Email Marketing Observations From a Shopaholic

As the self-proclaimed Carrie Bradshaw of email marketing, I’m constantly comparing the marketing endeavors of online and offline fashion retailers.

After all, somebody has to study their latest campaigns. It’s not my fault that I often always feel obliged to take certain senders up on their irresistible offers and free shipping.

I really consider myself lucky to enjoy all aspects of a good shopping experience. From the marketing messages to the markdowns, I love it all.

On a recent shopping trip, it dawned on me just how similar a good email marketing campaign is to a visit to a well-run boutique. There are several key factors that contribute to the success of both. Keep reading to see how your messages stack up to some of my favorite stores.

They Welcome You

The very first thing I notice when going in and out of my favorite small boutiques is the way that I am greeted by the shopgirls and business owners. Some might gather that this is because I spend the majority of my paycheck in these stores, but I promise that’s not true. (They say hi to everyone with the same amount of enthusiasm!)

If a shopkeeper approaches me, says hello and asks if they can help me find anything, I instantly feel good about potentially spending my money in their store. Your welcome message should have the same appeal to new subscribers.

According to a recent Epsilon survey of 200 retailers, fewer than 2/3 of retailers do not send a welcome message at all, even though the welcome messages tracked had an average open rate of 50-60%.

Offer your assistance and let your new subscribers know how happy you are to have them on your list. Welcome them warmly, just like you would if they walked through your shop door. This way, they’ll feel just as welcome as if they were physically in your store.

Nordstrom does an excellent job of welcoming new subscribers:

They Let You Browse

After I’ve been in a store for a few minutes, I like to look around without being hawked by the shop clerk. Nothing is more annoying than being followed around. It makes most people feel uneasy.

A big mistake that a lot of email marketers make is to push specific, “big” products on their email list right from the get-go. This doesn’t allow subscribers the chance to form an opinion about your company or connect to it emotionally.

Instead of sending only big ticket items, give new subscribers a chance to see all of your goods and to get to know your brand’s personality. Send follow up messages that encourage readers to “browse” your website and your products.

Serena and Lily suggest that you browse their entire collection:

They Tell You About Current Promotions

Once I’ve had a chance to get my bearings and assess the shopping situation, then I’m ok with someone helping me. Maybe I have a few pieces to try on, or a question about pricing.

It’s typical and expected for sales associates to approach shoppers after a few minutes of browsing to inform them of current or upcoming sales and limited time offers. After all, customer service is a huge factor in my decision to shop somewhere.

To create the same experience with your email campaign, you can send one time, time-sensitive broadcast messages to subscribers to keep them in the loop.

Barneys New York often sends emails that contain their latest promotions:

They Suggest Similar Items

In the event that I’ve found a few things to try on when I’m shopping, I am always impressed by a salesperson who can successfully pull similar or complimentary pieces from the racks and bring them to me in the dressing room.

This shows that they are paying attention, even while they are giving me space to browse around. You can do the very same thing with your email subscribers – as long as you have analytics in place on your website. Email analytics can help you understand the needs and wants of your subscribers so that you can tailor your messages accordingly to address them.

By installing a JavaScript snippet on your site, you’ll be able to see exactly which pages your subscribers are visiting. This way, you can segment your list based on subscriber behavior and suggest items that are more relevant for your subscribers.

How Does Your Campaign Measure Up?

Do you use any or all of these tactics? Do you find that the email marketing experience is similar to an in-person encounter in any way?

We’d love to hear what you think, and how you’re using these methods. Leave us a comment in the space below!


  1. Stan Horst

    3/24/2011 9:42 am

    Great article. I’ve never thought about how an email campaign relates to shopping in a store, but it makes perfect sense. I am getting ready to set up a new campaign, and will definitely keep this in mind.

  2. amy

    3/24/2011 10:33 am

    Thank you for the excellent advice. I realized many of your techniques are used by a lot of places I shop as well. I will try to use these in my email marketing campaign in the future.

  3. Aaron Schulman

    3/24/2011 10:39 am

    Hi Rebecca,

    I like the “warm-up” process you describe here- and am using a 4-step warm up process for my acoustic guitar reviews affiliate site- teaching people how to evaluate an acoustic guitar before buying one – (I know from having a learning curve with acoustic guitars back around 1995 -after a disappointing first purchase)

    Is there a way to use a few question survey on the opt-in and use the opt-in form to ad “tags” to each user based on their preferences – or rather how they answer questions on the sign up form?

    I added 1 question to the hover form at my guitar reviews site – to test –

    I am reading through your segmentation information but would like to add a 1-3 question survey to help understand each visitor to my site at

    I have an Aweber hover on the main page and a side-bar with a special 4-step walk through on understanding acoustic guitars.

    The four steps actually take them back to 4 pages on my site that explain each of the 4 aspects of understanding an acoustic guitar before buying –

    Both opt-ins take the initial person through the same 4-step process of understanding acoustic guitars- but being short on time with my other client work, it might be a while until I can get this process optimized for segmentation (with nice graphics etc) – (it’s brand new too so no problem on changes)

    Thanks for any ideas you might have. . .

  4. Stan Dubin

    3/24/2011 10:48 am

    Great article, Rebecca, and very well laid out! And very helpful links, including the one for Carrie Bradshaw as I didn’t know who she was at first.

  5. Lisa Wasoski

    3/24/2011 10:54 am

    Thank you- thank you! As one who is not tech or marketing savvy (yet!), but clamoring for good strategies to follow, I found your article so refreshing. I got it! I could relate to ALL you were saying and the analogy to shopping made all the difference. I understood the concepts and how to accomplish it on AWeber. It also highlights that finding a way in to the mind of my readers to deliver my message is a creative process that encourages thinking outside the box. Thank you for thinking outside the (Hat) box for us! Lisa

  6. David

    3/24/2011 1:06 pm

    I totally agree. I was in regular retail for years and not being pushy with big ticket items made customers feel more comfortable. In my opinion online retail marketers need to think like small boutiques and be more client friendly and offer more value.

    Just my .02 cents

  7. Tara Nemeth

    3/24/2011 1:16 pm

    Is there a way to get this article in one page (or multiple page) printer-friendly form? I think the suggestions here are phenomenal and I would like to print a copy to have for my records.

  8. Charlie Draper

    3/24/2011 2:08 pm

    Nice article, gave me a few ideas to warm up my Welcome and Thank You page. It all points to establishing a comfort zone.

  9. Margy Long

    3/24/2011 4:40 pm

    Those are spectacular, but how does a lonely sole entrepreneur compete with those.
    I loved the Serena 7 Lily one is is just a screen shot of their site or do those tabs actually work.
    I am Fascinated

  10. karen

    3/24/2011 6:41 pm

    Good job with this campaign! Lots of work went into this and kept me wanting to see what other examples coordinated with your message.

  11. Diane Dick

    3/24/2011 8:55 pm

    Thanks for these great suggestions. I like your ideas and am looking forward to implementing them both on my website and in my emails. I think that they make for friendly reading. That is exactly the sort of gift shop that I want people to feel that they are visiting. I have just put on my website homepage a “Welcome” and I realised that this was missing. I look forward to reading more ideas.

  12. Codrut Turcanu

    3/25/2011 7:54 am

    I’m not in the industry you mention, I tell what works for me. Just don’t look at my blog as you won’t see these methods implemented yet there as we speak.

    1. Welcome subscribers with an exclusive freebie item bonus
    (something highly-relevant to what they’ve subscribed for)

    This wows them and boosts their confidence in opening your emails net.

    2. Tell them what’s next… and prepare for a special deal

    3. Announce the deal 72 hours in advance — mention day & hour.

    4. Send the special deal email (not necessarily a discount, but maybe buy one get one free type of offer, or something similar)

    Discounting your product will actually train your readers to expect nothing but discounts or bargain items.

    5. Alternate quick (practical) tips emails related to your industry with special promotions and offers on a weekly basis (or so) — your emails really have to stand out, and your offers really should be special, one-of-a-kind.

    Hope it helps.

  13. Amanda Gagnon

    3/25/2011 9:35 am

    Aaron ~ Yes, there is a way to survey and then segment by the answers – basically, you type the survey in your email, link each answer to a separate thank-you page and later, segment by the links clicked. Full details will follow in an upcoming post.

    Tara ~ You should be able to select the body of the article with your mouse, then push Ctrl-P (command-P for Macs) and print (choose “print selection only”)

    Codrut ~ Thanks for sharing that strategy! Question ~ why the announcement of the deal before the actual deal email? I can see how that prevents people from missing the deal, but have you ever found it to be too redundant?

  14. Julie Butts

    3/29/2011 2:46 pm

    Nice article. I can definitely relate to letting the customer browse the store! I’m on a subscription list for one of my favorite authors, but I’m about to unsubscribe because he continuously pushing a product rather than letting me get to know him, his products, and his company. I don’t like the feeling that I’m being sold in every single email.

  15. Kathleen Calderon

    4/4/2011 9:08 pm

    Well what can I say: thanks for yet another great article. 😉 I have a question though: since you mentioned “shopping”, I would like to know if aweber integrates with any of the popular shopping carts (such as 1shopping cart, PayPal cart, etc.). Thanks.

  16. Amanda Gagnon

    4/5/2011 10:07 am

    Kathleen ~ We do! Here are instructions for integrating with ishopping cart and for integrating with PayPal. We also integrate with a few other shopping carts – you can find directions by searching on the bottom right of this page.