Case Study: How Email Marketing Helped Blue Bottle Coffee Build a $700 Million eCommerce Business

From a struggling freelance clarinetist to a growing $700 million dollar coffee eCommerce store.

That’s about one of the craziest stories we’ve ever heard, and yet that’s the exact story of Blue Bottle Coffee. The Founder, James Freeman, had a love for coffee and in 2002 decided to start roasting his own coffee beans.

That small move soon turned into a small coffee cart where the name Blue Bottle Coffee was born and the brand was up and running selling freshly roasted coffee beans and the perfect cup of Joe.

Ten years after roasting the first batch of coffee beans, Blue Bottle raised its first round to jump into the eCommerce market. Today, they’re a growing online store in highly competitive marketing making $700 million dollars annually with room to grow.

And while a lot of their success comes from smart business decisions and marketing initiatives, a lot of their success comes from using email to boost the effectiveness of their content marketing.

There is a lot to learn about this amazing brand’s email marketing.

Blue Bottle and Email Marketing: A Match Made in eCommerce Heaven

I love coffee. I love eCommerce. And I love email.

Really, I couldn’t be more excited about this email case study teardown. And to add the cherry on top, Blue Bottle does a lot of things very well.

From their branding to their customer experience to their email marketing and everything in between. There are plenty of lessons to learn here so each section will have some takeaways that you can use to help you turn those lessons into action.

Ready? Me too!

Welcome Emails: How Blue Bottle Uses Them to Make Sales

Welcome Emails in eCommerce are about as important as clean water is to a goldfish. We encourage that every brand should have them as they’re great for customer experience and they have some of the best open rates around.

Blue Bottle Coffee has an automated welcome email set up and ready to go whenever anyone subscribes.

The image above is the first welcome email a subscriber receives after signing up.

As you can see, the email stays right on-brand with their logo and simple color pallet.

You’ll notice a few things about this email:

  1. It’s polite. They use “Pleased To Meet You” which is a somewhat nice change of pace from “Hey!” or “Hi There”
  2. There’s only one CTA. It’s blue, bold and above the fold which allows it to stand out and gives the subscriber some good direction.
  3. It has a “You Might Also Like” product recommendation section which is great for giving other products some attention and maybe landing some sales.

Following that email is another one designed to get people to become a customer. However, you’ll notice that they offer them something rather than ask for something.

What I mean by that is they’re offering a free coffee trial where they’ll send the subscriber a free bag of coffee to try.

In reality it’s like saying “Here, try our coffee. We’ll send it to you for free and if you like it, you can buy some more.” (It’s like a digital version of Costco on sample day!)

It seems subtle but it’s a great way to get people to love this type of product.

Why? Well, what do coffee enthusiasts love more than good artisanal coffee?

Free artisanal coffee, of course!

And Blue Bottle Coffee is giving them that option here making it a perfect way to turn curious people into paying customers.

Also, notice this email has yet another product recommendation section.

You’ll see that in nearly every single email they send. This is because product recommendations are really important in eCommerce email marketing, as are the visuals you use to go along with those.

Blue Bottle likely noticed these driving conversions and utilized them in most of their emails.

This email offers both brand building and a testimonial for some added social proof. Using email for brand building is another great email to have in your automation arsenal.

Takeaways For You

  • Always have an automated Welcome Series. Blue Bottle has a great welcome email series that is designed to build their brand and get people into being their customer. But what’s important is that they have it. There are a lot of ways to create these, so don’t worry about getting them perfect. Done is better than perfect. Your email marketing tool should have a way to easily set this up. And if not, maybe you should switch to a tool that has these created for you already like our platform does? *wink-wink*
  • Consider adding social proof to your emails. When people first become acquainted with your brand, talking too much about why you think you’re so great is a turn-off. But hearing other people say what they love about you has a magnetic effect that’s easy. You probably have a few great testimonials lying around. Use them to your advantage in your emails.
  • Try a “You Might Like This” product section. With as much data as you might be able to collect, you never really know what product is going to grab interest or when. Product recommendations in emails spread out and increase the chances of something catching your customer’s eye they’ll want to buy. And if you use marketing automation with behavior tracking, you’ll be able to recommend products that are based on their interests and pages they’ve visited. In the backend of our platform, we have prebuilt Shopify, WooCommerce and other specific blocks that make it easy to drag and drop product recommendations into your emails.

Abandoned Cart and Transactional Emails: Sometimes Simple Is Key

Blue Bottle uses email automation to put a lot of their most powerful emails on autopilot. That list of email automations not only includes welcome emails but their abandoned cart and transactional emails as well.

We LOVE these email automations types and we were excited to see Blue Bottle has both types up and running for their email marketing — but they don’t overthink it in terms of design.

And that simplicity does well for their emails.

This is one example of their triggered abandoned cart email. As mentioned before, it’s very simple in its design but that gives it the ability to draw attention to all the right places like:

  • The image. So the person remembers what they left in the cart.
  • The CTA button. Which stands out and draws in the click to get that conversion.

This is a great reminder that you don’t need to do too much design work for an effective abandoned cart email.

Simple means less distraction which ultimately can equal better conversions. But it’s not the only style email they have for this purpose.

If a user doesn’t buy the items they left in the cart, the follow-up emails are like the one you’d see here. Really, it’s an effort to get the potential customer back into a purchase funnel.

There is a great use of high-quality images, simple CTAs and the offer of free shipping — everyone loves free shipping.

This is smart because while they could have just let the automation end when the user didn’t convert, they decided to keep with the flow and offer something a bit different. They didn’t just drop the person and move on.

The desired effect is that the person buys from them. And if they do, then they’ll get some great emails centered around giving the consumer a great customer experience:

Transactional emails.

There are a few that are pretty important to automate if you want to give your customers a great experience. The main ones are:

  • Order confirmation
  • Shipping confirmation
  • Product Cancellation

And wouldn’t you know that Blue Bottle sends all of these.

Their order confirmations follow a similar style to their abandoned cart emails.

The style is simple and shows photos of the products ordered and all the other important stuff like

  • Order number
  • Shipping address
  • Payment method
  • Order total
  • A way to get in touch with customer support if needed

It has all that stuff wrapped into on email making it a go-to place for a customer if they ever need it.

This email is a Shipping Confirmation email giving a customer the chance to track their order so they know when it’s going to be arriving.

Personally, I hate not knowing when something I ordered is going to be delivered. These types of emails eliminate worry (usually around the item getting stolen off my porch) about when a product will show up on my doorstep.

The use of visuals around this email is great. It stays on brand but adds a little extra something to the email so it doesn’t look so bare.

This is another example of a vital transactional email you should have — the cancelation confirmation.

Does it suck when someone cancels? Yeah, it does. But you should still give someone a great experience in the hopes they’ll become a customer again.

That should always be the aim.

Blue Bottle sells both subscriptions and physical products, and this one, in particular, is to cancel the subscription. They have others for canceling ordered products too.

Each one has its own copy and funnels which is good to keep in mind for your own email sequences and making sure that if you have different types of products (i.e. physical vs. digital, or single products vs. subscriptions) that they have their own automations to match.

Takeaways For You

  • Automate your transactional emails. These are so important. We all want this information to validate a purchase or return, or to know when something is coming. It takes a bit of time to set up, but it adds to your brand’s experience which adds to the value of your brand and that is hard to come by these days. Taking little steps to lay the groundwork now will do a lot for you as time goes on. Take a look at what you have set up now and see if you can add anything to your transactional automations and if there is anywhere you could improve.
  • Focus on making these emails give a great experience. There’s that word again. Experience. It’s one word with a lot of implications. No matter what email you’re sending or not sending adds or takes away from the experience people have with your brand. People are willing to pay more to a brand that offers the same types of products as another brand if that brand offers a better experience. So when you bend the view to “how can I create this to give a better experience to my customers” you’re going to set yourself up for success.  

Email Is Everything For eCommerce. Utilize It As Best You Can.

Blue Bottle Coffee does a lot of things right. And while no single thing can be stated as the sole factor to their success, email definitely plays a vital part in their continued success.

They send all the right types of emails. They automate a lot of the right emails. And they use a lot of the best eCommerce email marketing tactics to make the most out of every email.

Clearly, it’s working.

There are a lot of things you can take away from them, but one thing is clear:

They stick to a lot of basic eCommerce email practices and mold it to their brand. There’s definitely some creativity along the way but using the basic frameworks have helped them grow and thrive.

Ready to start implementing these emails and strategies in your online store? Get started with a 14 day free trial of Sendlane today.

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Caitlin Hutchinson
Brand Marketing Manager
Sendlane

A native of San Diego, California, Caitlin has a passion for developing creative and engaging marketing content. Primarily responsible for overseeing the development, execution and delivery of digital content across all of Sendlane’s channels while maintaining an online presence of Sendlane's team culture. Host of The Marketing Automation Hustle Podcast and Sendlane Youtube Training Channel. Works closely with the marketing team to manage creative projects and develop creative assets/solutions to enhance the brand. Collaborates at the intersection of marketing, product, content, and sales to develop powerful and memorable stories and interactive experiences that bring the Sendlane vision to life.

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