email marketing 2021 trends tips

2021 Email Marketing Trends & Other Expert Tips for Merchants

Now that it’s 2021, we can start to glimpse an end to all of the chaos brought on by the COVID pandemic that came to define 2020 for us all. 

Vaccines are now rolling out around the world heralding with it a renewed sense of optimism not just of a return to normalcy but of a stronger global economy going forward. 

This has naturally got many merchants excited when it comes to building and growing their businesses in the new year. 

And to help get your store off on the right foot in 2021, we’ve reached out to seasoned commerce marketing experts for their insights on what’s in store for email marketing, as well as more general trends in the retail landscape to look out for. 

Below is what they came up with. 

Email is still king

No, email marketing isn’t dead, nor is it dying.

Email remains the most profitable digital marketing channel there is and with social media platforms making it harder to reach your audience, one of the most reliable channels too. 

This is exactly what Peter Sumpton from Marketing Study Lab points out:

peter sumpton

Email will still remain one of the best ways to communicate with those that want to hear from you. 

Unlike social media where you can switch between platforms at a moment’s notice; follow / unfollow, like or unlike with one click, email will remain consistent as a platform that allows one-to-one communication to an inbox that is well established and part of your daily routine, both within business and leisure.

In addition to this, Ariel Lim, a freelance marketing consultant, also points out that increased concern over online privacy among customers will ultimately reduce the effectiveness of paid ads on social media:

ariel lim

People are becoming more aware of their privacy. This means that over the next few years, the tracking capability of platforms like Facebook will become more limited. For merchants, this means not being able to hone in on your desired audiences anymore as well anymore. 

The answer to this, and has been for a long time, is to move toward a platform you can control. This means investing in email marketing. It’s 1:1, personal, and has the highest ROI across all marketing channels. 

April Maccario, founder of AskApril, agrees when it comes to the effectiveness of email marketing:

april maccario

As a business owner myself, I’m investing in email marketing for our digital marketing strategy because for me, this is still one of the best marketing platforms there is. 

In terms of predictions for email marketing trends in 2021, April sees two main features on the horizon: Dark mode and interactivity.

Dark mode emails

As dark mode becomes increasingly popular, emails that adapt to dark themes can really stand out in the future. This will provide a great customer experience for recipients that can actually increase your email marketing success rate.

Interactive emails

This was already introduced but it is expected to continue to rise in the future. Interactive emails do not only mean that there are some things going around your emails, but these are the emails that you can actually interact with its content. 

Kathryn Schwab, head of content at Bobbie Baby Formula, echoes this point about interactive emails. 

kathryn schwab

An email marketing strategy trend that we have found effective is interactive emails. 

This includes AMP (accelerated mobile pages) that we use to display product or image carousels. And our customers can shop right from their email. We also implement other interactive elements like simple quizzes, polls, and short videos that they can watch from their email. This has increased open rates and overall user engagement.

Email marketing tips for 2021

It’s all well and good to know that email is incredibly effective, but what about tips to improve the performance of your email marketing campaigns in the new year? 

Well, David Finkelstein, CEO & co-founder of BDEX, highlights what is probably the most effective element of any campaign: Personalization.

david finkelstein

As we head into 2021, up-to-date, third-party consumer data will be crucial for successful email marketing campaigns. 

People’s inboxes have become more and more cluttered with irrelevant advertisements and promotions. So, to make campaigns more effective, merchants will need to make sure that their offers are relevant and personalized to the recipients’ needs. The only way to accomplish this is to segment your list to reach the right customers at the right time in their buying cycle.

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The start of a new year is the perfect time to clean your email list

Properly segmenting your email list takes time, but if you’re looking for an easy win to kick off the new year with, giving your email list a clean is a good choice. As Blake Bobit from Solution Scout points out:

Blake Bodit

List cleaning is a task everyone knows they should do, but it often gets away from us in our busy schedules. That’s why the new year is a great time to clean your email list of non-responders (generally anyone that hasn’t opened or clicked your emails in 6 months or more). 

Cleaning your email list can seem scary since you’re reducing your audience, but fear not. Improving your list quality will result in better deliverability, more opens, and an increase in conversions.

Emanuel Petrescu, a digital marketing specialist, agrees:

One short tip: List hygiene. Clean up the contacts that haven’t engaged with your emails (at least the last 5 campaigns). No point in sending them emails anymore, and it helps a lot with your campaign performance. What better time than a new year to do just that.

However, before cleaning your list of disengaged customers, you might first want to re-engage them with a win-back campaign

This is what Bruce Hogan, CEO of SoftwarePundit, suggests spending the start of the new year doing:

bruce hogan

One marketing tactic that can be executed at the start of 2021 is to create an email reactivation campaign targeting customers who purchased last January and February, and have not purchased again since. 

These customers are likely to purchase again at the beginning of 2021, especially with a small nudge or incentive. 

The email campaign can be themed as a celebration of the new year, or a special gift to get 2021 off to a good start. To increase the reactivation campaign’s impact, a small coupon can be included as well.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, then consider removing them from your list to maintain good list hygiene. 

Start tracking your competitors’ email campaigns 

Another small thing you can do right now if you haven’t already is to subscribe to all of your competitors’ email lists. 

This is a quick and easy thing to do that can yield valuable insights. As Simonas Steponaitis, marketing manager at Hosting Wiki, points out:

Simonas Steponaitis

I suggest subscribing to your competitor’s newsletter and reviewing them frequently. You will know how they will handle the whole process, from the sign-up process to the onboarding process. You get ideas about what types of content they are targeting, how frequently they are sending emails, what their copy is like. 

A good way to start tracking your competitors at scale is to use a service like Sendview which’ll offer you more insights and stats along with hiding your email address so your competitors will never know you’re tracking them.

In a similar vein, Ecommerce Senders is another useful tool that gives you live insights into the email marketing strategies of the top 100 Shopify stores.

If you aren’t already, start split testing your campaigns

Another good habit to adopt in the new year is to regularly A/B test your email campaigns. Doing so will mean you’ll constantly learn and improve your effectiveness with every campaign you send. 

Thomas McMahon has some suggestions as to how you can go about this:

thomas mcmahon

To get the most of your email marketing campaigns, you need to be split testing your campaigns religiously. 

Many marketers make the mistake of testing new campaigns to their warmest segments. Don’t do this! You get false flags with this because you’re either testing to the best possible list, or you’re burning your best list with an unproven campaign. Test to the colder, average segments of your list first to get a truer baseline. Especially on your split tests. Then roll out the winner to the full email list.

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Other marketing trends in 2021

Of course, it’s not all just about email. For any store to effectively grow sales, you’ll need to incorporate other marketing channels as well. 

And that doesn’t mean simply setting up each channel in isolation. Your marketing will generate the best results when you take a holistic, omnichannel approach. Which is what Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, emphasizes:

paige arnof

An omnichannel approach creates a seamless experience. Consumers now engage with a company across a variety of touch points including in-store, online, mobile, catalogs, and social media. Every interaction a customer has with your store should be consistent and complementary. 

Social media marketing will become more authentic

Of course, after email marketing one of the most popular channels for merchants to reach new customers is social media. 

However it is no longer enough to simply just run ads for your products and expect to see decent results. As Jason Akatiff, co-founder of Boundery, highlights, authenticity and relationship building is becoming increasingly important: 

jason akatiff

Over the next year, I predict there will be an even bigger shift towards marketing through social media communities, for example, Facebook groups. Figuring out a way to organically engage and formulate relationships within Facebook groups allows you to genuinely market your product to thousands of members. 

Especially in this time of a global pandemic, when people are spending so much of their time online, it is important to never underestimate the power and need for human connection. This type of marketing requires time commitment, patience, and strategy but ultimately delivers high rewards. 

Mike Decker from The Advisor Suite echoes this point this time from the angle of people’s increased concerns about privacy:

Facebook has done most merchants a solid favor by figuring out what people want and then connecting them with relevant companies through paid ads. Now that privacy is changing, with more regulations after the style of the GDPR and CCPA

It has never been more important than today to understand how to build a list and nurture it (not constantly sell to it). Develop lead magnets that offer value, not manipulation in return for an email address. Principle-based marketing is key to the future success of commerce.

Chatbots will continue to become more prevalent

Chatbots have been around for a few years now, but Mary Rybakova from Chatfuel predicts we’ll see their popularity grow even faster in 2021:

mary rybakova from chatfuel

With most people staying at home and shopping online in 2020, ecommerce thrived. But that growth didn’t come without challenges. Many brands struggled to provide timely customer service to shoppers at scale, which often meant lost sales.

That’s just one reason Messenger chatbots will become even more popular for ecommerce merchants in 2021. One of the key applications for these bots is being available to answer customer service questions instantly, 24/7, saving sellers time, and increasing customer satisfaction and sales.

Page speeds and mobile-friendliness will play an important role in search engine optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a way of optimizing your store for more organically traffic coming from online searches. 

While this requires a long-term commitment when done well you’ll be able to acquire customers without any ad spend. This is the strategy Brian Robben, CEO and founder of Robben Media, suggests doubling down on in 2021: 

brian robben

Go all-in on search engine optimization in 2021. This traffic converts the best because of the user’s intent. Organic traffic comes from people actively searching for your product or service and are therefore more likely to buy. With ads, you have to spend far more and persuade harder.

Another reason to spend the start of 2021 focusing on your store’s SEO is Google’s pending Page Experience update which will reward fast-loading websites with better rankings, as Shilo Jones, co-founder of StatBid, points out:

shilo jones

The biggest thing on my mind for retailers is to take a good hard look at Google’s announcement of the Page Experience update scheduled for May 2021.  If you haven’t already, it’s time to run your site through PageSpeed Insights and have some heart to heart conversations with your developers or SEO gurus to figure out how to improve the speed and user experience of your store or risk losing organic traffic that you’ve worked so hard to get.

Dusan Stanar, founder and CEO of VSS Monitoring, also highlights that when assessing your store’s SEO, you should be doing so with a mobile-first mindset:

dusan stanar

Google has switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020. Previously, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance to a user’s query. Now with mobile-first indexing, Google primarily uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Mobile optimization has become a valuable yet often overlooked way of boosting your SEO ranking, and its importance will likely continue to rise throughout 2021.

Optimize for voice searches

Another SEO trend to look out for is the rise in the number of queries coming from smart speakers and voice assistants. As Charlie Johnson, CEO of eComAllies, points out:

People are increasingly relying on voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo with Alexa and the Google Home with Google Assistant to do everything, including buying products online. Voice commerce sales are anticipated to reach $40 billion by 2022 and is on the rise because of the growing accuracy and convenience of the technology. 

Therefore, it is essential to optimize your company for voice search. A few ways to do this and prepare for 2021 is to optimize your content so it appears in voice searches and simplify your customer journey to make voice command purchases/brand interactions easier for your customers

Stewart Dunlop, founder of, agrees:

stewart dunlop

The digital marketing trend to look out for in 2021 is the rise of voice search. As SEO is becoming so more sophisticated, we need to write content that matches search intent and encompasses all types of search while seeking to take advantage of featured snippets. It’s less about keywords and more about long-tail key phrases so we need to write content that aligns with how our customers actually talk to make sure our content ranks in voice searches.

Tiktok will propel the importance of video marketing

Video has quickly become an important part of marketing over the past decade, however the recent rise of Tiktok and short video clips are a trend merchants should be paying attention to. As Eric Wu, co-founder and COO of Gainful, points out:

eric wu

With this year’s explosion of Tiktok and Instagram creating Reels to stay relevant on social media, video is becoming more essential. We are also noticing a shift in the type of video content audiences are searching for and consuming. Quick, educational, and attention-grabbing content is far outperforming the visually stimulating and aspirational content that was favored in previous years. 

Mark Perlman, founder of TheDealExperts, agrees that video content should be short:

With apps like Tiktok and Instagram Reels continuing to be popular, incorporating short videos into your emails will grab consumers’ attention. They should be SHORT – 60 seconds maximum. Getting your information to the consumer in a minute or less will help you with the chance that they will absorb the information and engage with the other content in your emails.

Final thoughts

2020 was a year unlike any other, not the least of which for merchants. While 2021 holds promise for a return to normalcy in our daily lives, that doesn’t mean you can take the foot off the pedal when it comes to your marketing strategy. 

Changes in how you market your products and how customers interact with your campaigns are occurring as fast as ever. 

Those who stay current with the latest developments in commerce marketing will be those who will see the greatest results. 

Any other trends you think we forgot? Feel free to mention them in the comments below! 

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