Building a successful email welcome series for ecommerce

Most growth-stage ecommerce brands are aware of the power of email automations to grow their revenue. Often the focus zeroes in on automations directly tied to sales: abandon cart emails, new product launches, and post-purchase upsell emails. 

But there's another email automation that's crucial for building an engaged list of subscribers who are more likely to open and read your sales emails (and thus spend more, even on future purchases like post-purchase checkout offers): email welcome series

An email welcome series consists of the emails sent to a subscriber right after they join your list, usually in a 3-5 email sequence over a week or two before they receive regularly scheduled emails. 

The welcome sequence is one of the most effective types of email automations for ecommerce, with four times the open rate and five times the click-through-rate.

Brands looking to drive more traffic to their store through email marketing should use an email welcome series strategically to build brand awareness and set expectations—the ingredients for an engaged email list. 

In this article, we're sharing how to build a successful email welcome sequence. 

Set a goal for your welcome email series

You likely already have some sort of welcome sequence (or at least a single welcome email) because it's considered a "best practice." 

However, to make the most of these valuable emails, we recommend thinking more strategically and setting a goal for your sequence. Each email in your welcome sequence should serve this overall goal. 

To set a goal for your welcome sequence, start by finishing this sentence:  "All new subscribers should…". 

If you're stuck, these example goals may spark some inspiration:

"All new subscribers should…". 

  • "...become familiar with our brand story."
  • " their first product using a welcome discount."
  • "...understand how our brand is different from other options they may be considering."
  • "...start engaging with us on social media." 
  • "....have no doubt as to the value of our products (justifying the cost)."
  • ".... be able to decide which product is right for them."

Though every email in your sequence should serve your sequence goal, we recommend starting with the smallest ask and building up to your biggest ask at the end of the sequence. For instance, the first email may simply provide readers with a discount code, the second email invites readers to watch a video, and the final email asks readers to make a purchase. 

Example: five email welcome sequence structure for ecommerce

This five-email welcome sequence structure is adapted from the sequence recommended by email strategist Eman Ismail.

Following this structure ensures that your sequence builds toward your Big Ask in the final email and builds trust with your brand. And we're sharing a real-life welcome sequence example from brand Who Gives a Crap to illustrate these concepts in action.

1. Welcome email

The first email of your sequence should do a couple of important things:

  • Provide what you promised in exchange for your subscriber's email address (e.g. discount code, free ebook, quiz results)
  • Set expectations for your list (e.g. how many emails to expect per week, what type of content you will send)
  • Welcome your new subscriber to your community

Who Gives a Crap sends a welcome email that feels warm and inviting and clearly outlines what type of content subscribers will receive from the brand: 

2. Introduce your brand and brand story

Your second email is a great opportunity to ground your brand in reality (and in your subscribers' memories!). Having just received a warm welcome, a free gift, or a discount code, subscribers are primed to hear more about you. 

You could...

  • Share your mission
  • Tell a story about your brand
  • Share your values
  • Share what sets you apart from the competition

Or a combination of these. Let's head back to our Who Gives a Crap example. Their second email puts a strategic spin on sharing the brand mission, positioning the reader as the focus (instead of the brand). This helps subscribers feel like they've become a part of something bigger than themselves as well as learning more about the brand. 

3-4. Provide value

Emails three through four should establish that your emails provide value to readers so that subscribers get into the habit of opening your emails. 

What is value? Value can be anything that makes reading your emails worthwhile for subscribers. For example…

  • Helping customers decide which product is right for them.
  • Sharing how-to videos or content to use your products more effectively.
  • Answering FAQs
  • Sharing high-performing educational content (from your blog or social media)

On their third email, Who Gives a Crap informs subscribers about their referral program where customers receive $10 toward their purchase if they refer a friend: 

On the fourth email, Who Gives a Crap shares a high-performing blog post, a guide for reusing the toilet paper wrap for gift wrapping: 

5. Make your Big Ask

On your final email in your welcome sequence, it's time to make your ask. 

This might be to invite subscribers …

  • Shop now
  • Shop best sellers
  • Follow you on social 
  • Check out your latest product collection
  • Start a recurring product delivery

For Who Gives a Crap, they used their final email in their welcome sequence to request feedback (note: this only makes sense if subscribers joined by making a purchase): 

Optimize every aspect of your welcome series

Once you have your welcome email sequence structure and content laid out, you can zero in on adjustments that will make a big impact on metrics like open rate and click-through rate. 

Optimizing your subject lines

For your emails to be effective, they must first be opened. This is why optimizing your subject line is crucial. 

First, since 75% of consumers report checking email most often on their smartphone, ensure that your subject lines are easily read on mobile devices (that they aren't cut off). Mobile email apps show fewer subject line characters than desktop email clients, so always be sure to send a test mobile email to see how your subject line renders in mobile.

One best practice for character count comes from Mailchimp, which found that keeping subject line counts under 60 characters is a good starting point.

To avoid your emails being sent to the spam folder, don't use words commonly filtered by email clients, like "clearance," "sale," "percent off," or "great offer." For more spam words to avoid, check out Hubspot's complete list.

Finally, aim to make your subject lines compelling but not misleading. Click-bait style subject lines may entice people to open, but if they don't reflect the actual content of your email, subscribers will exit (or possibly even get angry). To make your email sequence worthwhile, you need subscribers to open your emails… and then take action. 

This is where content optimization comes in.

Optimizing your content

The content of your emails has one goal: Encourage readers to take the desired action. For most ecommerce brands, that action will involve a click (such as clicking to buy a product, read a blog post, or engage on social media). 

For your email design, we recommend using lots of white space to make it easy to read and visually appealing. This means you should keep paragraphs short (instead of blocks of long text), have ample margins, and avoid full-bleed images. 

To ensure that subscribers immediately recognize your emails as coming from your brand, choose a consistent layout and use your standard brand fonts, colors, and logos.

When it comes to the email copy, we have a similar philosophy: Make it easy to read. This means that you should use bullet points when it makes sense, incorporate headings and subheadings to break up sections, and opt for clarity over creativity. 

Optimizing your call to action

The call to action is the final hurdle to getting readers to take the desired action. We recommend including a button for your call to action (vs. linking text) and ensuring that the button stands out from the rest of your email. This helps make sure readers will see the button. 

Finally, the button text should be enticing but also as clear as possible. Avoid vague call-to-action language like "Learn More." Instead, hint at what "reward" readers will receive by clicking. For example, your button might read, "Watch Our Origin Story Video." This tells readers what to expect by clicking the button!

Email marketing is key to scaling your brand

After a decade of helping successful e-commerce companies scale into multiple six and seven figures through our ecommerce agency, we know that owned marketing (namely, email) is a core piece of the scaling puzzle. 

Once we've optimized a website for better user experience, higher conversions, and higher average order value, the next step is to amplify those results by driving more traffic to the website. This is where email marketing comes in! 

And one of the first email marketing steps? Automating a killer email welcome series. 

Electric Eye is an agency that builds Shopify-powered sales machines from strategic design, development, and marketing decisions. Electric Eye partners with the best technology solutions within the Shopify ecosystem to give your store superior service.

Krista Walsh is a Content Creator at Honest Ecommerce.

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