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Email Marketing 101 💌

Head West Team
Updated May 25, 2023

Ecommerce email marketing fundamentals

We wanted a single place to learn eCommerce email marketing. This guide is designed to teach you the fundamentals of email marketing and not “20 tips and tricks” or “one email hack that will increase conversion by 1,000%”. This is the guide we wish we had when we were starting out.

Class is now in session. Let’s dive in. 

What is email marketing?

If you think of the typical eCommerce marketing function, there are 2 large buckets: growth and retention. Email marketing will form the backbone of your retention efforts. Growth marketing (e.g., Facebook & Google ads) will get more potential customers in the door, and retention will convert more of those potential customers into paying customers and encourage them to spend more with your business over time. 

Why is email marketing important?

The typical eCommerce company drives 20-30% of their revenues from email marketing. This is a huge amount. Time spent optimizing your email marketing efforts will pay huge dividends. As it becomes more and more expensive to acquire new customers, it is increasingly important to maximize your chances of converting those customers and increasing the amount those customers spend with your business. The email list you build is an asset that will increase the value of your business. Email marketing is a channel you own. While you have no control over the Facebook algorithm, you have much more control over your email list. Email is a owned audience that you have direct access to.  

Which tool should you use for email marketing?

We did a deep dive guide to the best ESP tools for eCommerce (Email Service Providers). The TLDR? Choose Klaviyo. There's a reason it's the dominant email marketing tool for eCommerce companies. It's built from the ground up for eCommerce. Yes, there is a learning curve, but we recommend it for eCommerce companies regardless of their size. Everything we mention in this guide will be made easier with Klaviyo.

The three types of eCommerce emails

1) Campaigns

A campaign is a one-time send to a list of contacts. 

There are two common types of campaigns:

  1. Promotional Campaign - Promotional campaigns focus on sales and promotions. Examples of promotional campaigns are 20% 4th of July sale, Mother’s day gift sales, buy one get one free (BOGO) sales, and of course BFCM emails (Black Friday Cyber Monday).
  2. General Campaign - General campaigns are designed to educate your customer base and don’t center around a promotion. Examples of general campaigns are a product launch notification, listicle, and blog roundup. 
Wrangler Promotional Campaign

2) Flows

Flows (also known as Triggers and Drip Campaigns) are automated emails that are triggered when a user takes a certain action. They can be a single email or a series of emails that come over time. Examples of flows are a welcome series when a user signs up for your email list, and an abandoned cart series when a customer adds a product to their cart but doesn’t checkout. 

3) Transactional Emails

Transactional emails are also automated like Flows but occur post-purchase and are functional in nature. Examples of transactional emails are order and shipping confirmation emails. Transactional emails are typically sent from your eCommerce platform (read our guide on recommended eCommerce platforms).

Basic Shopify Order Confirmation Email

What Flows should you set up first (with examples)?

We recommend that eCommerce brands focus on Flows first before worrying about Campaigns (especially Non-Promotional Campaigns). Flows will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Eventually you want to have both Flows and Campaigns running, but if you only have time or budget for one, pick Flows. 

Flows are also evergreen. You only need to create one welcome email that can be reused for customers that come to your site all year, whereas the email you design for your 4th of July Sale will only be used once per year. 

Within Flows there are three key Flows that every eCommerce company should set up. This series of emails are the 80-20 approach to Flows. For all brands, the majority of their Email Flow driven revenue will come from one of these series. Rather than trying to tackle 10+ Flows at once, we recommend brands focus and optimize these 3 Flows.   

1) Welcome Flow (non-buyers)

A Welcome Flow is the series of emails that customers get after signing up for your email marketing. The Welcome Flow is super important because it is the first email touchpoint that potential customers will have with your brand. It will introduce the brand and its key value props as well as get your customers used to hearing from you. 

You should have at least one email in your Welcome Flow, but we recommend 3-5 emails to start. We recommend a Welcome Flow that looks something like this:

  • Welcome Email 1: Welcome and Thank You (discount / offer if promised)
  • Welcome Email 2: Brand / Founder Story
  • Welcome Email 3: Social Proof
  • Welcome Email 4: Community - encourage engagement

If at any point in the Welcome Flow a customer makes a purchase, then they should be put in the Post Purchase Flow (discussed below).

2) Browse, Cart, and Checkout Abandoned Flows

The Browse, Cart, and Checkout Abandoned Flows are all designed to convert high intent customers. These 3 flows are triggered at different stages of the buying journey, but they are all lower funnel (close to purchase).

Abandoned Cart / Abandoned Checkout

These two Flows are triggered at the lowest point in the funnel.

  • Customer adds item to their cart but doesn’t begin checkout > Abandoned Cart Flow
  • Customer begins checkout but doesn’t complete checkout > Abandoned Checkout Flow

These customers are very close to purchase. They’re on the one yard line. Don’t lose them! They’re almost there, and these email flows are designed to tip someone over the edge from someone who has considered your product to someone who has purchased your product. 

Don’t worry about immediately perfecting these emails. You're losing money by having nothing here. You can test and iterate on this over time, but if you don’t have these flows up we recommend adding them ASAP. You are leaving lots of money on the table by not having these flows set up even if they aren't perfect. 

These 2 Flows are slightly different (based on the funnel stage), but we will treat them similarly. 

  • Abandoned Cart / Checkout Email 1: Remind customers that they left something in their cart. Add social proof (e.g., thousands of 5 star reviews, trusted by The New York Times)
  • Abandoned Cart / Checkout Email 2: Remind customers that they left something behind and optionally include a discount

Add a Dynamic Product Block that references the product left behind. 

Browse Abandon

If you have limited time, focus on the Abandoned Cart and Checkout Flows. Those two have customers that are closest to purchasing. If you have more time / resources add a Browse Abandon Flow.

Customer views a PDP (Product Description Page) but goes no further > Browse Abandon Flow

  • Browse Abandon Email 1: Remind customers to continue browsing. Add company value props and social proof (e.g., thousands of 5 star reviews, trusted by The New York Times)

3) Post Purchase Flow

This email series is triggered after a customer has made a purchase. This Flow is designed to reinforce that the customer made a good decision to purchase, to ask for feedback, and to encourage the customer to participate in your community.

  • Post Purchase Email 1: Reduce returns and support tickets (1 day after order)
  • Post Purchase Email 2: Reviews (17 days later)
  • Post Purchase Email 3: Additional review request and social follow (21 days later)

Email Campaigns

Once you’ve set up the key Flows above, now you’re ready to shift your focus to Campaigns. We would recommend starting with Promotional Campaigns and once those are in place then adding General Campaigns. The goal here is to build a diverse calendar of email types. Consistency here is key. It’s better to consistently send 1-2 Campaign emails a month then to send 1-2 Campaign emails a week and burn out. Establish an email sending cadence that is manageable for you and your team.

Campaign calendar

We recommend creating a campaign calendar to organize your email marketing efforts and ensure that you are giving your email list a diverse set of messages and not only sending emails about sales or product launches.

  • Goal is 2-5 campaigns per week but work up to this
  • Important to diversify - don't just send promotional emails or product launch emails
  • Mix it up. Plan at least a couple weeks out. Hopefully a month out
  • Segment your list!

Campaign Ideas

  • New product launches
  • Promotions (aim for 1 per quarter and up to 1 per month - you don’t want to train your customers to wait for discounts by always running promotions)
  • Holidays
  • Educational content
  • Social proof
  • Gifting (Does your product make a great gift? Promote that during gifting times!)
  • Product launches
  • Current events (Super Bowl, Olympics, and other buzzworthy events)

KPIs to track (with benchmarks)

We put together a full guide on email marketing KPIs, but if you’re short on time, here’s the TLDR on key email marketing KPIs:

Email popup (modal) collection rate

The first step in monitoring the performance of your email programing is measuring the performance of your list growth. What drives the growth of your list? The effectiveness of your email popup.

  • Email submits / email modal popups = email popup collection rate

Benchmark: 10%

Bounce Rate

Once you have someone subscribed to your email list, the next step is to make sure your email reaches their inbox. The bounce rate measures the number of emails that don’t reach a subscribers inbox.

  • Bounced emails (emails that don’t reach the inbox) / sent emails = email bounce rate

Benchmark: <1%

Open Rate

Once your email reaches a subscribers inbox, and isn’t marked as spam, the next step is to get your subscriber to open the email. Open rate measures how often that happens.

  • Email opens / email sends = email open rate

Benchmark: >33% (excluding MPP)

Note: Open rates have become more difficult to measure since Apple implemented Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) a privacy policy change which automatically marks emails as opened which will inflate open rate numbers.

Click Rate & CTR: Click Through Rate

Once someone has opened your email, the next step is to get them to click through to your website. The click rate and click through rate are two slightly different ways to measure the same thing: the number of people who click on a link from an email and visit your website. 

  • Click rate = email clicks / emails delivered
  • Click Through Rate (CTR) = email clicks / emails opened

Benchmark: Click rate >2%, CTR >6%

Email conversion Rate

Once a recipient has clicked through your email to your website, the next step is to convert them into a customer. The email conversion rate is the end measure of many steps in your email funnel. 

  • Purchases attributed to email / email recipients = email conversion rate

Benchmark: >1.5%

Note: For attribution we recommend using Google Analytics Last Non-Direct Click attribution. If you use the attribution metrics from your ESP, you will likely be over attributing conversions to email.

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