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eCommerce Referral Emails

14 Top eCommerce Referral Email Best Practices (With Examples)

💬 In this eCommerce referral emails checklist, I'm sharing some of the top areas of focus to help with performance optimisations (to get more customers/visitors sharing).
by Dan Siepen
Created On:
17/4/2024

💬 For brands running referral programs, a key component are the emails to help drive visitor/customer adoption, both transactional and campaign-lead.

Yet, when it comes to design and optimisation, I've found these types of emails get pushed 'down' the priority list (or worse yet, not paid to attention at all).

However, I've got some 'quick wins' that can really help with optimisations, test and experiments to run - with the goal of increasing engagement/uptake rates with customers to share with more friends.

Key areas of optimisations and tests to run which can help drive referral program engagement

💬 The below are some optimisation and tactical areas that I've seen work effectively over the years, which are worth thinking and implementing (if not already) - I've ensured to include some references, and there are some awesome examples towards the bottom (and what I like about them).

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Choosing the right eCommerce referral marketing software is a key and important decision in my opinion, due to various factors like streamlined UX (for all parties - brands and customers), easy tracking, and personalisation (with dynamic fields, targeting etc). 

I actually created this resource on top referral marketing tools which many can be suitable for eCommerce brands. 

This is what I recommend to ask yourself/look for in terms of key features when it comes to choosing the right software that has great email functionality/capability:

  • Does the software have easy sharing options which can then be incorporated into emails (for both referrer/referred?
  • What personalised/dynamic tagging can you do based on your customer database through emails?
  • Is there an easy integration with existing CMS and ESPs (like Klaviyo?)
  • Does it have good ability for customers to easily view tracking of amount of referrals they’ve made?

Few other factors to consider of course, but these are some of the core components to keep an eye out for. 

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A bit of a no-brainer but you’ve gotta make sure to really make it obvious when it comes to the offer/incentive for people to engage/uptake/refer. 

I talk about this a bit more in the next checklist point. 

Here’s a great example by the crew at Peloton: 

Peloton email referral example
(Source: Peloton and Really Good Emails)
  • Beautiful image with clear “Give $100 and Get $100”
  • Images of both products with SKU image and ‘lifestyle’/in-action type image
  • Then goes straight into the details about the incentive, program and how to share
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When it comes to the referral links/codes themselves, you can do in two ways:

  • Highlight unique code/link directly in the email
  • Or drive users to a dedicated landing page or ‘log-in’ type experience

Either or is fine, my recommendation is to always go for within the email and then also the option to view in a dashboard/portal. 

Two great references are from Peloton (see above with showing the unique code) and Offcourt (see in examples below).

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Whilst most referral systems and programs are focused on the “two-sided” offer system, where it can be limited is how you can test offers to drive further engagement. 

That’s where I recommend looking into multi-tiered campaigns. 

However, you can still do two-sided and have some sort of condition in their for higher referrers - just like this cool example from Lumina. 

Lumina referral email
(Source: Lumina and Really Good Emails)
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I don’t need to go into detail on the importance of this point too much - you should always be testing various subject lines and testing various CTAs. 

The reference examples I share in this checklist do a great job with CTAs. 

In terms of subject lines, these are my recommendations to improve open rates and also encourage action (which is ultimate goal):

  • Add in the incentive/offer and make it clear how much they can save and/or their friends can save
  • Add personalisation fields - with the obvious one being a customer’s first name

For the person receiving the email from someone who is referring them, do the above and also:

  • State that customer X has referred them (and try to incl. the incentive)
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Here are some points for email designs, messaging and CTAs for both the referrer/referred emails. 

Referrer:

  • State offer that both parties can receive if the referred uptakes and makes a purchase through unique link/code
  • Highlight how easy the process is
  • Communicate that X$ means they could buy X product (Offcourt example below does this well)
  • Bonus point - highlight how they can earn more points too (if you have a referral and loyalty/rewards systems integrated)

Referred:

  • Make it obvious who the referrer is to ensure they can trust the email (lots of spam emails these days that it can be confusing)
  • Ensure the offer/incentive is obvious and clear right off the bat - both in design, headline and CTA
  • Add in social proof elements like reviews and customer images - certainly needed for most customers being introduced to a brand for the first time (trust/credibility) 
  • If possible, a personalised note from the person referring
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When customers/visitors are busy, they can get distracted if the ‘job to be done’ requires too much work. 

So, it’s highlighting through a simple format of how easy it is to share/engage with your referral program, can help improve uptake rates.

Check out the simple and straight-forward example from Oura below in this resource.

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Whilst it doesn't necessarily need to be completely custom, this is an awesome touch which can help accelerate trust/credibility for those receiving the email (and are new to the brand),

A great example of this which I love is by Our Place (see below) - simple and really effective to accelerate the trust process.

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I don’t need to go into a big amount of detail on this one - more so I stress the fact that these emails should be treated with the same effort you do with other key sales campaigns.

See below of top examples that set an awesome standard. 

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Related to some of the above points I make, you don’t need to go ‘overboard’ on the emails either. 

You can also just keep things simple by guiding visitors/customers to a dedicated landing page which explains more details. 

Tip: My recommendation is to do both with testing. Goal should be CTR and then activation from specific emails (can do this via UTMs).

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I’m a big believer of adding in social proof elements like reviews/testimonials, images/video (etc), wherever you can. 

Remember, people come from various sources/CX touchpoints, and it’s a great way also for people who are sharing these emails to remind potential customers why people love a brand’s products.

A nice simple example of this in action is from Harry’s.

Harry's example
(Source: Harry's and Really Good Emails)
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I’ve talked in other checklists about post-purchase upsells, and another effective offer worth testing is letting customers know they can save more on their next purchase by recommending/sharing with their friends. 

Love this example by Tradesy - so simple, clear and non-invasive - certainly making the most of checkout/shipping emails.

Tradesy example
(Source: Tradesy and Really Good Emails)
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Referral emails don’t just have to be tied to only “always on” where ‘refer a friend’ sits as an option somewhere on the site. 

To really activate and use it as an acquisition source to drive new customers, you need to promote as part of some sort of campaign. 

A question to ask yourself - when’s your next campaign where this worth testing?

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The last point I’ll touch on, which relates to other checklist sections above in regards to testing/experimenting, is sending custom/tailored campaigns to certain segments.

Example attributes/segments I’m talking about include the likes of: 

  • Top 20% of customers based on certain AOV
  • Top 10% of customers based on certain SKUs within X amount of days
  • Customers all time based on amount of purchases over 5+ times…

You get the point around these attributes - lots of combinations to test. 

Each require tailored messaging, CTAs and potentially even offers and design elements - then measure performance overtime and send more that are performing.

What are some awesome examples of eCommerce referral email designs (which uphold great practices)?

Here are just a few faves I like :)

Note: I got all of these examples from Really Good Emails - view more examples via the link.

Example #1

Offcourt example

  • Great designed layout overall which succinctly communicates key points,
  • Love the added 'award' logos (great for social proof)
  • Clear primary offer and CTA button "start earning"
  • Reminder of key USPs with icons

Example #2

OurPlace example

  • A simple email, but main takeaway here is the personalised message option - although, you could easily keep the same templated message, and use dynamic fields based on he name, offer, and potentially different SKUs you're pushing

Example #3

ŌURA example

  • Love this from Oura from top to bottom
  • Great headline which highlights "exclusivity" (a nice hook)
  • Easy "how to claim" section which is concise
  • Custom/unique URL with 'easy share' (less work for users, the better)
  • Lifestyle imagery to show the product in action (good reminder)
👋 G'day everyone, Dan Siepen here from down under 🇦🇺🦘🐨. I'm an experienced growth marketer w/ 8+ years exp. across SaaS, B2B, DTC & eComm. Get to know more about me (check my homepage too) & if you want to connect, just reach out. 👇
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