The quest of marketers to find the best converting strategy, or the tactic that yields the highest ROI, never ends. We've been told over and over that content is king, social media is a must, and email is still very much in.

So we asked digital marketers involved with e-commerce businesses about their experience with email newsletters. Do they still work, or are they a thing of the past?

What are the best newsletter practices that make money now, and what is old news? Those people manage email campaigns for brands large and small, and they shared their opinion with us readily.

Question: Are Email Newsletters Effective in E-Commerce?

Most experts we talked to agree that email newsletters work for online stores, and the trend is not likely to change. However, half of them warn that there are rules that must be followed to generate revenue (it doesn't just work like magic):

  • Yes, email newsletters are effective: 8
  • No, they are not effective: 1
  • Yes, they're effective if...: 8

Why 'Yes': Email vs. Social

In an age of information overload, email newsletters are an alternative for keeping a relationship with the audience going. When social media is so noisy, waiting patiently in the inbox for when readers have time doesn't sound so bad.

Drew Fortin of The Predictive Index says, "Not only do they allow us to send a collection of relevant, recently produced content, they also allow those who may not want to hear from you daily to stay informed and engaged on a less frequent basis."

Mark Walker noted that email newsletters are used by public figures like Lena Dunham and Gwyneth Paltrow to reach their audience in a more exclusive way. Newsletters feel like a club or a safe space where ideas are shared with likeminded people without the skepticism of onlookers on social media.

Dennis Michael adds to the idea that email is a more focused space for exchanging information: "I think email newsletters are important because you have the attention of your audience. There is no other form of marketing that will be as effective."

Furqan Tafseer ofPureVPN sees email as an alternative to RSS feeds, too: "I like to get updates in one place—i.e., my email! A newsletter is a must-have for any site that has a good blog."

Chris Byrne of puts things in an interesting perspective, though, pointing out that email is basically free: "It's one of the few internet technologies not owned by any corporation. Think about that for a minute.

That means no vendor can dictate to the business owner on whether or not their email subscriber will receive a message from them. It's in the hands of the subscriber, where it should be. In the case of Facebook, you may have 5,000 subscribers but Facebook decides which of these will see the message and then ask you to pay for the others to see it."

Four Rules for Playing the Email Game

Here's what the experts warn not to do. The success of the email newsletter pretty much depends on these: Not any email campaign will work.

1. Everything's Personal in 2017

Renée Tarnutzer of Understory is convinced that "Mass blasting is dead. When you send relevant and timely messages to your subscribers, the performance increases tremendously."

Bob Clary of Intellibright claims, "Email isn't going anywhere, what is changing is the need for advanced personalization."

Stoimen Vesselinov of Metrilo is also an advocate for email personalization. "All emails online stores send should be based on the customer behavior—what products they interact with, what content they read, how often they browse the site, and so on. It's the only way to market to them on a truly personal level they'll appreciate," he says.

Alyssa Scavetta of Masonry draws the line at what interests shoppers: "Highly personalized, very specific information that pertains to their order and other orders similar to their style. Less content-heavy thought leadership pieces, and more order-specific pieces."

2. Pack With Value

For any such effort to work over and over again, you have to consistently deliver value readers can't find anywhere else. It can be the unique selection of resources combined with your commentary, or it can be own data you're giving out, but there has to be an insider's bonus.

Brian Childs from Moz gave us B2B insight, "The most successful and consistent performance I have had are from emails that provide quarterly business outlooks for a specific industry. Executives respond well to articles that display unique data that only you can provide as well as your interpretation of what the data says about the months and year ahead."

Of course, in e-commerce, offers and deals are the greatest and most exclusive value email subscribers hope for.

Gianna Del Monte of International Vapor Group said, "I execute email marketing efforts for three B2C brands as well as one B2B brand. For each brand online, email marketing accounts for our second highest source of traffic as well as revenue, beneath organic. Most of the emails we send have some sort of offer or promotion that is exclusive to our email subscribers.

When we do have any sort of holiday sitewide sale, we send email correspondence out, but email exclusive promotions tend to perform the best. Additionally, we have transactional email campaigns set up for cart abandonment, post purchase, thank-you, loyalty, birthdays, and welcome series.

This keeps us in constant conversations with our customers that help to increase customer lifetime value as well as customer retention."

Casey DeSain of GMR Transcription is positive that consumers "won't respond to any outreach unless there is a benefit associated for them."

"Include coupons and contests so that people can expect a benefit from opening the newsletter, even if the content isn't of interest to them. The content can simply be news about your company or updates from the industry. This provides a layer of personality and promotes customer loyalty, while painting you as an influencer in your industry," she suggests.

3. Getting Subscribers: A challenge in Itself

The newsletter effort should be aligned with the rest of your e-commerce strategy. If you know the role of the newsletter, and why people should give you their email addresses to receive your newsletter, communicate it! Because it's not the only place on the Web fighting for that precious contact info.

Kevin John Gallagher of Stargazer Digital advises, "Don't make the mistake of just having a plain box that says 'subscribe to our newsletter.' You have to give people a reason to sign up—otherwise, what's in it for them? Try something like 'subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive offers and discounts.' Trust me, you'll get a better response rate!"

4. To Be Fair...

And while we hear a whooping "yea" from most experts about e-commerce newsletters, some remain skeptical.

Sam Williamson of AIMS warns, "Many businesses (particularly smaller businesses) seem to be under the impression that sending newsletters every month is a great way to keep in touch with customers. But, for the most part, newsletters should be avoided entirely (or released no more than once every six months).

"People receive dozens of emails every single day, and if your newsletter emails are frequently appearing in your customer's inbox, it won't be long until they mark the emails as spam (especially if the emails are following a standard newsletter layout and not providing much of interest)."

So... e-commerce marketers should be careful not to make email just as self-promotional and noisy as social media. Quality over quantity is the golden rule.

Takeaways for Your Email Marketing Strategy

  • The more exclusive a newsletter is, the better.
  • Readers like the control they have in email. Respect that, and use it wisely.
  • Make reading a five-minute email worth it.
  • Use what can be an exclusive space to provide more insider topics you want to tackle with your most loyal fans only.
  • Use data on customer behavior to create genuinely personal and valuable emails.
  • It should be about them, not about you.
  • Results will come over the long run, not immediately.
  • Don't overdo it.

Have a success story with email marketing? We'd love to hear about it down in the comments. Or was it a complete failure? If so, tell us what you learned from it!

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Do Email Newsletters Still Work in E-Commerce?

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Stephan Markov is a digital marketer at Metrilo, a tool designed to help e-commerce businesses sell more by making data-driven decisions.

LinkedIn: Stephan Markov