Small Business Guides

Email marketing for retail stores

6 min read

Despite the popularity of social media, email is still one of the most effective marketing channels. Often it's the best way to engage with your customers. So how can email marketing help you increase your retail sales?

Make email work for your retail business

Email is the most reliable method of staying in touch with your customers. Almost everyone who buys from you will have an email address. And that email address will probably stay with them for years. It's much more reliable than a physical address.

Whether you're running an ecommerce business or a physical retail store, email can work for you. It's not just about selling – it's about creating and building a relationship with your customers. A good strategy can:

  • increase sales
  • improve lead conversion
  • reach new customers
  • enhance brand engagement
  • deliver customer loyalty.

Eight key ways to build an email marketing strategy

Before getting into about the detail, it's a good idea to create a strategy. Consider your marketing goals and how you might achieve them through email. To get you started, think about the following points:

  1. Establish a voice for your business
    How do you want your business to be perceived? Serious, light-hearted, authoritative, quirky? Email allows you to build a voice that your customers will hear as they read. Give careful thought to how you want it to sound.
  2. Build trust with your customers

    Consumers are cautious with their money – and their trust. They get dozens of emails every day. That means it's hard to build trust. But there are ways you can do it and comply with your legal obligations not to spam people:

    • Make sure you have opt-in email marketing. Don't automatically grab email addresses – let people subscribe themselves.
    • Make it easy to unsubscribe. Customers are entitled to change their minds. Show them you respect their decision.
    • Explain the benefits for the person signing up, in clear language. Make them understand what's in it for them.
    • Give them a choice about what type of information they’ll receive from you, and how often. This will make them feel like they are in control and they’ll appreciate that.
    • Don't spam customers by emailing too often. There's a fine line between engaging people and annoying them. According to a survey by BlueHornet, the main reason more than a third of consumers unsubscribe is too many emails. A nice touch is to offer consumers the chance to opt down and get fewer emails. That may prevent many of them opting out altogether.
  3. Offer relevant information
    Understand your target audience and make sure you only send them emails that are relevant. Doing this well might mean segmenting your mailing list – creating a smaller list from your full customer database. So you’ll need to know how you can use the information in your database. It’s clear that short, targeted emails are more effective than long, general ones.
  4. Integrate email with other channels
    Email works best when combined with other marketing channels. These could include your website and social media accounts. Keep your messaging consistent across all channels. Coordinate across platforms and use targeted ads, social media, your website and paid advertising campaigns. All of these will help boost the performance of your email marketing.
  5. Measure everything
    Emails can be tracked and monitored effectively using smart software. Use analytics and carefully-chosen metrics to understand how customers are engaging with your emails. This data will help you tailor and refine your strategy.
  6. Track every email

    This will help you determine what's working and what's not. Key metrics you might use include:

    • number of emails sent
    • number delivered
    • percentage delivered
    • number bounced
    • number pending
    • number opened
    • percentage opened
    • number of clicks
    • click-through rate (CTR)
    • number of unsubscribes
    • percentage of unsubscribes.
  7. Ask your customers for feedback

    Asking for feedback helps make customers feel more engaged and will help you fine-tune your marketing efforts.

  8. Analyze your results and act accordingly

    Find the best performing segments, the best phrases and the best times. Keep refining your email marketing and watch the results improve.

Once you have a general strategy in place, you can think about the practical details.

Approximately 70 percent of people read emails on a mobile device. Make sure your marketing emails can be easily read – and acted upon – on a small screen.

How to make sure your emails are read – and acted upon

If you fire off emails without thinking about the content carefully, you risk the recipients ignoring or deleting them. Use these tips to ensure you send high-quality emails:

  1. Personalise your email newsletters
    Make sure you include each recipient's name. This is easy enough to do with smart email marketing software. It will help reassure your customers that the email is genuine and show that you pay attention to detail.
  2. Hone in on your best customers
    One way to do this is by ranking your most profitable and loyal customers. Reward them with a surprise offer, or try to incentivize them to buy inventory that you want to shift.
  3. Target your emails based on behavior
    Think about your reader audience and their demographics, lifestyle, interests, or their recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM). The latter is one of the most effective targeting methods.
  4. Focus on your subject line – and A/B test it
    The subject line is the bait that encourages recipients to open your mail. Limit it to about 60 characters and use effective words. Words like ‘your’, ‘daily’ and ‘extra’ are frequently used by retailers. Test your subject line using email marketing software to ensure your emails get at high open rate.
  5. Use everyday conversational language
    Always make sure the content you create is written in plain English and is free of jargon. Use short sentences and words that are to the point. Don't use flowery language or a sales-oriented tone – and don't be pushy. For most customers that will be counterproductive.
  6. Use key dates to send emails at the right time
    A calendar will help you send emails at the appropriate times. For example, some retailers do more than 60 percent of their business on certain vacation dates. Back-to-school dates and tax deadlines are also busy times. Think about your customers to work out what other dates might be significant.
  7. Make sure your content reads well and looks great on mobile devices
    Around 70 percent of people read emails on a mobile device. Ensure your marketing emails can be easily read – and acted upon – on a small screen. Ask a competent developer to help you. Be sure to include tracking data so you know which customers are using mobile devices.

Making email marketing a core part of your business

It’s worth integrating email marketing into your everyday operations – instead of it being an add-on function. You can do this in several ways:

  • Send order-related emails
    When your customer orders a product, send them a confirmation email. Keep them updated about shipping dates. Use these emails as opportunities for cross-selling – for example, "We noticed you ordered a raincoat, so we thought you might like to see our range of boots."
  • Send milestone-related emails
    If you know your customer has a birthday, send them an email and perhaps include a special offer. Customers love personalized emails – they’re a great way to show how much you value them. You could also send an email on the anniversary of when they became your customer.
  • Send trigger-related emails
    If a customer has an item or items in their shopping basket but doesn't finish the buying process, send them an email. Offer an incentive like a discount for them to complete the purchase.

Give your customers what they want

Email marketing works best when both the sender and the recipient benefit from it. As the sender, you want to make more retail sales and therefore more money. The best way to do that is to give your customers what they want.

So send them occasional, well-targeted, well-written emails offering something of value. Deals, special offers and shopping ideas will encourage your customers to buy.

If you do it well, email marketing will turn initial visits into repeat orders. It will help drive customer retention. And it will encourage customers and clients to stay loyal to your brand. That's quite an achievement for such a simple – and free – method of communication.