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How to Use Email Retargeting to Convert More Customers

  • Email Marketing

Data from studies vary, but the average e-commerce conversion rate hovers somewhere between 2–3 percent

As a result, this means at least 97 percent of shoppers won’t make a purchase right away. 

However, it doesn’t mean they’re gone forever.

You can boost conversions and get way more than just 2–3 percent to make a purchase.  

But to ensure that you eventually get their business, you need an effective way to remind them about your brand as well as the products they showed interest in. 

And that’s where email retargeting comes in—a practice that uses information you’ve already gained to provide shoppers with personalized offers. 

In this post, I’ll outline the basics of email retargeting, explain how it works and go over some specific strategies that can help you improve your email performance and ultimately, turn more of your e-commerce shoppers into paying customers.  

I’ll also offer some tips for getting the most from your campaigns. 

So let’s dive right in. 

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What is Email Retargeting?

“Email retargeting is using information already known about a specific customer to send more relevant, focused emails,” Study.com explains. “Companies follow through with email retargeting because it helps with upsells, personalizes the user experience and provides relevant offers to consumers.”

This is done using cookies, which allow e-commerce brands to track behavior, see what types of products a person looked at, what they added to their shopping cart, and so on. 

Here’s a simple example.

Say someone was browsing through Huckberry, a clothing and outdoor site, and checked out their section of Red Wing Shoes. 

They also looked at a particular type of boot like the “Weekender Chelsea.”

Huckberry would then use that information in their email retargeting campaign to send out a personalized email that explains more about Red Wing Shoes and offer relevant promotions like this one. 

Email retargeting is effective because it focuses on shoppers who have already demonstrated a clear interest in e-commerce products and bases content and promotions around previous interactions. 

And it’s incredibly potent.

“Three out of five online viewers notice and consider ads showing products they viewed from another page, and 25 percent of online viewers enjoyed seeing retargeted ads.”

Not only that, “the click-through rate (CTR) of a retargeted ad is 10x higher than the CTR of a typical display ad.”

Needless to say, this can have a major impact and increase conversions and revenue. 

So now that we have a basic understanding of how the process works, here are some email retargeting techniques you can use to improve your email performance. 

Emails Based on Shopping Behavior 

Perhaps the most straightforward strategy is sending emails that feature products a shopper has already looked at. 

For instance, this one from luxury clothing designer Zee & Co mentions that a person had browsed their site recently, includes three specific products they looked at and asks if they saw anything they liked. 

And if you notice toward the bottom, it also offers recommendations for some of their current customer favorites. 

This is a nice touch because it also highlights products a person may also be interested based on what’s most popular. 

These types of emails are a great way to recapture the attention of shoppers who had some level of interest but weren’t ready to make a purchase. 

Abandoned Cart Follow-Ups

Abandoned carts remain a problem for even the best of e-commerce stores.

No matter how good the online customer experience is, nearly seven out of 10 shoppers will abandon their cart. 

But one way you can reclaim more of these lost leads is to send abandoned cart emails

Here’s a great example from Nordstrom

It mentions that a person has left products in their shopping bag, features a specific product that caught their eye and allows them to conveniently return to their shopping bag so they can complete their order with ease.

This is a simple, straightforward approach that subtly reminds a shopper that they never finished their purchase and allows them to navigate back to their cart with a single click. 

So if they needed some time to think about it, this may be the nudge they need to come back.

This second example from monthly beauty and grooming subscription company Birchbox uses the same concept and displays a couple of items a shopper saved to their cart. 

Birchbox also points out at the bottom that all products that are sampled are shipped for free, and all orders over $50 always have free shipping. 

These are a couple of nice perks that can sweeten the deal and provide shoppers with an added incentive that can move them to take action. 

This leads me to my next strategy. 


Say that a shopper has spent some time getting familiar with your brand and is interested in potentially buying a product. 

However, they’re just not quite ready to pull the trigger and have left items in their shopping cart. 

There’s a good chance they’ll buy. They just need something to get them over the hump.

Often, offering a discount is just what it takes to compel them to purchase. 

In fact, “54 percent of shoppers will purchase products left in shopping carts if those products are offered at a lower price than its original.”

Besides that, “Nearly two-thirds of customers surveyed admitted that a promotion or a coupon often closes the deal if they are wavering or are undecided on making a purchase.”

A simple yet effective solution is to offer a discount where you give customers a certain percentage off the original price of an item in your email.

That’s exactly what Levi’s does in this example. 

In this case, it’s a 25 percent discount for completing the order—an offer that should spur many shoppers to take action. 

And to increase the likelihood of a purchase, they add urgency to the offer and say that it will expire in 48 hours. 

Using a combination of a great deal along with time sensitivity like this can be just the ticket for improving email performance. 

Cross-Selling to Recent Customers

I’m a firm believer in striking while the iron is hot. 

If you have a customer who just recently purchased from you and is happy with their order, there’s a good chance you can persuade them to buy something else, especially when it’s related to what they initially purchased. 

To quantify it, “you’re 60–70 percent likely to sell to an existing customer, compared to the 5 – 20 percent likelihood of selling to a new prospect.”

This email remarketing strategy relies on sending an email that features a particular product a customer bought along with additional items that complement the product. 

Take the Varsity Dress from J. Crew for example.

This email features the Varsity Dress and also includes relevant accessories that can be added like a clutch handbag, shoes, and earrings.

So if a customer was happy with the dress, buying other products that go along with it isn’t too much of a stretch. 

Emails Targeting Inactive Shoppers

One final strategy involves using email retargeting to get back in touch with shoppers who visited your site at some point and checked out products but haven’t returned in a while. 

The level of engagement may vary, but they have demonstrated at least some level of interest in your brand previously.

By reaching out, you can get your brand back on their radar and encourage them to check out your products again. 

These shoppers are divided into two main camps—shoppers who haven’t purchased and previous customers.

For the former, you’ll want to create emails that say you’ve missed them and provide them with some form of incentive to come back to your e-commerce store. 

This email from Bookworld, Australia’s biggest online bookstore, is a great example and offers 30 percent off for making a purchase. 

All shoppers have to do is use the voucher code at the bottom.

As for previous customers, you’ll also want to let them know that you’ve missed them and give them a discount for coming back and making another purchase.

This email from baby and kids clothing company Carter’s does a great job at this and gives repeat customers 25 percent off on purchases of $50 or more through a promo code at the bottom. 

Considering that more than half of the revenue for 61 percent of SMBs comes from repeat customers, this a tactic that can serve you well. 

It all boils down to providing enough incentive to get shoppers to take action.  

Tips for Success

At this point, we know about the key email retargeting strategies that can be used to reel in more customers. 

But to get the most from your campaigns, it’s important to follow best practices.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from my personal experience. 

1. Personalize Your Offers

The more personalized your emails are, the more receptive shoppers will be. 

In fact, personalization can improve your CTR by up to 14 percent and conversions by as much as 10 percent. 

Besides including the specific items someone has looked at, I always recommend including their first name because this is pretty much guaranteed to boost performance.

If you sell clothing or shoes, have your products sized so that it matches the size a shopper selected on your store. 

Or if you’re displaying suggested items, be sure that they match the person’s gender. 

Little things like that can make a big difference. 

2. Make it Convenient 

The easier it is for a person to get from their email to your checkout page, the more likely they are to convert.

So any steps you can eliminate from the process the better.

For example, Puma provides a link so shoppers can get right back to their shopping cart with just a single click. 

So be sure that your shoppers don’t have to do any heavy lifting to get where you want them to go. 

3. Nail Your Timing

While timing won’t be all that important when sending emails to inactive shoppers who haven’t been on your site or purchased in a while, it’s vital when you’re sending emails to those who have recently checked out products, abandoned their cart or when you’re trying to cross-sell.

Wait too long and their interest level will drop, or they may purchase from a competitor instead.

So you need to be quick with your retargeting efforts. 

Studies have found that three hours is a good timeframe to shoot for, as cart abandonment emails sent after this amount of time have a 40 percent open rate and a 20 percent CTR. 

4. Don’t Overdo It

You also need to be cognizant of the frequency in which you send retargeted emails. 

The last thing you want to do is sour a potentially valuable relationship by being overly aggressive with too many emails.

Not only can this result in shoppers ignoring your brand, but it can also annoy them and hurt your brand reputation. 

I know that there have been many times where I’ve personally been turned off by brands because of this and have opted out from their newsletter as a result. 

While there is no definitive number, I would suggest sending a max of two emails per week. 

Any more than that and it can create friction. 

5. Split Test Everything 

Finally, you must use the right combination of copy, images, banner ads, and so on. 

Seemingly small tweaks can have a significant impact on conversions, so I suggest getting in the habit of performing routine split testing to see what shoppers respond to and optimizing future emails accordingly. 

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More Email Marketing Inspiration?

Let’s face it: writing good marketing emails is TOUGH. To help, we’ve put together an email marketing swipe file, including 41 email marketing examples (organized by category). Plus, a few other goodies not featured below (*cough* killer Facebook Ad examples *cough*).


Email retargeting is effective for the simple fact that you’re reaching out to subscribers who have already expressed interest in your brand or products. 

Whether you’re retargeting someone who has browsed through your store, someone who has added items to their cart and abandoned it, previous customers or inactive shoppers, it allows you to make more conversions. 

It’s just a matter of following the right techniques and being smart with your campaigns. 

Implementing the strategies and tips mentioned here should help you succeed with email retargeting and rev up sales. 

Have you ever been persuaded to make a purchase because of email retargeting?

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