Shopping cart with retail emails inside

Retail Email Marketing Strategy: Keys to Success

When James Gulliver, the late British retail entrepreneur, first uttered the phrase, “Retail is detail,” he couldn’t possibly have perceived the importance of a strong retail email marketing strategy. 

However, in the rapidly evolving physical and digital retail landscape, email has become an increasingly important detail in many retailers’ approaches to marketing.

Innovative retailers no longer talk about their retail empires in terms of “traditional” and “online” silos. Instead, they understand that the lines between their online and offline outlets have blurred and work together to achieve the same objectives – positioning the right products in front of the right customers at the right time. They also understand that digital marketing tools like email are no longer the sole preserve of online stores and can benefit the entire organization.

How retailers use email marketing

Email is a multi-faceted tool — I like to think of it as the Swiss Army Knife in your digital marketing arsenal. As such, retailers can use it for many purposes.


Email marketing remains the most cost-effective and quickest way to inform customers about sales promotions and special events. Email also continues to deliver the highest possible return-on-investment of any marketing channel (online or offline). So, if you have a product to sell or an event to promote, email marketing will help you achieve your goals without breaking the bank.

Product promotion email example:

Promotional product email screenshot from GoPro.
Via Really Good Emails


Transactional emails provide a crucial customer touchpoint. Not only do transactional emails (receipts, purchase confirmations, shipping notifications, etc.) provide customers with a valuable and secure method of providing proof of purchase and tracking orders, they can also reduce the pressure on customer service teams by detailing information such as returns policies, warranty information, and links to FAQs.

Let’s not forget that asking customers for their email addresses provides retailers with a valuable opportunity to grow their email marketing lists and also gives those opt-in customers a first mover advantage when it comes to receiving special offers and promotions.


Never underestimate the importance of sharing useful information with your community of customers. Emails highlighting changes to store opening hours, new store locations, and essential information about store operations (particularly during the ongoing pandemic) are incredibly important for setting customer expectations and building relationships. This information gets included in special announcement emails as well as a retail brand’s regular email newsletter.


Emails with personalized product recommendations based on previous purchases and engagements help retailers chase the holy grail of the repeat purchase, helping them boost customer lifetime value (CLV). High acquisition costs may mean an initial purchase is far from profitable. As such, low cost, high return email marketing should be seen as the profitable component of everything else you do to promote your retail business.

Product recommendation email example:

Retail email screenshot with fashion product recommendations.
Via Really Good Emails

Customer loyalty and rewards

A robust retail email marketing strategy drives customer engagement and brand loyalty. Retailers use email campaigns to encourage reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers. And, marketers regularly use email to execute certain details of a customer rewards program, notifying subscribers about points earned and how to take advantage of them.


The potential to drive sales through educational content delivered via email is phenomenal. A food retailer might want to share recipe ideas to sell more seasonal ingredients. Similarly, a sports store might want to share tips about improving a customer’s sporting performance and how specific products can help them find those marginal gains.

When a retailer positions themselves as a thought leader in their particular field of interest, they become a far more valuable asset to customers who, let us never forget, always have a choice in who they support with their purchases.

Educational content email example:

educational email screenshot from a coffee retailer on how to make espresso.
Via Really Good Emails

Public Relations

A sizable email list gives retailers the power to bypass the traditional media and keep their customers informed about their corporate values and community projects. Email is an ideal channel for retailers to highlight cause marketing.

Retail email marketing strategy considerations

When a marketing channel is as important as email, it is vital to invest in a strategy that ensures your campaigns are delivering the maximum possible impact.

Historically, and somewhat ironically, email’s incredible success as a marketing channel may have led to many organizations under-investing in the channel. Because email is so cost-effective and continued to deliver a positive return on investment, even when not completely optimized, many marketers thought they were already doing a good enough job and instead focused on optimizing more expensive, less profitable channels.

When marketers follow the simple mantra of sending the right email to the right person at the right time, email marketing optimization isn’t rocket science. Optimization starts with simple tweaks to your lists and campaigns before advancing to more sophisticated strategies that focus on individual subscribers’ specific needs rather than “catch-all” bulk messages.

Email marketing list segmentation

Segmentation turns email from a blunt instrument to bludgeon your entire list with a potentially irrelevant message into a laser-focused and highly targeted strategy. Email lists can be segmented in many different ways. The most obvious way to segment your lists is based on previous purchases and perceived customer personas for email marketing.

Email list segmentation is as much about avoiding email fatigue as it is about sending highly relevant communications. Every email that you send that doesn’t positively engage a subscriber risks your future relationship with that subscriber.

For example, a gaming retailer who previously sold a customer an Xbox console may find very little success if they start sending that same customer emails relating to PlayStation games and accessories.

Segmentation also allows retailers to send multiple emails simultaneously without putting undue pressure on their lists.  

Email automation

Thanks to email marketing automation tools, we’ve evolved from a “dumb” broadcast channel to a communication technology that really has its finger on the pulse of your customer base.

Automation takes the principles learned in segmentation to a whole new level by sending pre-defined campaigns to subscribers following a specific engagement. These could range from a simple “auto-responder” campaign initiated by a subscription or purchase, and all the way through to more sophisticated marketing automation campaigns triggered by your subscribers’ engagement across a retailer’s on and offline operation. 

Successful automation relies on investing time and effort to get to know your subscribers’ shopping habits, understanding their customer journey from click to sale. Create ever-green email content that is deployed at a time to suit your customers’ needs.

Automated retail welcome email series example:

Target welcome email screenshot
Via Really Good Emails

View our list of B2C email automations for more ideas to boost your retail email marketing strategy.

A mobile-first technology

Perhaps the most significant evolutionary step forward for email was its jump from the tethered desktop environment to the mobile world of smartphones and tablets. As a result, retailers now have the opportunity to target shoppers during their leisure time — when they are more likely to make a purchase. That’s why improving mobile email design is a must for a strong retail email marketing strategy.

In addition, send time optimization helps retail email strategy coincide with specific events that maximize the opportunity for engagement. For example, email sends could be scheduled around targeted TV shows and commercials, the golden hour after young kids have gone to bed, or during holidays when work isn’t such a distraction.

Advanced retail email marketing strategy

Despite email marketing’s veteran status, it hasn’t stopped evolving and remains a thoroughly modern marketing technology. And email marketing isn’t about to stop its evolutionary progress anytime soon.

Email marketing personalization has gone beyond the now rather quaint idea of including the subscriber’s name in a subject line or body copy. Instead, retailers can now use smart technology to trigger dynamic email content based on subscribers’ location, inventory levels, time-sensitive promotions, etc.

Dynamic content email example:

Example of retail email showing dynamic content with a promotional countdown clock.
Via Really Good Emails

Email’s evolution also sees its deeper integration with retailers’ websites. For example, cart abandonment technology gives retailers a second bite of the cherry when customers are distracted or change their minds at the last moment.

Levels of interactivity are also increasing, with retailers now potentially able to conduct surveys, solicit feedback and reviews, and even drive purchases directly from the inbox.

With so much change and innovation in the email marketing landscape, many retailers are concluding that email is not only a tried and tested retail marketing stalwart; it’s increasingly looking like the next big thing in retail.

The more you tell, the more you sell

The opportunity for a retail email marketing strategy to become more targeted, engaging, and profitable is something that no forward-thinking retailer can ignore. But, unfortunately, it’s also true that when email teams are busy, it’s all too easy for less-than-optimized campaigns to find their way into subscribers’ inboxes (or worst still, spam folders).

As email marketing teams increase their productivity levels, it’s never been more important to ensure that every email counts. This means making sure that every email reaches the inbox, renders perfectly across every possible email inbox (particularly on mobile devices), images are not broken or missing, every link works precisely as intended, and poor spelling and grammar harm a retailer’s reputation.

Email on Acid’s pre-deployment testing tools provide busy email marketing teams with the peace of mind that all their emails are delivered as intended, protecting the retailer’s reputation and maximizing the potential of every send.

James Gulliver’s statement, “retail is detail,” remains as true today in the digital age as it did when he was building his high street empire. Email on Acid helps retailers stay focused on the details that keep their customers coming back.

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