Ecommerce industry

11 (realistic) email + SMS marketing trends ecommerce brands should test in 2023

Mae Rice, January 10th 2023
2023 email and sms marketing trends

In ecommerce marketing, owned assets that bring in measurable revenue are few and far between.

Email lists and SMS lists are just that.

Just look at Black Friday weekend in 2022. Ecommerce revenue in general grew for Shopify merchants:

Tweet from @harleyf: 

2019 - $2.9B 
2020 - $5.1B
2021 - $6.3B
2022 - $7.5B
That’s the total global Black Friday Cyber Monday 
@Shopify
 merchant GMV over the last 4 years.

The future of commerce is independent businesses. 
And they’re powered by 
@Shopify.
Source: Twitter

But ecommerce revenue from owned channels grew faster. Klaviyo users brought in $2.2Bin revenue this year with email and SMS marketing—up 46% from last year. Total Shopify revenue, by comparison, grew 19%.

SMS-driven revenue grew even more rapidly, tripling year over year, according to Klaviyo data.

And owned channels will need to continue driving growth in 2023. Customer acquisition costs on paid channels have risen—and it’s one of the biggest challenges in ecommerce, according to Obvi CMO and co-founder Ash Melwani.

“We’re spending more to acquire fewer customers,” Melwani says. “It hurts the bottom line.”

We’re spending more to acquire fewer customers. It hurts the bottom line.
Ash Melwani, CMO and co-founder, Obvi

Innovative owned marketing can—and must—keep brands out of the red.

So what specific SMS and email marketing trends will win big in 2023? Here are the predictions 20+ boots-on-the-ground ecommerce operators see for this year—including realistic tactics you can implement to improve your strategy now.

Table of contents:

  1. Segmentation that goes beyond the basics
  2. AI as a marketing assistant
  3. A tighter rein on shipping fees
  4. Video everywhere
  5. Community-building on social and beyond
  6. CTAs to save contact cards via SMS
  7. Trustworthy tracking and back-in-stock messages
  8. More innovative ways to invite customers to SMS
  9. Acquisition-specific onboarding
  10. Seamless CX from a fully integrated tech stack
  11. Human-first communications

1. Segmentation that goes beyond the basics

Advanced personalization will be a key to ecommerce messaging success in 2023.

In that spirit, “brands will dive further into their customer data to build more robust and segmented marketing automations across email and SMS,” says Jeremy Horowitz, senior partner marketing manager at Gorgias.

Here are 3 key variables our experts recommend segmenting on:

Quiz results

Haircare brand Living Proof does this already, using zero-party data from a Typeform quiz (and Klaviyo’s Typeform integration) to segment their audience based on hair type.

As marketers continue to adapt to Apple’s 2021 privacy update, more and more of them will collect data by asking customers for it directly.

Location

In 2022, 56% of brands planned to start fulfilling orders from new countries, ShipBob reports. In the coming year, email teams will need to segment by country, hemisphere, and more.

This helps prevent kooky email mishaps, like “sending emails at odd hours of the night, referring to a summer sale when it’s winter, not specifying currency—the list goes on,” says Kristina Lopienski, ShipBob’s director of content marketing.

Purchase history

Horowitz recommends segmenting by first and first and last product purchased, as well as purchase recency, frequency, and price. This tactic helps teams nurture existing, high-value customer relationships, and “will separate the brands that survive 2023.”

Ultimately, these types of advanced segmentation strategies “make the customer feel that the email or SMS was just for them,” says Blair Peterson, VP of strategy at Dana Rebecca Designs, and “answer questions that they have been thinking”—even if they’ve yet to ask them out loud.

2. AI as a marketing assistant

Since ChatGPT launched at the end of 2022, it’s hard to find marketers talking about anything but artificial intelligence. Some marketers are already devising ways to leverage AI as an assistant in their day-to-day tasks.

Tweet from @ashvinmelwani:
I just used AI to write some of my ad copy.

Will report back on performance...
Source: Twitter

In 2023, AI will go beyond being one of the latest trends in technology and take on a much bigger role in ecommerce marketing workflows as:

A creator

It’s the end of the blank page. In 2023, AI like ChatGPT, Dall-E, Jasper and Klaviyo’s SMS assistant will generate first-draft marketing creative, from ad and landing page copy to email subject lines, graphics, CTA variations, and much more.

Humans can punch it up a lot faster than they can start from scratch.

A concierge

AI will analyze purchase and behavioral data, and help ecommerce brands send personalized product recommendations via email and SMS.

“This not only reduces manual work for brands but creates a cohesive experience for the customer and helps capture repeat purchases,” says Bonnie Pecevich, director of product marketing at Pantastic.

A stylist

Like the rest of machine learning, “visual intelligence is getting smarter,” says Jan Soerensen, general manager, North America at Nosto. In 2023, AI that can recognize similar, complementary, and clashing visual styles could change the game for fashion, home goods, and art retail. “This will allow them to recommend products that are visually similar to the shoppers’ browsing history” in “You Might Also Like…” email widgets, Soerensen predicts.

Marketers who haven’t yet used AI should begin to experiment with the free tools at their disposal to see how they can use them to bolster their ecommerce efforts.

3. A tighter rein on shipping fees

Consumers expect free shipping when they shop online. Right?

Well, for now. Free shipping is expensive for brands, especially small ones: Back in 2020, The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull wrote that free shipping could be “the thing that breaks mom-and-pop retail for good.”

And as merchants mull over how to make the DTC business model work for their brand, anything and everything is up for debate.

In 2023, plenty of brands will respond to “razor-tight margins” by reducing availability of free shipping and free returns, predicts Bogar Alonso, head of outbound marketing for ecommerce at Wix.

You might see more:

  • Free shipping only for orders of a certain size
  • Free shipping only for subscribers
  • Flat-rate shipping for all orders

But if you’re worried about how this might affect the customer experience, you’ll be relieved to find out that consumers might not mind as much as we think.

Tweet from @erinfalter:
DTC Twitter: Any brands that have transitioned from free shipping to a flat rate shipping cost? If so, what have been the impacts on new customer acquisition and retention rates?

Tweet from @eliweisss:
OLIPOP went from free shipping to free shipping on $50+
Subscription had free shipping on all orders

Didn’t see significant diff on acquisition, pushed more ppl into subscription
Source: Twitter

Wondering whether nixing free shipping could negatively impact your retention rate? Consider surveying your customer base beforehand, and get a pulse on how much free shipping and returns affects their perception of your brand.

4. Video everywhere

Video sells.

On social, the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag has 33.5B views and counting—and video will only become more ubiquitous across all social channels in 2023, our experts predict.

“Video allows a brand to be more humanized,” says Kymber Heinze, social media operations manager at SmartSmites. “Through video, you can show a potential customer what they will receive and how they will benefit from your products rather than just writing about it.”

In 2023, video will crop up more on product description pages. “I’ve been noticing more brands embedding TikTok-style reviews or how-to-style videos to their PDPs, using tools like Videowize,” says Troy Petrunoff, retention and lifecycle marketing manager at Every Man Jack.

Brands will also integrate demo videos, virtual-try-on functionality, and other types of interactive content into their product pages, Peterson predicts: “Creating an interactive experience and being able to show the product in action will convert at a higher rate than solely static images.”

Because marketers will continue to look for ways to reuse and repurpose successful content, video will even filter into email content. Sure, you can’t embed long-form video directly in an email, but you can still:

  • Embed GIFs.
  • Embed video screenshots.
  • Link to full videos.

5. Community-building on social and beyond

“Proper community-building will be all the rage,” says Alonso. “A flourishing brand community can offer immense wealth to brands in the forms of lowered CAC, improved product development research, and longer-lasting brand affinity.”

A flourishing brand community can offer immense wealth to brands in the forms of lowered CAC, improved product development research, and longer-lasting brand affinity.
Bogar Alonso, head of outbound marketing for ecommerce, Wix

Community-building done right cultivates a truly engaged audience, says Natalie Sportelli, Thingtesting’s head of content. Not just followers, but fans.

You can tell it’s happening when members do two core things:

  • Engage actively. That means DMing the brand or commenting on posts, instead of passively viewing or liking.
  • Connect with each other. Sportelli believes that “the way to measure a good community is: Are they answering each other’s questions? Do they meet each other?”

Successful community managers encourage these behaviors by amplifying and responding to user activity. They might repost screenshots of funny interactions between members, reply to DMs and comments, or act on product feedback.

“They’re very hands-on,” Sportelli says. And more ecommerce brands will look to cultivate communities in this way in the new year.

If you’re trying to decide where to build community, it really depends on your brand and your audience. Ecommerce brands have built community successfully:

In a private group

Obvi has built a 60K-member Facebook group they use for product feedback and flavor inspiration. “We really nail our product by listening to the customers,” Melwani says. Other private group options include a Slack channel, a Geneva group, or a Discord server for top customers.

On social media

Tinned fish retailer Fishwife has built a community on Instagram that Sportelli loves. The brand focus a mix of user-generated content featuring their customers, tasty recipes that include tinned fish, and lifestyle content often highlighting the brand’s team members.

“It’s super relatable and not so serious, and I love their collaborations and content,” she says.

Via paid membership

Lululemon recently launched a paid community for owners of its smart workout mirror—members get unlimited access to virtual and IRL classes and events, and Lululemon gets recurring monthly revenue.

“The key to finding success with this model is providing tangible value to customers and not creating this exclusive experience at the expense of the rest of your customer base,” says Kathryn Browning, senior marketing manager at JustUno. “Don’t make one CX crappier for the sake of another.”

In a forum

If you visit Love Wellness’s website, you’re likely to stumble across The Love Club, the brand’s very own community forum dedicated to women’s wellness and personal care. Founder Lauren Bosworth “realized there was an opportunity not just to create a space for our consumers, but for people in general,” says Kacey Langston, senior director of community at Love Wellness.

In the end, building any kind of real, active community is tricky. Brands need to consistently provide value—whether it’s through aesthetic fishy flatlays or flash sales—and prove they’re listening.

“Consumers need a really good reason to want to be loyal,” Sportelli says.

But ecommerce companies that build community have a huge moat around their brands. “The returns are endless,” Alonso says.

6. CTAs to save contact cards via SMS (thanks, iOS 16!)

This year’s iOS 16 update may not have made the same splash as iOS 14.5 or iOS 15, but there was one major change for SMS marketers: Users can now mark texts from unknown numbers as “Junk” much more easily.

Tweet from @dmoren:
Nice iOS 16.1 improvement: instead of Messages first popping up a delete and then a junk/not junk dialog, it does them both in one.
Source: Twitter

That means in 2023, SMS marketers will ask subscribers to save brand phone numbers as contacts more directly—and more often.

Instead of a hindrance to your SMS strategy, think of this as an opportunity. Contact cards allow subscribers to instantly identify your brand in their text inbox so they don’t get lost in the noise.

Getting customers to take the desired action requires the right incentives, though.

“Brands will need to make a real effort, leveraging rewards and loyalty programs to get that save,” says Kathryn Browning, senior marketing manager at JustUno.

Don’t wait to increase your brand’s recognizability over text—get a jump on this trend with virtual contact cards for Klaviyo SMS.

7. Trustworthy tracking and back-in-stock messages

“The customer’s experience doesn’t end when they click ‘Buy,’” says Krish Iyer, VP of strategic partnerships and industry relations at ShipStation’s operating brand Auctane.

The customer’s experience doesn’t end when they click ‘Buy,’
Krish Iyer, VP of strategic partnerships and industry relations, Auctane

There are two key transactional messaging occasions after that—and both could use an upgrade.

If the item’s in stock: tracking updates

In 2023, Iyer sees more brands jumping on the opportunity to send strong, branded messages about shipping and delivery processes with transactional emails and texts. They might do it by:

  • Displaying delivery date estimates at check-out
  • Sending a tracking link with order confirmation
  • Sending automated delivery updates via email or SMS

This can save ecommerce brands money on replacement products—in the past year, 260M packages got stolen off porches—but more importantly, it’s a customer experience win.

“A positive (and transparent) experience will help brands build loyalty among their customers,” Iyer says.

Tweet from @bwhalley:
Bobbie (the formula company) is one of our customers.

Their customers are raving about their shipping delay messages on Insta. 

That's why we do this. Inspiring customer love at all levels.
Source: Twitter

If the item’s out of stock: back-in-stock emails

As a self-described “online shopping fiend,” Alonso gets a lot of disappointing back-in-stock emails that either:

  • Claim an item’s back in stock when it’s not yet
  • Link out to an item that’s not exactly what he needs

It’s “a waste of a high-intent click,” he notes—and he sees more brands updating their processes around back-in-stock in emails in the new year.

“Recent supply chain issues have only brought more attention to this pain point,” Alonso says. “We’ll see this getting more attention in 2023.”

8. More innovative ways to invite customers to SMS

CTAs to opt in to SMS messaging will pop up everywhere in 2023.

This trend already started in 2022, and Ashley Ismailovski, CRO operations manager at SmartSites, sees it picking up steam in 2023 alongside increased adoption of SMS marketing.

She predicts that popular spots for SMS opt-in CTAs will go omnichannel and include:

  • After check-out (either in-store or online)
  • On a on-site retail display with a QR code
  • In an email marketing campaign
  • As part of a larger digital marketing campaign
  • On social media

Some email subscribers might even appreciate the option to subscribe to SMS alerts instead of emails, or choose a channel where they’d like to receive more communications.

“A growing volume of online shoppers prefer to receive SMS messages from brands they like over emails,” Ismailovski says.

And Klaviyo’s SMS marketing consumer sentiment report backed Ismailovski’s theory, with 29% of participants responding that SMS is their preferred form of communication from brands.

9. Acquisition-specific onboarding

In 2023, more and more brands will move away from the single, all-purpose customer experience. Instead, they’ll shift to a constellation of personalized ecommerce journeys, each tailored to a different acquisition channel.

One way marketers have already put this into practice is onboarding new customers that come in through partner and influencer campaigns.

Marketing consultant Grace Clarke calls it giving customers “a soft landing,” consistent with their sign-up experience.

“I would never do a partnership with an email capture without giving someone a different welcome email experience,” Clarke adds.

DTC clean skincare brand AnnMarie Skincare, for example, has a custom welcome flow for every influencer on their roster. These flows all feed into a single massive up-sell flow, so they can get maximum statistical significance from their CRO testing.

Meanwhile, DTC candle retailer Snif recently partnered with food creator Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest on a candle and influencer campaign—and doubled their email list.

They not only gave new subscribers from the partnership a custom welcome flow—the team is also giving that cohort a custom lifecycle marketing strategy. Forever.

“We have our original Snif subscription list, and then we have all of these people that came to us because of Tieghan, and we have to talk to them in a different way,” says Bryan Edwards, co-founder and co-CEO at Snif.

10. Seamless CX from a fully integrated tech stack

“Optimizing customer experience will overtake paid acquisition as the new growth model as brands shift to profitable and sustainable growth,” says Horowitz.

With customer acquisition costs rising on paid channels, profitable growth for ecommerce brands increasingly requires a flawless customer experience. Customers need to want to buy again. And again.

This pays, literally, for two reasons:

  • Repeat customers spend more. Gorgias surveyed 10K customers and found that, on average, repeat customers drive 4x more revenue than first-time buyers, Horowitz says.
  • Repeat customers unlock profitability. For apparel brands, for example, a shopper isn’t profitable until they make 4 purchases, the Gorgias research team has found.

So how do you create loyalty-worthy CX that results in better retention retrics? Ecommerce brands need:

Integrated tech stacks

“Brands need their apps to play nice to create the personalized CX that customers have come to expect,” says Browning.

“Zero- and first-party data is only as strong as the ability of the tools collecting it to share.”

Zero- and first-party data is only as strong as the ability of the tools collecting it to share.
Kathryn Browning, senior marketing manager, JustUno

Tech used cross-functionally

At AnnMarie Skincare, it’s not just the marketing team that uses Klaviyo. The sales and customer service teams also review customers’ profiles in the Klaviyo CDP on calls, for additional context and customization.

In 2023, this will be a more and more popular set-up to better customer engagement.

Shopping your own store

Ari Murray, VP of growth at Sharma Brands, does this constantly—it’s a great way to assess how all your CX efforts come together, big picture.

“It’s shocking how people will focus on smaller details before they’ll remember or really take a second to look at the 17 clicks that your customer had to take to even become your customer,” Murray says.

In 2023, a solid user experience will no longer be a nice-to-have—it’ll be table stakes for brands as “consumers are thinking twice before spending their money nowadays,” according to Joanne Coffey, assistant manager of retention marketing at Jones Road Beauty. “Brands need to focus on customer service and the experience that is offered on all channels.”

11. Human-first communications

In 2023, more ecommerce messaging will sound friendly, casual, and human—like consumers’ email and text conversations with their real friends.

In email, this might look like text-based messages, like this one from sneaker retailer Atoms:

Tweet from @taslimokunola:
ngl it's a really good email

Email shows note from Atoms founder offering $65 off a pair of Atoms Model 000, segmented towards customers who have not bought yet.
Source: Twitter

Our friends, family, and colleagues don’t send us highly designed, templated emails—similarly, brands will begin to replicate these patterns. And while there will always be a place for beautiful email design, marketers will integrate more conversational-sounding messages into their broader email marketing strategy.

In SMS, “the most innovative brands are sending out texts that feel like they’re a 1:1 message, with maybe a selfie and a sign-off from the employee’s real name,” Petrunoff says. “It’s similar to how UGC tends to perform better than highly produced creative in ads. That natural element feels more trustworthy.”

That’s the key reason this style works: It builds trust. It comes across as authentic.

“We’ve all seen the email trend of adding “Re:” in the subject line,” says Coffey. “Sure, these probably have fantastic open and conversion rates, but at what point are we sacrificing authenticity for a quick sale?”

At what point are we sacrificing authenticity for a quick sale?
Joanne Coffey, assistant manager of retention marketing, Jones Road Beauty

In 2023, operators foresee less clickbait and more conversational messages to increase open rates and click-through rates.

The path forward is owned

The ecommerce industry is constantly changing. And more often than not, those changes are beyond our control.

They could be happening because of broader global, societal, or economic events, like a pandemic or inflation. Or they could be the result of changes to platforms you’ve come to rely on to grow your business, such as data privacy updates and mail privacy protection.

Regardless of the source of change, it’s nerve-wracking to go into a new year with the realization that it’s impossible to accurately predict what will happen—and how it will affect your ecommerce store.

But there’s one thing you do have control over: your owned marketing channels.

By focusing on the growth of your subscriber lists, the strategy behind your email and SMS programs, and your relationships with your customers, you’ll be set up to succeed—no matter what 2023 throws at you.

Discover the marketing automation platform that enables you to stay ahead of the trends.
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Mae Rice
Mae Rice
Mae Rice is an editor and writer covering marketing, tech, and the ways they intersect. She lives in Chicago.