Case Study: How Shopify Builds Credibility With Customers Using Email 

In 2004, founders Tobia Lutike and Scott Lake opened their first online store with aspirations of selling snowboards and similar equipment.

Who would have thought an online store selling snowboards would turn into the 10 billion dollar eCommerce giant that we today call Shopify?

A lot had to happen to turn Shopify into what it is today, but they’ve managed to build upon their successes thanks to smart marketing strategies.

This includes their email marketing efforts.

Shopify sends a whole lotta email to people with their main Shopify blog claiming close to half a million people on their email list.

And you can bet your giddy Aunt these guys figured out how to send emails that get results.

One thing you’ll learn from them is that companies who are great at email marketing stick to the foundational elements of email marketing 101.

Shopify follows the same pattern using effective email marketing tactics to grow their business. So, segmentation, automation, and consistency all play a key role in Shopify’s email marketing success.

We’re going to examine two of their main email lists to see how they make this marketing channel their own while establishing trust and credibility.

We’ll always cover some valuable takeaways you can apply to your email marketing.

1. Welcome Email Sequence: How Shopify Aims To Convert Though Education

“Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he can eat for life.”

The basic takeaway is when you aim to improve another person’s life you should see the bigger picture — education has a lasting impact.

Shopify takes this lesson to heart.

After someone converts to a free trial user, they’re put into an automated Welcome email series. This email drip is designed with education at the heart of it.

Many automated welcome emails have simple subject lines. They tend to say something as easy as, “Thanks for signing up!” or, “Welcome to [insert brand name here].”

Shopify uses the “Welcome to Shopify” subject line, but they take it just a teeny bit further.

It reads, “Welcome to Shopify. Here’s what to do next.

Notice that little extra bit? It’s small, but it’s important because it triggers a thought of, “Oh, I’m not done yet. What do I need to do?”

This results in the desire to open the email.

That initial welcome email is very short with one call-to-action (CTA) that directs the user to a registration page.

But a user following through on this particular action does an important thing:

It gives Shopify a better idea of who is signing up to use their product. They can then use this data to create targeted landing pages, tweak their messaging and figure out which industry verticals have the most ROI for them.

In addition, it sets the tone for the relationship. Right off the bat, Shopify is helping a user get started with the product the right way, and this helpful tone carries throughout their entire welcome series.

Generally, welcome email drips are typically three or four emails long, which works just fine for most companies.

But, Shopify didn’t stick to the standard. Instead, they created what they found to be the sweet spot for their product:

10 emails. And these 10 emails have a lot we can learn from.

For instance, take a look at the second email you’ll receive from them in this email drip.

Shopify rightly assumes someone signing up for a free trial is considering the platform to build an ecommerce store.

What they don’t assume is how experienced that person is at building an online store that generates income. The tone in the copy shows they’re aware you may need help getting started with a marketing plan that gets results.

Not only do they call out the possible knowledge gap in their user’s level of expertise, but they also highlight free video training to solve that issue.

Here we see that Shopify noticed a notable knowledge gap that could interfere with a user converting. So, they created the educational content needed to bridge that gap.

Also, look at how they frame the training.

It’s not a simple “Hi there, let us show you how to set up our product,” sort of thing. The education angle bends toward Shopify training users to build a profitable marketing funnel.

They aim to help the customer, first. Doing this increases their perceived value which makes the “ask” — when they want to convert someone to a paid user — so much easier.

The education factor to their emails doesn’t stop.

The other emails in the sequence cover additional important topics that will help someone to launch a live website. Things like how to

  • Select a Shopify theme
  • Buy a URL and connecting it to your new site
  • Set up and collecting payments
  • Set shipping rates in your website
  • Connect sales channels for social promotion

With 10 emails in the mix, they cover a lot of information. However, you don’t feel like you’re drowning in the emails.

They accomplish this by giving each email a single focus.

Every email in the welcome series follows one topic and one main call-to-action button that leads to the desired action.

This makes going from open-to-click much easier.

You’ll also notice that each email contains a smaller CTA that asks if the user is ready to start accepting orders with a link to their premium plans.

It seems small, but it’s critical that it’s there.

No user is going to be the same in how quickly they move through the funnel. By placing this CTA at the bottom, they give users the chance to easily convert at any time they feel most comfortable.

While most of the welcome emails take you to something educational, the last email in their offers “launch checklist”. This checklist acts as a plan of action for the user, but it lives as a blog post on their website.

Here’s why this is brilliant:

  • The content is evergreen. It never gets old or stops providing value. From an SEO side of things, this is great content at its best acting as a piece of pillar content they can internally link to. Using an email to send traffic to this page is a smart way to boost traffic from a primed audience. Plus, it gives your potential customer a helpful go-to resource.
  • You can bookmark it, and read it again and again. PDF downloads are great — they unquestionably have a time and place. But sometimes, content serves your audience better when they know that it lives somewhere they can always come back to.
  • It’s shareable. Your audience can share content like this out to their personal network. It’s cyclical by nature so it helps continually power all your marketing efforts.

Adding this type of email to their welcome series brings their email marketing into other parts of their entire marketing plan making for a well-rounded and holistic strategy that can flow together.

Takeaways For You

  • Create, automate, evaluate. How did Shopify decide on creating 10 emails and go against the industry average? Chances are, they started small to set a benchmark and then grew their sequence as needed. For you, you don’t need it to be perfect — just get started.

Set aside time to create your emails and then automate them so they’re constantly working for you. Every month, look at metrics like open-rate and click-through-rate to find areas where you need to tweak or add to the emails you’re sending. With time, you’ll find your email list’s sweet spot for the perfect drip sequence. The important thing is to start. 

  • Be helpful right off the bat, but don’t be afraid to sell. Education is at the heart of every email Shopify sends. The aim to educate – to be helpful and human – go a long way to get a consumer to see the value in both the product and brand they’ll give their money to. However, Shopify is a business and they don’t skip the sell. 

While each email doesn’t have a big push or “hard sell” they still give people the chance to convert in every email. You shouldn’t be afraid to put your premium plans, products, or services out there.

Welcome emails aren’t the only email-type that Shopify does well. Their branded newsletter is one of the best ones in the industry and it’s the second piece of their email marketing that we’re going to be breaking down.

2. The Shopify Digest: Using Inspirational Content and Personalization Working to Create a Unique Newsletter

There are a few ways to create a newsletter that people want to open and read — Shopify has managed to create just that.

They own a huge list of nearly half a million subscribers with the real-time numbers up on their blog for all to see.

Every Shopify Digest email contains links to at least one educational or inspirational blog post.

Topics about social media, common ecommerce mistakes, studying analytics and tips for making sales are just a few of the subjects they’ve covered.

As a large company, they can pump out quality content in high doses which helps them keep up with their schedule of sending one newsletter per day.

Shopify has established this schedule for their newsletter and they stick to it so subscribers come to expect emails from them on a daily basis. You don’t need to stick to a rigorous schedule like this, but we can take a lesson on being consistent.

Shopify Digest emails also have a touch of personalization. Many emails will use the name or business name inside the email.

The heading “Trending Posts for {insert name here}” is found after the first content block and highlights other content the subscriber may find interesting.

Doing this brings some warmth and personality to the emails.

Continuing with the theme of leading with education, another facet to the Shopify newsletters is highlighting the free training they offer through the Shopify Academy.

Most of the emails mention the Academy at either the start or very end of the email with CTAs that lead to a registration page.

True to their nature, it’s clear that they aim to become the go-to leaders in the space of ecommerce. And they’re using email to help potential customers on their list gain enough information to be able to launch an online store with their platform.

Takeaways For You

  • Use social proof to help grow your email list. Part of email marketing is continually growing your email list, so it works hand-in-hand with your content marketing efforts in that regard too. There are effective ways to do this such as in-content lead magnets and training registrations — both of which Shopify does. But they add another simple way to get sign-ups by using social proof in their blog’s sidebar input form.

You might not lay claim to 500K emails subs like Shopify has, you can find other gems of social proof to add to your opt-in forms. It can be small — anything that really resonates with your audience.

For instance, if you sell house plants but you have a small email list, you can frame the social proof by saying something like, “Our plants are helping clean the air in 247+ homes. Join our list for tips and advice on the perfect air-purifying plant for your place.” That’s just an example, but it’s to show that you can take even a small amount of social proof and still make it sound really appealing.

  • Personalization works. Use it. Shopify’s newsletter defaults to the {FNAME} code for adding a touch of personalization to their newsletter. But guess what? Sometimes simple tactics work. Here at Sendlane, we’re big advocates for email personalization — so much so that we revamped our entire platform to be able to give you more of it!

And while we believe there is definitely more to personalization than simply sticking in someone’s first name and callin’ it good, it can still be an effective tactic. Also, take note of where and how to use it. Shopify puts a unique spin on their use of it by pointing out blog content with images that are “trending” for the user.

  • Create a schedule and stick to it. If you want your brand to stand out, you need to be the one who sets the tone for the relationship between you and your subscribers. One way you can accomplish that is by being consistent with what you do in your email marketing. Unless you’re the in-house email marketer for a company, sticking to a schedule can be difficult when you’re busy with other things that keep a business running.

We’ve found that many people find it easier to be consistent when they schedule the tasks in their calendar. And depending on your emails you’re sending, you can often set aside an hour or so to batch-create and schedule those emails to send later so that you have a bit of breathing room. In doing this, you can keep to a consistent schedule that shows your subscriber that you’re going to keep showing up for them.

Aim To Help Others Succeed and The Rest Falls Into Place

Shopify clearly knows how to create a drip sequence that converts. And no matter what industry you’re in, there are a lot of things you can learn and apply in your own email marketing.

Many businesses use welcome emails to say, “Hi, thanks for coming. Here’s what we do. Here’s how you use it. Here’s how you can buy this product/service right now.”

It’s a basic framework, sure. But Shopify customizes it to fit their audience’s needs rather than the other way around.

By being a helpful and kind educator in a competitive space, they’ve been able to stand out and consistently drive up their profits and value both in the eyes of consumers and in the business world.

To top of all that, they’ve used email to help add to their momentum.

Take a note from their playbook. Be helpful. Show up, and be consistent. Set the tone, but don’t hold back from trying to make a sale.

Finding your own custom mix for what works takes time, but if you put in the work like Shopify, then the sky is the limit.

Caitlin Hutchinson

Caitlin Hutchinson

A native of San Diego, California, Caitlin has a passion for developing creative and engaging marketing content. She is primarily responsible for overseeing the development, execution and delivery of digital content across all of Sendlane’s channels as well as maintaining an online presence of Sendlane's team culture. She has enjoyed being a part of a powerhouse team where she has had the opportunity to wear a variety of hats and take her knowledge and creativity to the next level. When not focusing on increasing Sendlane's online presence you'll find Caitlin playing music on her guitar or piano and spending time with her Husband and their rescue dog, Piper.
Caitlin Hutchinson