How to Build Personalization Into Your e-Commerce Emails


White Chess Pieces with One Black Pawn

What do you do when you receive an email that is completely irrelevant to you? Do you ignore it? Delete it? Maybe even go as far as to unsubscribe completely? Ultimately, when a company sends you an email that you don’t care about in the slightest, you feel that your time has been wasted and your email inbox is in danger of being cluttered with useless information.

As marketers, we always want leads and past customers to trust us to provide valuable information when our brand shows up in their inbox. In the e-commerce world, one message or set of products rarely applies to an entire contact database. When sending mass emails, you run the risk of a sizable chunk of the leads that you worked so hard to capture unsubscribing because they feel you have wasted their time. To make sure you are making the best use of your contacts’ time (and your own), you need to be thinking about building a personalized email strategy.

Why You Should Build a Personalized e-Commerce Email Strategy

Return on Investment

Year after year, email marketing has the highest return on investment among all marketing channels. For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $38. Email marketing also helps raise ROI for all of the other paid channels (paid search, paid social, etc.) because you are either getting a second or third at-bat for prospects that didn’t make a purchase, or you’re increasing the customer’s lifetime value by upselling or cross-selling to customers post-purchase.


When subject lines, preview text, and overall message are more targeted to the right demographics and match the interests of the contacts receiving the emails, the efficiency of those emails will skyrocket. Open rates, click rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates will only improve when the right person is receiving the right message.

Top of Mind

The internet is saturated with a seemingly limitless number of websites that are all trying to grab the attention of your target market. When you are lucky enough for people to give up their contact information, don’t let them forget that you exist. Don’t blow up their inbox, but make sure they see your name and stay updated with new products, deals, or whatever else your company might be promoting at the time. The chances of a first-time visitor coming back to your website without hearing from you or having any sort of second impression of your brand are slim to none.

Finish the Purchase

Abandoned cart emails are a MUST when running an e-commerce store. Leaving your site after adding an item to the cart but before purchase doesn’t simply mean your customer had second thoughts about buying the item. While that may be true in some cases, in plenty of others there was some sort of distraction or interruption offline that kept the user from finishing the purchase. This is especially the case when somebody is making a purchase on mobile—whether somebody called them, they were in a hurry to go somewhere, they didn’t have their credit card on them at the time, or any of a million other reasons that could possibly interrupt somebody while they were going through the purchase process.

Step 1: Generating Leads

This may sound like a profound idea, but it is only possible to send emails when you have an email list. Before you can have an effective personalized email strategy, the content on your website needs to be valuable enough for a visitor to feel it is worthy of their contact information. A great example of this comes from Tortuga Backpacks. They offer a free carry-on packing list for people who submit their email—since it’s something that provides real value, users are happy to provide their contact info in return for the download.

Why is that important? Not everybody is going to become a customer on their first visit to your website, so you need to have conversion points that give you a chance to reach back out to them. Guides are a great option because they give you the opportunity to intertwine your products throughout the guide to help motivate people to buy. Giveaways, raffles, and contests that require people to fill out a form to enter for a chance to receive free products are also sure-fire ways to gather information about your website visitors.

One important thing to remember is to ask more questions depending on how valuable your offer is. If you’re giving away a luxury product or weekend trip to Italy, you can ask users for more information than if you were offering, say, a product brochure. If the reward is worth it, they’ll be happy to share.

Know Your Audience

Understanding your target audience will help show you what type of content to use to capture leads through your emails. Different types of people have varying motivations for buying from your e-commerce store. Doing the research into who these people are, what their pain points are, and why they might be interested in your products will help you build out buyer personas. This will be the backbone of how you ensure leads are being nurtured with the appropriate content.

Progressive Profiling

How are you able to personalize your marketing emails to make sure the right people are receiving the right messages? The answer is to ask the right questions.

When capturing leads, your forms need to have relevant questions. The problem is if you ask 12 questions to a visitor filling out a form for a simple one-page guide, they tend not to convert—it’s too much trouble for not enough payoff—and then that lead will never make it into your database.

Instead, you could use progressive profiling to get more information from a visitor each time they convert. As they move through the process, the questions should help decipher which buyer persona the lead fits into the most, or which categories of the business the lead is most interested in.

One way you can help accelerate this process is to have a page on the website that allows users to edit their settings to tell you their interests. REI includes this in their thank you email after signing up for their newsletter. It’s a crucial part of the process to help personalize your email marketing later on.

Step 2: Map Out Your Buyer’s Journey

When building a personalized email strategy, you can’t just think about what category of your business a particular lead is interested in. It is important to make sure they are receiving messages that pertain to where they are in the buyer’s journey.

To have a sustainable business, there needs to be content that is usable for each stage of the funnel. By mapping out the content that’s currently on your website and assigning it to the stage of the funnel that it applies to, you will have a clear look at where you have gaps in the funnel and what new content needs to be created to fill them.

Keep in mind that there needs to be content in each stage for each audience segment of the business. By filling out the funnel with all of the appropriate evergreen content, there won’t be any problems when you build out your email automation.

Step 3: Build in Automation

As businesses scale, it becomes significantly more difficult to take a manual approach to email marketing. Email automation takes a lot of upfront thought and manual work to set up. When email workflows are set up properly, though, leads are sent highly effective, personalized, and timely emails. When the workflows are running, the marketer’s job becomes simply analyzing and optimizing the performance of the emails in the workflows instead of continuously churning out email after email.

Your workflows probably aren’t going to work perfectly on the first try, even the most thoroughly thought-out and carefully planned. Parts of the workflow will be successful and other parts will fail miserably. This is why you should keep an eye on their performance after launching them. Test different email content offers, subject lines, preview text, imagery, button sizes, periods between emails—test everything. Any part of your email could cause subpar performance, and therefore any part of your email could be the key to unlocking the potential of your workflows. So test it all, and keep what works.

Step 4: Determining the Types of Workflows for Your Company

Here are some workflow ideas that will help you get the most out of the leads that are converting on your website.

Abandoned Cart Workflow

An automated abandoned cart recovery workflow will remind customers what they have left in their carts if they leave your online store before purchasing. Sending three abandoned cart emails results in 69% more orders than a single email. In the second and third emails, it is common to add certain enticing perks like 10% off or free shipping to motivate the shopper to come back to the website and finish off their purchase.

Welcome Email Workflow

An email workflow following up after a contact signs up for your newsletter. The goal of the welcome series is to convert subscribers into first-time customers. There should be a different welcome email workflow for each of the different buyer personas and for each product category.

Post-purchase Workflow

An email workflow that triggers when a contact makes a purchase on the website. The goal of the post-purchase workflow is to upsell and cross-sell to turn first-time customers into repeat customers. There should be a different post-purchase workflow for each of the different buyer personas and for each product category.

Traffic Is Only the Beginning

If you don’t have an email automation system set up, you are leaving a lot of money on the table. All of the paid campaigns, link-building campaigns, and SEO efforts you make are really just getting your foot in the door with new prospects. Email marketing is what will keep those leads and customers coming back for weeks, months, and even years. By personalizing your emails to apply directly to the recipients, they will be more likely to engage with you and will feel more of a connection with your brand. Every business and audience is different, so now all you have to do is dig deep and start building your personalized e-commerce email strategy!


Jams Crowley Team Photo at Element Three
We’re pretty competitive here at Element Three, and James fits that style perfectly. Growing up, he was a champion basketball player, and whether he’s on the court or competing for an audience’s attention today as a digital marketer, James doesn’t like to lose. He’s passionate about learning and improving every day—James knows that even a single Google algorithm change can uproot whole marketing strategies, which means falling behind just isn’t an option.

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