Email in the future Email in the future

eCommerce email marketing trends in 2020 and beyond

As we enter a new decade, eCommerce email marketing is still very much ubiquitous—and growing.  The main reason: In spite of a barrage of headlines over the past two decades that email is dead (killed off by everything from spam to social media), 91 percent of internet users in the U.S. are still using email—with younger generations leading the charge. Marketers rank email marketing as their most effective channel, and the numbers back that up—frequently cited studies show email marketing has a tremendous ROI of up to $44 for every $1 spent.

But the power of email marketing for eCommerce is not a secret. That means ever increasing competition for space in your customers’ inboxes and for their dollars. So it’s increasingly important not to get left behind as the medium grows and evolves—and to anticipate those changes early, rather responding to them late.

We spoke with a number of email marketing and eCommerce industry experts and analyzed several studies on email, eCommerce, and demographics-at-large to determine the major trends to help you thrive with eCommerce email marketing in 2020 and the years to come. These are the three biggest trends we found, as well as some recommendations for how you can jump on them now and in the coming years.

Trend #1:  Personalization is taking over for eCommerce businesses of all sizes

The more personalized an email, the more likely it is to get results. 74 percent of marketers say targeted personalization increases customer engagement rates, and personalized emails generate 600 percent higher transaction rates. Why does personalization work? Customers are increasingly savvy, and increasingly overwhelmed with the sheer volume of marketing they encounter online. As a result, “one size fits all” emails aren’t going to cut through the noise. 

As we move forward into the 2020s, the extensive amount of available user data combined with the modernization of automation services will become an even more powerful marketing strategy for eCommerce businesses—even small businesses who might’ve previously thought advanced customer analytics were beyond the scope of their budget or technology.

Recommendation #1: Start personalizing your emails now

Tim Brown, owner of Hook Agency, recommends making a push toward personalization as soon as possible. By making the effort now, he says, you’ll save “tremendous time and money on the email marketing front”—so when the day comes that personalized emails aren’t just a tool in your arsenal but basically table stakes, you won’t find yourself scrambling.

Many of your emails are already personalized—even if you didn’t realize it. Transactional emails like order receipts and shipping confirmations contain information directly relating to the customer and their purchase (which may be why at Jilt we’ve seen those emails have a more than 450 percent higher open rate than marketing emails).

If you have automations set up, those are most likely personalized as well. For example, if you’re sending abandoned cart recovery emails, those normally contain content relating to the items a customer left behind.

Your broadcast emails, however, may not be personalized; you may be sending the same big sales announcement or newsletter to your entire list. Consider segmenting your broadcasts (for instance, sending an email promoting men’s clothes to men, and women’s clothes to women). Or include a section in your broadcast email with personal product recommendations for the customer based on their browsing and shopping history.

West Elm's personalized recommendations.
Personalized picks based on shopping history in an email from West Elm.

One note on personalization: To keep it effective, you need to do more than simply mail merging your customers’ names into the subject line (e.g., “Hey Lauren, check out our 50 new spring styles”). In fact, one study found 95 percent of people responded negatively to that type of personalization. Personalization is about creating targeted, relevant emails—not showing off the data you have on a customer.

Recommendation #2: Use content marketing to stand out

Part of the personalized email experience is making your customers feel like a real person is talking to them—that they’re not just getting hit with generic corporate marketing copy. The content of your emails goes a long way toward that mission.

Customers are bored with the generic templates that fill their inboxes. So even small attempts to make your emails stand out through creative design, interesting and creative copywriting, and brand storytelling can help you cut through the noise.

In some cases, that can even include writing different copy for different segments of your list. Fynn Glover of the blogging automation platform Matcha says, “To leverage segmentation effectively, eCommerce businesses can expect heavy investments in blogging and content marketing” to better tailor targeted content toward different users.

Trend #2: Artificial intelligence takes eCommerce email marketing to new places

eCommerce brands are already starting to lean heavily on artificial intelligence. Chatbots are becoming increasingly popular as brands can use them to answer customers’ pre-sales questions, guide them through the shopping processes, and provide customer service.

A chatbot on Levi's website.
Levi’s uses an on-site chatbot to assist with sales and any other questions.

In the 2020s, artificial intelligence and machine learning will also take a stronger foothold in the email marketing space—and will be used to achieve a whole new level of personalization in email.

  • Personalized A/B testing. Your email software will be able to predict, then test, what subject line, copy, images, promotions, and calls-to-action work best for each individual user—then send tailored emails accordingly.
  • Email frequency and timing. Your email system will determine what times of the day, days of the week, and volume of email best works for each individual customer—and send based on that.
  • Unearthing new segments. While some segmentation options are simple (like location, gender, or age), others are much trickier to find. An AI system will be able to identify behavioral segments, like customers’ purchase intent, their lifecycle state, and their level of engagement with the brand—then segment emails accordingly.

Recommendation: Use AI to start converting visitors into subscribers

While it’s absolutely worth monitoring AI for email as it develops, much of what we just described is still in its nascent stages or in development. For now, you can use a chatbot to grow your list. By having your chatbot ask customers for an email address—then adding that email to your list through companies like OptinMonster or by using a Zapier integration—you can capture leads and subscribers while concurrently providing customer support and assistance.

Trend #3: The rise of Generation Z and its relationship with email

Generation Z is, by the most popular definitions, anyone born between 1997 and 2012. That means they’re between eight and 23 years old now—but will be between 18 and 33 by the end of the decade. In other words: By the time we’re writing our “eCommerce email marketing predictions for the 2030s” list, Gen Z will be the demographic dictating trends the way that millennials are right now. 

Gen Z currently.
Via: Mediakix.

Here are some of the key facts about Gen Z right now:

  • They’re the first generation that’s been raised in the digital world since birth—when they were little kids, their parents most likely had cell phones, high-speed internet, and Gmail addresses.
  • They had social media by high school (for older members of Gen Z) or earlier (for younger members).
  • They already spend at least $44 billion a year.  
  • 98 percent own a smartphone, and almost half of them put in at least 10 hours of screen time per day.

Yes, Gen Z is a generation that’s grown up with social media—and, no doubt, they’re heavy social media users. But they’re also, perhaps to the surprise of some, heavy email users

  • 58 percent check email multiple times a day, and another 23 percent check email at least once a day. That means overall, four out of five check their email daily. Less than one percent never check email.
  • They like getting emails from brands they follow. One-third say they like getting emails from brands a few times a week, and 27.5 percent like getting emails from brands daily. 
  • Two-thirds have made a purchase as a result of a marketing email in the last month.
  • Even though they’re a generation that uses social media heavily, and they rank social media as their preferred way to hear from brands, email is a close second.

Recommendation: Engage with Gen Z by crafting emails that understand them and cater to them.

Despite the cliches and stereotypes, Gen Z uses email and shops with email. The key going forward is to use email marketing to properly engage with Gen Z as they become a larger percentage of your customers throughout the decade.

  • Play to the modern attention span. One side effect of growing up in the smartphone world: Gen Z has no attention span. A study by Microsoft pegged it at just eight seconds—down from the whopping 12-second attention span of millennials. That means: Get to the point with your emails, catch your customer’s eye with a good headline and images, and make it easy to quickly click and buy.
  • Use email for promotions and recommendations, not company updates. Gen Z engages with brands on both email and social. They expect to see things like company updates, links to recent blog posts, and photos and other types of content on social. 82 percent say the main things they like in email marketing are promos and special discounts—in other words, things they aren’t used to seeing on social media. 44 percent like getting product recommendations (quite possibly personalized ones) via email. Only around a quarter want emails with company updates, and only one in five want links to blog posts.
  • But… they do want content. Email newsletters are growing in popularity as a content format, with many of those offerings targeting younger users. Thibaud Clement, CEO of Loomly, says, “Through the rise of new email-based media, in the likes of The Hustle … email [will] deliver high-quality information in a perfectly balanced format, optimized for the modern attention span.” About two-thirds of Gen Z subscribe to at least one informational newsletter, so unique, interesting, and authentic email content certainly appeals to them.
  • Focus on user-generated content and recommendations. Gen Z has grown up posting their random thoughts and questions on social media and getting bombarded with feedback and opinions. As a result, they crowdsource their purchasing decisions—via friends, family, micro-influencers, and even random like-minded people online. Make sure your email content reflects that—show pictures, videos, and testimonials from people in Gen Z who are authentically fans of your product, and other Gen Z customers will respond.

Key takeaways

The rise of search engines and SEO, the emergence of texting and social media, and, more recently, the boom of chat and group messaging has put email under pressure to evolve and change, but statistics continue to show that email marketing is (and will continue to be) a foundational piece of the digital era.

As we move into the 2020s, here are three key trends to watch in the eCommerce email marketing space—and recommendations to make sure they don’t pass you by.

  • Personalization. eCommerce businesses both small and large can and should take advantage of advanced personalization and segmentation going forward. That can include customized offers, targeted sales announcements, and creative content.
  • Artificial intelligence. The future of AI and email marketing is vast—and could introduce a whole new level of personalization like individualized A/B testing and next level segmentation. For now, widely accessible tools like AI chatbots can help you grow your list while you simultaneously assist your customers.
  • The rise of Gen Z. By the end of the 2020s, Gen Z will be 18 to 33 years old—and a major part of your customer base. To properly serve them, play to their (short) attention spans, make sure your emails work in tandem with your social media, create interesting and authentic content, and showcase recommendations from real users.