Email marketing automation is a powerful customer retention tool for online retailers. The trouble is, many companies don’t know which automated email campaigns are worth prioritizing and testing.

There’s significant upside to adopting email marketing. It generates the highest return on investment (ROI) out of the most common digital channels, earning businesses an average of $38 for every dollar invested, according to a VentureBeat Insight study. It also cites that “84% of marketers believe email is important or critically important for customer loyalty.”

Email continues to provide a high-leverage way to encourage repeat purchases, making your ecommerce business less dependant on the sometimes unreliable flow of new customers. Email marketing helps you build your brand and get better customers who spend more money with you.

Equally exciting is email’s potential to provide lasting value to your business with just a few starter campaigns. In fact, there are 7 automated email campaigns that nearly every ecommerce business can benefit from implementing.

I’m going to walk you through which email automations you should consider, what you need to know before you start broadcasting, and how to make the most of each email. 📧


1. Abandoned cart email series

According to research from the Baymard Institute, as many as 81.4% of online shopping carts are abandoned. That’s a lot of money left on the table from shoppers who were interested enough to add your product to their cart.

Fortunately, there’s good news: While Business Insider estimates online retailers will lose as much as $4 trillion to cart abandonment, it also estimates that savvy ones can recover about 63% of that lost revenue. That’s why it’s crucial to have a cart abandonment strategy, and automated cart abandonment emails that support it.

To maximize effectiveness, take this automated email campaign further than a single reminder email. Consider a sequence of emails, and you can continue to reap the benefits long after you push the campaign live.

How to set up an abandoned cart email series

When you send your abandoned cart emails is important. Though there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, we generally recommend the following as a place to start if you don’t have your own data:

  • Email 1: send 24 hours later.
  • Email 2: send 48 hours later.
  • Email 3: send 72 hours later.

Over time, look at your data to determine if and how you need to adjust. Look at when conversion rates start to drop to determine when you can end the sequence. Don’t be afraid to send four, five, six or more emails, especially if that’s what your metrics are telling you. I know one company, for example, that sends a seven-part email automation to re-engage abandoned carts.

Bottom line: If people keep buying from your cart abandonment emails, you should keep sending them.

Email 1: Remind shoppers of what they left behind

Most companies distribute discounts and promo codes immediately after a cart’s abandoned, and savvy shoppers have caught on. Some will abandon just to see if you’ll send a discount. If your go-to strategy is using offers, you’re throwing your margins to the wind.

Instead, use the first email as a simple reminder: Tell shoppers that they left something in their cart. Show them a picture of the product if your template allows. Add low-cost benefits, and include a link that takes them directly to checkout.

Hello Merch keeps it simple in this text-only cart abandonment email. This type of approach is particularly great for bootstrapped businesses. If you only have the resources to design a single beautiful email or create a series of text-only emails, you’ll likely get more bang for your buck with the latter.

Email 2: Handle objections

What’s the main reason people aren’t buying your products? Now’s a good time to address those objections head-on, and convince subscribers that your product is worth buying.

Whisky Loot addresses hesitations with their abandoned cart email automation, overtly listing product benefits and including FAQs to push users to complete their purchase.

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If you don’t know what people’s objections are, you’ll want to ask. Add a question to your first email that solicits feedback about why they didn’t complete the purchase. Run it for a month, and you’ll have a baseline of data around why people aren’t converting.

Use those insights to guide how you build out the second email of your cart abandonment series. Maybe you need to emphasize your free shipping or provide additional social proof through reviews and testimonials from happy customers.

Email 3: Offer a discount or incentive

If people haven’t converted after the first email, you’ll want to add extra motivation. Now’s the time to send a discount. Whether it’s a percentage, dollar amount, free gift or other offer, you’ll want to use something that both compels people to action and works well for your margins. Run an A/B test to find out which approach is more effective for your audience.

Remember to include a picture of the product(s) if possible, and an obvious link back to the shopping cart so customers can complete their purchase.

2. Welcome email series

A welcome email is the first email someone receives when they join your mailing list. You can have a welcome email for customers, but in this case, we’re talking about a welcome email for new subscribers who haven’t converted yet.

According to 2016 data from Omnisend, welcome emails have an average open rate of 45%, versus 18% for promotional emails. Shoppers are actively paying attention to and engaging with these messages, so it’s a great opportunity for businesses.

How to set up a welcome email series

As you’ll see in the examples below, an effective welcome email has several goals:

  • Welcome new subscribers.
  • Give users an incentive to purchase.
  • Set the right expectations.
  • Connect with subscribers on other channels.

Welcome new subscribers

Your first email should welcome new subscribers and introduce your brand. Craft a few sentences that begin the story of your brand, how you’re different, what you have in common with shoppers, and why shoppers should be excited.

Huckberry’s welcome email automation is clean and easy to understand, showcasing what the brand is all about and what subscribers can expect. They give a warm welcome to a community of like-minded, adventuring customers.

Nomad’s email also does a solid job of introducing their brand. The email highlights products without coming off as overly sales-y. They refer to their subscribers as a “family,” another play on the idea of creating a tribe of loyal customers.

Give users an incentive to purchase

If you offered subscribers a coupon in exchange for their email address, make sure you set up your email automation to actually send the coupon code in the email. Create an obvious CTA that takes users directly to your website to redeem the coupon. If you offered a PDF or something else in exchange for an email, make sure it’s included in the first one.

Overstock sends a simple email, leading with the 15% off incentive and personal language like “just for you.” They also remind users of the free shipping benefit for an extra nudge towards conversion.

Set the right expectations

The idea of setting expectations ties in with welcoming and introducing subscribers to your brand. You want them to look forward to future emails, so tell them what you’ll be sending, and remember to reiterate the value. Will you send helpful content, cool videos, promo codes, or something else? How will your subscribers benefit from this?

Get creative. Don’t be the one-trick online retailer who only sends discount codes. Treat your subscribers like friends, not as bits and bytes in your database.

Connect with subscribers on other channels

You might also want to link to your social media profiles and other channels where you’d like subscribers to connect. Rather than being the sole focus of an email, this could be a component to one or more emails. Including other ways to connect is a great way to get users to engage with your brand on multiple channels, giving you more chances to stay top-of-mind.

Mention your social media profiles, print catalog, brick-and-mortar stores and other mediums towards the end of your emails. Tiffany & Co. includes their phone number and links to social media, a store locator and customer service at the bottom of their welcome email.