Shopify Onboarding Breakdown

Steph Knapp
Nov 13, 2018 · 11 min read

Shopify makes setting up an online store easier. How far can a new user make it in 14 days? Below we’ll break down the free trial onboarding series for Shopify, one email at a time.

Series Overview

Over the course of two weeks, Shopify sends out 10 emails. Two winback emails were also sent after the free trial ended. There’s a good mix of feature spotlights and value-add content. It’s helpful to note that this sequence of emails was time-based. I took no action throughout the trial, so none of these emails were triggered based on user events.

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Day 1: Welcome

Subject Line: Stephanie, say hello to Double Cat Studio

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Immediately after signup

Objective/Content: Links to access account, plus what to expect in following emails

CTA: Select a plan (to be able to accept orders)


Holy personalization. Right off the bat, Shopify puts not one, but two personal bits in the subject line. They’ve used both my name and my business name. (Also, yes, I realize I spelled my name wrong on the form so Shopify knows me as Stephane.) The email also has an air of celebration. I mean, there’s even confetti. I think Shopify has done a great job of understanding the mental and emotional state of their customers. Imagine you’re a business owner or soon-to-be-entrepreneur opening an online store. You’re likely excited, scared, and overwhelmed at the same time. You just took a step that makes your business feel real, and now Shopify is celebrating you along the way and assuring you that you’re doing the right thing.

That’s powerful, and that feeling association will last.

This first email remains pretty general in terms of CTA, but it does explain what’s coming up. Links to access your account are included, but at the end of the email, Shopify lets the user know they’ll be receiving business success tips over the next few days. Again, how helpful is that for a new business owner? Plus, the trial user is now primed to be on the lookout for those tips.

The email wraps up with a proposition of sorts. Want to remove the password-protected element of your trial site and start accepting orders? You need to click through and select a monthly plan. Shopify builds excitement and confidence through the subject line, to the imagery, and the text. Then they funnel that energy into a next step.

What to learn from it:

  • Think about what customers are feeling in the time leading up to and following signing up for a free trial. What are they trying to accomplish, and how does that make them feel? Being a cheerleader for an excited but unsure user is a great way to let them know you’re in their corner
  • Let users know what to expect at every step along the way. By giving them a heads up about handy tips to come, they’ll be more likely to recognize and open future onboarding emails
  • Funnel excitement and momentum into action


I think more context/attention could have been given before the “select a plan” button.

What to learn from it:

  • Make sure users understand what action you’re asking them to take, and why

Day 4: Value-Add Content

Subject Line: Introducing Dropshipping 101: Free dropshipping training

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 4, 7:08 AM CST

Objective/Content: Add value by granting free access to an online course

CTA: Register for free


Once again, Shopify does a great job of sympathizing with the thoughts and feelings of the user. In this email, they talk about how hard it is to start a new online business. Their solution? A free online academy with resources from experts.

Before jumping into any of the specific features or use cases of Shopify, they’re adding value with relevant content. By sending resources that help a user in all aspects of their business, the “ask” will feel less like a marketing ploy when they finally start talking about the magic of Shopify.

The image at the top of the email is also compelling. A face (making direct eye contact) has been attached to this Acadamy offer. That’s much more personal than text alone.

What to learn from it:

  • There are many ways to provide value! While your product is beneficial, offering relevant content makes you the go-to resource in the user’s mind for all things related to your niche/solution.
  • When possible, put a face to your brand to remind users there are real people on the other end

Day 5: Introduce the Building Block

Subject Line: The perfect theme for Double Cat Studio

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 5, 7:09 AM CST

Objective/Content: Get users to select a website theme

CTA: Explore free themes now


Onboarding sequences always need to introduce the “building block” of the product. This is typically a core feature that a user will encounter in most tasks and is the first baby step a user should take.

In the case of Shopify, their building block of success is choosing a theme. While this isn’t a feature that users will take advantage of each time they use Shopify, it is the foundation for their experience.

Shopify does a good job of incentivizing action. It’s putting success in the hands of the user, stating “the sooner you find the right look for your store, the faster you can start selling.”

The headings and copy in the email are short, sweet, and to the point.

What to learn from it:

  • If tasks need to be completed in a particular order, present the first step as the building block. For example, Shopify can’t teach users how to add product listings to their site before they’ve chosen a theme.
  • Consider the importance of budget to your users. Everyone likes free, but people who are starting a new online business are more likely to be tight on budget and allured by the word “free.”

Day 6: Feature Spotlight

Subject Line: How to collect your profits

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 6, 6:11 AM CST

Objective/Content: Finish adding bank account information

CTA: Enable payments now


Money talks. Business owners with their eye on the prize will be happy to learn how to collect profits.

Not only is learning how to receive payouts enticing for users, it’s good for Shopify also. I have no way to confirm this, but I imagine that getting a user to add their bank details will increase the likelihood of rolling to a paid account. For starters, it helps users keep their goal in mind, and establishes a connection as Shopify as a means to get paid.

What to learn from it:

  • What action can a user take to get a little “skin in the game?” Call attention to that.

Day 7: Feature Spotlight

Subject Line: How to connect with millions of shoppers

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 7, 6:12 AM CST

Objective/Content: Add “sales channels” to Shopify account

CTA: Explore sales channels


Introducing direct deposit connections before shop promotion may feel like putting the cart before the horse. However, Shopify is simply introducing features in the order that a user needs to complete them. First, a user needed to select a theme. Then it was time to connect bank accounts. Finally, it’s time to talk sales channels. My hunch would be that the next email covers the product side of the business.

The subject line and headline are enticing and straightforward. The body copy is also to the point

What to learn from it:

  • Introduce features in the order that a customer needs to use them, even if the benefits seem slightly out of order
Click here

Day 8: Feature Spotlight + Value-Add

Subject Line: Double Cat Studio’s shipping rates

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 8, 6:12 AM CST

Objective/Content: Review your shipping rates, plus learn how to save on shipping

CTA: Review your shipping rates, Get the checklist


Day 8 from Shopify is a two for one! First up, they have a product feature just like in previous days. There’s a short description of what it is and why it matters, followed by a clear CTA.

Shopify takes it one step further, though, and provides value-adding content. The CTA button beckons readers to download the checklist teaching them how to get the best rates on shipping. The checklist, hosted on their site’s FAQ section, also has a step by step process for getting shipping up and running.

What to learn from it:

  • Add value wherever you can! If you have a resource available about a topic, send it along. You’ll become their trusted advisor.

Day 10: Value Add Content

Subject Line: How to drive traffic to Double Cat Studio (without paying for ads)

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 10, 6:17 AM CST

Objective/Content: Review marketing strategies

CTA: Get six effective marketing strategies


Check out that subject line. To a new business owner with a microbudget, the subject line on Day 10 is music to their ears. Shopify catches the reader’s attention with an enticing offer (how to drive traffic to their site) and then sweetens the offer by stating there’s a free way to do it.

Shopify also does a great job of sprinkling in content promotion with feature introduction. Not only is the free trial series introducing users to helpful features; it’s also showing Shopify as a useful source. People appreciate it when you help them, especially if you can do it for free.

What to learn from it:

  • Think about the goals your customers want to achieve, as well as the restrictions they have to deal with it. Then, teach them how to work around their limited time/budget/attention span.

Day 11: Feature Spotlight

Subject Line: Need logo help?

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 11, 6:21 AM CST

Objective/Content: Introduce their logo resource and tool

CTA: Create your new logo


Shopify’s Day 11 email highlighted more than just another feature; they made a whole extra service! Creating a logo is likely a small detail that new entrepreneurs can get unnecessarily hung up on or confused by. Shopify recognized this and created a tool to suit it.

What to learn from it:

  • Tell users about other tools that will help them! In this case, the free tool is owned by Shopify. However, don’t be afraid to recommend complimentary tools or information. It’ll just make you an even greater resource!


Hatchful’s site points out that the service is free to use, but the email makes no mention of it. Since Shopify is referencing the service as a separate entity (which it is), it could be valuable to reassure users that it’s free.

What to learn from it:

  • Be upfront about the cost (or lack thereof) of a standalone service or tool you’re recommending

Day 12: Value-Add Content

Subject Line: Stephanie’s 10-step checklist for launching Double Cat Studio

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 12, 6:20 AM CST

Objective/Content: Provide their expert checklist to guide my next steps

CTA: Get Stephanie’s launch checklist


Not only is the information linked in this email valuable, but it also ties into the earlier emails! Assuming a user has performed all (or most) of the actions laid out in the previous emails, the copy from this email shows them how far they’ve come, while giving them reassurance about where to go next.

This is yet another excellent subject line. Starting an online business for the first time is uncharted territory, and Shopify’s checklist is a guiding light. Shopify also happens to shine a light on an existing seed of doubt, which makes a reader all the more while to click on the link.

What to learn from it:

  • Acknowledge a trial users progress up until this point while continuing to give them clear next steps
  • There’s a difference between causing unnecessary insecurity for the sake of a higher CTR and acknowledging user doubts in a useful way. Don’t do the first one.

Day 13: Final CTA

Subject Line: Your trial ends soon!

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 13, 6:27 AM CST

Objective/Content: Get the free trial user to select a paid plan

CTA: Select a plan


Shopify assumes a user doesn’t remember how long the trial is or when it’s set to end, and rightly so. If you don’t send reminders, you can’t be sure trial users didn’t roll to pay because they weren’t interested. The deadline may have just slipped past them.

What to learn from it:

  • Remind users when their free trial is going to expire. It’s a useful reminder, plus it can light a fire under them to make a decision

Day 15: Winback

Subject Line: Your trial has ended

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 15, 6:25 AM CST

Objective/Content: Select a plan to access account

CTA: Select a plan


Shopify sends a winback email on Day 15 when the trial is still fresh in the mind of users. The email is short and asks readers if they’re ready to get back to work. The subject line is also matter-of-fact.

What to learn from it:

  • Give users a final reminder after the trial is over. It’s possible they’re still interested, but missed your previous reminder

Day 17: Winback

Subject Line: Want your free trial extended?

Sender Name: Shopify

Send Time: Day 17, 6:26 AM CST

Objective/Content: Get users back into a free trial

CTA: Extend trial


But wait, there’s more! Shopify is back on Day 17 with an offer to extend my free trial. I guess the plan there is to try one last time to get me hooked.

What to learn from it:

  • Go ahead and try a Hail Mary — what have you got to lose?

Series Review

When I think of Shopify, I now think of their fun little purple and yellow cartoons. More importantly, though, I think of all the value-add resources they sent throughout their series. Shopify celebrates the accomplishments and encourages the progress of trial users through beneficial information and guides.

Shopify sent 10 emails over the 14-day trial period, and I think it’s a great example of a SaaS onboarding series. What stood out most to you about the series?

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