The complete guide to eCommerce email marketing conversions

Using email marketing is a no-brainer for any eCommerce retailer. In fact, it remains one of the best ways to reach your customers. According to DMA Insight, 99 percent of consumers check their email daily, often multiple times. And Adestra says 72.5 percent of consumers choose email as their preferred way to communicate with businesses. An additional 11 percent want a combination of email and SMS for communicating with businesses—meaning more than eight in 10 want to hear from you via email.

Even more important, the ROI of email marketing is amazing. Figures from Litmus give an average 38:1 ROI, meaning for every dollar spent on email marketing, retailers return an amazing $38. But how does an eCommerce business prime itself for that kind of return?

In this guide, we’re going to describe the steps you need to take to improve your eCommerce email marketing conversions. It will cover:

By the end, you’ll have all the tools and knowledge you need to improve your eCommerce email marketing conversions, and generate more sales for your store.

The basics of eCommerce email marketing conversions

Before we get into the tips and advice, it’s important to understand a couple of key terms that marketers and website owners use all the time: conversion and conversion rate.

What is a conversion?

A conversion happens when a subscriber or visitor completes a desired action. For example, when someone visits your site, and signs up for offers, that’s a conversion. When someone downloads your lead magnet (like an eBook) or signs up for a webinar, that’s a conversion.

In email marketing, a conversion is a click on a link in your email, which can also lead people to take one of the actions described above. However, as you’ll see, when it comes to eCommerce, there’s more to converting a customer than just getting them to click on a link.

What is a conversion rate?

So, what’s a conversion rate then? Basically, it’s the number of people who take the desired action as a percentage of the number of people who were able to take it. In other words, if 100 people get your email and 10 people click your link, then you have a conversion rate of 10 percent.

What about conversion metrics for eCommerce?

Lots of different actions can count as conversions in email marketing, depending on the goal the marketer has for the specific email being sent. However, in eCommerce email marketing, two kinds of conversions are more important than the rest. They are placing an order and completing a sale (which sound the same, but are subtly different). That’s because these are the actions that put money in your bank account.

For sure, there’s value in nurturing your audience and getting them to click on links that don’t lead to sales. That sort of behavior can help turn visitors into customers, and one-time customers into repeat customers. But when you’re in the business of selling, you’ll want a lot of the emails you send to result in actual orders and completed sales.

What’s a good eCommerce email marketing conversion rate?

So, what’s a good conversion rate for eCommerce emails? It turns out that email marketing conversion rates vary, according to benchmark data from Get Responsea lot!

For example, if you’re in the publishing business, you might see a landing page conversion rate of around 12 percent. In retail, it’s different, with an average conversion rate of 4.52 percent. Most businesses see between a five and eight percent conversion rates. These figures give you a starting point for establishing what looks like a good email marketing conversion rate in your eCommerce business.

How do you measure conversion rates?

Most email marketing tools will measure conversion rates for you. However, it’s important to check what user action counts as a conversion. Is it a click or a sale? Some will let you define these conversion parameters as a goal for each campaign.

You may also see a stat like “attributable revenue.” In Jilt, for example, attributable revenue is a measure of the amount of money directly generated by each email you send.

Now, let’s look at some ways you can improve those eCommerce email conversions.

1. Send to the right people

The DMA Insight data we quoted earlier also says that 55 percent of people say they get too many irrelevant emails. Often, those irrelevant emails go straight in the trash, which means nobody’s reading them and you’re not getting conversions.

If you don’t want your emails lost in unread limbo, you’ll have to send them to people who actually want to get them. And you’ll have to make sure the emails you send are relevant to your subscribers’ interests. The key to that is email list segmentation.

Email list segmentation is dividing up your list by interests, behaviors, or other categories so every subscriber sees targeted, relevant information. It’s a key way to utilize personalization in your emails, a trend that Gartner expects to drive a 15 percent rise in eCommerce profits by 2020.

How to segment your email list

There are lots of ways to segment your list, including demographic data like gender or location, browsing behavior on your site, purchasing behavior or history, and much more. The point is that by properly using segmentation with your emails a woman from Chicago who buys regularly will get different emails from a Florida man who’s just made his first purchase.

You’ve likely seen this in action on Amazon and other large retailers. Start looking at Samsung tablets, and as if by magic, you’ll get an email with deals on these items in the next couple of days.  Or, as in the example below, a search for a historical fiction title, results in this kind of recommendation:

And if you actually buy something, you’ll get more emails promoting related items. You can do the same thing for your customers, and make them more interested in opening your emails.

But there’s another more aspect of eCommerce email marketing to look after before people can open your emails…

2. Fix email deliverability issues to reach the inbox

Did you know that 21 percent of emails never reach the intended inbox, even though people have opted in? The reason for that is most often issues with email deliverability.

What’s your email deliverability rate? It’s the percentage of the emails you send that actually reach subscribers’ inboxes. You’ll see this number in the analytics your email marketing service provides. While 100 percent deliverability would be great, a number in the high 90s is acceptable.

Note that email deliverability is not about the estimated 140 billion or so emails that end up in spam folders each day. Those emails have to reach the inbox before they get to the spam folder. Instead, email deliverability issues deal with emails that never even get as far as that.

You can easily check deliverability issues by using a tool like Mail Tester.

When you’ve created an eCommerce email marketing campaign, send a test email to the address the tool provides, and you’ll get a report highlighting the key issues.

Here are some of the common ones. Fair warning: this part is a little technical.

Email authentication

Email authentication lets email providers like Gmail and Yahoo know that the emails you send are on the level. There are three important types of authentication:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF), which counters email spoofing by working out if an email has been sent by an authorized IP on a domain.
  • DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), a kind of digital signature that links your domain with the emails you send from it<./li>
  • Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, & Conformance (DMARC), an anti-spoofing and anti-phishing authentication protocol.
How DMARC works. Source: Return Path


A Mail Tester report will also show if your IP address has been blocklisted, which stops emails from being delivered. If a lot of recipients mark your emails as spam, you could end up being blocklisted.

And if you’re just starting to send emails from a new IP and send tens or hundreds of thousands of them, that will be a red flag that marks you out as a possible spammer.

With new IPs, it’s better to warm them up by sending to a few people (maybe your most important or engaged subscribers), and increasing the email volume gradually.

But what also happens is that if you’re using a shared mail server, and someone else has used it to send spam, then that could stop your emails from being delivered. One possible solution is to use a dedicated IP, but know that if you do this, and end up blocklisted, there’s little comeback.

Spam trap emails

Blocklist keepers and ISPs use spam trap emails to help find people who are using unsavory email marketing practices. For example, these email addresses often turn up on purchased or scraped email lists. ISPs purposely place them there or leave them out in the wild to be scraped.

If any of these spam trap addresses turn up on your email list, then this will hurt your sender reputation and your emails may not get delivered. In extreme cases, your domain could be blocked, so you can’t use email marketing on that domain at all.

One way to avoid that is to clean your email list regularly, to remove inactive subscribers. Before you remove them for good, try a win-back campaign to re-engage them. However, if they don’t bite, just let them go.

Subscriber preferences

Even when people opt in to your emails, their actions can still hurt deliverability. For example, if they:

  • Forget they’ve opted in
  • Can’t find an easy way to unsubscribe
  • Can’t easily change preferences to get less or more relevant emails

If subscribers experience any of these things, they may mark your email as spam. If too many people do that, then you’ll eventually face deliverability issues.

Make sure you also comply, where applicable, with the recent EU GDPR legislation. This means you have to make it clear what data you’re collecting and how you’ll be using it.

Sender reputation

All of the factors we’ve outlined feed into your sender reputation. The better this is, the better your chance of getting your emails delivered. To find your sender reputation, plug the IP of your email server into the Talos reputation lookup tool.

The report you get will have a green dot next to your email reputation if you’re in the clear. You can also check your sender score with this tool from Return Path.

Working with an email service platform like Jilt improves deliverability by using a dedicated sending IP and infrastructure optimized to get emails successfully into the inboxes of your customers. Learn more about email deliverability in our guide.

3. Improve your eCommerce email open rate

If you avoid email deliverability issues, then you’re well on the way to getting people to convert. But before you can get your email recipients to order from your online store, you’ll need to get those people to actually open your emails. That’s not as easy as you might think. With an average email open rate of just over 20 percent, most of the emails businesses send are never opened. Here are some tips on improving your odds.

Identify the sender (that’s you!)

According to Litmus, sender information is even more important than the email subject line in getting people to open your emails. In fact, 42 percent of people look at this first, before deciding if they will open the email.

What are they looking for? To see if the person who sent the email is someone they’ve given permission to email them.

You’ll be able to edit the sender info via your email service provider. It will include a name and an email address.

Both of these are important. The name can help you start to build a personal connection with your subscribers. Some people combine their name and company, for example “Ben from Missinglettr.” Others may use the name of their company, like “Eileen Fisher,” or a team name, such as “Team Anchor.”

The email address is also crucial for making people trust you. In Gmail (and most email applications), you can hover over a sender name to see their email address before you open an email. If it’s a “no-reply” email address, that’s less trustworthy than an email address belonging to a real person (ideally the same person who’s sending and signing the email).

The point is that when people recognize that the email comes from someone they want to hear from, they’re more likely to open it.

Write an effective subject line

According to Litmus, 34 percent of people look at the subject line first when deciding if they want to open an email. That makes it the next most important part to get right.

The subject line is like a headline for your email, telling people what they’re about to read. Done right, email subject lines can help with conversions, too. That’s because they tell subscribers what to expect. If you meet their expectations, then they’re more likely to take the desired action.

So, how can you nail your eCommerce email subject lines? There are lots of techniques you can try.

Litmus reveals that 54 percent of people have felt deceived by a subject line. You definitely don’t want to do that. So, you can play it straight, telling people exactly what’s in the email:

  • Your eBook freebies
  • Say Hello to Sweaters
  • $3 Off Coupon

Here are some other techniques to try.

You can inspire curiosity:

  • Are you guilty of these common fashion mistakes?
  • Check out our new looks
  • What’s the perfect computer setup for your small biz?

You can trigger the fear of missing out (FOMO) by using urgency and scarcity to make your subject line more appealing:

  • Hurry! 6 days left to win $500!
  • Get more for less. 30 percent off all week.
  • 50 percent off storewide ends tomorrow!

You can make people feel like insiders (all those feel-good endorphins are great for conversions):

  • Exclusive content and early previews
  • From us to you – 50 percent off premium books
  • Exclusive offer: 80 percent off pro plans

The subject line is also a great place to put a mini call to action (CTA) which tells people what you’ll want them to do:

  • Score the perfect outfit
  • Steal our email template
  • Gifts to grab

You can also personalize emails by using people’s names. We all pay more attention when we see our own name.

One thing that’s crucial is to avoid spam trigger words in your email subject lines. Excessive use of capital letters, exclamation marks, strange characters and even emojis can make emails look suspect.

The first thing your customers will see is your email subject line, so getting it right is super important. For more advice and ideas, check out our guide to email subject lines. It’s a comprehensive guide to writing subject lines that get people to open, and includes a list of trigger words to avoid, as well as action words you can use to increase open rates.

Use the preview text effectively

The data from Litmus shows that almost a quarter of subscribers (24 percent) look at the preview text before deciding whether to open an email. The preview text is the text in a lighter type that you see in your inbox after the subject line.

As the name suggests, it gives you a preview of what’s inside. By default, this usually shows the first few words of your email, but many email marketing tools will let you edit the text manually. That allows savvy marketers write preview text that better meets their marketing goals.

You can use the preview text area to:

  • Reinforce the message in the subject line
  • Give more detail on an offer you’re making
  • Preview the content that’s inside the email
  • Add another CTA
King Arthur Flour is great at using preview text to reiterate the message in their email subjects.

It’s another opportunity to reinforce your message and make recipients want to open your emails. According to Litmus, around one-third of people won’t open your emails, but will head straight to your online store if they know what’s on offer. Preview text helps you win those sales by giving you a bit more real estate to explain what you’re selling and why customers should visit your store.

4. Win the click

By this point, you’ve nearly made it to winning those conversions: the all important clicks that are the first step toward orders or completed sales. But there’s still work to do to make that happen. After all, just because a subscriber opens an email, it doesn’t mean that subscriber will actually take any action. What they see when they open the email will help persuade them to do that.

Reinforce your message with the headline

Ideally, the headline of your email will deliver on the promise of the subject line. It doesn’t have to be identical, but it must be related. In other words, if you send an email with a subject line about deals on sweaters, the headline should be about sweaters, not pants.

Here’s an example from Apple. It had a curiosity-inspiring subject line, “Time to get exactly what you wished for.” The email builds on that by reinforcing the focus on the customer.

Just like headlines for other content, email headlines have to be appealing and catchy so that email recipients want to read more. To write good headlines, you should:

  • Start by creating multiple headlines – Writing multiple headlines for each piece of content you create is a good practice to get into. It forces you to try out different styles and helps you hone in on one or two that might work.
  • Use the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to get a sense of how they’re constructed – This tool looks at attributes like headline length, sentiment, word connotation, and how common or uncommon the words you use are. It also shows you previews of how your headline might look it different contexts.
  • Include conversion-boosting power words – These are words that reinforce or trigger certain emotional responses. They can be used to better entice subscribers toward a specific feeling.
  • Riff off headlines that have worked before – If it worked in the past, it might work again! Review your previous headlines and use successful ones as a starting point.

Check out more headline writing tips from CoSchedule.

Deliver relevant content

We talked earlier about the importance of sending emails that are relevant to your subscribers. The content of the email will help to determine if you’ve got it right. Some ways to deliver good content include:

  • Write for readers. The hard sell can be off putting, so aim to be human and personable instead.
  • Educate your customers. Include information that will help them make a decision to buy.
  • Keep emails short so recipients are more likely to read them. eCommerce emails are generally most effective when they’re kept under 100 words.
  • Personalize your emails. Personal emails are more likely to lead to sales. Add a personal touch to your emails not only by using the recipient’s name, but by delivering relevant, targeted content to each subscriber by segmenting your list as described earlier.

Here’s an email targeted to the season and to men. The subject line for this email was, “Three Jackets Every Man Needs this Winter.”

It’s relatively short, it’s informational, and it’s relevant. The contents match the promise of the subject line, and the call to action is clear (more on that in a bit).

Design for readability and usability

Ever received one of those super-long emails you thought would never end? Or an email that was so wide you couldn’t see the whole thing on your screen without scrolling to the side? We have, too, and it isn’t pleasant. That kind of experience is a big turnoff, so it’s important to get design details right.

The standard email template is 600 pixels wide, so stick to that and most inboxes will cope. But if you need more – or less room – you can try anything between 500px and 800px wide.

Make sure your email loads fast by making image file sizes as small as you can get away with, while still making sure your products look good. A tool like TinyPNG is a great way to compress multiple images fast.

While you have to show your products off, avoid including unnecessary images so your emails load fast. Remember, many of your users will be reading your emails on mobile, and are more likely to be dealing with slow data transfer speeds. And for every image you do include, be sure to include alt text to describe the image. Many people have images disabled by default in their email clients, and alt text will tell them what they’re missing. It’s essential for subscribers with disabilities, too (screen reading apps for the vision-impaired, for example, rely on alt text to describe images to users).

Don’t go wild with font usage. Stick to a couple for headlines and one for body text to keep the emails looking clean and clear.

Use your logo and brand colors in emails to reinforce your identity, like this example from Grammarly.

You can also use color to evoke a mood, such as for spring or winter promotions.

As we said earlier, shorter is better with emails. But if you do go long, make the text easy to scan by using subheads or different colored sections in your template.

Nail the call to action

The call to action (CTA) is where all the work you’ve put in so far pays off. As the name suggests the CTA tells subscribers what you want to do (it calls them to take action). For best results, focus on a single action per email.

While the CTA can be a word or short phrase, it has a big impact, and there are lots of ways to handle it. You can use some of the same techniques you used to get people to open your email in the first place. For example, you can:

  • Inspire curiosity: “See what’s on offer”
  • Evoke urgency: “Grab the deal today”
  • Show the benefits: “Get your discount”
  • Be direct: “Buy now”

Since your subscribers expect to see a CTA, you can bring it out in the open. You’ll have to test whether buttons or links work best for your audience. Campaign Monitor found buttons outperformed links by 28 percent for their emails, but your results may vary based on the demographics of your shoppers.

Even though you’re focusing on one action, it’s useful to give subscribers multiple opportunities to take that action. Typically, email marketers will include the CTA up to three times, sometimes as buttons, sometimes as links. Doing this also gives you the chance to assess which type of CTA works best for your audience. Here’s an example from Rifle Paper Co, with the subject line: “Free Gift. Last Chance. Open This.”

You can see their “Shop Now” call to action is repeated three times throughout the email. (And the footer includes additional links to shopping sections on their site.)

When people click your link and place an order, then you’ve successfully won a conversion, but that’s not the end of the story…

5. Give them a second chance to convert

As we said in our guide to eCommerce cart abandonment, abandoned carts are a fact of life for eCommerce retailers. People add items to their shopping carts and leave for all kinds of reasons.

But with the right email marketing strategy, you can win back some of those abandoned carts, and get more conversions. The key: sending an abandoned cart email campaign.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Send an email a few hours after abandonment. This is a good time to check if there were technical errors or website issues that stopped people from completing the sale. You’ll also use this email remind them of exactly what they left in their cart.
  • A day later, send a second email. Again, remind recipients of cart contents, and consider offering a discount to encourage them to buy.
  • Around 48 hours after the first email, send a third email. Again, remind recipients what’s in their cart, and offer an incentive to complete the purchase. This is a good time to use urgency by reminding recipients that their cart is will expire soon or by putting a time limit on any discount or deal you offer.

If you’re using Jilt, it’s easy to send an abandoned cart email campaign.

How to track email conversions

Once you start getting conversions from your eCommerce email marketing, it’s important to track them. That allows you to measure progress, and take steps to improve them.

Email marketing analytics

A good place to start is with the analytics built into your email marketing software. This should give your open rate (the number of people who opened your email as a percentage of the emails you sent). It will also give you your click through rate (CTR). That’s the number of people who clicked on a link in your email as a percentage of the emails you sent.

An article on ImpactBND suggests that it’s also important to measure the click to open rate (CTOR). That’s because it measures the success of your actual email content in winning conversions. The CTOR differs from from CTR in that it measures clicks against only opens, rather than all sent mail. It takes into account people who may open your email multiple times before taking an action, but discards those who never do. That means it is more influenced by content than by other factors.

While the CTR can be affected by subject lines, preview text and so on, the CTOR is about what happens after the open. We grabbed some stats from Jilt for a six month period to show the difference in the rates:

  • Average open rate was 28 percent (opens by unique person)
  • Average click rate was 5.75 percent (clicks by unique person)
  • Average CTOR was 13.53 percent (total clicks / total opens — allows for multiple opens / clicks)

Tracking the CTOR can help you decide if you need to work more on content to improve conversions.

Curious about what other eCommerce analytics you should be paying attention for your store? Check out our guide to the most critical eCommerce metrics that every store owner or manager needs to be tracking.

Web analytics

You’ll also be able to check the success of your emails by combining two sets of data. First, check email analytics to see which links people clicked on. Then go into Google Analytics and check data of those individual pages.

You can also set up eCommerce tracking, goals and campaigns, to see how particular product pages, and your cart and checkout pages, perform.

Test and measure

The final piece of the conversion puzzle is testing to see what works. This can be as simple as comparing the effectiveness of two different headlines in winning conversions. You can also have more variations (no more than 4), and split your audience among each one.

If you want to change multiple elements at once, for example, when testing a new design, then you’ll need to use multivariate testing.

Once you’ve identified the options that work best for your audience, you can use these for future campaigns.

We’ve come to the end of our guide on eCommerce email marketing conversions. You should now have a good understanding of:

  • What eCommerce email marketing conversions are
  • How to ensure you’re sending relevant emails to the right people
  • How to get into recipients’ inboxes by improving deliverability
  • How to improve open and click rates
  • How to get more conversions with cart abandonment campaigns
  • How to track, measure, and improve conversions with analytics


  1. Hi Sharon,
    I should send this link to various companies. Some of them don’t seem to segment their lists. I buy the offer and next week, the same offer appears in my inbox. LOL

    This is an excellent A-Z guide for people looking to get (back) on track with email marketing. Well done!



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