Email List Segmentation Tips for Ecommerce

Imagine it’s October and you live in Canada (that means snow, soon). You’re an avid online shopper and are ready to start your winter gear shopping, but you keep getting emails from XYZ Clothing for beachwear. You delete the emails without opening them, until, one week, you get two emails. You finally open one just to click “unsubscribe.”

If only XYZ Clothing had been targeting their emails to specific customer segments. They’d realize winter was coming up in Canada and they’d send you more relevant content, like sales on boots and coats. With a little bit of targeting, they could’ve prevented you from unsubscribing to their list.

There’s no doubt that segmenting your email list makes for better email marketing campaigns, and I have more than an anecdote to prove it. In MailChimp’s most recent report of effects of email segmentation, they found that segmented campaigns received 14% higher opens and 100% higher clicks than non-segmented campaigns - those are numbers worth paying attention to.

It makes sense - your customers are going to engage positively when you send them relevant, targeted content.

So, do you want to increase opens and clicks by segmenting your email campaigns?

(I’ll take that as a yes!)

Good news, bad news: Segmentation possibilities are endless

First the good news - you likely already have customer data that will help you effectively segment your email campaigns. You might know what social network they use most, how old they are, whether they’re from Miami or Mississippi, or if they have a pet.

If you don’t have any of this data, you may want to look into a platform that will help you complete your customer profiles. does this (only shameless plug in this post - I promise).

Bad news - it can be hard to know which segments are actionable, and which customers will respond positively to specific messaging.

But wait, more good news! We’ve got some tips and tricks that will help you get started here, today.

Better yet, if you’re using the right email platform, they automatically build actionable segments for you and make intelligent campaign suggestions.

Moving on...

Ways to segment

There are a few ways to segment your customers, but most of them fall into one of three buckets: demographics, behavior, or email engagement.

1. Demographics

This includes all the baseline, general data about your audience, like age, gender, occupation, salary, etc. Segmenting by simple attributes like gender alone is an easy way to increase relevance and clicks.

2. Behavior

You likely have a lot of behavioral information on your audience and how they interact with your brand. Here are some behaviors you can specifically segment on:

  • Buyer cycle

Your customers are on their own schedules, and it’s likely that they don’t line up with your marketing schedule. In the above hypothetical scenario, XYZ Clothing could’ve sent relevant content right before the snowy season. Figure out when your customers buy and tailor your emails to their schedule.

  • Past purchasers

Past purchases give you great insight into your customers - use them to upsell other relevant products to your customers by segmenting purchasers based on product type - seasonal items, accessories, outerwear, etc.

  • Shopping cart abandoners

Adding something to a cart is the ultimate signal of intent to buy. Segment by people who’ve abandoned their carts and send email reminders, coupon codes, or shipping discounts.

  • Top purchasers

Your top purchasers are already extremely engaged - why not continue to engage them? Offer rewards programs, coupons, or discounts when they spend a certain amount at your store in the future.

  • Social media engagement

Social media engagement serves as a great proxy for potential email engagement and intent to buy. If hundreds of people are liking the photo of your newest sweater on Instagram, they should be getting an email with a link to buy it.

3. Email engagement

Great news - if you’ve ever sent an email campaign, you have plenty of valuable information on how your list engages with you. You can segment by people who’ve opened and clicked on similar emails in the past, or try to create more compelling content for those who haven’t engaged with your emails since subscribing.

Now how do I segment?

Now that you’ve got segmentation on the brain, you’re probably thinking about practical ways to implement.

To get started:

1. Identify the segments that impact your business

Now that you have a pretty good handle on the different ways you can segment your data, it’s time to give some hard thought to your products and marketing strategy and decide what segments you should be tailoring your marketing towards. The best email strategies directly tie back to your company’s goals, and it’s easy to see when they’re making an impact.

Step one here is figuring out how your customers naturally group. You might have customers in Canada that love winter gear. Maybe half of your customers are students. Or your product is popular with new mothers. You’re likely familiar with these different personas already.

These groups are ultimately what you want to identify and add to segments based on their defining attributes (demographics, past behavior, and email engagement).

The next step is identifying whether you have the data you need to create these segments, or not.

2. Fill in your data gaps

Questions to answer:

What data you have:

This one’s easy - what do you already know about each of your customers that you can segment on.

What data you need:

In step one you gave some thought to important buyer personas within your customer base. It should now be clear whether you have the data you need to segment your customers into these groups or not.

If you do not, you may need to expand your email marketing database to hold more information, engineering ways to capture more data, or explicitly asking customers for more information.

Retrospectively filling in data gaps

Plugging your data into an email marketing CRM is a great way to start filling in some of your data gaps. There are also services like that can pull in publicly available data on your contacts to give you complete profiles with first and last names, location, age, gender, and social handles.

Capturing better data going forward

The tools you use to capture emails from your customers have data they capture automatically as well as features to expand on the data they collect. Here are some ideas for data you should collect:

  • Name (to personalize emails or predict gender)
  • Age
  • Location
  • Social handles
  • Product preferences (before they buy)

3. Create your segments and campaigns

Use your email marketing platforms’ segmentation features to section out customers that you want to engage as discussed above. Based on the segment you choose, craft specific messaging that will engage those customers depending on their demographics or behaviors.

4. Send, check results, iterate, repeat

You’ve done it, you’re ready to deploy your segmented campaign! You’re on your way to learning more about how your audience interacts with your emails, which is one step closer to learning how to increase engagement and sales 💸.

Test out a few different segmentation ideas, and then check your results across campaigns - your new, segmented campaigns, and also campaigns you sent in the past to your whole list.

When you look at the results of your campaigns, decide what strategies you should keep and what needs to go. Which segments had the highest opens? The highest clicks? You can also consider the different variables that can affect engagement like subject lines and the content of the email (mainly pictures? mostly text?). Take a deeper look into each of these attributes to figure out what’s really making your emails successful, and do more of it.

There’s a ton of opportunity here to continuously test and iterate - people and their preferences are always changing, so you should always be revisiting the way you market to them.

Get segmenting!

Thinking about all the ways you can slice and dice your list with segments can be overwhelming, but all you have to do is keep your eye on the prize. Remember that segmented emails have way higher engagement rates - most importantly, significantly higher click-through rates. Getting smart about how you segment is a great way to increase email marketing ROI, so stop reading this, and get started!