Fair warning. Email marketing is not for the faint of heart.
And neither is this article.
It won’t unpack “email marketing definitions.” It won’t offer tips on “email marketing 101.” Why?
Because if you own or operate a growing ecommerce business, that’s not what you need.
Instead, what you’re about to experience is an exhaustive and practical guide to acquiring new customers, retaining existing customers, and accelerating their lifetime value … all through the power of email.
Every step will be anchored in two things.
One, the full audit we use at Common Thread Collective to guide new clients. Two, a behind-the-scenes look at a multi-million-dollar brand with ambitious 2021 goals.
Here’s the ecommerce email marketing path before us:
But first, let’s pregame ⚾️ your ecommerce site, brand story & products
Every audit we conduct starts with the ecommerce business itself.
If you’re running your own brand, you likely have piles of documentation: style guide, voice and tone, aesthetics, product lists, a marketing calendar, assets library, and more.
Put all that away.
What’s crucial is experiencing your ecommerce store through the eyes of a first-time visitor.
In “Incognito” mode, visit your homepage on mobile then desktop.
Note the hero imagery, headline, featured products, and breadth of categories. Click through each main link in the navigation. As you do …
To make this process as practical as possible, let me introduce you to Fielder’s Choice Goods. We’ll use it to evaluate every step and point from the audit:
Common Thread Collective acquired FC Goods in early 2018 for $5k. In late 2020 — after growing it to ~$3M in annual revenue — we sold the brand and it’s now a full-service growth client, including email marketing.
Its hero products are handcrafted wallets made from upcycled baseball gloves. It also offers apparel and accessories.
Fittingly, FC Goods majors on quality plus nostalgia. The About page reinforces those same elements. As do its product pages.
The tone is heartfelt and honest. The aesthetic, rich.
Videos showing off everything from its supply chain to manufacturing to origin story accentuate one theme: “We build our products because, like you, we love baseball. Together, let’s celebrate that love.”
Before jumping into the audit, take time to walk through your site the same way. Bonus points if you get a friend or new employee to do it with you. The value of fresh eyes cannot be overstated.
Now, onto the main event …
First and foremost, have you connected your email platform directly with your ecommerce platform?
FC Goods relies on Klaviyo — hands-down our preferred email marketing software. If you go into the Integrations section, you can see that Shopify and Facebook are enabled.
Data feeds fuel the merchandising side of flows (sometimes called, sequences or automations) with personalization and dynamic content.
Data feeds can be customized in order to power dynamic recommendations with more control over what’s populated, but the default is all that’s required for most businesses.
Tracking pixels come in two flavors.
One, onsite events to trigger flows around cart abandonment, browse abandonment, and purchases.
Two, Facebook and other ad platforms to sync with Klaviyo lists and segments for Custom Audience Creation. This is imperative if you’re leveraging Facebook Lead Ads.
Observe onsite email capture tactics through the lens of a consumer. Again, visit your online store in an “Incognito” window to note:
FC Goods has a universal pop-up that fires shortly after landing on the site. Submitting an email address immediately leads to SMS opt-in, so they’re fueling both their email and text programs.
The incentive is a giveaway for a free wallet. Typically we don’t recommend giveaways as they can produce low-quality, freebie-seeking leads.
Without an incentive to grease the wheels, there’s little reason for me to check my inbox. I’m probably not going to hear right away if I’ve won.
Nonetheless, it’s compelling. Powered by JustUno, the creative is strong and the pop-up converts at 3.48%; with a seasonal spike of 8.36%.
Eight percent crushes as a pop-up. Still, if we find lead quality isn’t equally crushing — based on welcome conversions — I’d recommend testing a few different sign-up offers:
Use both sign-up rates and revenue to determine which works best.
Next, we want to see a form for email capture in either the header or footer. On FC Goods, there’s a “Subscribe” box in the footer that leans on scarcity to entice.
With every sign-up source, go through the process of subscribing to test if contacts …
Like all ecommerce sites, FC Goods’ checkout collects emails. It also contains a checkbox to sign up for text messages, enabling a strong cross-channel experience between email and SMS.
The more options you give your customers to connect with your brand through the channels they prefer, the better.
Unfortunately the cart doesn’t ask for email marketing consent, instead focusing on TCPA compliance for their SMS opt ins. Both should be present in this case.
Without that, you could easily fail to comply with GDPR and CCPA for Canadian or EU shoppers. Brands that only ship to the US are free from this constraint.
A welcome series is likely to be one of your top revenue-driving flows.
An effective series should onboard new subscribers, educate them about your brand, and propel them toward first purchase.
Here’s an overview of FC Goods, which we’ll examine bullet-by-bullet:
How quickly does the first message deploy?
Immediately; there’s no delay before the first message.
Triggering an email as soon as someone signs up alleviates anxiety and accelerates conversions.
How many emails are in the flow?
Six; we recommend starting with the three to five and monitoring engagement throughout to determine if emails should be pivoted, added, or removed.
This one kicks off with a 45% open rate and 7% click-through rate. By the last message, we’re at a 20% open and 2% click. These engagement rates are what we’d expect from batched campaigns, rather than a highly personalized flow.
This tells me the messages further down need subject line testing, creative refresh, or should simply be cut in order to move the subscriber into more timely campaigns.
Is there an offer present? If so, what is it?
No; sadly, it opens with “Thanks For Stopping By.” There’s a nice note from the founder. But the first touch doesn’t mention the wallet giveaway or provide a reason to convert right now.
Does the series highlight the brand’s UVP & breadth of products?
The rest of the flow showcases its story, background, and what makes the product special.
The biggest opportunity lies in merchandising.
The “Shop Now” CTAs all lead to collection pages. That means, the customer arrives several clicks from carting an item. And even more clicks away. from completing a purchase.
Instead of being general …
Make your CTAs drive to landing pages with specific hero products. This shortens the path to purchase.
Can subscribers receive marketing messages while in this flow?
Flow filters govern what actions qualify or disqualify a subscriber. The most-crucial filter for a welcome series is “Placed Order.” The moment a potential customer becomes an actual customer, remove them from your welcome flow.
Consider how and when to exclude subscribers from ad-hoc campaigns — like seasonal events, sales, and new product releases.
Smart Sending limits the number of emails a recipient gets within any given time period. Excluding major moments, personalized messages anchored in past behavior convert far better than one-size-fits-all.
Abandonment emails exist for a single reason: getting people back to their cart to convert.
Here’s an overview of FC Goods’ abandoned checkout:
How quickly does the first message deploy?
One hour; fantastic!
Klaviyo’s template defaults to four hours. Based on our experience across dozens of clients, that’s too long.
One to two hours is an optimal starting point to get shoppers back to your online store while the product is still top of mind. And before they can purchase something similar from your competitors.
How many emails are in the flow(s)?
Five; that’s quite a few messages for a cart flow — you might be in the territory of irritating someone if they’ve decided the product isn’t right for them.
Normally, three emails are enough to address the reasons they should convert: product quality, scarcity, easy returns, etc.
For FC Goods, the open and CTRs remain high throughout. Why?
Likely because its products are heavily weighted towards gifting. Buying for someone else — particularly something with a relatively high price point — involves more shopping around and a longer consideration phase.
Evaluating the window for email remarketing requires a slightly different approach from paid social remarketing.
On social media, you’d adjust your window based on the Time Lag from Google Analytics to avoid overspending on contacts who are unlikely to convert.
Email is significantly cheaper for retargeting, so you can rely instead on engagement metrics within the flow itself to determine how often and for how long to attempt to recapture those carts.
Do the emails contain dynamic content of the item(s)?
Yes; plus, they’re one-for-one.
Dynamic content should showcase exactly what someone left in their cart. This instantly provides a visual recall: “Hey, you were interested in this! Come back and complete your order.”
Is there an offer present? If so, what is it?
Yes; every email in the sequence drives shoppers back to their cart through dynamic content.
Even better, discounts aren’t offered until the last two emails:
Usually, people just need a gentle nudge to come back and convert.
Providing a discount too early could mean unnecessarily cutting into your margin. Open with a reminder and delay discounting. You don’t want to sacrifice profit if you don’t have to.
A post-purchase series should (1) thank customers, (2) help them get the most out of the product, and (3) entice a second purchase through cross-selling or a bounceback offer.
How quickly does the first message deploy?
With branching logic early in the flow: messages for repeat purchasers fire immediately; first-timers get a one-hour delay.
FC Goods also triggers order confirmation emails through Shopify. Staggering transactional messages coming from the site versus your ESP avoids overcommunication.
How many emails (or SMS messages) are in the flow?
Based on customer type, the flow ranges from one email for returning customers … to eight for first-timers who indicated the purchase was for themselves.
Respect your repeat purchasers by avoiding too much communication. But don’t miss out on feedback or referrals from customers who have indicated enthusiasm for your brand.
Are purchased product(s) displayed dynamically?
No; using a post-purchase flow to remind users what they ordered and provide care instructions can go a long way in providing a fantastic customer experience.
Is excitement built for the impending delivery?
Not really; the first email contains a personal note from the founder reinforcing the brand’s origin story. Making your customers feel like they’re part of something meaningful can drive affinity and loyalty.
From there, however, the flow pivots to different products rather than the story behind or tips on how to use the product ordered.
Does it explain how to use products for maximum enjoyment?
No; the series doesn’t branch based on product purchased, so it’s difficult to serve personalized emails that speak to care.
This type of messaging goes a long way in building relationships. It shows a genuine interest in helping them get the most out of the product and ensuring longevity.
Does it solicit feedback: NPS, review request, or otherwise?
No; while FC Goods has customer reviews onsite, they’re not actively soliciting them via email. A simple message requesting feedback can help to drive a higher volume of reviews.
Is it segmented for first-time vs. repeat customers?
Yes! Messaging for new customers vs. repeat purchasers should be different.
First-timers need education in the form of how-to content. Returning customers should be rewarded — or, at the very least, praised — for their loyalty.
Is there an offer present? If so, what is it?
Free monogramming is offered to first-time purchasers, whether they indicated their initial purchase was for themselves or for a gift. This offer may not be compelling for a broad swath of users, especially since monogrammed items cannot be returned.
Testing a straightforward offer like percentage-off, dollar-off, or a gift with purchase can confirm the right approach.
Are customers asked to leave a review, refer a friend, or take other action as brand ambassadors?
No; repeat customers, in particular, are only receiving one message.
Capitalize on loyalty by requesting reviews explicitly or through referrals to drive new-customer acquisition.
Warning about ‘skipped subscribers’
Notice Email #13 under the branch for customers who bought “as a gift.” 314 people have been “Skipped” in the last 90 days.
Clicking “View all Analytics” and then “Recipient Activity,” you can see why: 44 were because FC Goods was over its email limit and 223 were because of a coupon issue.
The brand is using dynamic coupon generation and probably ran out of codes. Or, there might be an error in the account. Because the coupon couldn’t be created, the user was just skipped.
Welcome, abandonment flows, and post-purchase sequences set the foundation.
But, you should implement a number of additional flows to take full advantage of a subscriber’s behavior and location in the funnel.
Non-purchaser flow: For subscribers who signed up, progressed through the welcome series, but didn’t convert. Remind them of sign-up incentives or add a deal-sweetener to get them to purchase.
Cross-sell or upsell flow: For all customers based on related products, commonly purchased-together products, or similar products. Is the timing effectively driving up short-term LTV and payback windows?
Re-engagement (reactivation): For subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked recently. Too many businesses focus on the net-new side of email. Instead, balancing list growth with list hygiene keeps your revenue strong without putting the program at risk of deliverability issues.
Review requests: May be part of a comprehensive post-purchase series or a stand alone. Regardless, base your timing on how long it takes for a customer to receive their product and use it long enough to leave an informed review.
Loyalty or referral: Likely triggered from a platform other than your ESP, but worth implementing thoughtfully. Relying on loyalty templates makes it difficult for your program to stand out or compel engagement.
VIP flows: Possible without the investment in a loyalty platform. Consider what makes a customer a VIP — total spend, number of orders, etc. Then, set up custom triggers for when users are close to achieving VIP status. Or, to celebrate their achievement.
Winbacks: For customers who made a purchase but haven’t come back within a certain timeframe, maybe 60 to 90 days, depending on the typical repurchase rate.
Milestones: For birthdays, purchase anniversaries, and VIP programs. We normally tier the rewards for milestones by the number of purchases rather than treating everyone the same.
Did you grab the full audit to follow along? If not, you can right here …
Individual campaigns communicate timely messages to a broad audience of subscribers. This can include major sales, product launches, or seasonal stories.
A regular campaign cadence keeps your brand top of mind, drives cookied-email users to the site for behavioral tracking (to power your abandonment flows), and keeps your sender reputation strong.
When you navigate to the Campaigns page, you can see a laundry list of emails that have been sent.
This view provides a snapshot, including cadence, segments in use, high-level KPIs, and how email and text messages are used in tandem via Klaviyo’s native SMS functionality.
Is the frequency of messages right for the brand and product line? Is it consistent?
Yes and no.
As a gifting brand, FC Goods sent 30 campaigns between the middle of Nov. and the end of Dec. Ten of those were Black Friday, Cyber Monday related:
On the “no” side, nothing happened between Dec. 23rd and Feb. 10th. Automations continued, but if someone didn’t visit the site or engage in qualifying behaviors …
They wouldn’t have received any email for over a month.
On top of missed revenue and neglected relationships, the biggest issue with this is deliverability.
Internet service providers look not only at your reputation and authentication when evaluating whether or not your email should go to the inbox or the spam folder, they also look at peaks and valleys in your send volume.
A regular cadence of just two or three emails per week — unless you have good reasons to mail more — gives subscribers consistency and ensures your messages end up being seen.
Is there a healthy ratio between promotional emails, launches, and content-driven, story-heavy messages?
Again: yes and no.
Naturally, FC Goods’ calendar leans heavily towards the holidays. Its Christmas emails — including Black Friday, Cyber Monday — speak directly to urgency.
Still, there’s more that it (and, probably, you) can do to make the benefits of the product come alive.
The product pages do a fantastic job of diagramming the benefits of its flagship wallets. Similarly, a wealth of content centered on its Limited Edition collections exists behind the scenes.
All that remains untapped in its ongoing campaigns:
The solution? Sell stories, not products.
A whopping 86% of consumers say authenticity is a major factor when considering which brands to give their business to.
Spending all of your time pushing products or discounts while failing to convey your how and why … will leave your customers feeling zero connection — a kiss of death for building a healthy foundation of repeat purchasers.
FC Goods was born out of a love of baseball — a uniquely American cultural touchstone. This gives it baked-in emotional connections through appreciation for the sport and the memories made with friends and loved ones watching the game.
The products themselves pack a nostalgic punch. Coupling sourcing and production with stories from baseball’s past should evoke an emotional connection. But only if you show and tell your audience.
If, like FC Goods, you’ve already done the legwork to create content …
It simply needs to be sown into campaigns that celebrate the sport — especially during timely moments or within onboarding and post-purchase flows to drive relationship-building narratives.
Are the emails shoppable? Do the links make it easy to get back to the relevant pages on the site? Are CTA buttons present throughout?
Yes, yes, and yes. Though — not surprisingly — there’s room for improvement.
Let’s use three examples as test cases …
(1) Grab a Gift Card
Obviously, this campaign promotes digital gift cards for last-minute gifters around the holidays. Tweaking a few things could increase clicks and purchase intent:
(2) Free Upgraded Shipping
Sent in mid-Dec., both messages include timely offers with strong urgency. What else could they do?
(3) Back In Stock & Low Stock
If you have products that go in and out of stock (OOS) frequently, it’s a lot of manual work to create individual campaigns. Automating back-in-stock messaging can significantly reduce the level of effort to execute.
Before the product goes OOS, target people who have browsed within the last 30 to 60 days with low-inventory triggers. Sell-out risk and scarcity can drive shoppers to quickly convert:
Yes; admittedly, proofing your emails is the least exciting part of the entire process. Once they go out, you can’t take them back.
A quality assurance (QA) checklist will save you loads of heartache and embarrassment. Send a test on desktop and mobile to review …
Sure, it’s email marketing 101 (and I told you we wouldn’t cover that kind of thing). Here, I’ll make an exception. For good reason: subject lines have a huge impact on performance.
Review your subject lines subjectively — using the list above — and objectively, through open rates.
To answer those questions, we’ll examine three recent campaigns of varying lengths and for different products: (1) hats, (2) Valentine’s Day gift cards, and (3) a holiday “one last email” message.
Is the creative engaging and on-brand?
Yes; the photography grabs my attention. The copy is approachable and easy to skim, making me want to explore. Most importantly, when I click through, there’s cohesion between the inbox and the landing page, assuring me I’m in the right place.
Is there an effective messaging hierarchy?
Yes; they’ve got a good headline that frames the story, sub-copy that provides more detail and builds up purchase intent, and then a CTA that tells the reader exactly what to do.
Are CTAs present throughout?
FC Goods includes a CTA button in every email, sometimes multiple to differentiate sections of content or corresponding landing pages. While there are some instances where I’d like to see a CTA fall higher in the email, overall they’re mostly hitting the mark.
Do layouts vary from send to send?
Somewhat. While the photography changes from message to message the layout does not. Most follow the formula …
Infuse different layouts and templates to maintain visual interest and keep people opening and scrolling.
No; for FC Goods — and for you — dynamic content should be a top priority to easily layer personalization into campaigns and flows without manual effort.
Klaviyo makes it easy to personalize data feeds and drop in product blocks with dynamic recommendations based on popularity or what a user has shown interest in.
Beyond recommendations, banners can dynamically hide or display content based on a contact’s profile details.
For instance, if you’re running a promotional campaign specific to a geographic area, you can create one email and use dynamic blocks to hide or display promo details based on location:
Yes; CTC utilizes Email on Acid to preview across hundreds of devices and inbox to ensure a positive experience no matter the device or ISP.
If you don’t have access to a preview tool, you can fake it by checking a few key things across your personal devices.
Send a live test of a message to yourself and open it on a laptop, tablet, and phone. Make sure the images scale as expected and the message is readable, even in dark mode.
A note about accessibility
Many ecommerce retailers rely on sliced images in their coded emails. This can help to maintain the integrity of the aesthetics and custom fonts.
The downside? It’s not optimal for accessibility — it can make it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate your content.
CTC utilizes a blended approach to coding, adding live text over background images for important content, or where a webfont in line with our clients’ branding.
Some marketers, however, may not have the technical ability to execute in this way.
At a minimum, add ample alt text on your images. The text should reflect the entire content of the message, render legibly, and be easy for a screenreader to process. View your emails with images turned off to see how your alt text comes across.
Nope; FC Goods’ emails load quickly no matter the device, indicating appropriately sized images. Subscribers have a short attention span and will sooner trash your email than wait around for it to load.
Scaling your email list is crucial to driving healthy revenue from your program, but don’t get caught up in the vanity of a high subscriber count.
Quality > Quantity.
Not only are you spending more money on your platform fees to mail to unengaged contacts, but you could put your entire program at risk without proper list hygiene.
Chronically low engagement tells ISPs that you’re not following healthy sender practices.
At the time of this audit, FC Goods regularly mailed to an audience of ~59K contacts who had opened in the last six months.
Engagement reports reveal where you should tighten the window. Unengaged contacts negatively impact performance and deliverability.
Using that segment as a baseline, establish four additional segments:
In this case, a more effective onboarding process is necessary to convert prospects into customers. We fast-track repeat purchasing through a post-purchase flow, winback campaigns, and other loyalty efforts.
Yes; delivered counts show the audience is growing over time.
For better insight into how growth is pacing against churn, compare list size against new contacts added month-over-month. Pay attention to two common culprits: high unsubscribes and users lapsing due to lack of engagement.
Yep; recently sent campaigns display the segments in active use for FC Goods. Most rely on recency of engagement to qualify.
Avoid static lists where people can age out or stop opening without being removed.
Are engagement, purchase behavior, demographics, first-party data, etc. factored in?
For the most part, FC Goods sends batched campaigns to a broad audience with little segmentation.
That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just an indication that personalized experiences aren’t being leveraged as much as they could be — whether that means tailoring based on customer status, demographic data, or purchase behavior.
Don’t let segmentation overwhelm you …
Instead, create test segments based on your primary mailing audience to determine:
Based on your answers, layer in segmented personalization through dynamic content by serving product recommendations or displaying loyalty points or tiers.
Take it a step further by tailoring messages for specific audiences, or adjusting your mailing practices to match the frequency of messages with a subscribers’ engagement level.
Maintaining a healthy unsubscribe rate is just one piece of the deliverability puzzle.
Some contacts won’t put in the effort to unsubscribe but will instead sit on your list without engaging, putting you at risk of deliverability issues across the program — even with your engaged users.
Inbox; well, for me anyway. The only way to be sure they’re doing so across ISPs is to use a deliverability monitoring tool with active seed lists.
These can be prohibitively expensive for small brands, but using Klaviyo’s Open Rate report grouped by Email Domain can give you an at a glance view of recent opens to help you catch problems early on.
Rates are fairly consistent across ISPs, with similar peaks and valleys, so we can assume all is well.
Happily, they are!
Unsubscribe rates by email type are on a steady decline, indicating subscribers are happy with the frequency and content of messages. Aim for half a percent or below for your account.
With flows accounting for a higher share, it’s worth digging into which are driving the opt-outs to find issues that might be annoying subscribers.
Spam complaints, on the other hand, trend upward. Anything over .1% is cause for concern and should be further investigated.
No; FC Goods’ email campaigns come directly from their root domain: email@example.com.
Any issues with their marketing emails (spam complaints, blacklists, etc.) could affect their ability to send and receive emails internally or for transactional-email purposes.
Best practice? Get the marketing emails on a dedicated subdomain like email.fcgoods.com.
Yes; FC Goods appends with Klaviyo’s automatic UTM parameters.
We highly recommend brands take advantage of this functionality (customized to meet your needs) to track in Google Analytics. This enables a better understanding of email’s role in traffic, revenue, and conversions using a consistent last-click attribution models.
Indeed, they are; if your Shopify integration is set up properly, conversion and revenue tracking will happen automatically.
That said, monitor the difference in attribution between Klaviyo — which uses a view-through model — and Google Analytics, which uses last click.
Klaviyo’s reporting will always take credit for more conversions than Google Analytics. Klaviyo attributes conversions to email for any users who opened or clicked a message within a specific time frame before converting, regardless of the source of the session when the conversion occurred.
Klaviyo recently added Benchmarks to their Analytics suite, making it easy for brands to compare their performance to peers in the same industry.
Evaluating engagement KPIs against benchmarks help you identify and prioritize areas for improvement.
Currently, email accounts for ~13% of overall site revenue, indicating a lot of opportunities to expand the program to hit a healthier share of 25-30% a month.
SMS is an incredibly powerful platform for driving revenue for a retail brand, and it is made even more powerful when it is cohesively integrated with email marketing.
An SMS audit follows a similar structure to email: making sure strong capture tactics are in place on the site, ensuring key flows are live and optimized, and that broadcast campaigns are being used effectively and respectfully.
There’s a lower tolerance for frequent communication via SMS as it’s a more intimate communication channel.
Send one to two broadcast campaigns a month, segmenting as much as possible and pinging your customers only when it’s worth it. SMS notifications can quickly begin to feel intrusive when overused or used inappropriately.
If your customers are anything like me, they sleep with their phones next to them. Following a quiet hours is crucial. Do not deploy SMS messages between 9:00 PM and 9:00 AM at the recipient’s local time zone.
Aside from time and cadence, email and SMS ought to coordinate seamlessly in a way that plays to the strengths of each channel.
SMS shines through short, timely, quick calls to action and urgent messages. For example, in a cart-abandonment flow to notify a subscriber their cart is about to expire or granting early access for a major sale.
Email marketing, by contrast, is much more effective for visual and longer-form storytelling.
In any event, make sure you’re not sending the exact same message via SMS and via email at the same time. It is highly likely you’ll have subscribers who are engaging with your brand on both channels. Don’t duplicate efforts or blast people with the same message at the same time.
Congratulations! We’ve covered a lot of ground.
Hopefully, you’re well on your way to an exhaustive analysis through the Email Marketing & Retention Audit.
In fact, you’re likely asking yourself, “Now what?” That’s exactly why the last three pages of the audit exist. To outline your top, intermediate, and long-term plans by effort and impact. (We even included FC Goods’ initial roadmap to inspire and guide you.)
Of course, if you’re serious about growing through email — and your business generates at least $2M in annual revenue — then jump over to our retention page and let us take care of the whole process for you.
Mandi Moshay is the Director of Retention at Common Thread Collective. She’s been managing retention marketing campaigns on the both the brand side and at agencies for over a decade. Connect with Mandi on Twitter or LinkedIn to talk about email and SMS marketing or, better yet, to share a picture of your dog.