Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.

Would you like to know how you can increase your online sales without spending a ton of money on advertising?

There's a lot of ways you can drive sales, but some methods are more powerful than others.

Even with social media, email marketing is still the number one channel for driving sales, accounting for as much as 23% of sales revenue. Setting up a good email program isn't easy, but can really pay off for e-commerce businesses.

So what do you need to do in order to create an effective email strategy for your business?

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Last week, I caught up with my friend Carl Sednaoui to talk about email strategies. In the past, I've collaborated with Carl on email campaigns for Y-Combinator startups, as well as other projects. While my expertise is with writing cold emails to business-to-business companies, Carl is an e-commerce email marketing expert. He's also the Director of Marketing for MailCharts--an email database of thousands of email campaigns that online retailers such as Carter's and Lucy Activewear use to plan and optimize their email campaigns.

Here are Carl's thoughts on the must-have emails that online retailers can use to drive sales:

#1: Learn About Your Audience With A Survey

The best way to improve your marketing efforts is to better understand your audience. Sending survey emails helps you learn a lot about your audience, allowing you to improve your marketing activities.

Be careful, though: Surveys are a double-edged sword.

While beneficial to your business, it's important you don't overwhelm your subscribers, or else you risk decreasing your email program's performance.

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Here's Carl's formula for successful survey emails:

  1. Less is more: once a quarter is usually enough
  2. Keep the email short: 6 sentences or less
  3. Incentivize readers to share their feedback: like discounts, gift cards, or a raffle

Carl says, "A great format to follow is sending a five-question survey once every quarter. Since surveys are all about you, it's important to include an incentive that entices people to take the time to fill them out."

Below is an example of a five-question survey from that incentivizes its customers with the chance to enter a raffle for a $500 prize:

(Here are a few more examples of survey email examples that Carl also shared with me.)

#2: Fight Customer Distraction With Cart Abandonment Emails

Are you still with us? ...Good! The average person gets 1 interruption every 8 minutes, and the average employee gets interrupted 56 times a day.

If these distractions happen when a prospective customer is adding items to their shopping cart, there's a 68% chance they won't complete the transaction, leading to cart abandonment.

You can fix this by reminding those customers that they have forgotten items in their cart by using "cart abandonment emails". Sending your customers cart abandonment emails can usually help you recover between 5% and 11% of otherwise lost sales.

According to Carl, one of the best strategies for cart abandonment emails is to send two emails. The first email informs customers "You left something in your cart" email, followed by another reminder email a few days later. (He also shared these examples of cart abandonment emails you can use as inspiration when planning your own.)

#3: Anticipate Customer Needs With "Replenishment Emails"

Have you ever run out of an indispensable household item such as dish soap, dog food, or diapers after a long workday? If so, you know that dreadful feeling of having to do a late-night store run.

This is where "replenishment emails" come in. Replenishment emails allow you to remind your customers to re-order from you before they run out of whatever item you're selling.

According to Carl, "When sending replenishment emails, you should create a two-step series of emails because people often procrastinate or forget to take action on your first reminder. Your first email should let your customer know that they should place a new order to avoid running out of that item in the near future. A few days later you should send another email to remind them that they need to place their order because they're about to run out. You want them to avoid that late-night Walgreens run."

#4: Promote Your Best-Selling Items With "Back-In-Stock" Emails

It's incredibly frustrating to realize that the pair of jeans you've been saving for is no longer available. That's the problem with best-selling items: retailers run out them.

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Back-in-stock emails allow you to notify customers when your popular, frequently sold-out, items are back in stock. Since the promoted product is in demand, these emails can see conversion rates as high as 22%.

These emails allow you to use scarcity as an incentive to drive purchases, giving you a unique angle instead of more traditional emails that leverage discounts.

Because back-in-stock emails are all about your product, it's important that you use a visually appealing email, like the below example from Carbon 38's "high neck tanks."

(Here are some more examples of other back-in-stock emails from Carl.)

If you take the time, these four simple email strategies should help you boost your sales revenue. For other tips on using email marketing to grow your business, you can check out Carl's book, Email Marketing Fundamentals.