If email marketing isn’t driving at least a quarter of your ecomm revenue, you’re doing it wrong

Profile photo of author Jax Connelly
Jax Connelly
11min read
Email marketing
April 18, 2023
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Healthy ecommerce brands drive at least 20-40% of their revenue through email marketing.

That is, at least, according to Connie Cen, founder and owner of Rocketeer Media.

And in Klaviyo’s marketing mix report, 76.86% of ecommerce businesses placed email marketing in the top 3 ROI-generating marketing channels.

Clearly, email marketing is powerful. But in order to achieve those kinds of results, you need the right foundations and technology.

It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive, but it’s important. Get it wrong, and you could be stuck diagnosing email issues for years—bringing in agencies and experts to fix what you could have simply set up properly to begin with.

We’ve got you covered. In this ecommerce email marketing hub, we’ll give you the scoop on email marketing tips and best practices, the best email marketing services for your brand, the email marketing plug-ins you should use with your ecommerce platform, and how to make sure you’re starting from a place of value and quality—so that you end with conversions and loyal, lifelong customers.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is ecommerce email marketing?

Ecommerce email marketing refers to the practice of using email to promote the products and services of your online store.

Ecommerce stores use email marketing to connect with customers and potential customers through promotions, announcements, and other relevant content in order to:

“Ecommerce relies heavily on email marketing as a way to connect with both current and prospective customers,” writes New York Times bestselling author Neil Patel, co-founder of NP Digital. “It’s used as a way to promote new products, communicate exclusive offers and deals, and engage with the target audience.”

4 types of ecommerce email marketing strategies

1. Promotional email marketing

A promotional email is an email designed to generate sales. Promotional emails may be campaigns or automations, but their goal is usually the same: to encourage the recipient to make a purchase.

Common types of promotional emails include:

  • New product announcements
  • Time-sensitive promotions
  • Seasonal deals, coupons, and discount codes
  • Cross-sell/up-sell emails

2. Transactional email marketing

A transactional email is a trigger-based email that is designed to relay essential information to a customer, rather than generate sales. Common transactional emails include:

Importantly, a customer doesn’t need to subscribe to your email list in order to receive transactional emails. That means people who unsubscribe from your list, aka suppressed email addresses, will still receive transactional emails, unless:

  • The email bounced too many times.
  • The email address is invalid.
  • The recipient previously marked a message as spam.

3. Ecommerce email marketing campaigns

Email marketing campaigns are one-time sends to a pre-established target group of contacts, such as:

In an email service provider (ESP) like Klaviyo, you can create an individual email campaign immediately, or prepare it in advance and schedule it to send at a later time.

4. Ecommerce email marketing automations

An email marketing automation, also known as a flow, is an automated email message or a sequence of automated email messages triggered when a person performs a specific action, such as:

  • Joining your email list
  • Exceeding a certain customer lifetime value
  • Abandoning their shopping cart

A few examples of commonly triggered email automations include:

Read more about the best email and SMS marketing automation strategies for ecommerce.

4 core pillars of an ecommerce email marketing campaign

1. List growth

Your email list is a collection of people who have signed up to receive emails from your business. Lists are static, meaning they grow as people subscribe or are manually added.

Whether you’re new to email marketing or already have a list of email subscribers, building your list with new subscribers is a critical part of any online marketing strategy. Email marketing can’t be effective if you don’t have an engaged audience to send to.

List growth strategies vary by business, but the most common ones include:

  • Sign-up forms: Create and style pop-up, fly-out, full-screen, and embedded opt-in forms for your ecommerce site that ask visitors to input their email address.
  • Subscribe pages: Embed a subscribe page on your website to serve as a landing page or link directly to a subscribe page in an email or elsewhere.

2. Segmentation

Unlike traditional subscriber lists, segments are groupings of contacts defined by a set of conditions. Whereas your email list is static, email segments are dynamic—meaning they grow as people meet the segments’ conditions and shrink as people no longer meet them. They also update in real time.

Highly segmented campaigns return more than 3x the revenue per recipient as unsegmented campaigns. Here are a few examples of how you can use segments to identify different audiences:

3. Personalization

For years, marketers have been learning that consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize them, remember them, and provide them with relevant offers and product recommendations.

Companies that excel at personalization in marketing generate 40% more revenue from related activities than average players, according to McKinsey & Company—and while 71% of consumers expect personalization from the brands they interact with, even more (76%) get frustrated when they don’t get it.

When you segment your audience based on their preferences and unique characteristics, you can make sure every email appeals to them personally—and relevant, personalized emails are what show your customers you care about their interests.

4. Content

The other 3 pillars of email marketing won’t go very far without this one. You can’t send an email to your subscribers unless you create it first.

Email marketing content varies significantly, not only by retailer but also by individual email. But a typical marketing email includes:

4 key benefits of ecommerce email marketing

Compared to paid and performance marketing, which have spent the better part of a decade seducing revenue-hungry businesses with third-party targeting and long marketing attribution windows, email marketing has sometimes been accused of being old-fashioned, tone-deaf—even dead.

With so many flashy marketing channels to choose from, why bother with email marketing? Here are 4 key reasons it’s worth your serious investment:

1. Email marketing is entirely within your control

Your email and SMS lists are the only thing on the internet you truly own. Everything else, you’re temporarily renting.

That became painfully obvious in 2021, when Apple’s iOS 14.5 update built a walled garden around iOS users and significantly reduced targeting and attribution capabilities on paid social media.

Email is very much in your control because it’s an owned channel.
Ari Murray
VP of growth, Sharma Brands

Now, building strong relationships with loyal customers depends largely on your brand’s ability to communicate with them in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and valued. Your email and SMS lists—as well as how you collect, organize, and use your customer data—are where that work begins.

Ari Murray, VP of growth at Sharma Brands and founder of ecommerce newsletter Go-to-Millions, puts it simply: “Email is very much in your control because it’s an owned channel.” And in a post-iOS 14.5, privacy-first world, “owned channels are of the utmost importance.”

2. Email marketing generates steady, reliable revenue

Email marketing is also “really reliable revenue if you work it right,” Murray says. “It’s such an inexpensive way to talk to your customers.”

When looking at email marketing statistics, the numbers prove it. Based on data from over 100K paying customers, Klaviyo’s email marketing benchmarks show what’s possible engagement- and revenue-wise for brands that use the channel:

  • Open rates for email campaigns average 58.61%.
  • Click rates for all flows average 5.83%.
  • Revenue per recipient for all flows is $1.91, but significantly higher for welcome email flows ($2.54) and cart abandonment email flows ($3.58).
  • Conversion rates are 3.55% for cart abandonment email flows.

3. Email marketing keeps your funnel healthy

Jen Brennan, director of digital marketing at full-service digital experience agency Northern Commerce, believes both email and SMS, as owned marketing channels, “represent customer lifetime value”—largely because they allow you to appropriately target every stage of the customer lifecycle.

“Oftentimes, people get into a mindset of acquisition and making sure your funnel is full, so they’re focused on new customers or first-time purchasers,” Brennan says. But when it comes to developing repeat customers and customer lifetime value, “email is very hard to beat.”

Once you’ve captured that customer, email marketing can really help to make the rest of your funnel start to look a whole lot healthier.
Ari Murray
VP of growth, Sharma Brands

Because a smart email marketing strategy nurtures the post-purchase customer relationship by continually engaging the people who’ve opted in to stay connected to your brand, it’s a prime avenue for boosting customer retention.

“Once you’ve captured that customer, email marketing can really help to make the rest of your funnel start to look a whole lot healthier,” Murray explains.

And once you shift your marketing focus to retention, Brennan says, “typically you start to see that your customer acquisition budget doesn’t have to work so hard.”

4. Email marketing can solve almost any business problem

What’s the one thing your ecommerce business is struggling with most right now? “Whether it’s revenue, retention, customer experience, customer engagement—all of those can be solved with email marketing,” Cen says.

Whether it’s revenue, retention, customer experience, customer engagement—all of those can be solved with email marketing.
Connie Cen
Founder and owner, Rocketeer Media

It’s an all-around business boost. At the end of the day, Cen says, “as a previous ecommerce brand owner myself, I understand that the major thing email marketing really helps with is getting worry off your plate.”

Whereas your email list is static, email segments are dynamic—meaning they grow as people meet the segments’ conditions and shrink as people no longer meet them. They also update in real time, which can increase the effectiveness f your customer retention strategy.

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Ecommerce email marketing FAQs

What can businesses use as social proof for ecommerce email marketing?

Businesses can leverage various forms of social proof in ecommerce email marketing strategies to create a good first impression and build credibility with customers. Here are some effective types of social proof:

1. Existing customer reviews and testimonials

2. Loyalty programs

3. User-generated content (UGC)

4. Social media mentions and shares

5. Influencer endorsements

6. Statistics and numbers

7. Case studies and success stories

8. Media mentions

9. Referral programs

When using social proof in email marketing, ensure it’s relevant to the demographics of your audience and your product. Incorporate visuals, compelling storytelling, and clear calls to action to maximize the impact of social proof within your email sequences.

How can ecommerce businesses measure the success of their email marketing campaign?

Ecommerce businesses can measure the success of their email marketing efforts through various key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge effectiveness and make informed decisions. Here are some metrics to consider:

1. Open rate
2. Click-through rate (CTR)
3. Conversion rate
4. Revenue generated
5. Bounce rate
6. Unsubscribe rate
7. List growth rate
8. Forward/share rate
9. Engagement over time
10. Device and location metrics

By consistently monitoring and analyzing these metrics, ecommerce businesses can gain valuable insights into the performance of their email marketing campaign to optimize and improve further. A/B testing (also known as split testing) is another powerful method for optimizing email marketing campaigns for ecommerce businesses. It involves comparing two versions of an email to determine which performs better based on specific metrics.

What can email marketing software do for e-commerce businesses?

Email marketing software provides a range of features that can benefit e-commerce businesses in various ways. These email marketing tools include different types of emails, email templates, campaign creation, segmentation, personalization, automated workflows, a/b tests, analytics, etc.

By leveraging these features, e-commerce businesses can incorporate email marketing best practices that will help engage customers, drive sales, and foster long-term relationships with their audience.

Jax Connelly
Jax Connelly
Lead editor
Jax Connelly (they/she), lead editor at Klaviyo, started their career doing SEO at a small digital ad agency and spent most of their twenties managing a financial magazine for a trade association based in Washington, DC. Most recently, she studied and taught writing at Columbia College Chicago during the peak years of the pandemic. Outside of their day job, Jax is an award-winning creative writer who has received honors including 4 Notables in the Best American Essays series, contest awards from publications like Nowhere Magazine and Prairie Schooner, and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. Jax lives in Chicago a block away from Lake Michigan with her elderly Jack Russell Terrier, Cloo.