How to Design Effective Ecommerce Emails

Sophia Babb
August 24, 2022

There’s no magic tricks or insane email design skills you need to create beautiful AND effective emails.

This article walks you through the fundamentals of email design – getting you closer to creating the best looking, conversion-worthy emails for your brand. 

Here are the 6 fundamentals of designing an effective ecommerce email:

  1. Understand How Emails Are Read
  2. Define Your Goal
  3. Create the Hero Section
  4. Support the Hero
  5. Make It Mobile Friendly 
  6. Deploy the Finishing Touches


1. Understand How Emails Are Read

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details of email design, you need to understand how emails are actually read.

Most people spend just 11 seconds skimming through sales emails, according to a Nielsen Norman Group eye tracking study.

That’s enough time to read about ~37 words – which means all that intricate copy you’ve put hours into likely wasn’t even read (every copywriter's nightmare).

So which words are being read?

  • Headlines.

  • First 1-2 lines of text.

  • Bulleted lists. Subscribers read the first item more often than subsequent items and the first words in each bullet more than subsequent words.

  • Links & buttons. They’re often blue and underlined or stand out from the rest of the page, so they’re the easiest elements to skim on screen.

It’s also important to know where your subscribers are checking their emails.

Cellphones have become the main device for checking email for 85% of users, according to Adobe.

As we jump into what it takes to design an effective ecommerce email, we’ll need to keep these email facts top of mind.


Try it yourself: Set a timer for 15 seconds. Take a look at one of your own emails or an email from another brand. When the timer is done, close the email. Now try to answer the questions:

  • What was the email about? 

  • What sentence(s) did you read? 

  • Did you understand the point or goal the email was trying to communicate?


2. Define Your Goal

Every effective email should have a goal. 

Your goal should be one main overarching action you want your subscribers to take – like making a purchase, returning to their cart, downloading a PDF, etc. 

A BIG mistake brands often make is trying to squeeze in 3+ goals per email. 

With just 11 seconds (on average) to get your subscriber’s attention, you need to make the goal as clear and eye-catching as possible.

When you focus on one main goal, everything will come together more easily – all the way from subject line ideas, campaign copy, and design.


3. Create the Hero Section

The “hero section” is the first thing people see when they open your email – it’s the area that immediately shows on their screen beneath your logo.

It can also be considered your most valuable visual real estate, so it’s important to get it right.

The most important information should be clearly visible in your headlines, and any supporting information should be in the first 1-2 lines of text or in bulleted points.

Keep sentences short and your call to action clear by using text size, imagery, and buttons to walk your reader through the email.

Ask yourself: If a subscriber only saw this part of the email, could they take the desired action and know what’s up? 

A simple outline to guide your hero section copy & design could look like this:


[insert hero headline here]


[insert link to or description of hero image]


[insert hero subhead here]


[insert optional body text here – keep to 1-2 sentences or 1-4 bullet points maximum]


[insert your button call to action here (i.e. “SHOP NOW”)]

Get the full email campaign template here (for free!)


Examples of Effective Hero Sections


4. Support the Hero

Now that the most important part of the email is complete, you can include any supporting information your subscribers need to know.

This section is best used to highlight individual products, collections, blog posts, etc.

Follow the same best practices outlined above, such as keeping it short and to the point.


Examples of Effective Support Sections



5. Make It Mobile Friendly 

Without exception, every email you send should be optimized for mobile (the majority of your subscribers are likely checking on their phones). 

Follow these best practices when designing for mobile:

  • Think vertically. When someone is skimming an email on their phone, it’s most effective to stick to a single column layout.

  • Text needs to be larger. Headlines & subheadings should be between 22-26px and body text between 14-16px.

  • Use clear & distinct calls to action (CTA). Your first CTA button should be in your hero section, ideally underneath the first image or subhead. You should include one or two more below the fold as well. CTA buttons should also be at least 45 x 45 pixels for best visibility. 

  • Use alt text on all images. Alt text is great for accessibility and can come in handy as a backup if images aren’t loading.

  • Make sure your most important information is optimized for dark mode.

Read more on optimizing designs for mobile here.


Examples of Mobile Friendly Email Designs



6. Deploy the Finishing Touches

Now that you’ve completed your hero section & the bulk of your email, it’s time to fine tune everything according to some of these email best practices:

  • Make sure to keep your spacing as consistent as you can, both for the sake of readability & the visual appearance of the email. Consistent spacing alone can make an email look sharp & clean!

  • Images should be kept around 600px wide, and be around 1-2 mb in size if possible. Text heavy images may need to be larger for clarity. In terms of loading time & deliverability, usually the smaller files you can use, the better. 

  • Use tools like Figma, Canva, and Photoshop to elevate your email designs! Most programs have free tiers or trials, and can make your email marketing look beautiful without coding or insane design skills needed.

Now that you know how to design effective emails, you’re ready to take on the ecommerce world! Go wow ‘em.

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