A guide to retail email marketing best practices for converting customers

Whether you're struggling with a low open rate or a lack of conversions, we've put together a retail email marketing best practices guide to help you.

You’re in a panic. 

Anxiety slowly wraps its constricting tentacles around you as you frantically review the statistics from yesterday’s email marketing campaign. The open rate of the email you sent yesterday is hovering around 12%.

A foreboding sense of dread arises as you continue to review the click-rate and revenue-driven, or lack thereof.

Instantly you head over to Google and begin searching for what the industry standard should be for email campaigns. Panic sets in as you soon learn Mailchimp states that the average open rate for email in the retail industry is around 18% and the average-click-rate is 2.25%. 

Fortunately, your next Google search lands you right here on this article. Whether your current email strategy is suffering from low open rates or resulting in unsatisfying low sales, you’ve now officially taken the first step toward launching an outstanding email campaign.

If you are struggling with customers opening your email then you most likely need a catchier subject line or have a technical issue that’s impeding the email’s delivery. We’ll cover that in Open Sesame! and other non-magical ways to get people to open your email.

If you’re happy with your open rate, but find there’s a lack of clicks occurring in the body of your email then you can skip ahead to Winning over customers through email storytelling.

Before we delve in, feel free to jump to the section you need the most help with. Think of it as a choose your own adventure.

Open Sesame! and other non-magical ways to get people to open your email

Casting illusions aside, even the best magical spells won’t lead to higher open rates.

But what if I told you, even though putting abracadabra in your subject line might not work, there is a science to getting your audience excited about the latest arrival in their inbox?

The first suspected culprit leading to low open rates might be due to your email simply being thrown into the dreaded Google Mail dungeon known as the Promotions folder. 

This is a major issue that, luckily, doesn’t require headache medicine and you can troubleshoot yourself. Try sending your email to a personal Gmail address you own and watch where it ends up.

Whether you’ve wound up in the Promotions prison or not, you should start with checking these five items off your list as possible blockers. These are useful tips either way. 

1. Remove the words “sale,” “free,” “deals,” and “discount” from your subject line and body of the email. I know it’s tough, but you’ll have to get creative here. 

2. Avoid using all caps, dollar and percent signs, or extra punctuation in the subject.

3. Limit the number of images in your email to one or two.

4. Keep links in your body down to a minimum. Three to five should be okay, but you probably won’t need more than two.

5. Use a personal address as the sender of the email. Don’t send from email addresses that are generic like sales@, marketing@, or  [brand-name]@

6. Talk to your tech team about adding DKIM and SPF records to your DNS records. What does all that technical jargon mean? You just need to let your customers' mail servers know you’re legit.

If you feel confident your email is landing in the recipient’s correct Inbox, then your low open rate may be because the receiver doesn’t find your email subject all that interesting. You might be coming off too salesy, for instance. Or you might just not be talking to the right audience. Check out our article about launching a loyalty program for your customers. Or, check out this inspirational post for running great promotions.

Think about your subject line as a movie trailer. It should excite the reader into opening the email. 

While an email open does not guarantee your customers will actually read the email, it does offer an appealing promise that they’re going to find something worth reading.

Did you know that 80% of your business is being driven by 20% of your customers? No matter how many emails you’re sending, whether there’s one recipient or one thousand, always know that 20% of your customers are yearning to hear from you.

This 20% of customers absolutely love you. They’re likely craving everything you send them, as long as you are speaking directly to them.

That’s why it is so important to segment your data properly if you want to increase your email open rates. If you know you’re targeting the right audience with the right subject line, you’re on the right track. 

Now we’ve talked about what not to include in your email and who to send it to, but what should you actually write in the subject line?

Writing a compelling subject can be difficult at first, but by following these guidelines, you’re sure to see an increase in your open rate.

Create urgency. Make the reader feel like they are missing out if they delete your email without at least peeking at it.

1. Keep your subject lines short. Aim for under 42 characters, but keep in mind that research suggests you test even shorter ones for more success.

2. Consider using sentence case for your subjects to make them feel more human. This means only capitalizing the first word unless using proper nouns.

3. Tie your subject to a theme. Which season is approaching? Is there a holiday around the corner? Are you opening a new location? Is there an exciting launch coming up?

4. Emojis are great if they’re on brand, but even so, don’t overdo it.

5. [Bonus] Utilize the preview text field to drive home that teasing sense of urgency to your audience. Keep it short though.

Brands using Endear have an average open rate of 30%

Learn how Endear can help your team reach your email marketing goals.

Winning over customers through email storytelling

Good news: the hardest part of a successful email campaign is getting your audience to actually open the email. So if you’re here, I’m assuming your open rate is performing well. Nice work! 

Unfortunately, it could also mean your click rates are low and your recipients are losing interest after the first couple sentences, thus deleting your email. 

That’s why those first few sentences need to hook the reader in.

You might be laser-focused on getting your reader to click on that call-to-action, but whether they realize it or not, your reader wants to feel something!  And sometimes a discount or offer alone just won’t do it for them.

So before we get to a compelling offer, you need to tell a story because humans can’t resist a great story. That story needs to revolve around the whole reason you’re sending the email to begin with.

Is spring approaching and you’re currently running a promotion? Are you drastically reducing the price and placing fabulous products on clearance? Or are you getting ready to launch a new collection?

Sorry, it’s not you, your brand, or your products. It’s the reader. Just like the hero in this article is you, not me. 

Briefly put, you want your reader to feel like they’re the central character in your story. Make them feel like they have to act on whatever you tell them to do.

Here’s an example of a one-to-one email with a customer:

“Hi Ellen,

I hope you’re having a fantastic day and enjoying this unseasonably warm weather.

I’m so excited to tell you that our spring line just arrived, and I’d love to show it all to you this week.

I think you would look absolutely gorgeous in this new cute mini skirt and matching top.

Spring lookbook

What’s a good time for you this week to drop by?

Look forward to seeing you soon, 


Our setting is the new spring season, Ellen, of course, is the main character, and instead of a link click, our requested action is a reply about when Ellen wants to come in-store to see the new collection. Easy! Let’s try another.

Here’s an example of what you should do when sending a mass email:

“Hi [first name], 

I hope you’re having a fantastic day and enjoying this unseasonably warm weather.

I’m excited to tell you that our spring line just arrived, and I’d love to show it all to you this week. Please let me know if you’d like to come into the store this week to see it.

On top of that, we’ve marked down everything from the fall line by 20 percent. I’m sure we have something you’d look great in!

If you’re simply too busy to stop by, you can browse all our new inventory on the website [link to website].

Hope to see you soon, 


We’ve segmented our audience by zip code so we know who is feeling this warm spring weather, we’re personalizing the message so the customer can feel that main character's energy, and our action becomes browsing the new collection on the website.

Not sure how to segment your audience by zip code? Sounds like you need a retail CRM.

Both of these emails place the customer as the hero in the story. Let’s further break down the elements I used to craft these effective emails.

1. Every B2C email should start with the first name of the recipient, and/or the last name depending on your brand’s voice.

2. Speak to the customer like they are actually in the room with you. That means you’ll need to segment your audience beforehand based on personal details. That’s where a solution like Endear can come in handy.

3. Drive a sense of urgency and outline the action the reader needs to take to overcome the challenge you’re setting forth before them.

4. Personalize your communication as much as possible. If you’re struggling to do that, then I suggest you read up on clienteling and why it’s different than customer service.

5. Consider adding a high-quality image or two. For example, I’ve added a Lookbook to mine, which can drive up to 11% higher AOV.

6. Finally, make sure you write the email as if a human wrote it. This email looks like it’s coming from a living, breathing sales associate. Remember the reply-to email address is going to match the name written in the closing of your email.

Hopefully, by now you’ve got the tools to compose an awesome and effective email. However, how do you know if your campaign is truly successful, and how do you compare it to previous ones?

What you need to know when evaluating email campaigns

Now that you have some understanding of writing quality emails, you need to know how to judge their performance.

Let’s look at a few metrics, which I’ll refer to as KPIs (key performance indicators). These KPIs will help you track the overall performance of your email marketing strategy.

1. Open rate - This is simply the percentage of people who opened your email message in their inbox. Recipients who opened the email / Total recipients x 100

2. Click-through-rate - This is the percentage of recipients who opened your email and clicked on a link.Total number of recipients that clicked on at least one link in the boy of the email / Total number of recipients that received the email x 100

3. Unsubscribe rate - This is the percentage of people who decided they no longer want to hear from you and have unsubscribed from your mailing list from this email. If you’ve followed the advice in this article then this percentage should be extremely low – we’re talking less than a few percent.

4. Spam rate - These are recipients that have reported your email as unsolicited. You definitely want to make sure customers are not hitting the spam button when they receive an email from you. As long as you’re segmenting your audience and personalizing emails you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this.

5. Bounce rate - The rate of emails that were not delivered successfully. These are generally incorrect email addresses that did not receive your campaign. If you made sure to follow my advice about authenticating your email server (written in the Open sesame section) then you’ll probably just want to remove bounced emails from future campaigns.

6. Email list growth rate - This is a fairly simple formula that will tell you how much your list is growing. (New Subscribers - Unsubscribers) / Total Subscribers * 100

7. Conversion rate - The percentage of recipients who completed the goal of the email. For example, if you wanted someone to purchase a product from a link, then you’d count a conversion once they made the purchase.

8. Revenue per campaign - A very useful metric to help you determine how much revenue you are earning from an email campaign. (Total Revenue generated from campaign/number of emails sent) * 100