Ecommerce Emails to Grow Relationships: 6 Best Brands Mixing Personality with Profits

With a failure rate between 80 and 97%…simply being an ecommerce site is no guarantee of success. So what differentiates the hits from the flops?

The answer: an unending, unrelenting, and unflagging focus on customers.

Of course, you probably know that already. What you might not know is that email marketing is one of the most effective channels to grow a relationship with your customers that goes way beyond products, pitches, sales, and transactions.

Email marketing is about delighting your subscribers from the minute they sign-up. New subscribers are especially impressionable, which means you have to go the extra mile to win their approval, admiration, and money.

To help you, here are four email types from six of the biggest brands in ecommerce that show you exactly how to mix personality and (of course) profit.

Your “hello” ecommerce email

The hello email is your elevator pitch, first date, and job interview all rolled into one.

Timing is key. As per a 2013 Consumer Views of Email Marketing report, almost 75% of customers expect an email immediately after signing up. Wait too long and your subscribers will get impatient, especially if they’re anxious to grab hold of the sign-up incentive.

The goal of the hello email is simple: prove your worth by demonstrating who you are, what you stand for, and whom you serve. Understanding your vision, personality, audience personas, and unique service proposition (USP) are all vital ingredients.

That can feel like a tall order, so let’s see what an effective hello email looks like from Huckberry, who Business Insider described as the online store “we’re obsessed with.” Here’s the header of their very first, new-subscriber email:

The subject line is nothing if not clear. “Here’s what you need to get started” tells someone who’s just signed up why they should open the email. The expressive tagline –“equal parts…for adventures near and far”– perfectly encapsulates Huckberry’s passion and purpose.

The unconventional image that follows tells you the brand isn’t afraid to travel the road not taken while at the same time matching the buying season (I signed up immediately before the holidays):

The body copy then moves on to define their target audience: “guys who live in the city but live for adventure.” Pinpointing and addressing your target audience leads to identification: the feeling that “these people are just like me.” The roadmap walks readers through how Huckberry can serve them.

After a few product images, Huckberry sets clear expectations while maintaining their irreverent and fun tone:

Welcome emails are all about building trust through humor, humility, and honesty. To do that, Huckberry includes two testimonials – one from a major publisher and one from a user – and invites recipients to “get inspired” by their editorial content.

Scattering various call-to-action (CTA) buttons throughout the message subtly nudges subscribers to explore the areas most relevant to them. It also give Huckberry data on the areas that interest their leads the most.

Their “see you out there” sign off instantly throws up images of distant lands, exotic wonders, and breathtaking adventures, all elements of both Huckberry’s brand and their customers.

We won’t do this for every email, but because the hello email is so central to creating a first impression, let’s look at one more example, this time from PetFlow.

Again, the subject is short and expressive: “A little bit about us.” PetFlow opens with their offer:

PetFlow then offers a short backstory into their origin and, more importantly, the benefits of the brand. The image conveys sheer happiness and listing the breadth and depth of their services inside paws is a great touch.

Note the carefully-chosen phrases above and below: “hassle out of shopping,” “direct delivery,” “happy pet owners,” “high quality,” and the repeated emphasis on “auto-shipment scheduling.” Each phrase resolves a particular pain point, most notable running out of your pet’s food or medicine and “lugging heavy food bags and cases of cans.” Then, immediately after those claims, they add a rating and customer testimonial that backs them up.

Finally, PetFlow appeals to socially conscious customers in the “How We Give Back” section.

Instead of wasting valuable space detailing every aspect of their program, they tease you with the gist – “every order helps feed a pet in need” – and wow you with the results – “donated over 75,000 pounds of food.”

Your own hello email doesn’t need to be as long as Huckberry and PetFlow, but it does need to contain the same crucial ingredients:

  • A tone (the copy) and look (the visuals) that reflect your brand
  • A direct message to the subscriber that identifies their own key characteristics as well as the benefits of signing up
  • A variety of CTAs to give them options and you data

Your “window” ecommerce email

Just like any brick-and-mortar window display, this email is about putting your very best products front and center. Your window email helps new subscribers dodge “product overload” by giving them a sampling from your store. Customers can also take advantage of curated listings to make easier purchase decisions.

However, don’t just toss your best sellers into a list and call it a day. Put some thought into the presentation. Remember, you’re selling more than tangible merchandise – you are selling an intangible experience.

As part of their winter promotion, Charming Charlie showcased three looks: chic, classic, and sassy. Each set contains merchandise less than $20 each. On top of making buying easy, these groups (if tracked) enable you to segment your audience by their tastes. And, as any fashionista will tell you, when it comes to style, the Gestalt principle holds: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

They are telling you, “We have got you covered … no matter what!” And that’s exactly what you should be communicating to your target audience via “showcase emails.”

RageOn! takes a similar approach, but instead of dividing their “Ugly Christmas Sweaters FTW” email (I won’t tell you what that acronym in the subject line stands for except to say it fits their brand perfectly) into price categories. Their window email opens with a brilliantly seasoned piece of content: a holiday gift guide “just for our VIPs.”

Then comes their suggested products broken up into categories that lend themselves directly to price segmentation for later emails:

Keep two principles in mind when you’re crafting your own window emails.

First, don’t just dump your best sellers into a template randomly. Instead, create groups and track what each subscriber clicks for segmentation. And second, be sure the words and images you use accurately represent your brand itself.

Sell meaning. Sell a personality. Sell a lifestyle.

Your “story” ecommerce email

Who doesn’t love intriguing, shocking, or unique backstories?

However, the danger of your story email is self-aggrandizement. While we all love stories, no one tolerates a know it all or show off.

The goal of a story is not to place yourself on a pedestal. It is to reassure customers that you understand their challenges and have their back. More than, it’s to continue building identification with your audience – “these people are just like me”– similar to how you did in the hello email.

One of the most memorable brand stories belongs to Simple Green Smoothies, a company founded by two women who transformed greens from “that yucky stuff you know is good for you” into a glamorous superfood. The magic begins with the subject line: “Our story. Our mission.” Four stirring words that say it all.

Unlike impersonal stock images, Simple Green Smoothies instantly differentiates itself with a smiling photo of the two original founders. You wonder what prompted them to grin this wide. And so the stage is set for the story.

The first couple of paragraphs focus on why Jadah and Jen founded Simple Green Smoothies. Phrases like “our meals got quicker and less healthy,” “our days got shorter and more chaotic,” “energy had been sucked out of the bodies,” and “survive the long day” speaks to a core market.

The question in the second paragraph – “Have you ever felt alone, uncertain, and wishing you had people to support you?” – elicited empathy, agreement, and even relief. Finally, someone gets you. So you keep reading…

Nowhere do the ladies mention “weight loss,” “diet,” “calorie”, or any of the buzzwords cluttering health websites. Rather, this brand is about “transforming from the inside out” and feeling “empowered and energized.” Their attitude is a breath of fresh air.

The story is then used to turn toward the product naturally:

Their results propelled them to share their insights with those who wish to renew their bodies and rejuvenate their lives. The medium was a 30-Day Smoothie Challenge (which went viral and created a much-doted-upon brand). Finally, the closing paragraphs summarize all the benefits of having a “simple green smoothie: balanced blood sugar, lower BP, weight loss, better self-image.”

So what makes for a compelling story email: (1) A noble cause, (2) A compassionate voice, (3) real humans, and (4) a proven solution.

Your “surprise” ecommerce email

Every ecommerce brand offers obligatory discounts in the range of 10-25%. But giving your list something when it’s least expected skyrockets orders and customer satisfaction…as long as that giving is truly extraordinary.

Let’s take a look at how two brands go above and beyond. First off is True Citrus, whose subject line doesn’t contain the discount itself but instead reads like a message from a friend.

Placing a link to their 50% discount at the top of the message in linked text makes sure (1) even subscribers who don’t download images see it and (2) nobody has to remember the code…it loads automatically.

The images and text further down reinforce the subject line:

Lastly, they end by including an expiration date – adding urgency – and adding one final surprise incentive: their social media icons with the message “spread true love. earn perks.”

Word-of-mouth remains one of the most effective marketing technique. People trust their friends and family over any brand … any day. Rewarding brand evangelists for sharing the love is a surefire formula for virality.

Second – and easily the most surprising discount email (courtesy of Shopify’s blog) – is PetFlow’s classic “You have $4.25 Left to Spend” email:

The email is sent twice in the same day:

Unlike traditional coupon codes – even those that offer deep discounts – this faux store credit captures the attention and elicits curiosity. The oddly specific “$4.25” jumps out in a crowded inbox.

Whether you go with a more straightforward offer or something creative, ensure that your surprise email is truly that: a surprise that stops your subscriber in their tracks.

Email marketing with personality & profit  

Ecommerce is about more than just selling goods online. It is about forging enduring, rewarding, and thriving relationships with your target audience.

To do that – as well as to overcome the 80 to 97% failure rate – load up your ecommerce email sequence with at least four types to kick off every new relationship:

  • Your “hello” ecommerce email
  • Your “window” ecommerce email
  • Your “story” ecommerce email
  • Your “surprise” ecommerce Email

The six brands highlighted in this article are proof that email marketing is fun, fruitful, and fulfilling…especially when you keep your customer at the center.


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