Here’s what eCommerce email marketing will look like in 2020

Email marketing today looks a lot different from email marketing in 1978, when the first mass email went out. And with consumer expectations and technological capabilities increasing, it’s continuing to change. 

That’s why the next few years could be both exciting and challenging for eCommerce email marketers. With the help of Litmus’ future-facing email marketing study, here’s our take on what’s ahead. We’ve identified five trends you need to be aware of as you prepare for 2020 and beyond. 

1. Email marketing won’t be dead

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: will eCommerce email marketing still be relevant in the coming years? With millennial audiences (your future consumers) communicating mostly through messaging apps, it’s tempting to think that email marketing is dead. 

In fact, email (and by extension email marketing) has been declared dead many times over the years. In 2007. In 2009. In 2011. In 2015. And yet…

According to Litmus, 70 percent of people believe email will still be relevant in 10 years’ time (landlines, on the other hand, may be on life support, with less than 50 percent of people seeing them as relevant). 

Marketing channels over the next ten years.

Among those, 25-34 year-olds are the strongest advocates of email sticking around, but a very healthy 68.9 percent of 18-24s also believe in the staying power of email. 

The takeaway? As always, the death of email marketing has been greatly exaggerated. (Breathe a sigh of relief, Millennials: email is one thing no one can say you killed.) But as you’ll see, eCommerce email marketers have to be savvier about how they use it to meet the needs of demographics with varying communication expectations. 

How to prepare

To get started with email marketing in 2020, double down on your email marketing basics. That means:

2. Email marketing will get smarter, with no more silos

If you know where to look, the signs are there: the walls are coming down between email marketing and other marketing channels. About time, right?

The thing is, your customers aren’t waiting eagerly for you to communicate your latest information. They’re going out and doing their own research. 

According to Think with Google, consumers use an average of 2.8 touch points, online and offline, when researching a purchase. The actual number varies, depending on whether the purchase is something generally relatively inexpensive, like clothing, or a more costly item, like electronics.

Marketing touchpoints used for purchase research.

In 2020, eCommerce email marketers must recognize that email marketing is only one of many ways to connect with customers. But from the customer viewpoint, that connection must be seamless. Customers and subscribers must be able to move from email to website to social and back to email again without losing the integrity of the experience. 

Epsilon’s Jill LeMaire Redo suggests that eCommerce email marketers should first understand their customers, then decide how best to reach them. She says: “Strategic roadmaps and customer journey maps will become central to understanding what customers want and need before making technology and channel decisions.” One of those core channels will be email.

How to prepare

To get ready to provide an excellent cross-channel experience for your customers, including email marketing, you should:

3. eCommerce email marketing will be even more personal

Let’s face it; eCommerce email marketing personalization isn’t a new concept, but with more data and better technology, personalization is about to go to a whole new level. 

Right now, you can use email list segmentation to group your subscribers in different ways, and send campaigns to those groups. Some of the most successful eCommerce retailers segment emails based on customer behavior. So if two people visit the same site at the same time on the same day but look or purchase at different items, the follow-up emails from the retailer will be completely different. 

But with silos broken down and the email address at the core of people’s online identity, there are even more possibilities for making email marketing personal in 2020 and beyond. 

For example, marketers may be able to:

  • Use location even more smartly, harnessing data from wearable and other mobile devices
  • Automate messaging while making it still feel personal (more on that later)
  • Reformat emails, depending on where consumers read them; for example, Litmus says on a desktop a subscriber might see a full email, but only a subject line and call to action on a wearable device

How to prepare

Here’s how you can prepare for more personal email marketing:

  • Bring all your customer data together in one place (yes, we said that already, but it’s worth repeating)
  • Understand how wearable and augmented reality technology can integrate with your email marketing strategy
  • Think about all the data your store is already collecting and how you can use it to personalize the emails you’re sending

From 2020 onwards, it’s not just about delivering the right message to the right person. Instead, eCommerce email marketers will need to operate across multiple dimensions to send the right message to the right person at the right time in the right format

4. Technology and data will drive eCommerce email marketing

Just as location drives real estate, for marketing the key tenet will be data, data, data. When visualizing eCommerce email marketing in 2020 and beyond, think automated and integrated, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to deliver stellar experiences to customers and subscribers. 

Around 66 percent of people think that email content will be determined by AI, with marketers using that technology to choose the best subject lines and the most relevant email marketing copy and images. 

AI and predictive technology use in email.

The most successful email marketers will use these tools to provide situationally contextual messages that are more relevant to every individual subscriber. This will result in emails that are much more finely targeted as marketers are better able to predict subscribers’ actions based on past behavior. 

As technology improves, emails are likely to get more interactive. Litmus predicts that shoppers will be able to purchase products and services without leaving the email. 

When you understand your customers better and make better recommendations, then email ROI will also improve.

How to prepare

To get ready for using AI, machine learning and more data in eCommerce email marketing, here’s a short reading list:

And take a look at some of the current eCommerce technology trends we’re already watching.

5. Your emails will talk (and you’ll talk back)

If you’ve been paying attention to the latest trends, you’ll know about the rise in voice technology in our lives. By 2022, 55 percent of US homes will use smart speakers, and there are already billions of devices in use worldwide.

Installed user base for voice assistants in 2019.

As we get more used to talking to devices, and having them talk back, this has implications for eCommerce email marketing. We now expect immediate answers to our questions, and not just the ones about who played the dad in the TV version of Harry and the Hendersons (for the record, it was Bruce Davison). 

While most people use voice technology for calling, getting directions, playing music, checking the weather, and setting reminders, checking email and making purchases are still among the top 10 uses for this technology. And research from Google says that 52 percent of smart speaker owners want to get information on deals.

It’s safe to bet that smart speaker adoption will continue to rise, and with mobile device ownership already at saturation point in some markets, voice technology isn’t going away. 

How to prepare

As an eCommerce email marketer, you’ll have to think about whether it’s easy for people to act on the information in that email, simply by using their voice. Here are some ways to get ready for the voice revolution:

The future of eCommerce email marketing

When you put it all together, email marketing has a bright future, but it won’t look exactly the same as it does today. Consumers will be able to interact with emails seamlessly across platforms, whether that means making a purchase by voice while they’re driving an Alexa-enabled car, or interacting with your marketing promotion via their Apple Watch while running on the treadmill at the gym 

And, more than ever, eCommerce email marketers will use data to give subscribers hyper-personalized experiences that turn them into devoted customers. 

Which future email marketing technology are you most excited about? 

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at sharonhh.com.

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