customer email

Email marketing for retailers and e-tailers: 5 customer email ideas

10 min read
Derric Haynie

Are you emailing your customers?

Probably not enough.

Willy Wonka Email List

Too many times I’ve seen small businesses, retailers and e-tailers let their email list collect dust … NOT today!

If you’ve got an email list of prospects or past customers — whether it’s five or 5,000 email addresses — you could easily be one customer email away from closing some more business.

But you’re never going to get that business if you don’t ask.

You don’t need a fancy template. This doesn’t even require using an email marketing tool, but in order to do it well, and at scale, you’ll eventually have to invest in one.

So here are five simple customer email messages that can send today, to get you more business. But first …

Send Customer Email

The 3 rules of email marketing

Here are three rules that I would advise you do not break when sending out these customer email messages:

1. Only give the customer one thing to do.

One option, one place to go, one thing to buy. Just one.

But this doesn't mean you can't repeat your call-to- action. In fact, in Invisible Selling Machine, author Ryan Deiss writes:

“Include at least three [calls-to-action] in your email body copy,” and “each [call-to-action] should have a slightly different psychological reason to click.”

So, unless you want to keep your emails short and sweet, consider looking for multiple opportunities to add more than one call-to-action that drives the customer to the target outcome.

2. You’re selling benefits not features.

Keep your email copy talking about the problems you solve and not the bells and whistles on your product.

3. Help them first, sell to them second.

While you can make your motives clear, you need to be using email as a way to guide your customers through your product experience and toward becoming passionate fans of your brand and your business. If you’re just trying to push another widget, you might find yourself with a few extra sales, sure, but you will also have quietly lost groves of “could-have-been” repeat customers.

Email frequency

Customer Email Frequency

Never hesitate to email your customers if you truly have something valuable to offer. This is not the time to be shy or to be afraid of annoying your subscribers.

Yes, you can become a nuisance at some point — and that’s a line you have to find on your own. But no, once-a-month emails are not going to “make your customers unhappy.”

In fact, they are more likely to just plain forget who you are after a month and un-subscribe because you aren’t emailing them enough.

I recommend emailing your customers every week, or more. But remember that you have to have something valuable to say every time.

Now, let’s get into our shortlist of customer email ideas.

1. The ‘Do you know anyone?’ email

For most companies, your customers are by far the best source of new business. They know the product, and odds are, they know someone else who will love it, too. But people are lazy, and need your help in provoking the referral. So ask them:

Hi [name],

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last saw you. I hope you’re loving your new [insert product]. And if you are, I’m wondering if you know anyone else that might also benefit from [insert benefit].

If you do, just forward them this email and have them go here [insert link] to get an extra 15% off.

Have an awesome day.


The discount is a really important part of this email, as it allows the recipient to give “the hook-up” to their friend, and further incentivizes the share.

You could also turn this email into a social promotion for your brand; simply change “forward this email” to “Tweet this” and create a Click-To-Tweet for them to send out.

Or you could turn this customer email message into a gift email and say, “Surprise your friend and buy them one, too. We will ship it directly to them.” This is a bit more product- and time-of-year-specific, but could easily close a deal for you.

2. The ‘Did you like our product/service? Can you review us?’ email

This email is mandatory for any retailer, and it needs to be structured very specifically. First off, let’s assume you have a great product and great customer service, because frankly, if you don’t you’re not going to make it in business anyway.

Now, here’s the trick of this message …

Segment your audience by asking the happy customers to review you, while the unhappy customers talk to customer service. It goes like this:

Hi [name],

It’s been a few days/weeks since you ordered your [insert product] with us and I wanted to see how you were enjoying it. If you’ve had any issues at all, please respond to this email and let us know so that we can help you out.

And if you’re enjoying our product like our thousands of other happy customers, it would really mean the world to us if you could give us a quick review on Amazon/Yelp/iTunes/wherever. Take two minutes to tell everyone else what you think about us.


There are some important rules here:

  1. Do not incentivize a review with a coupon or discount; this is usually against the rules with various review sites.
  2. Respond to all replies/complaints as fast as possible. And also respond to all of the reviews on the review site with thanks and praise (when applicable). Actively monitoring your online reputation shows people you care, gets you more business, and subsequently garners you more reviews.
  3. Do not ask them for multiple reviews. This could cause a mental gridlock.

Focus on getting one review from one person.

If you need more reviews on another site, switch all of your follow-up emails to focus on that site for a few months, then switch back (or just run an A/B split test with your email marketing provider). After someone reviews you on one site (and you can identify them), follow up and ask for a review on another site.

3. The straight ask email

This is especially great for consumables or products that have very specific expiration dates on them. If you know your customer is going to be in need of a new razor, more dog food, or whatever in a few weeks, make sure your name is front-of-mind with a gentle email reminder.

Hi [name],

It’s been about a month since you got your [insert product] from us, and I wanted to see if you were ready for another one? Click here to get another awesome [insert product + link] and we will have it shipped out to you right away.


4. The ‘why didn’t you buy from us?’ email.

This is a great email for those prospects or dead leads that just don’t seem to want to buy something from you, but are still on your list.

If you’ve got a list of old/dead prospects who just never seemed to convert, set up an email to them asking them about their experience and enticing them back in. This email has two purposes:

  1. Find out why people aren’t buying from you and solve that problem.
  2. Bring back lost leads by re-engaging them in conversation.

It goes like this:

Hi [name],

I see that a while ago you were interested in [insert product] but never actually bought it. I’m just curious… What was stopping you from buying? Your answer can help me better serve you and the rest of our customers.


This email must always come from a personal account and hopefully from the main person of interaction from within the company – whether that is the CEO, the sales guy, or someone else.

The goal here is a genuine and hassle-free answer.

We are not trying to sell them … Yet.

You will be surprised at the responses you get, and the opportunities that naturally stem from them. I’ve gotten things like:

“I tried to buy from you but my credit card info wouldn’t go through and after trying twice I just gave up.” That’s an easy fix, let’s close this deal.

“I was looking for feature X and you guys don’t offer that.” And we did in fact offer the feature, but we weren’t showcasing it well enough for them to find out. That’s an easy fix, too, and showcasing that feature better could result in tons more business down the road.

Remember: For every one person having a problem there are at least 10 more quietly just leaving.

“You’re too expensive.” This actually means, “I don’t think you will provide me enough value.” Nothing is too expensive if it’s worth it. Can we offer them a coupon? Can we restate our value proposition to make the cost seem more appropriate? Can we bundle the product differently? Can we downsell them to a smaller product or package? Or can we keep them around with educational material so that they become a fan of ours that might be ready for our product later? We can help this person!

5. The upsell email

This customer email should come fairly close after a purchase and is designed to sell the customer something related to their original purchase.

Just bought a bikini? Maybe you need a cute hat … or some sunscreen. If you’re a bikini shop and you aren’t selling sunscreen, maybe you should start!

What’s your upsell item? Here’s how you sell it:

Hi [name],

Thanks so much for your purchase of [insert product]. I know you’re going to love it.

Because you are going to be using it [insert problem] I thought you might also like [insert upsell product] to help [insert benefit].

Click here to check it out and see if it’s the right fit for you.


Want even more customer email ideas?

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Final thoughts

There are a lot of ways to annoy your customers with corny sales emails, false deadlines, coupon fatigue, and more. We need to, as business owners and marketers, walk the fine line between selling and providing value.

If we provide enough value, the sales will come in. It doesn’t work the other way around.

But if we never ask for the sale, we also miss out on opportunities.

People are lazy. Lazy at acting. Lazy at buying. Lazy at reviewing. You need to get them up and moving. You need to get them to take action.

So will you take action and send an email out to one of your customers right now? Just one. And see what happens.

Who knows? Maybe the sale of your lifetime is just hiding somewhere within your email list. You’re never going to get the business if you don’t ask. So get to it.

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