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Email marketing automation: Explanation, strategies, & tools

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Email marketing automation helps you send automated promotional messages to your subscribers.

Because the process is automated, marketers save time they’d normally take to create and send new promotional emails every time.

Even better, email marketing automation goes out at the right time, which is soon after a subscriber does something, like abandon a shopping cart, or sign up to your newsletter.

In this post we’ll look at:

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What is email marketing automation?

Email marketing automation is a strategy to send automated, personalized messages to subscribers based on specific triggers to reach them at just the right moment. 

Automation helps marketers deliver timely, customized messages based on customer data and behavior-triggered rules, replacing manual one-off messages in the process. 

One email marketing automation is to send a welcome series when somebody signs up. This series might have several emails introducing a subscriber to your brand, providing valuable content, and encouraging further interaction. 

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How does email marketing automation work?

Email marketing automation uses specialized platforms to create and send emails automatically. Marketers first integrate their email list and customer data into the software. Next, they design a series of emails and specify the triggers and conditions that determine when each one sends.

These automations allow marketers to create complex branching scenarios to deliver personalized, timely messages without repetitive manual sending. Once designed, email marketing automation workflows run on their own according to the configured triggers and conditions. 

Here’s a standard action plan when you’re setting up your own email marketing automation: 

  1. Choose a preset automation workflow (or create a custom one from scratch)
  2. Edit and set up triggers based on customer behavior
  3. Customize your workflow based on audience filters or exit conditions
  4. Edit your email’s content (e.g. the discount offer, if any) and preheader
  5. Determine appropriate flow actions, such as a delay, split, or A/B testing
  6. Add an alternative message channel (SMS or push notification), if you prefer
  7. Now, wait for your customers to trigger an event, e.g. abandoning a cart
  8. Your email app sends the preset message

The following step-by-step demonstration shows how to set up email marketing automations on Omnisend, including a welcome series and abandoned cart workflow. 

Advanced email marketing automation strategies

In this section, we’ll share some best practices for effective email marketing automation. These aren’t dependent on the email marketing software or features you use, but on the strategy behind them. At a glance:

  • Have a preparation checklist for every campaign 
  • Segment your subscribers
  • Use web tracking and customer profiles
  • Conduct A/B testing
  • Use targeted signup forms
  • Re-engage passive subscribers
  • Segment subscribers with the lifecycle stage map

1. Have a preparation checklist for every campaign 

You should make a list of what you want to achieve from a particular automation in email marketing. The more specific you are with what you want from your automation campaign, the better your chances of success are.

Before creating a campaign, be sure to:

  • Set clear and measurable goals for your campaign to accurately measure performance. Use opens, clicks, conversions, and so on to track results.
  • Research your audience and carry out demographic segmentation when tailoring your messages. Knowing your audience’s preferences ensures targeted, timely, and relevant content.
  • Identify the unique value proposition and craft content that resonates with each subscriber segment. Consider behavioral targeting when aligning your content to address pain points and desires.

2. Segment your subscribers

You already know that all of your customers or subscribers aren’t the same. So, make sure that you can identify and separate your subscribers and existing customers into different segments. Here are some of the most common customer segmentation examples:

  • Website activity
  • New customers
  • Repeat customers
  • Passive subscribers
  • Loyal customers
  • Location
  • Gender 

For example, let’s say you want to get in touch with inactive customers. You can simply create a segment of customers who haven’t bought from you in the last 60 days.

So, using Omnisend’s segmentation, here is a segment of anyone that made an initial purchase within the last 90 days worth at least $20.

customer segmentation using Omnisend

For ecommerce email marketing automations, however, you can go a bit more advanced than that to give your customers truly unique experiences.

According to Jordie van Rijn, there’s another important thing to remember:

Strike when the marketing automation iron is hot.

Using behavior and preferences is a very strong marketing automation tactic and allows you to strike when the iron is hot. But make sure you figure in what I call “interest lifespan”.

Take, say, DIY home improving for example. Believe it or not, people aren’t interested in toilet seats all year ’round. They typically don’t collect them. A bit longer interest lifespan would be kitchen remodeling; even longer is rented house or house owner or family composition.

If you tag someone for an interest, make sure you register the date. At the end of the typical interest lifespan, you can return to your normal programming or re-calibrate/confirm that they are still interested.

Jordie van Rijn, Email Marketing and Automation Consultant

3. Use web tracking and customer profiles

Understanding your existing customers and responding to them is an important part of catering to them.

You can do some amazing things with Google Analytics to help see your customers’ journeys—even before they’ve bought anything from you.

You can also use features like our Live View web tracking, which lets you see the actions your users are taking in real-time. These include page and product views, and item additions or removals from the cart. 

Live view web tracking
Image via Omnisend

So, what can you do with this information?

  • Highlight top-performing pages and products that resonate with relevant visitor segments. Use popups, email campaigns, or other marketing strategies to showcase your best offers.
  • Identify visitors who exhibit strong buying signals. These include repeat interactions with specific product categories. Then, use targeted messages or incentives to persuade them to make a purchase.
  • Build richer customer profiles. Capture behavior before and after purchase to inform the segments you create. Leverage these insights to personalize messaging and offers by interest and activity patterns.

4. Conduct A/B testing

A/B testing is very important for your email marketing automation strategy. Instead of trying out one idea at a time, you can set up your communications so that two versions of the same message go out, each with different things you want to test.

Use A/B Testing to find the perfect results for your subscribers

Here are some great ideas for A/B testing you can start doing today:

  • Test the subject lines with a different discount to see if % or $ signs work better for your subscribers.
  • Test the effectiveness of emojis in email subject lines. Use the same subject line with and without emojis
  • Test subject lines with the subscriber’s name included and removed. See if using their name works better.
  • Try different versions of subject lines, ones indicating limited-time offer and ones without it.
  • Test different email content, such as different offers, different products, etc., to see which one leads to better clicks and orders.
  • Test forms to find out what your audience values the most in them.

Watch this A/B testing video as an ideal starting point for guidance and to maximize form performance:  

Learn how to do A/B split testing in automated campaigns in Omnisend’s email app:

A/B Test Split in Automations | Omnisend Help Center

5. Use targeted signup forms

A great way to build a strong email list is to have subscribers sign up through any of the signup forms on your website.

But if you want to compete with the serious players, you need to play more seriously. That means you’ll have to use advanced signup tactics in your ecommerce marketing automation strategy.

#1 Don’t show popups to newsletter subscribers

Disable popups specifically for those users that are already signed up to your campaigns, such as your newsletters.

This is pretty easy to do. All you’ll need to do is make sure that you have the specific URL from your UTM parameters.

All the links that lead to your store will have similar kinds of UTM parameters, which you can use to disable popups to visitors coming in from your newsletters.

To not show your popups to visitors coming in from your newsletters, target them by URL.

Disable popups for visitors coming in from your newsletter

#2 Show your popups to specific visitors

With the same idea of making sure your popups don’t show to specific people, you can make sure they do appear for specific people.

For example, in Omnisend we can do this in a few ways:

popup targeting using Omnisend

Show your popups only to people who visit specific pages, like your product page or other informational pages.

That way, you can provide those users with specific offerings.

Another way to use this is with the special UTMs I mentioned above.

For example, you can add a UTM to your Facebook ads or other ads. That way, I can get a URL like this, with the UTM at the end:

https://www.mystorename.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=video-ad&utm_campaign=Christmas-sales

#3 Get more info for greater segmentation and automation

In order to get greater data for segmentation, you’ll need to ask the right questions in your signup forms.

The standard popup normally only asks for visitors’ email addresses and that’s it. But you can go further with smart popups.

You can get all kinds of information, and even add whatever data you want to collect with Custom properties (in Omnisend):

example of a popup with a discount
Besides the standard email, phone number and birthdate, I’ve also used a Custom property to include a height question

6. Re-engage passive subscribers

As you probably know, it’s more profitable to keep your existing customers than to keep getting new ones.

That’s why re-engagement is one type of email marketing automation strategy you shouldn’t forget. Try triggering inactive subscribers with targeted email marketing automations such as:

  • A cross-sell or upsell campaign showcasing your new or complementary offerings that they might be interested in
  • A win-back campaign for those who haven’t purchased in over three months offering an exclusive incentive for their next purchase
  • A feedback campaign inviting them to share their opinions or suggestions about your products or services
  • A limited-time coupon code incentivizing them to revisit your store
  • A customer loyalty reward for reactivating their account

This is easy to do with Omnisend’s ready-made automation templates:

Omnisend's ready-made automation templates

Set up special promo time-limited offers that you can send to passive subscribers. You can set up different offers for passive subscribers (that have never bought from you) and passive customers (that bought from you in the past).

For a deep dive into making this automation:

Customer Reactivation Automation | Omnisend Help Center

7. Segment subscribers with the lifecycle stage map

With customer lifecycle segmentation, it’s possible to group subscribers according to their level of engagement, loyalty, and potential value for your business.

However, marketing automation software is necessary to segment subscribers with the lifecycle stage map, pictured below. 

an example of subscribers segmentation with the lifecycle stage map

This map can help track and analyze their behavior and interactions with your brand.

Here are some useful ways the lifecycle stage map enhances marketing goals:

  • Targeted messaging: Create specific messages for each stage. Optimize content based on subscriber needs and behaviors.
  • Personalized offers: Implement targeted promotions for different segments. Maximize the effectiveness of incentives based on where subscribers are in their journey.
  • Reactivation campaigns: Identify and automate campaigns for various customer lifecycle stages. These include “About to lose” or “At risk” stages, re-engaging them before they disengage.
  • Nurturing sequences: Set up automated nurturing sequences. These guide subscribers in the “Need nurturing” category towards conversion.
The lifecycle stage map is an incredible opportunity for a small business. This is the kind of thing that, otherwise, takes a marketing team to be able to do. It’s a simple way to see our customers’ shopping or purchasing habits in one place, and it’s really helped us to be able to target different groups. We’re competing with larger businesses, and this allows us to have that reach at the right time.”

Angèl Foster, Co-Owner of Island Olive Oil Company

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Email marketing automation examples

In this part of our comprehensive guide to email marketing automation, we’ll show you the most profitable email marketing automation combinations you need to be using in order to see some great results.

These email marketing workflow combinations are:

  • Welcome series
  • Birthday series
  • Cart recovery series
  • Re-engagement series
  • Abandoned product series

You’ll notice that all of these are a series of emails, not just a single email. That’s because based on our data, a series of emails can bring in 69% more sales.

And that’s why you need to be using them in your workflows if you really want to improve your sales.

1. Welcome series

Trigger: A visitor subscribes to your list.

Welcome new emails generate high open and conversion rates, with our reports seeing rates reach up to 38.4% and 2.9%, respectively.

An automated welcome series of three emails in a row helps to introduce your new customers to your brand, and encourage them to buy within a targeted period of time.

Here’s a quick layout of the welcome email series, using Omnisend’s automation workflow.

This is the welcome email automation workflow we'll be using in today's example

The welcome series aims to create a seamless onboarding experience. It starts to build a positive brand perception and encourages long-term customer relationships. A possible direction you could take with your welcome series is:

  • Email 1: Introduce your brand, products/services, and value proposition. Focus on making a positive and memorable first impression by reflecting your positioning.
  • Email 2: Provide behind-the-scenes content or other value-add info. This builds engagement and an emotional connection with your brand. Avoid offering discounts that might undermine your value proposition.
  • Email 3: Display social proof and reviews to showcase happy customers. End by offering a targeted discount or coupon to incentivize their first purchase. But don’t make it the main focus of the email.

Here’s an excellent example from Baking Steel, whose welcome series earns $10-$15 per email:

welcome email example

For more tips and best practices when crafting your welcome email series, watch this video:

2. Birthday series

Trigger: It’s your subscriber’s birthday.

A birthday email is an automatically sent notification to a subscriber/customer on his/her birthday (or several days before that).

Showing personal attention, as well as offering a discount for any order (+ some extra days), yields great results.

Omnisend client data shows that those ecommerce businesses which implement this birthday automation tactic can see healthy results. For example, our data reveals birthday emails result in a 31.24% open rate, 23.90% click rate, and 10.58% conversion rate.

For our workflow today, you’ll also need to grab their phone numbers. Tools like Omnisend allow you to add a phone number field when designing your popups.

A great birthday series involves sending a text message on the subscriber’s birthday (in the morning) wishing them a happy birthday and letting them know that a gift is waiting in their inbox.

Then, set the email to go out as the second item, which will include the gift—a discount, free shipping, or whatever else you think would be appropriate.

This is how Basic Piece will be doing it using Omnisend’s automation workflow:

This is the birthday automation workflow consisting of SMS and email

Birthday email marketing automation workflow example 1

We’ll set the SMS message to go out at 10 am on the recipient’s birthday. That way, they’ll get the message early in the morning, but not too early so as to annoy them. SMS marketing should be a part of your automation workflows.

Use the new SMS marketing feature to send delightful birthday messages to your subscribers

Message 2

The second message will be an email.

Here, we’ll go for color, visuals, and of course the great gift. There are 3 key components you should keep in mind when it comes to birthday emails:

  • A discount and/or free shipping. Don’t be too cheap with a small discount. it’s a birthday, therefore a gift should be more impressive.
  • A clear Call-to-action (CTA).
  • Extra time to redeem the discount. Make it valid for at least one more week after the birthday.

Our birthday email then would look something like this:

Use Omnisend's SMS marketing messages in combination with regular emails in your birthday automation workflow

Using this kind of workflow will lead to proven increases in your sales.

Important: remember that in order to start using birthday email series, you’ll need the birthday email data. You should gather birthdates in your signup forms.

popup collecting birthday dates

For more on how to add a birthdate section to a signup form, read our article on the form builder items you can add.

To get free birthday newsletter templates and examples, head to:

3. Abandoned cart series

Trigger: Shopper adds items to their online cart but doesn’t complete the purchase.

The cart recovery or abandoned cart series is typically an automated email marketing sequence of three emails sent to a customer who recently added items to their cart but didn’t make a purchase. However, the number of emails may vary, with some businesses effectively using two or even one email in the sequence.

For instance, Amundsen Sports achieved a 57% conversion rate with a two-email abandoned cart sequence. At the time, their email didn’t even include a discount! 

Here’s how you could create an abandoned cart workflow: 

  • Email 1: Send 1 hour after abandonment. Remind shoppers of what’s in their cart. Provide a quick, non-intrusive chance to complete checkout. Try the subject line, “Still shopping?”
  • Email 2: Send 12 hours after abandonment. Highlight benefits of purchasing now to motivate action. Focus messaging on increasing happiness, value, and so on. Try the subject line, “Hurry! Your cart is about to expire.”
  • Email 3: Send 24 hours after abandonment. Create urgency with scarcity messaging about cart expiration. Include a limited-time promo code as an added incentive to convert abandoned carts. 

The series gently and progressively applies more pressure over time. It does this while framing the offer around value for the customer. The final email includes a personalized promo code and urgent call-to-action. Here’s an example from Basic Piece.

The third email in our cart recovery series

4. Re-engagement automated email

Trigger: A subscriber has been inactive (hasn’t opened emails or bought) for a prolonged period.

The re-engagement automated email, or customer reactivation email, is important for getting older customers to buy again.

This is great, because it’s cheaper to keep customers than to acquire new ones.

In this workflow, you’re essentially trying to win back your customers. For this, we’ll set the trigger for customers that haven’t bought in 30 days. We’ll use one SMS and three emails.

re-engagement automated email workflow

Here’s how you might approach this email marketing automation flow: 

  • Message 1: Send SMS to your inactive contacts. Directly express that you miss them and have an email surprise. 
  • Message 2: Send an email simultaneously with your SMS. Include a personalized discount or coupon with this first “We miss you” email to incentivize a purchase. 
  • Message 3: Follow up 7 days later with a second email. Shoot straight with a message urging your subscriber to take advantage of your promotional offer. Ensure that if the recipient opens any of these emails, they won’t receive subsequent ones. 
  • Message 4: Send the last email, around 7 more days later. Make a heartfelt plea with the subject line “Please, come back.” Use your best incentive to encourage re-engagement. Wear your heart on your sleeve.

This multi-channel sequence starts politely then applies more direct pressure over time. Leverage FOMO and scarcity to re-engage inactive or churned contacts. Here’s how Redbubble do it:

example of re-engagement email

Want to find out more ways to create compelling re-engagement automated emails? Read How to make win-back emails

5. Abandoned product series

Trigger: A shopper views a product page but doesn’t add the item to their online cart.

Sometimes shoppers browse specific products they intend to buy but never add them to their cart. Retarget these high-intent visitors with an automated abandoned product series.

This workflow sends a series of emails highlighting products a contact previously viewed but hasn’t bought:

  • Email 1: Send 24 hours after a product page view. Feature the item in an email with a headline like “Still interested in this?” Offer a small incentive to nudge towards conversion.  
  • Email 2: Send 1 week after the initial view if no purchase. Spotlight product again with deeper discount. Use scarcer messaging like “Last chance for XX% off!”
  • Email 3: Final send 2 weeks after view. Urgency wording about flash sale ending or product selling out works well here.

Check out Columbia’s excellent browse abandonment email:

Image via Mayple

Email marketing automation tools

In order to get the most out of your email marketing automation strategy, you’re going to need a great email marketing automation tool.

The best of the best will allow you to easily create different types of email marketing automation. They’ll even provide ready-built templates so that you won’t have to start from scratch. Here’s a helpful comparison table to start you off.

Free planStarter plan priceBest forShopify Store rating
Omnisend$16/moSmall and mid-sized online stores4.8
ConvertKit$15/moOnline creators like bloggers & freelancersN/A
Mailchimp$13/moSolopreneurs, startups, bloggers, non-profit organizations3.4
Campaign Monitor$11/moSolopreneurs, bloggers, non-profit organizations4.6
SendX$9.99/moSmall and medium-sized businesses, & startupsN/A
HubSpot$20/moCompanies that need to analyze a lot of data2.2

100,000+ brands use Omnisend to scale customer engagement through targeting and personalization. Explore our email marketing automations now!

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Summary

Email marketing automation is a powerful way to connect with your audience. It allows you to send personalized and relevant messages to your subscribers. These are based on their behavior, preferences, and needs.

We’ve discussed how email marketing automation works, as well as some advanced strategies to optimize your campaigns.

We’ve also shared some examples of different types of email marketing automation. These range from welcome and birthday series to abandoned cart and product series. Use our examples for inspiration when creating your own email marketing automation workflows.

Also, leverage tools like Omnisend to amplify your efforts and achieve your goals.

Get started with Omnisend today & drive sales on autopilot with pre-built automation workflows
Bernard Meyer
Article by
Bernard Meyer

Bernard is the Sr. Director of Communications & Creative at Omnisend, with a passion for good research, helping ecommerce businesses with their marketing automation needs, and beating absolutely everyone in Mario Kart 64.