Three Email Customization Tactics for Ecommerce Domination

7 min

When it comes to everyday conversations, we naturally communicate differently with different people based on the differences in our relationships with them as well as their own differences in personality.

That was a mouthful of an opening sentence … so let me simplify things. In a word, we customize.

The same principle is true in business. Or at least it should be.

For instance, in traditional retail a customer walking into your store for the very first time will have a fundamentally different experience from the person who’s been coming in once a week for the last five years.

Sadly – when it comes to email – the majority of online marketers drop customization and instead rely on generic, one-size-fits-all messages.


Because most of us don’t know where to start.

Thankfully, if your goal is ecommerce domination, three approaches to email customization stand out above the rest.

1. Device

You might think that as long as you’ve made your emails “mobile friendly” you’re covered for cross-device functionality: how your emails appear on desktop, tablet, and mobile.

You’d be wrong.

Customizing your emails based on the devices your subscribers use goes much deeper than just making sure the size of your fonts and images automatically adjust.

In general, desktop conversions are typically higher than tablet conversions, which are likewise higher than smartphones. But don’t let that turn you away because in some industries – like food and beverage, for example – catching the readers on-the-go pays off huge.

It’s also important to remember that your subscribers may want to convert after receiving an email, but then hit a roadblock via mobile because the landing page or product page you’re sending them to loads slowly … or not at all.

Customizing based on device means taking these factors into account.

However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s take a look at how Zalando, an online retailer, uses not just responsiveness but device-specific customization in their desktop-versus-mobile emails.

Desktop version. Image Credit: Really Good Emails
Desktop version. Image Credit: Really Good Emails
Mobile version. Image Credit: Really Good Emails
Mobile version. Image Credit: Really Good Emails

Notice that in addition to reformatting the fonts, buttons, images, and layout (multi column on desktop versus single column on mobile), the mobile version also adds a bar at the top of the email inviting subscribers to download the Zalando app.

Two prominent buttons lead their subscribers to the download pages at each respective app store. Instead of relying on the email content to drive traffic to the webpage, they anticipate that many mobile users prefer to browse via an app itself.

Even better, you can use intelligent email analytics to measure your list’s open and click-through rates based on device and then segment your list based on their preferences.

Email Client Stats

2. Source

Customizing your emails based on source means tailoring your message to fit where your subscriber signed up.

For example, did they abandon their shopping cart after creating an account? If so, what was in it? Were they enticed to sign up by an extra 10% off coupon featured on a specific product category or product-description page? Did they give you their email address in exchange for a product tutorial?

The same also goes for where your subscribers came from immediately before they signed up (i.e., referral source). Did they find your site through a specific post or promotion on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook? Did they arrive via a forwarded email from a friend?

All this is excellent fodder for customization.

However, where your audience signed up for your list goes beyond the initial offer that piqued their interest. In fact, the place most ecommerce stores fall down isn’t based on online sources … but offline sources.

What do I mean?

Connecting online and offline sources is what’s known as omnichannel marketing and if your business exists in both worlds, then taking these sources into account is a must.

As Shopify Plus recently pointed out in Using Data-Backed Decisions to Convert More Customers:

Even if your brick-and-mortar has been around for years longer than your online presence, you can still use technology to drive sales within your physical retail space.

Technology can enable an omnichannel experience by notifying customers about deals as soon as they enter the store. Macy’s uses shopBeacons to provide customized rewards by linking customers’ online shopping accounts with their in-store visits. If a customer has a particular pair of jeans in her online shopping cart, she might receive a coupon for 10% off that specific pair of jeans when she physically enters Macy’s.

How does omnichannel marketing affect email customization?

Take Value City Furniture – “a 60-year-old furniture retail chain with 118 stores across the country” — as a test case.

Despite doing almost a billion dollars in sales each year, Value City Furniture knows that every purchase – especially for big ticket items with long buyer cycles like furniture – demands a personal touch.

The challenge was bridging their offline and online worlds to foster customization.

To do that, Value City Furniture began sending customers with overlapping touchpoints cart abandonment emails that included what they called the “Easy Pass” option:

Image Credit: Marketing Sherpa
Image Credit: Marketing Sherpa

Naturally, this approach wouldn’t work with leads whose only experience was online, which is why customization is paramount on this front.

Additionally, their online-meets-offline leads would also “receive an email when they [were] shopping in-store. That email include[d] information such as the product they were looking at, the in-store employee’s name, measurements and a link to a customer service chat.”

The results of customizing their existing email list based on the overlap between the offline and online worlds speak for themselves. Value City Furniture “raised abandonment revenue 283%, boosted overall email revenue 190%, and reached 55% more online shoppers.”

Powerful stuff.

3. Loyalty

Customizing your list based on each person’s level of engagement and loyalty involves assessing a host of segmentation characteristics like purchase history, purchase recency, buying behavior, and the overall stage of their customer lifecycle.

Keeping these factors in mind allows you to (1) send welcome and follow up emails to leads who haven’t made a purchase, (2) keep frequent buyers “hot,” and even (3) revive “cold” subscribers. Just take a look at the way popular subscription box company Dollar Shave Club communicates with its existing customers in the first image (hot) and its new subscribers in the second (cold).

Dollar Shave Club’s existing-customer emails prominently feature products their subscribers have already shown interest in.
Dollar Shave Club’s existing-customer emails prominently feature products their subscribers have already shown interest in.
Dollar Shave Club’s non-customer emails are far more broad and major on their core product offering.
Dollar Shave Club’s non-customer emails are far more broad and major on their core product offering.

The first email, sent to existing customers, gets right to the point. It doesn’t try to sell or convince. Instead, it simply keeps them engaged and active through low-friction upselling.

The second email, however, is all about convincing a newcomer to try the product out. It speaks directly to those who made an attempt to purchase, but for whatever reason, didn’t complete the process.

As you can tell, neither of these emails would be effective for the other group. They’re mutually exclusive.

Again, this might sound like a lot of work — to communicate to all of your subscribers based on their various buying stages. Rest assured … it’s not.

All you have to do is change the copy and images based on who’s receiving it. One of the best ways to make this kind of customization work is by using dynamic content in your emails.

Dynamic content allows you to swap out snippets of your emails without having to revamp or recreate entirely different campaigns.

Say for instance, you’re sending an email to different genders (who use different products), they might look a little like the emails below.

Image Credit: GetResponse
Image Credit: GetResponse
Image Credit: GetResponse
Image Credit: GetResponse

Notice how the style and formatting of the emails stay the same, but the wording and images have been adjusted accordingly.

A word of warning …

While it’s great to customize your email marketing, be careful not to overdo it.

Keep your chosen approach limited to one area at a time. That way you can track what’s working as well as what’s not.

Additionally, if you get way too deep into using what you’ve learned about a customer, you might give off a creepy “Big Brother” vibe. Customers want to be treated special, but no one wants to feel like there’s a stalker lurking in their mailbox … digital or otherwise.

At the end of the day, trying out different customization tactics, particularly the three mentioned above, will help you capture those coveted eyeballs and encourage your readers to click through and start buying.

Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger & more. Grab his Ultimate Content Creation Checklist at Follow him on Twitter @iconiContent.