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How to Harness the Power of Email Marketing Automation for Better Customer Relations

“Automation” sounds cold and detached, but email marketing automation is actually all about thoughtfully nurturing the customer relationship through personalization – albeit on a large scale. Automating emails based on behavioral triggers and real-time data enables you to consistently email many customers at just the right time with just the right message or information. For example, a “welcome” email after someone creates an account, a discount for someone who abandons his/her cart, or a recipe that uses a recently purchased product. 

And, email marketing automation can really pay off. Typically we see higher revenue from automated, transactional email flows – even the most basic ones like cart abandonment – compared to email marketing campaigns. 

Also, transactional emails, which often have the highest open rates, can have a significant impact on overall email deliverability and inbox placement. When subscribers open these types of emails, this acts as a positive message to email providers like Gmail, which has a positive effect on sender “reputation,” and ensures your future emails -- given you haven’t engaged in spamming practices in the past -- are less likely to end up in the spam folder.

You can’t afford to overlook email automation. In fact, we recommend that you make sure you have your automated email flows in place before planning your email marketing campaigns. It’s that important to improve customer relations.

First, map it out

As with other components of your marketing, your automated emails shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. We help our clients roadmap the overall customer experience, identify key customer touchpoints along the customer journey, and map out where behavior-triggered automated emails fit in. 

In addition to mapping automated emails to specific website behaviors or transactions, it's a good idea to also map out automated emails to trigger at specific points in the customer journey, based on customer segmentation.  For example, it may make sense to send an automated email to customers who purchased dishwasher detergent six weeks after purchase – when they most likely would need to place a replenishment order. Or, you may set up an email that triggers after a customer hasn’t revisited the website in 30 days. 


After mapping, we then work with clients to develop a strategy and plan that outlines the goal of each automated email and the content needed to help achieve the goal – including elements like creative copy, photos and blog posts. 

Automated email types: The essentials 

There are endless types and combinations of automated emails you can deploy. Which ones are most effective for your E-commerce business depends on multiple factors, including your customers, marketing or business goals, industry, etc. However, there are some “essential” behavior-based emails you should have in place. Following are some examples of the most common and effective types of behavior-based automated emails you should consider. Note: To help get you ramped up quickly, many email marketing platforms provide pre-built automated email flows that you can leverage.

Pre-purchase welcome

Get prospects over the hump by enticing them to make the first purchase with an offer upfront. This email is typically sent immediately after a new customer/subscriber signs up. The pre-purchase welcome email may be stand-alone or consist of a series of emails over a defined, relatively short period of time (e.g., a week). Interestingly, research shows that customers who read most or all of a brand’s welcome series emails are far more likely to spend more over time than those who don’t read any of the emails. 

Post-purchase welcome

A consumer is super-engaged immediately after the first purchase, making this a great time to hit them again with additional onboarding information; e.g., how to sign up for a newsletter, rewards program or subscription services. Welcome emails, along with abandoned cart emails, are the most effective E-commerce email types that generate the most opens and click-throughs. In fact, one study reports that consumers read welcome emails 42% more often than regular, promotional emails.


Abandoned cart

Research shows that approximately seven out of 10 shopping carts are abandoned.  Reminding consumers about items waiting in their carts is a very effective way to increase revenue – and don’t just stop at one! A second, follow-up abandoned cart email can increase revenue 54% compared to a single abandoned cart email. 

Browse abandonment

Not everyone who casually browses your site will appreciate a browse abandonment email. It’s a good idea to set conditions, such as the number of products browsed, time spent browsing, frequency of browsing, the timing of last purchase and recency of other emails sent. You also may want to consider sending a compelling offer to ensure browse abandonment emails are received as relevant and valuable.


As we all know, acquiring new customers requires far more effort and cost than nurturing existing customers. For customers who may not have purchased or engaged in a while, it makes sense to remind them about your brand, what they liked and invite them to reengage. 


It’s important to keep your email list clean, and that means removing inactive customers. It’s likely costing you to keep inactive customers in your database – which is not money well spent. A sunsetter email asks them to click through to the website if they’re still interested, or to unsubscribe. “No response” automatically queues them up for deletion.  

Wait, before you automate: A few things to consider 

Based on our experience as well as industry best practices, the following are some tips to ensure your automated emails get off to a strong start.

  • Differentiate: Build and use customized, branded email templates for your automated emails to help build your brand. Customers should instantly be able to identify the email is from your company.
  • Get personal: Personalize automated emails by including recommended products based on customer behavioral, demographic and psychographic data, instead of just pushing the same “deal of the week” to everyone. Personalized email messages increase click-throughs and conversions, and can result in transaction rates that are six times higher than non-personalized emails. 
  • Regularly check in: Although you don’t have to spend time manually sending automated emails, automation is not entirely a “set it and forget it” endeavor. You’ll want to regularly analyze metrics like opens and click-throughs to monitor results. 
  • Test, test and test again: To optimize your automated emails, you have to test to see what design, subject line, copy, offer, timing and more get you the results you want. For example, when is the best time to send an abandoned cart email – three hours later? Six hours? Next day?  
  • Don’t be creepy: You have a lot of data and insight into how consumers browse and shop on your site. Find the sweet spot between reengaging consumers and turning them off. For example, set up an email to trigger two days after a customer has abandoned a browse session for bath towels instead of an hour later, and/or ensure the content isn’t just about bath towels – to avoid a Big Brother feel. 
  • Don’t overwhelm: Shopper behavior on your website has the potential to trigger multiple email flows. You also may be sending out several different email campaigns. Build conditions into your automations to prevent customers from receiving too many emails per week to reduce the risk of someone unsubscribing.
  • Always be asking: It’s smart to use automated emails to find out customer preferences and improve customer relations; for example, by encouraging customers to select product categories of interest (e.g., vitamins and supplements), communication cadence (e.g., weekly), and more.  

Bonus points

Once you have all of your “essential” email automation in place and running, you can refine them to improve their performance by leveraging customer segmentation. For example, you could increase personalization with a trigger email (e.g., cart abandonment) that’s different depending on who triggered it – e.g., a VIP customer versus someone who has never purchased. Or, test reducing churn by setting up a trigger when a customer’s behavior changes (e.g., he purchases fewer items or less often). Analyzing customer data to identify purchase trends and behavioral patterns also may help inform what additional refinements or other automated email types to test. 

While an email marketing automation strategy and plan does take some time to develop and implement, the financial (and sanity!) return will be well worth it – and realistically, automation is the only way you can scale a thoughtful, personalized E-commerce customer experience to keep customers engaged.