sales from the rest of the people, who still need to be “nurtured” before buying.

So how do you nurture shoppers into trusting your brand and your solution enough to buy from you? The answer is “splitting the ask” with micro-conversions.

Splitting the ask

“Splitting the ask” means giving someone the option of signing up to learn more about your store, instead of pushing them to buy something straight away. It’s the online equivalent of asking someone to go out for a cup of coffee instead of inviting them to join you in the bedroom within the first 30 seconds of meeting them.

So you “split the ask” by asking for something less binding first, such as an email address. Then, having in mind that it’s a privilege to invade your customers’ email inboxes, use that opportunity to gain their confidence with a series of well-crafted, useful emails. By the time they’ve gotten to know you better, approach them with a sales offer and “close the deal.”

Of course, even an email address is not so easy to get. Most people are conscious of the amount of email they get and will only subscribe if there’s something in it for them. In other words, they’ll give you their email address if you offer something valuable in exchange for it.

The way to do that is via micro-conversions:  

A micro-conversion is the capturing of an email address, while a full conversion is a sale. When you sell something, you get money in exchange for delivering a product. With a micro-conversion, you get an email address in exchange for delivering valuable information, such as discounts, offers or content.

A common way of using micro-conversions is through a Deals Newsletter signup, such as how Booking.com does it (see below). Once people sign up, send them email newsletters with exclusive offers.

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But you can get more creative with micro-conversions. For example, the people at TourRadar, a multi-day tour marketplace, understood that travelers like having a brochure describing their trips. So they started offering shoppers a PDF file in exchange for their email address.

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Another common way of asking for email addresses is using pop-ups and offering discounts. Pop-ups can be pretty annoying but also very efficient. If you work on the design of your pop-up, and include a good offer, such as this one by Stylist Pick , you might see good conversion rates from visits to signups.

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Micro-conversions are especially important in today’s increasingly mobile world. People may research what to buy on their phones but, because they are easily distracted (probably on a bus, waiting in line or for a date to come back from the bathroom), they rarely make a purchase.

Instead, consumers are more likely to buy from their computers or tablets. So give mobile users an option to sign up instead of buying, and send email reminders they can read on their laptops at home.

The Three Most Common Types of Email Marketing

After you acquire the email addresses of your potential customers, you’ll want to send emails with the goal of increasing the chances that they’ll buy from you. There are three common ways of reaching customers via email: Newsletters, Drip campaigns and Transactional emails.


Newsletters are emails that you send on a regular basis. Companies should send newsletters to users who have explicitly subscribed to them (as in the case of Booking.com above) or to those who have opted in while signing up to your site (see below):


A great service to store customers’ email addresses and send newsletters is Mailchimp. Sendgrid is the most popular option for those with a large number of email addresses (over 100,000) stored in their lists.

Email newsletters with product offers typically have a very low click-through rate. Try a mix of product offers and compelling content to deliver value to shoppers who are in the market to buy from you and to those with whom you still need to build trust. In this article by Shopify, you can find great content ideas to use in your newsletters and keep people engaged.

The best email newsletters are the ones personalized with recommendations of products that are relevant to each user, such as the Amazon’s email below. This was sent to me after I spent some time researching SLR cameras on their site. You can read more about personalized newsletters in this article.

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Drip campaigns

Drip campaigns or Automation campaigns are sequences of automated emails that are triggered by a particular event. They get increasingly more promotional as you build trust with the audience.

According to this great article from Wishpond, there are four ways in which drip campaigns can be used to nurture potential customers:

  • Top-of-mind/Educational: These are emails designed to engage clients who aren’t ready to buy from you yet. You use these emails to stay top-of-mind, so when shoppers are ready to buy this solution, they will buy from you. By educating people, you become a reliable source of information, and your brand will be perceived as more trustworthy to them.
  • Promotional: These are emails targeted at customers who are closer to buying from you. The recipients of these emails will have signed up to a form that explicitly mentioned sales and promotions, such as the pop-up from Stylist Pick or the newsletter from Booking.com mentioned above. Use this opportunity to send them a series of time-limited exclusive deals.
  • Training: If your product is complicated to use, a training sequence of emails will keep customers engaged with your product after they bought it. Training emails will increase the chances that they will be satisfied with your product and tell their friends about it.
  • Re-engagement: A sequence of emails that gets triggered after some time has passed since your customer has purchased something in your store. You worked hard to get them to buy from you in the first place, so make sure they keep coming back.

Transactional emails

Transactional emails are triggered by a customer’s interaction with your store. You’re probably sending a high volume of these unoptimized emails every day. When a customer places an order, registers for an account, or an item is shipped, these emails are sent. They’re highly anticipated so are often the most engaged with.

The most common type of transactional emails in e-commerce are the order and shipping emails that customers receive right after they make a purchase. Statistics show it’s 14x more likely to sell to an existing customer than to a new one, so this is a perfect opportunity to re-engage them.

Most companies neglect these emails, sending customers boring plain text messages, but that’s a big missed opportunity. According to a study done by Experian, transactional emails are: more likely to be opened, are more likely to be opened repeatedly, and generate more revenue per email than newsletters.

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So what can you do with a transactional email to take advantage of their high open and click-through rates? The Experian study has some pretty good suggestions:

  • Cross-sell items: When you send an order receipt from a recent purchase you can recommend products that are related to what they just bought. Spently has a solution for this that has improved total store revenue by 15%
  • Discounts: Reward customers in your transactional emails with a personalized discount code encouraging them to return and shop again.
  • Website navigation: Adding navigation links in your transactional emails, directing recipients back to different areas of your site, can be a great way of keeping users engaged. Especially if the transactional email was set to inform a customer about something negative, such as a cancelled purchase.
  • Social media linking: Increase your social media following by including links to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, etc., in your transactional emails. It can help you reach them in their favorite networks and even have them promote your brand online.


Email is the best acquisition channel for ecommerce. The difficulty in using email marketing to improve sales lies in two main aspects:

  1. Convincing people to sign up to get emails from you
  2. Getting people to click on these emails and make a purchase

The trick is to think of customers as belonging to three different groups based on their purchase intent:

The first group is ready to buy from you right now or have already bought something from your store in the past. They won’t sign up to get emails from you since they will move straight into buying your products. For this segment, include links to other products or your social media channels in the transactional emails they get after the purchase.

The second group is almost there. They are still undecided, but with an extra push, such as a discount code or a special promotion, they will make the purchase. Make sure you offer an option to sign up to a Deals Newsletter or a promo code and send them special offers.

The third group is still far from making a purchase, but if they are signing up to get an email from you, they could buy from you in the future. Try luring them to sign up for a content newsletter, to download a useful PDF or to participate in an event or webinar. Your job here is to make sure your brand stands out so that they will buy from you when they’re ready.