Email automation turbo charges one of the most effective marketing channels around. And if you’re not convinced that email is still a vital channel – if you’ve seen headlines like “Email Is Dead. What’s Next?” – then join us for a look at how automated triggers can turn email into a personal, revenue-generating channel for your business.
This post will look at what email automation is, as well as some great examples of email automation in action. In the process, we’ll cover the things that email still does better than other channels, and go over tips for launching your own automated email campaigns.
There’s no way to automate learning, however, so let’s dive right in.
What Is Email Automation?
Email automation refers to email communication that is triggered by certain actions that shoppers have taken (or not taken) at your store.
Some common email automation sequences – ones that we’ll be looking at in-depth in a minute – include
- Abandoned cart emails: Emails sent to shoppers who added items to their carts but didn’t purchase.
- Order confirmation and update emails: Emails containing details about a specific order that’s been placed.
- Newsletter signup email: Emails that confirm a visitor’s inclusion in your mailing list.
This is by no means a complete list of email automation examples. Other triggers could be money-related (customer has spent X amount of money) or engagement-related (customer hasn’t made a purchase in X weeks).
Whatever the triggers, email automation is different than newsletters or campaigns that get blasted to an entire email list. Automated emails are triggered by something that a shopper did – like make a purchase – and not something that store owners do – like launch a new product or sale.
These are known as “transactional emails,” the cousin on “promotional emails,” the latter of which, as the name suggests, are emails that promote specific offers and products.
As more and more platforms encroach on email’s slice of the customer communication ecosystem – Facebook, Instagram, and on – it’s worth asking, “Could this sort of automated communication be handled on other channels, like social?” Not really. We would never tweet order details at our customers, or post a receipt on their Facebook page. There are still lots of occasion when email is clearly our best option.
Alright, enough theory. Let’s look at email automation in practice, and how you can leverage it to drive sales.
Email Automation for Cart Abandonment
Perhaps the most famous of all automated emails, abandoned cart emails are a great way to engage with customers – er, almost-customers.
It’s no coincidence that the default Shopify checkout sequence starts with an email address:
Indeed, the first thing that someone does during checkout is give you their email. And if they abandon that process for any reason – maybe their credit card was in the other room, or they were at work and had to run to a meeting – then having that email enables you to get back in touch.
Sure, shoppers might abandon checkout because they really, truly don’t want the product after all. But for those who are legitimately interested, a followup email might be enough to nudge them toward conversion.
That nudge can take many forms. Let’s take a look at how Ugmonk, which specializes in designer t-shirts, handles abandoned checkout. Some things to notice:
→ It’s informal. They use a smiley face in the opening sentence and language like “then you drifted off.”
→ It’s helpful. They straight-up ask if there is anything they can help with.
→ It’s conversion-focused. There are two links that take you back to your cart.
→ It’s reassuring. Check out that PS – “100% satisfied,” “don’t worry,” and some bold text explaining the return policy.
There is no rule against have multiple emails in an email automation sequence. If you resist Ugmonk’s first abandoned cart email, then you might get another one sweetening the deal.
Smoothly leveraging data the sort of data that every store owner has access to, Ugmonk has this campaign dedicated for first-time buyers: “I don’t usually do this, but because you are a brand new customers and I want to give you a warm welcome…”
Here’s another example of an abandoned cart email, this time from Beardbrand, which specializes – wait for it – in beard products. Lots of good stuff in here as well:
→ The subject line is friendly and helpful.
→ It compliments the shopper with phrases like “I see that you put one of my favorite products into your cart” and “Spiced Citrus Beard Oil is a part of my personal routine. Excellent taste!” Hokey? Eh, maybe a bit. But still endearing and memorable.
→ The shopper is encouraged to get in touch if they have any questions or need recommendations.
Let’s look at one more abandoned cart email, this one from Philippines-based cosmetics and clothing store Always Sunday.
Always Sunday takes full advantage of the visual flexibility of email. None of the abandonment notifications we’ve looked at would translate well to SMS. But this one, in particular, is an example of email automation at its visual best.
There’s a big logo, bright buttons, as well as a picture of the actual product that was left in the cart.
Email Automation for Order Confirmations
If all goes well, these abandoned cart emails will result in sales, which are another instance when email automation can play a huge role in your communication with customers.
By default, Shopify will send customers confirmation emails after an order. They look something like this one:
As with most things in Shopify, these emails are customizable with a couple clicks. In your store, all you do is go to Settings and click on Notifications:
Inside Notifications, you’ll find Order Confirmation:
Inside the Order Confirmation area, you’ll find a template that looks like this:
Now, all that code that might seem overwhelming, but it’s not hard to find the sections that we might want to update:
In just a couple minutes, we can turn an informative yet bland confirmation email into something with a little more pop.
It’s the same thing, but this time with
- a better subject line
- a little bit of voice (“Your socks can’t wait to meet you… Keep on socking!”)
- and a discount code
Don’t be scared to make your emails personal and fun. People have enough credit card reminders and Uber receipts in their inbox – they’ll welcome something fun.
Oh, and also don’t be scared to give out a discount code with a purchase. As Facebook advertising prices do nothing but increase, it can cost loads to find new customers. In this case, though, you already have a customer. So keep em!
If you get less profit on that discounted sale, so be it. At least you got another sale, and it cost you $0 in additional ad spending.
Email Automation for Newsletter Subscriptions
If things go well, you will have lots of people signing up for your email list. Each time you get a signup, it gives you a chance to reach out to your new subscriber. (Depending on where you and/or your subscriber is based, you might actually be required to send an email to confirm the subscription.)
Here’s how Harper Wilde, a store that specializes in bras, welcomes people to their mailing list:
Below that nice message and engaging image, Harper Wilde takes the chance to
- promote their social responsibility project
- plug their social media accounts
- and dish out a 10% discount
Designer sunglasses provider Sunday Somewhere has the whole mailing-list-confirmation thing down, too. Joining their mailing list starts with a popup layer featuring this charming young lady…
… and ends in your inbox a few minutes later with a fun picture, a thank you, and a promo code.
One thing that you’ll notice about these automated emails is that they amplify the brand identity of both Harper Wilde and Sunday Somewhere. Harper Wilde prides itself on being a store for women, run by women. So it makes sense that subscribers are welcomed as “Wilde Women.” And if you scroll deep enough, you’ll even run into the co-founders, who, as you might guess, are women:
Sunday Somewhere, meanwhile, takes the chance to reenforce the carefree vibe that pervades their website and social media platforms. A good-looking couple in a convertible is pretty carefree, I’d say. Then there’s the sign-off: “… and lastly, remember to treat everyday as if it’s a Sunday.”
Using Email Automation as a Swiss Army Knife
The sort of emails we’ve look at here are known as transactional emails, or triggered emails. They confirm that an interaction has taken place, whether it was the customer making a purchase, adding something to their cart, of giving you their email address.
As you build your email campaigns and flows, keep in mind that transactional emails have an opening rate of about 33 percent, which is way higher than businesses would expect from a promotional campaign. Transactional emails also have higher click-through rates than other types of email.
In other words, your customers and shoppers are more likely to read a confirmation email than, say, the monthly promo that you send to your entire list.
So use transactional emails as a chance to market your products and brand! Just because the subject line says “order confirmation,” it doesn’t mean you can’t drop in a discount code, and use touches that reenforce your brand identity.
The confirmation email is about their order, and their money. It’s premium real estate, so be sure to take advantage.
Conclusions on Email Automation
With email, “automation” isn’t interchangeable with “easy.” Even with the fancy triggers, email has as many challenges, quirks, and drawbacks as other channels like Facebook, Instagram, search, and so on.
Then again, talking about “email vs other channels” probably isn’t he best way to think about it. If done right, email marketing amplifies your other channels. Here’s how Sean Cook, VP of Marketing at MailChimp, put it in the podcast embedded up there 👆:
If we talk about how you use these different channels in concert with one another, each one has its own superpower, so to speak. So for example, an online seller might use the existing information that they have on their set of customers to create a Facebook ad to find lookalike audiences.…
Then that same seller could create a landing page to enlist these new visitors to give them a little bit more information about them through visits to their store – maybe they’re shopping on the Shopify store that this merchant has….
Then email is an incredibly powerful tool to stay in touch with these customers, and communicate with them, and let them know about new product announcements that are relevant to the things that they’ve done before…. and even set up automations like abandoned cart to be able to follow up on purchases that they came close to making but didn’t quite do.
A lot of these technologies are very powerful and incredible just in and of themselves, but when you start to combine them – when you combine the power of MailChimp and the power of Shopify together, where a customer action will trigger some marketing engagement – it really drives a lot of benefit for the end customer. Because as a customer I’m able to see things that are relevant for my behavior and my purchases. But for the marketer, it helps me to be smarter. It helps me to make smarter decisions and have smarter marketing programs, because what I’m able to do is set up triggers to where a marketing message, an advertisement, or some other communication with those customers are happening even when I’m not actively pushing or touching my marketing materials….
I think email is just more and more part of an entire environment of communications. It should not and will not be a standalone thing. I think email is powerful, it’s a way to have very personalized, very deliberate communications with the customer. It’s a format that allows a certain level of engagement and a richness of content, and it allows flexibility of format, whether its long-form or very short or an automation that’s triggering a very specific product-related communication.
But the real power is when email is considered in concert with other platforms like Facebook ads, or mobile notifications, or with Google retargeting, for example. All of these things – while they are super powerful discretely, as individual marketing channels and tactics – when they work together they have an exponential productivity and impact and value to the customer, and value to the merchants who are using them the right way.
Want to Learn More?
We have loads of fun stuff on email marketing. If you haven’t had your fill just yet, have at it!
- How to Master Your Email Marketing Strategy
- The Beginner’s Guide to Email Segmentation
- These Exact 3 Email Campaigns Made Me an Extra $6,504
- The Best Email Marketing Platforms for Ecommerce