Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. Sure, as marketers, we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to reach, engage, and convert our audience.
We can follow them around the Internet, targeting them with the right message, on the right platform, at the right time.
Yet, for consumers, something as simple as a referral from someone they trust carries way more weight than all the social ads, influencer campaigns, and email marketing in the world ever could.
Research shows that referred shoppers:
- Convert at a higher rate;
- Have a greater lifetime value; and
- Are more likely to stick with you for the long term.
However, not all referrals are equal.
You likely trust your best friend’s opinion more than that of some random guy you meet in a bar. And it’s the same in the digital realm.
According to Mention Me’s latest report on customer advocacy and referral trends:
- Friends are the most trusted source of brand recommendations (cited by 27 percent of respondents), closely followed by partners.
- In contrast, just 2.8 percent trust recommendations from influencers, and only one percent trust TikTokers.
So when it comes to winning e-commerce referrals, it’s all about convincing shoppers to spread the word to their friends and family, and referral emails are one of the most effective ways to do this.
Here are 13 brilliant e-commerce referral email examples to inspire your own.
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Casper often uses its newsletter—or “snoozeletter”—to prompt its customers to refer a friend.
Now, Casper mattresses are a big-ticket product. Prices start around the €300 mark and climb as high as €1,200+. That makes its referral scheme pretty attractive, with 10 percent off for new customers, plus a $75 Amazon gift card for the referrer.
It’s nice that Casper doesn’t go in for the hard sell here by positioning the referral offer right at the bottom of the email, rather than making it the main focus of the whole email.
Imagine you signed up for the snooze letter and received this email. If you’ve scrolled all the way to the bottom, it stands to reason that you’re pretty engaged with the brand—which means there’s a good chance you’ll be happy to recommend Casper to your friends.
All you need is a gentle nudge in the right direction.
So it’s no surprise to us that this referral email is so strong.
In some ways, it’s the opposite of the previous example from Casper.
For one thing, it’s solely dedicated to winning referrals, rather than hiding the referral offer away at the bottom of a newsletter. For another, it’s promoting a much lower-ticket item.
Despite this, MeUndies has still managed to craft a compelling offer that gives people a genuine reason to refer—in this case, 20 percent off for the new customer, plus $20 credit for the referrer.
Discounts and special offers play a big part in driving referrals.
In fact, according to Mention Me, they’re the fourth-biggest reason people decide to refer brands—behind only brand trustworthiness, great customer service, and free delivery and returns.
However, getting your special offer right isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If it’s too complex, no one will engage with it. If it’s too generous, it’ll eat into your margins and damage your profits. And if it’s too stingy, no one will care.
Simplicity is often key to an effective referral offer, and Italic clearly understands this. It’s all about the number 15—refer a friend and they get $15 off, plus you get $15 for everyone who places an order with your link.
4. Equal Parts
This one’s all about the soft sell.
Equal Parts makes non-stick, non-toxic cookware designed to make the activity of cooking at home more enjoyable.
To that end, it offers regular tips, tricks, and insights on how to have fun in the kitchen, including things like leveling up your grocery shopping.
After offering a bunch of practical advice, Equal Parts slips in a referral message, prompting readers to spread the word.
Although this referral email mentions how referrers can earn rewards when their friends sign up, this is really more about building advocacy through value. The implicit message here is: “If you enjoy our content and products, why won’t you let other people in on the secret?”
Okay, so you’ve got a referral.
That’s good—any number of referrals is better than none, after all—but it doesn’t guarantee anything. You still need to make effective use of it.
Swiss performance running shoe and clothing brand On demonstrates how to get it right by reaching out to a newly-referred customer and asking if they want to find out more.
Why’s this approach so smart?
Because it’s like a double opt-in. On is saying: “You’ve been referred by your friend, but do you actually want to keep hearing from us?”
That way, the retailer manages to build trust from potential new customers, while simultaneously explaining a little about the brand and what it stands for.
As any writer will tell you, an effective referral email doesn’t just rely on a catchy offer and snappy visuals. Copy plays a huge part, too.
Essential oils and skin care products brand Saje gets it right here with a simple, impactful message crafted to resonate with its target audience: “Spread wellness to your friends.”
In this way, Saje is asking its customers to promote a lifestyle, not a product. You’re not referring a friend to buy some new skin serum or a face mask; you’re referring the entire concept of wellness.
That’s a much more engaging proposition than saying: “If you persuade your friends to buy our products, we’ll give you a discount code.”
Maude describes itself as a modern sexual wellness startup. It sells things like personal massagers and body oils. A big selling point is the subtle nature of its packaging, which keeps things discreet and minimalist.
The company clearly understands its customers might not be too keen on blindly sharing a referral link on Facebook. With that in mind, it stresses that referrers will be shown a preview of their referral post before it gets shared.
That’s super important because trust is a big deal to referrers (remember, according to that Mention Me study, it’s the single biggest factor in whether someone refers a brand).
8. Outdoor Voices
I’ve already highlighted how important it is for brands to make the most of the referrals they receive from customers.
Fail to reach out in the right way and that referral loses all its value. Outdoor Voices understands this, so it follows up referrals with a succinct email.
Firstly, it stresses who the referral came from, thereby highlighting that this isn’t just some random marketing spam.
Next, it clearly explains what it’s about—technical apparel for serious dog walks and casual marathons. In other words, it makes a quality product, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Finally, it sets out the terms of its referral program—spend $100 or more and get $20 off.
That’s a lot of information to communicate, yet Outdoor Voices gets the job done in fewer than 50 words.
Remember when I said simplicity holds the key to an effective referral email?
Postable does it better than most—by explaining its referral program in fewer than 20 words.
Plus, the visuals are striking and cheery, which is important for a brand that makes designer greeting cards and invitations.
Challenge yourself to do the same. Explain your referral scheme, then edit it down to the bare bones.
If you can’t communicate your offer in about the same number of words as Postable, it’s too complex.
As you’ve seen from this article, a lot of e-commerce brands prefer to give away a little detail about their referral program in the original email, before directing customers toward a landing page to learn more.
There’s logic to this approach. It means your referral emails are less cluttered, which can make your message more impactful and easier to digest.
However, it’s not the only approach. Bombas takes things in the other direction by setting out, in easy-to-understand steps, exactly what its referral offer entails.
No need to click through to the website to fully understand the proposition—it’s all right there in black and white (and blue).
What’s more, rather than offering a discount on future orders, Bombas goes with something even more compelling: a totally free product.
If you’ve already ordered a pair of Bombas socks, there’s a good chance you like the brand and would love to get more pairs for free. That’s exactly what this referral email promises.
Goby sells electric toothbrushes and accessories.
If you’ve ever owned an electric toothbrush, you’ll know they’re hardly a regular purchase. Once you’ve bought one, you’ll likely stick with it for several years.
However, the brush heads need replacing every three months or so at least, and that’s where Goby’s referral offer comes in.
This email demonstrates the benefits of psychology in crafting an effective referral proposition.
Those brush heads aren’t exactly expensive. They cost $6 apiece. Now, ask yourself which of these options sounds most attractive:
- Refer a friend and get $6; or
- Refer a friend and get this free product.
Even though the value is the same, option two takes it every time.
A timely offer can make your e-commerce referral email a lot more compelling.
Brooklinen demonstrates this with an email sent on National Relaxation Day (it’s August 15th, in case you want to add it to your diary).
Relaxation and new bed linen? That sounds like a match made in heaven. This well-timed referral email gives customers a reason to refer their friends right now.
The majority of these e-commerce referral emails have been a kind of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement.
You refer a new customer to us, and we’ll reward you with this discount or offer (and the person you refer might get some money off, too).
As we’ve discussed before, Harry’s isn’t afraid to do things differently.
Rather than offering something to the referrer, it promises to send free razors to two friends. That way, the referrer gets to feel like they’re sending a gift, rather than trying to persuade their friend to buy a product.
As you’ve seen here, there’s no “one correct way” to write and design an e-commerce referral email. Finding the best approach for you depends on three main factors:
- The price of your product(s);
- How frequently customers purchase your product(s); and
- Your profit margins.
For instance, say you sell a big-ticket, high-margin product that customers only buy once a decade. In that case, the best referral offer might involve a cash reward or gift vouchers.
On the flip side, if your product is bought regularly—say, every three months—but has a low price and tight margins, a cash incentive isn’t going to work. So why not try giving away free products or a percentage discount on future purchases?
As with everything in marketing, my advice is to test multiple offers and see what generates the best response.