June 15, 2021

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The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing for Retailers

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Email marketing is the fastest way to accelerate your retail business.

It’s the best way to encourage sales, showcase your products, and build connections with new and existing customers that pay off over time. 

But email marketing doesn’t mean just sending out a regular newsletter. Email marketing covers newsletters, e-receipts, segmentation, automation, and more. 

And with access to more data than ever, it’s becoming increasingly important for retailers to up their email game. This guide will walk you through how to start using email in your retail business today.

Table of Contents

What is an email marketing strategy?

An email marketing strategy refers to a business’ game plan for reaching potential customers and turning them into paying ones through email. An email marketing strategy includes acquisition and retention tactics to sell, educate, and build loyalty with a subscriber list. 

Retailers can use email marketing to:

  • Keep in touch with customers
  • Provide information about new products
  • Send post-purchase emails, like receipts
  • Collect feedback from shoppers

Retailers can take advantage of email marketing and drive real results with automation, personalization, interactive emails, and so much more. 

Email is also one of the most profitable channels for retailers.

According to data from Emarsys, 81% of small businesses rely on email as their primary customer acquisition channel, and 80% for customer retention.

There may be a lot of hype about social media, likes, and shares, but research shows that email tops the charts in comparison to channels like social media and organic search. Not to say Instagram isn’t important for your business, but if you want an easy and direct way to reach people, email is your go-to strategy.

Email marketing for retailers—the benefits

There’s no doubt email is effective for any type of business, but here’s why it’s beneficial to retailers. 

Increases sales and ROI

Marketing emails are estimated to reach 4.3 billion users in 2023, up from 3.9 billion in 2019. This shows that email marketing is not an opportunity to pass up. 

Given the popularity of email, it’s no surprise that the return on investment (ROI) is huge. For every $1 spent, email marketing generates an average of $42 in ROI.

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In short, a well-crafted email marketing strategy will make you money. Email is unique in that it can help drive your first sale, but also can drive more revenue from repeat customers. 

Build stronger relationships

Social media networks and search engines can help customers find you online, but email is the best way to nurture and strengthen relationships over time. It gives you a direct communication channel with your customer base that’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

The better the customer experience, the happier you customers will be.

Email gives you the ability to nurture relationships with features like:

  • Personalized communications. Email service providers make it easy to segment your list based on criteria like interests and purchase history.You can tailor subject lines, content, and deals to each subscriber and make each email more meaningful.
  • Automation. Send the right message at the right time. Automated emails can range from thank you emails to welcome messages and order confirmations. You can automate any message that sends once a specific trigger is met. 
  • Customer loyalty programs. Everyone loves a good rewards program. Email makes it easy to connect with loyal customers and send special promotions. You can easily link your in-store rewards to email so everyone gets the benefits of shopping with your store. 

Plus, email plays a massive role in encouraging customers to shop more with you. Repeat customers are more profitable, which means you’ll spend less on acquisition and more on growing your business.

Owned marketing channel

Email is an owned digital marketing channel. This means you control the content and distribution. There’s no centralized entity that can tweak an algorithm and ruin your strategy. 

Organic reach on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram continue to decline, according to the latest stats. Ranking in search is also getting more challenging, with the increase in no-click searches and ads. Basically, if your content isn’t backed by ad dollars on those channels, less people will see it. 

That’s why nine out of every 10 marketers use email marketing to distribute content organically. It’s also easy to see the success of your strategy as a retailer. You can check email metrics like open rates, click rates, and downloads to see how successful your email is to a greater extent than website traffic or social media analytics. 

Types of email campaigns

Now that we know the benefits of email for retailers, let’s look at the different types of email campaigns you can send.

  • Newsletters
  • Welcome emails
  • Product announcements
  • Offers and promotions
  • Post-purchase emails 
  • Cart abandonment
  • Event promotion
  • Seasonal campaigns
  • Birthdays and special occasions

Newsletters

Email newsletters are a type of campaign sent to a subscriber list. They’re an informational email people sign up for from your brand. They’re sent regularly, be it bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. 

These emails are great because they keep you top of mind. They contain content like guides, blog posts, news, reviews, recommendations, tips, and announcements. You can use them to entertain subscribers by sending cool content or delight them by sending discounts for certain promotions. 

As a retailer, you could offer local tips and insights into your area. Emails could include the latest happenings in town or give ideas for a local trip. It depends on what you think your readers will value. 

For example, Vacasa, a vacation rental company in Portland, Oregon, fills subscribers in on everything they need to know about road trips and vacations.

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Done well, newsletters can build trust between subscribers and your business. It helps you nurture relationships by sharing relevant information and highlighting your business, which can increase both online and in-store traffic.

Welcome emails 

The welcome email is the first email you send to a user after they’ve joined your list. The welcome email drip is super important, as it’s often the first impression consumers receive from your brand. 

But welcome emails also help your bottom line: They generate up to 320% more revenue than other emails, according to Invesp. Even if you don’t sell online, this increased engagement with welcome emails means it’s the perfect platform to extend an invitation to your store.

Check out this example of a welcome email from Yoga Pod. It provides a brief greeting, a video with a real person to humanize the brand, links to check out the class schedule, and information about the location of the business.

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SmartrMail also did a thorough analysis of the welcome drip sequence from Barnes & Noble. The email drip campaign includes an initial welcome email, a 15%-off coupon email, an email with recommended products, an email outlining the value of Barnes & Noble, an email promoting its mobile app, and newsletters to follow. The entire sequence gives users a complete look at the brand and continues to highlight its brick-and-mortar locations with a very visible link to its store locator.

Product announcements

A product announcement email is a message sent to tell subscribers about new or changed products in your store. Retailers send these emails to hype upcoming releases or events.

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A well-crafted announcement email can build awareness for new products and drive sales for your store. They are typically a part of an email drip campaign. For example, you could send a series of announcement emails in the following order:

  1. A “sneak peek” email two weeks before launch date
  2. An announcement email two or three days before launch
  3. An official release email for launch day

Your product announcement emails are critical to the success of your product. Think about it: you put so much time into creating your product, it only makes sense to announce it to the world. Your customers can’t buy products unless you tell them. Use these emails combined with offers and promotions to make more sales for your retail brand.

Offers and promotions 

For our purposes, we’ll talk about offers, promotions, sales, and other in-store campaigns that you’re sharing with your audience using email. This could be promo codes, freebies, special access, discounts, or anything else you use to drive a sale.

Overstock offers customers coupons that expire. “You’ve Got a 24-Hour Coupon! Use It Before It Disappears!” was the subject line of a recent campaign email I received:

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You could make these offers redeemable in-store only so you’re using email to drive foot traffic to your physical location.

Post-purchase emails

Post-purchase emails are more than just email receipts. Effective post-purchase email drips may include things like helpful content to make the most of a purchase, related product recommendations, or even solicitations for feedback.

Joel Debus, Email Marketing Manager at Knowledge to Practice, says retailers can use post-purchase email drips to highlight products the user has indicated interest in, as well as complementary products.

Amazon is a good example of a retailer that uses post-purchase email drips to drive sales, both directly (upsell, cross-promotion, etc.) and indirectly (social proof with customer reviews, customer Q&A, etc.).

Here’s how Amazon makes it easy for users to rate and review products:

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A brick-and-mortar retailer that has effective post-purchase drip campaigns is Sephora. Because it sells products that “expire,” it has learned what the average lifetime of the product is and has set up automated emails to remind customers to restock after a set amount of time has passed.

Debus says these renewal campaigns can be effective for retailers looking to drive sales.

If a product is disposable and requires a second purchase or more, you can send targeted follow-up emails to re-purchase it whenever it typically runs out, for example , in 30 days. You could even gift 20% off on the second or third purchase.

Joel Debus, Email Marketing Manager, Knowledge to Practice

To take this idea up a notch, Debus also recommends weaving product recommendations and upselling in the drip campaign.

“You can feature related products that go well with the product [the customer] recently purchased in emails every so often, up until the renewal email should be sent,” he says. “This will not only increase the chances of these customers returning to your store, but it will also bolster the perception of your store as helpful and useful in [customers’] lives.”

Even if your product doesn’t have an “expiration” date, you can send reminder emails to customers who haven’t made a purchase in a while. The below example from Grammarly actually pokes fun at the fact that users have been inactive, congratulating them for the feat and offering a discount to re-engage them.

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A physical retailer could take a similar approach: perhaps it’s an invitation to shop in-store during special hours or an achievement that rewards users with a free gift with their next in-store purchase.

For first-time Dollar Shave Club customers, the email drip campaign goes like this:

  1. Welcome to Dollar Shave Club!: A simple welcome email greeting customers and inviting them to the community.
  2. Download the FREE DSC App: Promoting the Dollar Shave Club mobile app to give customers a more immersive brand experience.
  3. Get more popular. Get free stuff: A referral code, since customers have had a chance to use and love the products.

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Cart abandonment

Think about all the times you’ve added stuff to an online shopping cart in your life. Did you buy every product, every time? If not, you likely got a few emails from the brand to come back to checkout. It offers a discount or free shipping to encourage the sale. 

These are called cart abandonment emails. They are used in ecommerce to get people back to checkout to buy the things in their cart. Considering that over 88% of online orders are abandoned, these emails are a great way to recover lost revenue for your online store. Email service provider Klaviyo estimates that one abandoned cart email can receive up to $5.81 per recipient, on average. 

Clothing retailer American Giant uses creative abandoned carts to entice shoppers and get the sale. Recipients can see the items left behind and have the option to contact support if they have any questions. When someone clicks the Shop Now button, they are taken to checkout to finish the purchase.

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Event promotion

If you host in-store events, registration and attendance give you two new trigger events against which to plan email drip campaigns. This can be helpful not only in making sure event registrants actually attend but also in nurturing the customer-brand relationship.

Mike’s Camera uses Eventbrite to manage its event registrations. The store uses the platform to send an email drip campaign that reminds users of the event, providing details like the date, time, and location.

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You could take this up a notch by creating your own automated email outside of Eventbrite. You can include your branding, high-quality imagery of your store, and/or product recommendations. In this case, Mike’s Camera could include a link to a blog post about must-have camera accessories for the beginner photographer, which would then promote their products. That’s just one way to further improve your event-related email drips.

Denver’s AIR yoga hosted an event where it provided a complimentary class for members from a local Facebook group. After the class, there was a series of emails where the owner directly asked for feedback about the class. Following that, an email with coupon codes was circulated, encouraging attendees to convert (i.e., purchase a membership).

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Seasonal campaigns

Seasonal email campaigns are a fun way to engage with customers during national events. If your first thought is Christmas or Black Friday, you are correct. These are times of the year you’re likely to see a surge in sales. But you can also send these emails for other events and seasons throughout the year. 

Take sportswear retailer Protest, for example. The following email promotes its fall product line to subscribers. It uses high-quality images, with real people using Protest products in context, while also encouraging readers to shop new products.

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Retailers can market their products at any special point throughout the year. It can be anything from summer season to Valentine’s Day, or even Penguin Awareness Day if it aligns with your business. The goal is to create fun, captivating emails around these topics to encourage sales in your store.

Birthdays/special occasions

Customer milestones also make for great reasons to offer a discount to your customers. Plus, it’s personal in that it recognizes their birthday or nurtures your relationship by celebrating their anniversary of being a customer. Here’s how Nike uses email drip campaigns to automate birthday emails:

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Rather than sending a simple “Happy Birthday” email, Nike gifts customers a unique code for a 25% discount on a product. Remember to provide value to your customers; don’t wish them happy birthday just for the sake of it.

Retail email marketing tips

To review, what’s the goal of email marketing for retailers? If you said building customers relationships and making sales, you’re correct. If you want to run the email campaigns above, keep these following tips in mind: 

  • Run automated campaigns
  • Create customer segments
  • Use personalization
  • Track engagement
  • Make emails mobile friendly
  • Make unsubscribing easy

Run automated campaigns

Email marketing automation lets you send targeted messages at certain times or based on specific actions, like a sign-up or a purchase. Retailers use these triggered emails, or drip campaigns, to build personalized relationships with existing and new customers. 

It’s the most effective way to do email marketing because you can “set it and forget it” and keep your brand top of mind. 

Every time a drip campaign is sent, it comes from a backlog of pre-written emails. You never need to manually write or send one. You can even personalize them with your subscribers’ names, relevant messaging, tailored deals, and more. 

Some must-have automated drip campaigns to include are:

  • Welcome emails, which introduce new subscribers to the brand
  • Curation emails, which showcase bestsellers to specific customer groups
  • Discount emails, which send deals to people on the fence about buying something 
  • Abandoned cart emails, which send friendly reminders to shoppers who left items in their shopping cart 
  • Transactional emails like order confirmations and shipping updates to give customers peace of mind and set expectations for delivery 
  • Win back emails, which target subscribers who haven’t been active with your brand

Email automation sounds tough, but with the right tools in place, you can schedule campaigns in no time and see more revenue for your business. Shopify Email providers ready-made designs for your campaigns—you can send beautiful, professional emails that get results.

Create customer segments

Many retailers still treat their email list as one generic group. It’s a big list that gets the same content from a brand. That’s why so many of those emails end up in the trash. 

Segmentation refers to dividing email subscribers into smaller groups based on specific criteria. It’s often used as a personalization tactic to send more relevant emails. You can segment subscribers based on geographic location, interests, purchase history, customer status, and so much more.

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Here are some of the top segments you can create:

  • Demographics. This includes characteristics such as age, gender, location, and more. For example, if you sell body care products, you’ll benefit from knowing the gender of your subscriber. It can help you send relevant soap or cream recommendations. 
  • Sign-up source. This refers to segmenting subscribers based on how they were added to your list. If someone joined in-store or at an event, you may want to send them a follow-up discount to shop online. 
  • Interests and preferences. This is a strong segmentation strategy. You’ll need to ask customers what their interests are related to your products. Then you can send highly targeted campaigns based on their answers. 
  • Purchase history. This looks at a customer’s past purchases. You can send this group different types of emails, such as discounts, product recommendations, or refills. It keeps your campaigns fresh and relevant, which can lead to lower unsubscribe rates and higher purchase rates.
  • Inactivity. This segment targets people who haven’t engaged with your brand. If repeat customers don’t buy something for a period of time, you can automatically follow up with them to encourage a sale.

Creating these segments requires good customer tracking across your entire business. The Shopify POS syncs your in-store orders and online customer profiles. You can use this data to build detailed customer segments and send relevant campaigns to people, no matter where they interact with your business. 

Use personalization

Campaign Monitor’s The New Rules of Email Marketing reports that personalized subject lines lead to 26% more opens, and segmentation leads to 760% more revenue.

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Today, personalization in email is a lot more than auto-populating the user’s name in the subject line. The rise of Big Data has given retailers more insight into their audience than ever before, and automation makes it easier to leverage that data strategically.

Joel Debus recommends retailers personalize email drip campaigns based on subscriber data and specific actions or trigger events. See the example below of how Fit Small Business personalizes its emails.

Using various data points that it has on users, it’s able to auto-fill users’ preferences and include them in the automated email.

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“A retailer could reference past purchases, current interests, location, and even gender to create a personalized email that’s more likely to convert,” Debus says. “Doing so could increase engagement throughout the drip campaign and deliver a more catered experience.”

Track engagement

Once you’ve set up and launched your email drip campaign, you’ll want to keep an eye on its performance. Over time, you’ll be able to see trends that can provide insights into your business, as well as ways to segment the campaign even further.

When analyzing your email drip campaigns, pay special attention to the following benchmarks:

  • Open rate. This is perhaps the most popular stat to check out in regards to email marketing. It simply tells you the rate at which the email is being opened. It’s a good idea to compare these numbers to the actual subject lines to see why they’re successful, and always A/B test your subject line when possible.
  • Clicks and click-through rate. While the open rate is important, arguably more important is how many people are actually clicking through your emails or taking the desired call-to-action (CTA). For example, if you’re trying to attract customers to your antique store to check out your new vintage finds, you’ll want to ask customers in-store what brought them in, and train associates to make note of those who comment on your emails.
  • Conversion rates. Are people buying products through your emails? If not, you’ll want to adjust your strategy to get more sales. 
  • Unsubscribes. Consider not only the number of unsubscribes and the unsubscribe rate but also the point at which these unsubscribes are happening. Did you send too many emails? Have they been sent too frequently? Are they relevant to your list?

Make emails mobile-friendly

Mobile-friendly email design is no longer a nice-to-have—it’s necessary. According to the State of Email Engagemnent by Litmus, nearly 40% of emails are opened on mobile devices, with Apple iPhone and Gmail being the most popular email clients. 

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To optimize your email marketing strategy, Litmus recommends the following three tips:

  • Look at the most popular email clients for your audience. Determine the email clients your subscribers use. Then optimize your testing and design based on that. Identify differences between key audiences and adjust your strategy accordingly.
  • Determine what devices your audience uses. Where are people reading your emails? If you notice more people reading on phones and tablets, create your emails with that in mind. 
  • Learn if your audience prefers Dark Mode. If you find that your audience reads emails on Apple devices, especially the iPhone, you’ll want to consider a Dark Mode experience for your email marketing strategy. 

Make unsubscribing easy

Every email you send should let people unsubscribe from your list. It’s not only an email marketing best practice, but it’s required by law under the CAN-SPAM Act

Retailers will often include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email. But if you want to make it easier for people to unsubscribe, you can put a link in the header too. Gmail also has an inline automatic unsubscribe button for its users. There’s no avoiding it. 

Besides, you don’t want people on your list who aren’t interested in your products anyway. They aren’t going to visit your store or get you online sales. You’re better off just letting them unsubscribe when they want. 

Retail email marketing examples

Now that you know the tips and tricks, let’s look at some retail email examples to inspire your next campaign. 

  • Methodical Coffee
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Sephora
  • Tracksmith
  • Buck Mason

Methodical Coffee

Methodical Coffee is a café and coffee retailer in Greenville, South Carolina. The small business did an amazing job creating buzz around its Black Friday & Small Business Saturday Sale with this email campaign. It marketed its sales above the fold, giving people the option to use the discount online or in-store. 

It also highlights other seasonal sales from around the web. This helps people discover exciting, relevant sales faster and builds loyalty with Methodical Coffee’s subscriber base.

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Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret is known around the world for creating unique womenswear and lingerie. This Victoria’s Secret email offered subscribers a limited-time holiday gift of free shipping, making shopping a breeze. Customers could also get a free wristlet when purchasing more than $50 in beauty or accessories. 

Victoria’s Secret’s email highlights all its latest seasonal products. It also gives customers the option to buy online and pick up in-store if they prefer.

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Sephora

Sephora is an international retailer with a finger on the pulse of what’s hot in the beauty world. Email is a phenomenal channel for it to market campaigns and drive sales. It uses email to introduce new products in its store and encourages readers to discover new brands and Shop Now.

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Tracksmith

Boston-based retailer Tracksmith is known for its elite running gear and apparel. It uses email to keep in touch with its customers and share experiences, like meeting up with local runners in the Boston area. 

It sent the following email to inspire runners for the fall season. But it doesn’t showcase its products like every other brand. Instead, it shares a photo of two runners with an inspirational message, along with a call to -action to View Lookbook if the reader wants more information.

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Buck Mason

Buck Mason is a fashion brand and retailer with shops in New York, California, and Texas. It has a modern, relaxed brand with timeless clothing. It sent this email to promote its Masks For America initiative of donating one million masks to those on the front lines. 

For every mask a customer bought, Buck Mason donated a medical-grade N-95 mask to healthcare and essential workers. The brand also highlighted its fashionable anti-microbial prevention masks and bandanas. Customers could order online or pick-up curbside at select locations.

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Getting started with email marketing for your retail store

To unlock email marketing’s full potential, you’ll need a list of email subscribers. Fortunately, it’s easier to convince someone to give you their email address than it is to make a sale. 

Let’s look at a few ways to grow your email list, even if you have zero subscribers:

  • Include an email subscription pop-up on your website
  • Encourage in-store customers to sign up for emails
  • Offer email receipts
  • Run email-exclusive promotions

Include an email subscription pop-up on your website

An easy way to get email subscribers is an offer on your website. You can create a pop-up with a relevant offer that can be redeemed for an email address. Consider offering a discount off their first purchase, whether it’s online or curbside pickup.

Take Toronto-based cosmetics retailer Province Apothecary, for example. The brand uses a pop-up in its ecommerce site to get new subscribers for its list. It offers a 15%-off discount you can use online if you provide an email address. 

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The pop-up grabs the visitors attention, helping Province Apothecary deliver a targeted message at the right time. Visitors have to make a decision. There are no distractions because your store fades into the background. 

That’s why pop-ups convert so well. When combined with a great offer, you’ll see an increase in new subscribers that you can encourage to shop online or visit your store.

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Encourage in-store customers to sign up for emails

Your point-of-sale system is much more than a cash register. Of course you can take payments and do in-store exchanges. But did you know you can also gather data, like name, customer profiles, and email address? 

The Shopify Point of Sale is a great way to collect email addresses and bridge the gap between online and retail storefronts. LIVELY, a bra retailer based in New York City, uses the Shopify POS to nurture customer relationships after initial discovery. 

Michelle Cordeiro Grant, owner of LIVELY, has grown its community and customer lifetime value by capturing names and emails in her Shopify POS. 

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Customers discover the brand by walking past the store. They come in for a fitting and learn their measurements. Then Michelle gets their contact information and puts them into the same sales funnel they use for their online store. 

Most of our in-store customers become repeat customers online. It’s much easier to repeat a purchase online once you’ve come in, done a fit, and know your bra size.

Michelle Cordeiro Grant, Owner, LIVELY

Offer email receipts

Most retailers give little thought to the unglamourous post-purchase receipt, yet it’s a smart way to capture email addresses and create a good customer experience. The Shopify POS can automatically send email receipts after a successful in-store payment or even when you make a refund. You’ll only need to ask for a customer’s email address during checkout. 

After you see the Payment successful screen on your POS, you just need to: 

  1. Tap Email receipt
  2. Have the customer enter their email address
  3. Tap Send

In three simple steps, you now have a customer’s email address to follow-up with marketing messages and promotions in the future. It’s a good idea to remind customers they will join your email list. You don’t want to send unwanted messages and annoy people if they weren’t expecting promo emails. 

Run email-exclusive promotions

Promotional emails are a great way to grow your retail business. You can entice subscribers with special offers, deals, and promotions to create revenue all year long. Running these promos only through email gives people a reason to sign up. 

You want to be strategic about your promotional emails. When deciding on what promos to send, try the following options:

  • Send customized offers to specific groups. Don’t send the same message to your entire email list. Segment it and send relevant deals to specific groups, such as VIPs or new subscribers. 
  • Run seasonal promotions. Whether it’s birthdays or summertime promos, take advantage of special seasons to send deals and discounts to your list. 
  • Include offers in welcome emails. After someone becomes a subscriber or customers, send them a special offer. You can embed a unique promo code in the email they can use in-store or online. 

Once you decide what emails to send, you’ll need to create them. Luckily, Shopify Email has ready-made templates that automatically pull your branding and products from your inventory. You can get started fast and send campaigns in minutes. Plus, everything is done in your Shopify dashboard, so you can send, manage, and analyze all your campaigns in one place. 

Improving email marketing campaigns

It’s clear that having an email marketing plan isn’t just a nice-to-have. Retailers need email to help meet their business goals, be it to generate leads, drive foot traffic, or encourage sales. 

Start testing the email campaigns above today to make sure you don’t leave money on the table. It’ll put your marketing efforts to good use and increase your bottom line over time.

Get started with email marketing on Shopify POS

Shopify POS will help you gather the necessary customer data to build an effective email marketing campaign. Sign up for a free trail now and start testing your email strategy.

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