The most effective email marketing campaigns for retail sales

Lifecycle marketing winners

Email marketing campaigns are a crucial channel for acquiring new prospects, nurturing existing customers and increasing sales. In fact, they have continually yielded the greatest return on investment (ROI) among all marketing channels. Any type of business should include email marketing campaigns in their marketing strategy. It’s nothing short of an absolute necessity for driving retail sales.

Keep in mind that not all email marketing campaigns are created equal.


Blasting your subscribers’ inboxes mercilessly, without strategic thought or quality content, is your fastest route to an unsubscribe, spam complaint or, worst of all, a poor opinion of your brand. In this post, we’ll help arm you with basics of running strategic lifecycle email marketing campaigns.

What is lifecycle marketing?

Before we begin, let me explain what lifecycle marketing is.

Lifecycle marketing recognizes and addresses a natural progression in an individual’s journey through your sales or marketing cycle.

You wouldn’t educate subscribers about your brand after they’ve made their third purchase, would you? It’s essential to tailor your marketing communications to your subscribers’ current stages within your entire sales lifecycle.

While the cycle isn’t always actually cyclical (or linear for that matter) it’s always important to meet your customer exactly where they are. Relevance is everything.

email marketing campaigns spam
Photo: Christoph Scholz via Flickr cc

Email marketing campaigns: Welcome series

Imagine you just subscribed to the email list of a brand you admire. What do you expect to happen next? This is the brand’s opportunity to make a first impression with its subscriber. That’s possible through a thoughtful welcome series.

Consider a progression of two or three emails that supply subscribers with some or all of the following information:

  • What type of content can they expect in your emails?
  • How often should they expect to receive your emails?
  • What are the benefits of being a subscriber?
  • Can they interact with your brand on other channels? Which ones?
  • What does your brand stand for? What are its values?
  • What is your brand’s story?
  • What action(s) should they take?
A welcome series is a tremendous way to set expectations for your email marketing campaigns while educating subscribers about the brand’s values and personality.


Try to keep each email focused on a single core message — you don’t want to overwhelm subscribers with too much content at once. Hold off on overly promotional content. Take a pause to create emotional connections with subscribers.

However, offering an incentive to sign up for your email list — such as 15 percent off a first purchase or free shipping — is certainly a valuable way to grow your subscriber list and increase retail sales.

Repurchase series

One of your customers just made their first purchase. It’s a sign that your strategy is moving in the right direction, but customer loyalty and retention are where the brunt of the work resides.

Luckily for you, email marketing campaigns are effective in generating repeat business. Cue the repurchase series.

This series aims to provide subscribers with product or service recommendations based on their previous purchases. It can go down a couple possible routes:

Cross-Sell: Recommend a product in a different category than the originally purchased product. For example, if a customer purchased a T-shirt, you might recommend a matching pair of shorts or a sweatshirt from the same brand.

Up-Sell: Recommend a product in a higher price tier than the originally purchased product. If your subscriber purchased a new suit jacket, you may recommend a classy watch to complement it.

If you can create truly relevant and personalized product recommendations, you stand a much better chance at driving repeat purchases and, consequently, boosting your retail sales.

Integrating your email service with an inventory management system will allow you to automate such recommendations based on historical purchase data and similarly categorized items.

Cart abandonment

We’re all familiar with online window shopping. You add products to your shopping cart — whether you’re ready to purchase them or not. You investigate the final price including tax, shipping and any possible discounts. Then you just click out of the screen, switch to a new app or delay checking out until your next paycheck comes along.

Abandoned Cart Email Marketing Campaigns
Photo: Jack Lawrence via Flickr cc

Often times, an unexpected element in the purchasing process causes the subscriber to abandon the purchase.

It’s a good practice to communicate any fees, shipping costs or shipping times up front to set realistic expectations. No matter what you do, don’t automatically add cross-sells or add-ons into your subscriber’s cart; respect their freedom to make decisions for themselves.

You can’t be positive that your subscribers ever had a true intent to purchase when they added an item to their carts.

There’s a reason cart abandonment emails yield outstanding conversion rates: They remind subscribers about the item they wanted and, perhaps, resisted.


Yet, human willpower is only so strong. Throw an added incentive along with your cart abandonment email and you’ve got the perfect storm. Setting up automated email marketing campaigns to target left-behind items is a highly effective way to push customers to revisit purchase decisions and increase retail sales.

Win-back series

A text message pops up on your phone. You stare at the name of its sender with a complicated mix of emotions. It’s your ex. You haven’t been in contact with them for quite some time. You could delete the text without reading it. But the text preview ignites your curiosity. You open it. They say they miss you. They want a second chance.

There’s a good chance you’ll ignore or deny their sentiments unless they provide you with a legitimate reason to reconsider.


This is how a win-back series works (OK, perhaps slightly less dramatic).

If a subscriber hasn’t opened one of your emails, clicked within one of your emails, or made a purchase in a considerable amount of time (dependent on your sales cycle), it’s time to win back their attention!

By now it’s clear that your previous attempts to communicate with them have not been working.

Win Back Email Marketing Campaigns
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You need an enticing and straight-forward subject line to catch their eye. Yet, more importantly, you need a clear message to deliver if you manage to snag their attention.

Your last resort, the last email in this series, is to extend a monetary incentive to bring them back to your business. Consider the following approaches:

Reiterate your brand value:

Provide a fast and simple method for gathering the subscriber’s feedback:

  • What can your brand do better?
  • What would make the customer happy?
  • Consider offering an incentive to reward your subscriber for his or her opinion and time.

Be creative and sincere. Provide a reason to re-engage:

  • What’s new with your brand? Have you revamped your mobile app? Enhanced your loyalty program based on customer feedback?
  • Don’t expect your subscriber’s behavior to change if you’re not changing anything.

Ask them to confirm their email subscription:

  • Let your subscriber know that you will unsubscribe if they do not confirm they want to remain on your list.
If all else fails, extend a generous incentive.


Remember, this is your last attempt to win your customer back. Don’t botch it! Your subject line might read something like: “We didn’t think we could miss anyone so much. Take 20% off your next pair of shoes!”

What if you fail to win the the subscriber back? Unsubscribing a subscriber who has been inactive for an unreasonable amount of time reduces the cost of email volume, helps maintain performance metrics, and keeps your sender reputation healthy. We know goodbyes are hard, but you will move on.


Surprise-and-delight email marketing campaigns work in nearly the opposite fashion of win-back campaigns. Subscribers are rewarded for positive behavior, seemingly without reason, instead of for negative behavior or a lack of action. These programs are typically geared toward your most valuable customers.

The goal? Keep them happy.
Surprise Delight Email Marketing Campaigns
Photo: Johnson Cameraface via Flickr cc

Let’s say one of your subscribers, Ben, just made his fourth purchase on your site. You send him a 15-percent-off coupon for being such a loyal customer. His fifth purchase is more likely now.

Surprise-and-delight email marketing campaigns can generate positive word-of-mouth buzz for your brand while generating more retail sales. However, it’s important to identify what type of action you’re rewarding, and why.

Every move you make should tie back to a business objective.

Think of the subscriber

We know there’s a lot of information in this post but, if you remember just one thing, let it be this: think of the subscriber.

You’ve been in the subscriber’s shoes. You know what types of communications resonated with you and which email marketing campaigns felt spammy, disingenuous or impersonal. The logistics of a lifecycle campaign might be quite technical, but its purpose is common sense. It’s more than positive to create emails your subscribers look forward to receiving and, trust us, your retail sales will reflect that.

So, let’s talk email marketing campaigns. What works for you? What makes you cringe? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by: Brad.K via Visual Hunt / CC BY