eCommerce Email Design Tips

11 Key Optimisation Design Tips & Best Practices for eCommerce Email Marketing

Are your emails well designed? Are they optimised for conversions and desired actions? Do you feel there are areas for improvement? Email marketing is one of your most important channels when it comes growing your ecommerce business. Every single email, you need to do your best to test, measure and learn through smart design and optimising for best practices. Here's some actionable tips below.

Dan Siepen
 min read
Updated on
January 2, 2024
Author: Dan Siepen (Founder & Editor)
I've been doing DTC/eCommerce growth marketing for a long time now (6+ years in fact). I'm sharing some key lessons, tactics, strategies, examples, and observations I've seen top brands adopt to help with their growth (and my thoughts on them).
Connect with Dan

Signed, sealed, and delivered. If only it were that easy to nail your email marketing campaigns. If results aren’t going your way, there’s no need to start pulling your hair out. Every marketer and ecommerce business owner are consistently looking for better ways to improve performance across their ecommerce email marketing strategy.

Restructuring and testing your key eCommerce email automation flows or weekly/monthly newsletters can do wonders for improving your email metrics, particularly your open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. 

As a matter of fact, just small fixes can make a big difference to results. I've seen this many, many times over the years working with brands.

Even very simple, easy changes such as fixing your subject headlines, pre-header texts, and sprinkling a little touch of emojis (yes, it’s not only for social media) that can lead to positive outcomes.

So, the next time you have a huge store promo, or perhaps your automated email campaigns aren't performing how they should be, these 11 design tips for your emails will ensure to maximise your chances of conversions, and overall better results.

1. Get creative with your subject line

Time and time again, expert email marketers always recommend testing subject lines. This is something I also stress with companies I work with.


It’s simple. The subject line as we know is the first thing that’s going to grab the attention of your subscribers and readers. 

Interestingly enough, 47% of subscribers decide whether to open or not open emails purely based on the subject line.

Instead of using "stock standard", boring email subject lines, you’ll have to tap into your creative side. That’s the only way you can grab attention when you're competing with either direct or even indirect competition in people's inboxes.

I share some quick actionable tips just below, but I also quickly wanted to share two important pieces of advice.

Firstly, incorporate some personalisation, including using subscribers/customers names when appropriate (although not for every single email), and secondly, make sure your subject lines make sense based on the stage of the funnel and customer journey. Too many times I’ve received emails that are simply not relevant based on how I've engaged with the company, or just miss the mark in terms of intent.

Alright, what are the critical elements to keep in mind?

Keep it short & Personalised

Remember, mobile is where a lot of people open and check their emails, which typically means people are either on the run or stretched for time.

Ideally from my experience, you want to be creative, yet straight to the point. Stick to around 6-8 words whenever you’re composing the text. 

The length is just from my experience. To be honest, it comes down to testing.

Personalisation is also key. Using names within the subject line for me definitely helps increase open rates.

Use emojis (but sparingly) 

Say what you want about emojis, but they can do wonders for your open rates. Kinsta reports 3% higher rates compared to emoji-free emails. As with anything, emojis are not for everybody, particularly if your brand and your audience don’t align with it. 

Some key tips when it comes to emojis:

  • Make sure the emojis are applicable for whatever you’re communicating - for e.g. Use 'lightning' or 'red siren' for time sensitive deals.
  • Ensure they make sense for your audience and applicable products or content you are promoting
  • Use 1-2 only - don't over do it.
  • Switch up and test which emojis work effectively for different promotions

I really love these examples that have kept things simple and relevant.

Most important thing to remember - do your research around emojis and how they work with different email clients.

This is a good guide to read about emojis in subject lines by Campaign Monitor.

Make it a thrilling teaser (with a hint of urgency) 

The final key takeaway to test adding some 'tease', scarcity and urgency into your subject lines.

Capitalise on human’s natural curiosity and urging them to act when something can't be missed. The best way to do this? Sales and promotions.

If you’re having a sale, add a time sensitive offer or limited time deal. Get customers to open their emails to find out more details. Ultimately, this increases your chances that they will take a desired action.

It’s hard to resist for customers/subscribers (and even for us all) when there’s a special promotion or discount that lasts only for a short period of time.  For instance, that's why you see so many brands run "48 or 72" hour weekend sales.

Scarcity and urgency, combined with some creativity can works wonders.

What are some good tools to use for testing email subject lines?

Email service providers like Mailchimp have a subject line helper. It helps with recommendations like minimising the use of emojis and word count.

Or, you can use Net Atlantic’s Email Subject Grader here.

It’s also worth trying Co Schedule’s Headline Analyzer. It’s free, but you’ll have to sign-up to use it. 

If you want to generate email subject lines, Active Campaign offers a FREE email subject line generator. It’s a pretty cool and neat tool. Just input your desired keyword and set the right category. Then, it will automatically give you the results. It’s not perfect, so you’re still going to do some work, but it’s great to spur ideas.

2. Nail your pre-header text

What is the subject line’s backup? It’s the pre-header text and in my opinion, it’s equally as important as testing your subject line as it gives more context.

Don’t add a narrative here. Your pre-header text should be between 85-100 characters. Anything that is longer will disrupt the email’s design, especially when viewed on mobile devices. 

To nail your pre-header text, here are my tips: 

  • Don’t repeat the same idea in your subject line - make it unique! 
  • Use pre-header text to support your subject line 
  • Keep it short and simple, yet engaging 

The benefits of optimising your pre-header text:

  • Increases open rates 
  • Offers context on the subject line

3. Include a table of contents or easy to find information

If you’re releasing a new collection in your store, or perhaps you’re sharing a lot of useful content in your newsletter or promotion, it needs structure. 

Divide them into sections that will be easy to find.

There are three important factors when it comes to layout and design.

  • Add some padding between sections, such as "white spaces" or whatever your brand colours are.
  • Avoid adding unnecessary "flashy" designs for the sake of it. Focus on the objective of the email. Remember, it's about aiming for one primary action.
  • Consider following the "inverted pyramid model".

What's the inverted pyramid model exactly?

It helps your content flow and engages users from the top of the email with an engaging headline, through the middle and then towards the bottom with the CTA. This is a good guide to this model by Vero.

It essentially helps you focus on designing emails that avoids distractions and keeping things simple.

  • Grab the attention of your subscribers/readers
  • Get them excited through anticipation
  • Highlight your primary CTA

Here's a great diagram.

Now, let's see this in action. This is a good example example I found for one of Brooklinen's emails from Pinterest. It does come across as a more simplistic design, but emails designed like this do covert well.

Section 1

Section 2

Oh by the way, they are a brand that does a great job with their email marketing. Worth subscribing even if you aren't interested in what they're selling.

Can you include two or 'inverted pyramids' in your emails?

Yes, you certainly can. You will see this technique adopted by many brands you're subscribed to.

Sharing lots of content as part of a newsletter?

Quick idea: If you’re insistent on making a long email, such as when you send out a lot of content from your blog, consider adding a table of contents. Just make sure that you hyperlink it into the appropriate section of your email, though.

4. Use Bullet points and headers

This is related to the previously mentioned tip. Again, no one likes reading a long email, regardless if it’s personal or business-related. It’s a quick fix, though. Instead of writing paragraphs after paragraphs, convert your message into digestible, easy-to-read sections - like what I’ve done here in this article. 

Every tip is divided into headers, and every related information is broken into a bullet-point list. So, how do you use this tip? 

Again, when using headers, give it to the most important details of your email, like the discount code. For the bullet list, you can apply it to the promo information. You can also use the bullet list trick if you include a product description in the email. 

Want to check if your email will be tagged as spam? Go ahead and copy your email’s content to the Postmark Spam Check Tool

Recapping why you should use bullet points:

  • Divides the email into digestible and easy-to-read sections 
  • Easier for the reader to read through your email, and make a desired action (i.e. clicking a CTA).

5. Include relevant, beautiful images

Sure, product images are given in an eCommerce email. But instead of adding your standard product shot behind a white background, you can always go for pictures that show how your product can be or should be used. 

Called lifestyle shots, this type of photo is more engaging to your subscribers because they can imagine how they’ll use it. Consider it as a movie trailer but in static form. If you do proceed to have lifestyle product shoots, make sure that they are relevant. And, don’t forget that it should be aligned with your branding - use brand colours and style for your pictures. 

Don’t have the budget for a lifestyle shoot? You don’t have to worry. Change up the angles of the product and show off the key features! 

If you’re struggling to make an enticing visual photo, you can always use Canva. Pre-built email templates are already available - it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping even if you don’t have email designing experience. 

If you’d like to access premium pictures and other features, the annual subscription of $164.99 for one user is worth looking into. 

Looking for some inspiration of who does beautiful ecommerce emails?

Some of the best brands that do awesome ecommerce email designs from what I've seen are:

  • MeUndies
  • Casper
  • Magic Spoon
  • Athletic Greens
  • Hims & Hers

Plus, there are many more. They're all worth subscribing to just to see their email strategy in action, even if you're not the desired customer.

If you want to see many beautiful email designs in one place for eCommerce, then you need to check out Really Good Emails.

6. Make sure the font is clear (and ensure to set a fall-back)

You don’t have to be extra fancy with the font type in your email. I suggest avoiding cursive fonts at all costs because they just make it harder for your subscribers to read your email - just imagine if they’re viewing it on mobile! 

Using custom fonts are awesome, as long as they are clear and it looks professional, regardless of screen size.

One of my favourite brands who use fonts well is Magic Spoon. This is one great example.

Quick tip: What if it the font fails to load? There's no need to stress here. Most email marketing service platforms have an option to include an emergency font style fall-back. 

7. Include video (s) or use GIFs

I like plain text emails usually for startups and B2B SaaS businesses, but they’re not so effective for D2C/eCommerce. 

Creating engaging emails is key for D2C brands.

“Well, I have pictures in my emails!.” That’s great, but it's good to change things up.

By adding videos or using GIFs, you can make your campaign more engaging and more likely for subscribers to read the entire copy rather than hitting the delete or archive button outright. 

Afraid that you’re hitting a rock here? Don’t be. 51.28% of marketers are doing it. 

You can use videos or GIFs to simplify complex ideas or wanting to show off how your product works - which is really better than having a static image, to be honest. 

The tradeoff? The transition (smoothness), accessibility, and loading speed. 

I would strongly recommend to ensure you compress your files before adding it to the email using a tool like compressor.

And if it fails to load, you’ll need to prepare alternate text. 

For custom-made GIFs, you’re looking into using programs like Adobe Animate. Or, you can have someone else do the creation but ask to follow these: 

  • Flat colours 
  • Compression 
  • Minimise or limit frames 

Once you have those sorted out, it’s time to test your GIFs. Using the built-in preview function of your email marketing platform, send a test email to your inbox. Check the loading speed when you’re connected to Wi-Fi vs Data. 

Examples of GIFs in emails

Here are some examples of brands incorporating GIFs into their emails which look awesome.

  • Moo has done a great job with their gif strategy, just like this one.

Pros of GIFs & Videos:

  • Increase CTR's from email to your desired landing page
  • Engages readers to read the entire email 
  • Adds personality and style to the design 
  • Builds brand authority and personality

8. Make sure your CTA’s & buttons are clear

This tip seems common sense, but you’d be surprised how many eCommerce email campaigns are not doing this correctly. Let’s dive down what needs to be done here. 

Whenever you’re adding call-to-actions (CTAs) in your email, make sure that it stands out from the rest of the design. I definitely recommend to play around with the HEX (colour code) of the button and/or increase the font size. Whatever you do, your goal here is to point the reader in the right direction - because the last thing you’d want is to have a willing paying customer unable to locate the buy button. 

Pay special attention to your CTAs or buttons’ text. What do I mean by this? If you intend to make a sale, use “Buy Now” or “Shop Now.” 

If you want your subscriber to join an upcoming event, obviously, you should use “Sign up here.”

My recommendation would also to change up the text of these CTA’s from time to time. It can be exhausting seeing these consistent CTA buttons. It’s important to be creative with CTA’s.

So, where do you place these CTAs? Most eCommerce emails have their CTAs or buttons underneath the product, especially if you’re running a store-wide sale. But, if you’re only focusing on one particular item, you can put the CTA at the end. 

I like this example from Apto Skincare.

In addition, I also like this example from Forever 21.

9. Use dynamic content based on user events (segmented lists)

By now, you’ve probably heard of “segmented lists.” 

Many founders I’ve met think this is a lot of work. Don’t panic, it’s really not. 

Segmentation is really just dividing your email subscribers and customers into separate groups based on certain actions or events. 

Popular email marketing platforms for eCommerce such as Klaviyo make this fairly easy. 

According to Campaign Monitor, applying a segmented campaign can increase revenues by 760%! Got your attention? Great, now let’s find out how to use segmentation and how to apply the right content. 

First, group or divide your email subscriber based on their activity. To give you an example, here’s a scenario: You have 1,000 subscribers, 25% bought a top, and 50% of them clicked on shoes. 

What do you do with the 25%? You create an email that includes shirts, long sleeves, and anything else related to their purchase. The same thing goes with the 50% - provide them with content related to shoes. It can be sandals, walking shoes, and even socks! 

Suffice to say, customise your campaigns based on your segmented lists’ interests or user events. Instead of sending out one email campaign to all your subscribers, you’ll have two separate individual campaigns. 

We know it’s extra work, but the possible chance of a revenue boost should be convincing enough to do. Sometimes, you can have the same and very similar designs but just change the email copy and headlines. 

Recapping the benefits of using dynamic content in emails: 

  • Increase conversion rates 
  • Provide valuable content based on subscriber’s interests and behaviour

10. Use UTM tracking to test which areas of emails perform best

Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, Klaviyo, among many email marketing platforms, have their own built-in dashboard for monitoring email conversions.

At the end of every campaign, you’ll be provided with open rates, click-through rates (CTRs), and which of the pages you’ve included in your email received the highest number of visits.

If you want to take your email performance tracking to the next level, add UTM codes. We’re not going to be overly technical; UTM just stands for Urchin Tracking Module. You add it at the end of the URL, and the next time you open Google Analytics, you’ll know where those visits came from. 

How do you generate these codes? And would it take hours to implement? It’s a matter of seconds. I'm not kidding. You just head over to the Campaign URL Builder and input the URL, Campaign Source, Campaign Medium, and Campaign Name. You can also add the Campaign Name and Campaign Content to drill down your email content’s performance further.  

The generator will automatically add the UTM codes. Then, you just have to use the generated URLs with UTM codes to your email. 

Pros of making sure you do UTM tracking:

  • Next level email tracking performance 
  • Improve attribution to understand what key sections of your emails leads to more sales
  • Find out what sections need sprucing up

11. Ideal dimensions of mobile and desktop

The last thing you’d want is going to the effort of doing a well-designed email, only to find out that it doesn’t display correctly! So, to avoid this heart-breaking scenario, always use the right dimensions for both mobile and desktop. Check out this great post on email dimensions.

However, if you’re using the built-in email builder, you don’t have to worry that much. There’s a strong chance it’s already optimised for mobile and desktop viewing. 

How can you avoid making mistakes with dimensions? You need to send test emails. 

A good precautionary measure is always to send a test email to your inbox and view it on both desktop & mobile devices as well as various internet browsers such as Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox and others.

What's a good tool to help you with testing? You should check out Litmus' email testing tool.

Litmus has integrations with some of your top platforms including:

  • Mailchimp
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Marketo

Most email marketing platforms that you use for ecommerce emails, such as Klaviyo, are pretty good from my experience. However, if you're using one of the above solutions, or perhaps building your own system or customised solution, Litmus is good to look into.

Why it's important to send tests to yourself, and your team, to ensure your emails are working across devices:

  • Avoid incorrect email display, which can have a negative feeling from users towards your brand
  • Reach and convert mobile users to paying customers
  • It could lead to unsubscribes, as well as hitting the spam folder, if poorly formatted

What to remember.

My guess is you’re already doing a majority of these 11 tips if you're already a marketing manager working in eCommerce. It’s just a matter of continually optimising and running A/B split tests for best results.

If you're starting a store for the first time, implementing these best practices will go a long way to help formulate your strategy and improve performance from open rates, click-through rates, and ultimately conversions from your emails.

⚡ Frequently Asked Questions ⚡

What are the key things to keep in mind when developing an eCommerce email marketing strategy?

When it comes to developing your strategy, or perhaps you're looking to do an audit for optimisations, these are the most important elements to develop a strategy that works. First, make sure you properly map out the customer journey. Doing a CX map will help you uncover gaps and areas of opportunities. Then, go deep into the data. This will highlight and help you formulate the priorities for email sequences you need to tackle. Another tip is getting the foundations right first before doing other advanced work. In other words, you need to walk before you run. Optimise your baseline automations such as welcome sequence, post-purchase, abandoned cart, upsells, and promotional emails.

What are some important tips when it comes to A/B split-testing emails?

One of the top tips I like to start off with first with ecommerce companies I work with is having a split-testing framework in place, and making sure you track your experiments. Most tools provide the function to do A/B split tests, but can be limited to doing only two at once. Sometimes, my recommendation is to split the lists into two, or send emails based on user activities. Remember, you can run split tests for subject lines, design elements, products, content within emails, and lots more. I just emphasise that it's important to track this properly, as it helps you to optimise faster.

What is the best tool for eCommerce transactional emails?

I've used a lot of tools but for me personally, it has to be Klaviyo. The UX is really good and it's feature-rich including good analytics, advanced segmentation options, pop-ups and loads more. Plus, if you use Shopify, the integration is amazing.

What are the best tips to ensure emails don't hit the spam folder?

My most important takeaways to remember include; making sure yo authenticate your domain, use personalisation where possible in the subject line, send emails from the domain the user initially subscribed with, include the brand name (or even your personal name), and avoid using too many exclamation marks, all caps, or words like "click here", "Not spam". You know the words I'm referring to. Also as a quick reminder, email clients work differently when it comes to spam filters, so it's good to do some extra research. Additionally, you won't always get your emails in the primary inbox, as it also comes down to the recipient of how they manage their inbox.

What are the most important metrics for measuring success with ecommerce emails?

When implementing some of the top strategies and best practices I've mentioned in this article, these are the most important metrics to keep an eye on. Click-through rate (CTR) - how many people performed a 'click' to an external link from your email. Bounce rate - how many emails didn't land in an inbox. Email revenue - the revenue you generate from your email campaigns. Email conversion rates - the percentage of email readers who purchase something from your campaigns. Open rates - the amount of people who open your emails. Subscriber growth month over month - keep an eye on the growth of your list. And finally, unsubscribe rate - make sure to watch and ideally ask for reasons why people may leave.

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