You’re Not an E-Commerce Business if You Don’t Have these 5 Email Types

Times change. Tactics change. Technologies change. Trends change. Tastes change. But the essence of business never changes: people buy from the brands they trust. So, how do you build trust over the long-term? Hint: through emails

Aaron Orendorff
October 18 2017

Credibility outweighs price as the most influential driver in purchase decisions, especially for returning customers. It’s a simple equation: if you can’t inspire trust you can’t grow. Worse, you can’t keep the customers you already have.

So, how do you build trust over the long-term?

In a word: email.

Despite the rise of social media and live chat, email remains the most cost-effective marketing channel with the highest return on investment, order value, and retention rate. Email is the closest an e-commerce business comes to having a one-on-one conversation with their target audience.

Sadly, email is also the easiest channel to screw up. An impersonal message here, a salesy pitch there — a broken link, failure to respond, or any of the countless reasons people have come to loathe some emails — and forget about all those benefits above.

Your audience doesn’t have the time, the patience, nor the space in their inboxes for yet another spammy brand.

To build trust, here are five emails every online company needs to automate, queue up, and start sending …

#1 The Welcome: Make It Easy

More than 75% of subscribers expect an immediate welcome after signing up for a new list. Immediacy is all the more pressing in e-commerce where the vast majority of sign-up overlays include a discount or coupon.

Setting up an autoresponder sequence does more than just meet this expectation … it also sets the tone for the relationship to follow. As a microcosm of what to include, let’s look at Fab, an online home furnishing retailer.

Upon entering Fab’s site for the first time, a simple overlay appears:

The offer doesn’t exactly scream urgency or deep-discount. Certainly, there are better, more enticing overlays — especially those that gamify the process. But in this case, the opt-in isn’t what we’re after.

Instead, it’s what follows …

Immediately after signing up, what appears—at first—to be a standard confirmation email arrives:

However, instead of adding new subscribers to Fab’s list and then redirecting them to the homepage, when you click “Confirm Your Email” … something magical happens.

First, you’re immediately prompted to create an account using the submitted email, after which the discount is applied directly to your cart without any need for a coupon code.

Second, with each additional item, not only is the discount updated, but Fab applies free shipping as soon as you cross the minimum order threshold.

Third, shortly after the first email, a second arrives. While you might expect little more than a reiteration of the original offer, instead, it’s brimming with Fab’s personality and voice:

Where most welcome emails give their subscribers one or the other — i.e., either the deal they promised or a friendly “Hello” — Fab does both. Even better, they make it incredibly easy to complete the first purchase by automating the discount and offering free shipping.

Combined, all this makes Fab’s welcome trustworthy. Not overtly … but by infusing the entire interaction with an unspoken message, “You’ll love buying from us.”

#2 The Showcase: Make It Match

Once you’ve made a great first impression, what’s the most effective way to build trust?

Answer: let your products, services, and — above all — your customers do the talking.

Most businesses focus on the first two. Where they fall short is aligning (1) their brand, (2) their products, and (3) their email’s visual and written presentation. When there’s a disconnect between the product you’re selling and the way you’re selling it … trust inevitably suffers.

As an antidote, consider four brands that excel at the showcase email time and time again.

First, MVMT watches. Known for their breathtaking style, MVMT’s emails are low on text but high on rich images and clean layouts that reflect their brand:

Second, Chubbies. Rather than unleash a constant stream of “buy now” messages, Chubbies’ showcase emails alternate between products (on the left) and content (on the right), always with the fun and irreverent tone their audience has come to expect:

Third, at the opposite end of the visual spectrum is PetFlow. In place of slick and sexy product images or irreverent content, PetFlow’s emails do more than merely match their brand with their audience. They also include a key principle we’ll examine later: segmentation.

For now, pay special attention to the consistency — both in layout (left versus right) and color (blue versus yellow) — that calls attention to PetFlow’s two primary audiences: dog owners and cat owners:

Fourth, outdoor clothing company Huckberry. Not only does Huckberry abide by the same high-visual bar as the other examples, they also regularly include testimonials, case studies, reviews, ratings, and user-generated content (UGC). Each and every email they send closes with an original image from one of their “Huckberry Ambassadors”:

Why close your showcase emails — meant to highlight your best products and services — with something so seemingly disconnected?

Because the best way to build trust isn’t to ask your audience to take your word for it. As Yotpo’s exhaustive benchmark study found: online shoppers who experience UGC are 166% more likely to convert than those who don’t.

Of course, if your showcase emails do their job … what do you send after a sale is made?

#4 The Comeback: Make It Personal

Segmentation is the linchpin of any successful online business.

The ability to send tailored messages based on predetermined criteria is the primary reason email ranks highest in terms of customer acquisition, engagement, and retention. The 2015 National Client Email Report by DMA found that “segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue.”

Unfortunately, most businesses limit their personalization to the bare minimum. The two classic categories include:

  • Demographics: age, gender, and income
  • Psychographics: hobbies, interests, and lifestyle

In fact, when DMA asked, “What are the key contact segments you use in your email marketing programmes?” respondent answers reflected this limited scope with the majority relying on characteristics like “Audience definition/type” while neglecting far more valuable categories like “Consumer behaviour”, “Frequency of purchase”, and even “Lifetime value of acquired customer”:

Just like face-to-face relationships, customer relationships hinge on those neglected specificities. This is all the more relevant with trust.

Over the long haul, only by combining behavioral elements — like what your customers buy and browse, how often they purchase, the value of those purchases, what deals they respond to, etc. — can you create a granular portrait of each customer.

Every email you send has to answer these questions at a personal level:

  • Who is this message for?
  • Why should the recipient read it?
  • What will they get out of it?
  • How will this align with their previous buying behavior?
  • Where should this message send them next (i.e., to what stage of the customer lifecycle)?

Doing all that at scale can be incredibly difficult, and even with all that planning, there’s always a chance something unforeseen will go wrong. What then?

#5 The Apology: Make It Authentic

Behind every brand is a fallible team of humans who make mistakes.

Broken links, untimely deals, insensitive social media comments, the wrong discount codes. Errors are part of the entrepreneurial adventure — and that’s okay. Even expected.

What’s not okay is trying to cover up, lie, or, worse, go on the offensive by attacking your audience. It takes courage to transcend your ego and own your mistakes.

The good news is that apologies are actually the perfect opportunity to build trust and show your human side.

Linen Source does this beautifully. After a behind-the-scenes glitch made their website temporarily unavailable, they not only mentioned the issue and included a special one-time discount, they also added a bit of fun to their apology email:

Not surprisingly, Fab took the same approach when they accidentally sent out an email “that contained nothing but the image of a cat”:

But, what if your faux pas is more serious than an unavailable site or errant email? Perhaps the best example was Netflix’s 2011 email and open-letter from CEO Reed Hastings during the company’s transition from a DVD rental service to a streaming platform.

After a pricing change meant to separate the two offerings led to a 60% price increase for existing customers, Hastings took full responsibility:


By naming your mistake, taking responsibility, and explaining how you plan to right your wrong, you transform an otherwise trust-breaking error … into the exact opposite. Customers want to interact with human brands — brands that aren’t afraid of being imperfect, vulnerable, or repentant.

Caveat: Ignore minor errors. Accidentally adding an extra c to “ccustomers” or using the wrong tense in a sentence is okay. Few people will nitpick. Unnecessary apologies call undue attention to those errors and can taint your image.

Trust: Your Customer’s Catnip

In a virtual world overpopulated with choices, trustworthiness can act as your impetus for success. Your magic beans. Your superpower.

The brands that are compassionate, consistent, honest, and responsive make a mark while the rest get lost in the self-centered buzz of marketing.

What are your favorite tips to inspire trust in a brand?

Aaron Orendorff

Previous the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, Aaron Orendorff is now the founder of iconiContent, where he’s busy “saving the world from bad content.” He’s also a regular contributor at Mashable, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, and more. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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