What You Should Test in Your Ecommerce Emails

There are tons of variables you can test in your ecommerce emails — and that fine-tuning can lead to significantly better results.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed the value of testing your emails on the blog. Best practices can get you started and help you develop your instincts, but ultimately that all goes out the door once your emails land in the hands of a customer. From there, it’s all about what the data shows you and whether or not they open, they click, and whether or not those campaigns are driving a sale.

With this in mind, here is an introduction to testing for your email marketing as well as a few ideas for things you should be testing.

Introduction to Testing Your Emails

Testing your emails, more specifically A/B testing, simply means to send out multiple versions of your emails to a small segment of your list to see which versions perform the best before you send out the rest of the emails to the full list. The things you are typically trying to optimize for are:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Spam rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Subscribe rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Mobile specific engagement rates
  • Conversion rate

The first seven are pretty obvious, but you may wonder how one could optimize for the conversion rate. Wouldn’t that be beyond the control of the email?

Yes and no. Your email and your landing page should be consistent with their design and message.  A fresh design or copy change in an email could drive a higher click-through rate, but if it’s inconsistent with the offer on your product page, it could feel like a bait and switch for the user. This would result in a lower conversion rate. These things are all connected together and need to be considered as a whole, so that’s why you also need to keep your eye on the conversion rate. In addition, once you create a culture of testing and really get rolling with these things, it could actually get pretty hectic in terms of optimizing all of the supportive metrics and tracking those. At the end of the day, the number one thing that needs to keep moving forward is sales, and that’s the thing you need to consistently track no matter what smaller optimizations you are making.

Tests You Should Be Doing

1) Subject Line

As open rates consistently flail due to Gmail’s promotions tab, subject line testing is ever more essential. You need to be creative AND data-driven in your approach. Brainstorm many different subject lines and then select two or three to test.

Some specific variations you can test include:

  • Using the recipient’s first name in the subject line
  • Using the product name in the subject line
  • Using brand names of products the user has bought or browsed before
  • Using the name of someone famous or trusted in the subject line
  • Being brief or vague in the subject line to spark curiosity
  • Target subscribers based on location and call out the name of their city in the subject line

For more ideas, read our guide on email subject line tips.

2) Preview Text

Your preview text shows up nearly as prominently as your subject line – especially on mobile. And yet, it’s one of those things that typically gets ignored.

Take a look at these two different approaches:


Instacart reinforces their value proposition by describing what the startup does. First Round Review (which is an awesome blog, by the way) is still using the default preview text in this particular email. Which one makes you want to click?

3) Personalize the “From”

43 percent of email recipients will mark an email as being spam based on the name or email address of the sender. This means that you need to really think through who your subscribers know more – a person at your company or the name of your company itself – and leverage that in the “from” section of your email.


In the case of B2B companies, the employees at those businesses build credibility as the stars of webinars, speakers at conferences, and authors of blog posts. Sometimes that same opportunity is extended to employees of B2C businesses. For example, Erika Bearman, Director of Communications for Oscar De La Renta, has amassed quite the following as “Oscar PR Girl.” But her case is a bit of an outlier, and I’d still say people would be more likely to recognize Oscar De La Renta as the email sender than Erika Bearman. Try testing your founder, a specific employee, or the company’s name itself in your “from” section on your email campaigns and see how it impacts opens and your spam rate.

4) The Email Copy

A recent study from Nielson group show that people scan their emails in about 51 seconds, and people only entirely read about 19% of email newsletters. If you take a look at this heatmap from the study, you’ll see that people primarily focused on the headlines in the newsletter and skipped through the rest of the content.


I find that most people would look at this information and say this simply shows people don’t like to read long form things anymore – especially not in emails. However, I would challenge that people just don’t like to read garbage. If you give them something interesting to read, they may stick around to dive into it and read. But you’ll only know if you try out different versions and test.

A few ideas:

  • Test plain-text emails vs lots of pictures
  • Test discounts vs no discounts
  • Test short emails vs long emails
  • Test a casual tone vs more formal tone
  • Test which products you feature

5) The Unsubscribe Experience

The unbelievably successful 2012 Obama fundraising campaign raised a total of $500 million thanks in large part to testing their emails. They tested everything under the sun, including the little details like the unsubscribe text at the bottom of the emails.


Obviously if someone has unsubscribed from your emails they are less likely to be regularly engaged with it and make donations. Although the email team credits “bigger rocks” like sending more regular emails and personalizing the emails as optimizations that generated the biggest value, these tiny tweaks also helped drive more conversions.

Wrapping Up

Of course there are countless other things you can test – CTA button copy, CTA button color, whether you use a CTA button or just a text link… the kinds of photos you use in the email design… the list goes on. The point is that you make a commitment to test and that you measure your emails regularly.

What email other testing tips do you have? Let us know in the comments.


Best practices for browse abandonment subject lines



The End of (the old) Google Analytics and the Dawn of Real-time Action



How to score a high grade on your back to school email campaign


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