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Email & SMS Marketing

Klaviyo or Mailchimp: Which One’s Right for Your Marketing Tech Stack?

April 29, 2021
Kelsey Donk

We asked email marketing experts Chase Dimond and Ellie Stamouli to talk us through the pros, cons and ideal use cases for these two leading email softwares.

Table of Contents

The brands that email me might know me better than I know myself. They know what I’ve put in my cart and abandoned, what I almost added to my cart before deciding to follow my budget, and when it’s time to email me a coupon code. 

It wasn’t always this way. 

“When email marketing started, everyone was sending one message to everyone on the list,” email marketer Ellie Stamouli told MarketerHire. 

Email marketing has grown up. It’s a $2.7 billion per year industry, and ROI hovers around $42 for every dollar spent on it, according to a Litmus report

That impressive ROI is partially due to segmentation. Sending different emails to different subscriber segments — whether they’re California residents or especially frequent email openers — can 3X revenues and halve unsubscribe rates, according to a Klaviyo report

“Not all people have the same behavior or the same likes,” Stamouli said. “We can’t afford to be sending the same email to everyone anymore.” 

“We can’t afford to be sending the same email to everyone anymore.” 

Segmenting and automating brand emails takes tools, though. Especially in the e-commerce sector, companies aren’t just composing emails to customers in Gmail. Most of them use email marketing software like Mailchimp or Klaviyo. 

But these two tools have different features, price points and ideal use cases. So, which one is right for you?

The right tool for your business could depend on how often you send emails, how much data reporting you need, whether you want to run complicated A/B tests, and how comfortable you are with designing email campaigns. 

We asked two email marketers with experience using both platforms — Stamouli and Chase Dimond, a partner in email marketing agency Boundless Labs who has sent “over a billion emails” — how Klaviyo and Mailchimp stack up against each other. 

Why Klaviyo vs. Mailchimp?

Klaviyo and Mailchimp are two of the leading email marketing platforms. Both companies have valuations just over $4 billion — major, especially compared to competitor Omnisend’s $500 million valuation.

They’re far from identical twins, though. 

Mailchimp is the incumbent. 

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Mailchimp. Founded in 2001, more than a decade before Klaviyo, it’s simply had more time to build brand awareness. 

(Mailchimp ran that famous ad on the true-crime Serial podcast, remember?) 

Mailchimp has also had time to build a client base, andenjoys a classic incumbent perk: roughly 60% market share

Klaviyo is the upstart. 

Founded in 2012, Klaviyo is growing fast and becoming a favorite for email marketers. Stamouli said that two years ago, she’d never heard of Klaviyo; now she’s on the platform all day, every day.

On Google Trends, it's easy to see the momentum that’s built around Klaviyo recently.

Source: Google Trends

Both check the essential boxes...

According to Dimond, all email marketing tools should do five things  — and both Mailchimp and Klaviyo allow users to do them all:

  1. Send campaigns. You can send emails to your contacts with both email marketing tools. Obviously.
  2. Automate emails. Both platforms let marketers send emails automatically, triggered by different customer behaviors on a website or in an e-commerce store.
  3. Create signup forms. Klaviyo and Mailchimp both let customers sign up for brand emails via a website, social media or pop-ups.
  4. Leverage segmentation. Both platforms let marketers separate their lists into segments: people who’ve bought before, for instance, or people in a specific country.
  5. Run an A/B test. Email marketers can use either tool to test two versions of an email, and see which one performs best. 

Both platforms are building out functionality around a soon-to-be essential, too: SMS marketing.  

Email and SMS marketing increasingly go hand-in-hand — and to say abreast of the trend,. Klaviyo has launched an SMS marketing tool users can try for free in early 2020. Not to be outdone, Mailchimp acquired Chatitive, an SMS marketing platform, earlier this year.

...but take different approaches.

Mailchimp and Klaviyo still have unique strengths and weaknesses, though. The differences are subtle, though — more about how detailed the data is, or how easy : How easy is it to create email templates? How detailed is the data? What data does the tool collect automatically? And how much does it cost? 

Stamouli and Dimond walked us through the softwares’ strengths and weaknesses.

Pricing: Multivariate Calculus vs. Simplicity

Budget is a common sticking point when it comes to choosing a new marketing tool, and for Klaviyo and Mailchimp, it’s their first big philosophical difference. 

Mailchimp is highly customizable by feature.

Mailchimp’s pricing depends on four variables: number of contacts, number of monthly sends, number of seats and number of features. 

Brands pay based on how many subscribers they have (contacts), how many emails they want to send per month (sends), how many unique logins they want on their plan (seats), and what kind of features they want to use. 

The more premium the plan, the more of everything users get.

  • Price per month: from free to $1,000+
  • Pricing structure: Mailchimp offers four plans (including a free one) with features ranging from simple to Cadillac-level; the price of each plan varies based on contacts, sends and seats. 
  • What you can get for free: Mailchimp's free version includes basic functionality — think simple automations, a few templates, landing pages and signup forms  — and unlimited sends to up to 2,000 contacts.
  • Cheapest for: brands with small email lists that only need to use the most basic features. 
  • Most expensive for: companies with quickly-expanding email lists, or for small businesses that plan to use a lot of features to grow. 

Overall, Mailchimp’s pricing is pretty convoluted. It might be hard for someone just getting started with email marketing to pick the plan that will work best for them. 

Customizing plans can also be confusing. Mailchimp’s help pages state that users can also supplement their monthly plans with additional features, and Mailchimp confirmed to MarketerHire that clients can  purchase features a la carte, including transactional emails ($10-$60 per month) and ad retargeting ($7 per week)

However, chat support doesn't make it easy to figure out which features can be purchased individually, or how much they cost.

Source: Mailchimp (screenshot)

On the bright side, Mailchimp offers a flexible Pay As You Go Plan that lets users buy email credits as they need them. The features included in the Pay As You Go Plan correspond to the Essentials monthly plan. 

Klaviyo prices as you grow.  

Klaviyo’s pricing is much simpler. There aren’t any gymnastics to do about features. All features — from segmentation to responsive email templates, A/B testing to abandoned cart automations — are included from the jump. 

Also included from the jump: a price tag.

  • Price per month: Paid plans start at $20 per month for up to 500 contacts and unlimited emails. 
  • Pricing structure: purely based on how many subscribers you have. All features are included at every level. 
  • What you can get for free: a free trial, more or less. You can sign up, add 250 contacts, send 500 emails, and give many of Klaviyo’s features a go. Once you’ve exceeded 250 contacts or 500 emails, though, you’ll be prompted to upgrade to a paid account.
  • Cheapest for: big, medium, and even small companies that plan to use email marketing regularly.
  • Most expensive for: folks who are just starting out and don’t want fancy features. While you can have 2,000 subscribers on Mailchimp for free, a 2,000 subscriber list on Klaviyo costs $60 per month. 

Klaviyo’s pricing model is easier to present to business owners or other stakeholders, Stamouli said.

“It means you don’t have to prepay for 2,000 contacts when you only have 500,” she explained. “And that’s a lot more approachable.”

However, companies that are just starting to explore email marketing might not want to pay for all the features Klaviyo includes from the start. 

What’s the difference?

  • Mailchimp is cheaper to start. If you’re a small company that just wants to see if email works for you without any upfront investment, Mailchimp’s free plan could be a good fit. 
  • Klaviyo’s pricing structure is simpler. That’s great for brands with big contact lists and big ambitions. “Klaviyo is [great] for people who don’t care about paying a little bit more or who want to scale,” Dimond said.
  • Mailchimp makes you pay extra for top-shelf features — but Klaviyo doesn’t. Klaviyo makes it easy to test out new marketing tactics without allocating budget to them first.

Email Editor: A Layperson’s Dream vs. a Pro’s

Mailchimp and Klaviyo both have email editors with suggested templates for getting started, so you don’t have to work up an email from scratch. 

“Inherently, they do the same thing,” said Dimond. “Sending a campaign is going to be the same on Mailchimp [and Klaviyo].” 

But which interface is more user-friendly? While Mailchimp’s templates are built for you to write and design as you go, Klaviyo’s editor is made for the email marketer with a plan and a checklist in hand. 

Mailchimp’s editor is made for the layperson.

Mailchimp’s user interface is designed to guide people through the process of writing an email, and that’s probably very comforting if you’re new to email marketing. The editor is great for business owners who want to manage emails without hiring someone to do it for them. 

Mailchimp’s classic Campaign Builder prompts users to select a template to get started. The templates come in several themes and vary according to your purpose.

Source: Mailchimp

The templates are rigid, though — which can frustrate experienced email marketers. 

Stamouli, who’s been an email marketer for over a decade, says the editor is her least favorite part of Mailchimp’s platform. 

“It has a lot of limitations,” Stamouli said. “There’s a lot of things...that are hard to edit.” 

"A lot of things... are hard to edit."

To address that user feedback, Mailchimp released a new email builder (currently only available in beta) that’s sleeker, simpler, and more flexible, with minimal templates that come in different styles and colors. 

The new builder is a block-based, drag-and-drop editor, where users can add headings, paragraphs, images, logos, and buttons as needed.

Source: Mailchimp (screenshot)

The user interface looks “cleaner and more intuitive,” Stamouli said. It makes it easier to tweak fonts and background colors, adding a branded element to emails. 

Klaviyo’s editor is built for professional marketers. 

Though it has pre-built templates, too, Klaviyo’s email builder is made primarily for people who know what they want to achieve with an email. 

When it comes to styles, Klaviyo is highly customizable — which is great for brands that have set colors and fonts to use in emails. If you know your brand’s hex codes and fonts, you can pop those into a template very easily. Experienced email marketers will likely find Klaviyo’s editor to be intuitive and easy-to-customize. 

Like Mailchimp’s latest editor, Klaviyo’s editor is block-based, and allows users to drag and drop content.  

Source: Klaviyo (screenshot)

It’s not perfect, though. More choices means a steeper learning curve — it takes some time to really dive into Klaviyo’s editing features to make sure you’re making the most of them.

Dimond teaches a course on email marketing with Klaviyo, and he said he often meets students who have been using the platform for a few years already. 

“You wouldn't expect someone that does this day in and day out for that long to actually be learning things,” Dimond said, “[but] for people that want to get the most out of Klaviyo, it’s there for the taking.” 

What’s the difference?

  • Mailchimp’s detailed templates are a good first-timer’s guide. With Mailchimp, formatting an email marketing campaign is like tracing a master’s sketch. It’s perfect for marketers who don’t need to be too precise about branded fonts or colors. 
  • Klaviyo takes off the training wheels. Klaviyo’s builder offers more flexibility, but less direction. It might be hard for new email marketers to design aesthetically pleasing emails with Klaviyo’s builder. 

E-Commerce Integration: The Great Shopify Debate

Seamless e-commerce integration is vital to modern email marketing. It’s the key to back-in-stock updates, abandoned cart sequences and all kinds of advanced customer segmentation. 

Klaviyo and Mailchimp have two separate approaches to connecting with e-commerce clients. Mailchimp is built for people who are just starting to think about an e-commerce business; Klaviyo is built for clients with established online stores. 

Mailchimp wants to help you build a store. 

Mailchimp aims to be a one-stop shop for online business. 

In Mailchimp’s ideal world, founders open a Mailchimp account at the very start of business development. They set up their website with Mailchimp, start selling products on Mailchimp, and connect with customers via email through… Mailchimp. 

The most seamless way to do e-commerce on Mailchimp is by setting up a domain hosted by Mailchimp, using its drag-and-drop site builder that integrates with Stripe.

Integrates with: Stripe, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Magento, Wordpress and more

Doesn’t integrate with: Shopify (as of May 12, 2019). Clients that used Mailchimp with Shopify before their partnership ended can still use the integration, but newer Mailchimp users have to connect with Shopify through an app called ShopSync

Coming soon: even more e-commerce functionality. On May 18, Mailchimp will launch a suite of "Websites & Commerce" plans (currently in beta), which small business owners can use to build e-commerce shops with unlimited pages and appointment booking functionality. On the back-end, business owners can manage orders, taxes and shipping logistics — all within Mailchimp.

Klaviyo integrates with the e-commerce site you already have. 

For businesses with existing e-commerce operations, Klaviyo is ready to connect email marketing to an online store — especially one hosted on Shopify. 

“It takes one minute to connect,” Stamouli said of Klaviyo's Shopify integration.

Then email marketers have easy access to “all the different events [and] all the different actions someone has taken on the website.”

That data becomes useful for creating email marketing automations, segmenting your list, and targeting people with relevant messages. 

Klaviyo and its fans love to point out that businesses earn $85 on their Shopify stores for every $1 they spend on email marketing with Klaviyo.

Integrates with: Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Salesforce, Zapier and more.

Doesn’t integrate with: more than one account per external platform. 

What’s the difference? 

  • Both Mailchimp and Klaviyo connect with most e-commerce sites. If you already have an e-commerce setup through WooCommerce, Wix or BigCommerce, both Mailchimp and Klaviyo will connect to your store.
  • Shopify users: go with Klaviyo. You could, in a pinch, connect your Mailchimp account to Shopify through ShopSync, but using a third-party integration to get to another third party isn’t ideal. If the connection fails for any reason, product recommendations won’t work in your scheduled emails, and that’s a huge headache. 

Automations: Pre-Built Plenty vs. Customization Station

Both Klaviyo and Mailchimp offer email marketing automation tools. The difference, as Dimond puts it, is how many layers of automations you can use. Mailchimp offers email marketers a series of pre-built automations; Klaviyo, on the other hand, lets users customize their automations and make complex webs of cascading, automated sends. 

You know that old Tootsie Pop ad with the owl? With Mailchimp, you can give the lollipop of email automation a couple licks — and get a taste of how automations can simplify and “sweeten” your processes.

“With Klaviyo, you’ll actually be able to figure out how many licks to get to the core,” Dimond said. 

The core, in this case: the optimal automation structure for your business.

Mailchimp has pre-built automation types and a simple workflow.

Depending on the pricing plan, Mailchimp offers nine possible pre-built automation journeys. Those automations include:

  • A welcome email series, for greeting new subscribers
  • An abandoned cart automation, for following up with shoppers who almost bought
  • Product recommendations
  • Order notifications
  • Retargeting, for customers who haven’t returned to the site after viewing items

Mailchimp will guide you through automation setup and help new email marketers figure out where to start. 

But if you’re looking for multi-step automations, or if you want to target different audiences with different automations — that’s possible, too, but costly, and can require 

Klaviyo includes pre-built automations or custom automation paths. 

Klaviyo has fewer pre-built automations than Mailchimp — just four, to Mailchimp’s nine. 

Automated flows include: 

  • Welcome series
  • Browse abandonment reminders
  • Abandoned cart emails
  • Retargeting 

But Klaviyo’s more advanced automation options are where the platform really shines. One of Dimond’s favorite features to use with Klaviyo lets users A/B test their automations.

Maybe you want to see whether customers spend more when they get a $10 off coupon or a 10% off coupon after abandoning their shopping carts. You can set up automated A/B tests to get a sense of the content, subject lines, offers or email timing that works best.

Source: Klaviyo

When users create automations like this in Klaviyo, each customer journey includes real-time data on open rate, click rate, and orders placed — so you can make data-driven updates anytime. 

Klaviyo’s highly-customizable flows can be confusing for new email marketers, and it does take some time to set them up. 

But all the A/B tests and automations—and the mountains of data that result—are key to how Dimond’s team works with clients. 

“We, as marketers, we have to lead with our gut, right?” said Dimond. “We have to make educated guesses on what we think is going to work, and data, basically, is the gut check.”

"We have to make educated guesses on what we think is going to work, and data, basically, is the gut check."

What’s the difference?  

  • Both Klaviyo and Mailchimp do the basics. Both platforms offer the automations Dimond and Stamouli say are central to successful email marketing. 
  • Mailchimp has more pre-built email automations. It has nine, whereas Klaviyo only has four.
  • Klaviyo offers more customization options and automation analytics. Its mix of flexibility and real-time performance data helps users refine automations over time.

Predictive Analytics: Categories vs. Spectrums

Segmentation is key to email marketing. 

If you have an apparel company, for instance, you might want to divide your customers by gender and promote different clothing to women and men.

But you probably don’t want to ask customers to write in their genders in your email form. That adds needless friction to the sign-up process.

To help, Klaviyo and Mailchimp offer predictive analytics that can automate this type of segmentation. 

Both Mailchimp and Klaviyo’s predictive analytics tools focus on customer lifetime value (CLV), using purchase patterns and past behavior on an e-commerce website to divide customers into high, moderate or low CLV groups.

Mailchimp predicts future purchases and calculates lifetime value.

In addition to CLV prediction, Mailchimp offers a likelihood to purchase feature, where users can view segments of customers who are most and least likely to make future purchases.

Mailchimp also has a lookalike audience finder that lets you leverage CRM data and Mailchimp audience data to reach out to the people who most resemble your existing customer base.

A Standard plan is required to use Mailchimp’s predictive analytics features. 

Klaviyo calculates lifetime value and predicts gender.

Klaviyo’s predictive analytics tool is more nuanced and easier to customize than Mailchimp’s.

Instead of viewing three CLV levels — high, medium and low value — Klaviyo users see a spectrum of historic and predicted CLV. 

Klaviyo’s tool also highlights any returned orders and churn risk. Marketers can see how much time passes between a customer’s orders, and the date when their next order can be expected.

Source: Klaviyo

Klaviyo’s predictive model updates itself at least once a week, so you can segment customers by CLV using almost-real-time data. 

It also includes a gender prediction feature, which uses a customer’s first name and past census data to help businesses segment their lists by gender and remarket accordingly. 

What’s the difference?

  • Mailchimp’s predictive analytics are simple and easy to use. The interface sorts customers into three categories based on customer lifetime value (CLV).  
  • Klaviyo’s are more sophisticated — and intimidating. Klaviyo analytics rely more on spectrums than categories, and encompass metrics beyond CLV, like churn risk. 
  • Klaviyo will predict a customer’s gender. Mailchimp, not so much.

Testing: Similar Functionality, Different Pricing

Marketers are smart, but they aren’t mind readers, and it can be hard to know what kind of email will perform best. 

Should a newsletter appear to come directly from a founder’s email address or from the general marketing email? Should the background be gray or blue? Should the subject line include an emoji?

Both Mailchimp and Klaviyo offer testing to take the guesswork out of email creation.

Mailchimp offers manual and automatic A/B tests.

A/B tests are available starting with Mailchimp’s Essentials plan. It’s possible to test subject lines, sender names, content and send time. 

It’s also possible to select the percentage of an email list that will receive the test.

Source: Mailchimp

Mailchimp’s A/B testing feature includes three variations with every email, so you could try three different subject lines or send times on each send. 

Define success based on open rate, clicks or revenue, and Mailchimp can automatically send the winning version to the remaining contacts on your list. It’s also possible to manually choose the winning email version. 

Mailchimp also offers multivariate testing. Let’s say you want to try three different “from” names as well as emoji in the subject line — the multivariate campaign tool, available on Pro or Premium plans, will let you A/B test up to eight total versions. 

Klaviyo includes automated A/B testing and up to seven variations. 

Klaviyo’s A/B testing feature works in much the same way as Mailchimp’s. So all the above features including manual or automatic winner selection, are included. 

Klaviyo’s tool just offers more flexibility when it comes to variations and cadence.

Where Mailchimp users can test three variations of each email on a standard plan, Klaviyo allows for seven variations, no matter your paid plan. 

Klaviyo’s tool also makes it possible to select a control group from your email list and test sending cadence. If you’re wondering whether people prefer marketing emails once a week instead of three times per week, for example, you can create a test group to vary the email frequency. 

Klaviyo’s A/B testing functionality extends to its automation workflow, too. Scroll up to the “Automations” section to read more on that.

What’s the difference? 

  • Both Klaviyo and Mailchimp do the basics. Testing between 2-3 subject lines, sender names, or send times is easy on both platforms. 
  • Klaviyo includes more options. If you want to test seven unique versions of an email, you can do that without paying a premium on Klaviyo’s platform. (On Mailchimp, doing the same requires a Pro or Premium plan.) 

Which Tool Is Right for Your Business?

Our email marketing experts came to a pretty clear conclusion about who should sign up for Klaviyo and who should use Mailchimp. 

Klaviyo is perfect for e-commerce. 

E-commerce retailers need look no further than Klaviyo for email marketing. 

“If it’s a business that has products [available online], and they want to be a bit more reactive to what people do on their website, and they want to be able to respond with automated campaigns” — they should use Klaviyo, Stamouli said. 

Klaviyo’s perks include: 

  • Simple pricing: Klaviyo makes all of its features available for the jump, and it’s not hard to calculate how much it’ll cost as your business grows. 
  • Customizable design: E-commerce shops often need “a lot of control over the look and feel of their email,” Stamouli said. Klaviyo’s editor works well for that. 
  • E-commerce integrations galore: Unlike Mailchimp, Klaviyo integrates seamlessly with Shopify, which is a big draw for e-commerce companies already on the platform. It also integrates with all other major e-commerce platforms. 
  • Better data and automations: Klaviyo makes it easy to track data, conduct A/B tests, and automate using predictive analytics. 

There’s a reason both Stamouli and Dimond don’t use Mailchimp much anymore. Both marketers spend most of their time with larger, e-commerce focused companies, and Klaviyo works best for their purposes. 

Mailchimp is great for local businesses.

Mailchimp lost this email software battle — but even if it’s not ideal for e-commerce email marketers, it’s great for several other clienteles.

The ideal Mailchimp clients are:

  • Local, brick-and-mortar businesses: These companies will likely prefer Mailchimp,  especially if they have small email lists. They don’t need to segment by location the same way a national DTC brand would. 
  • DIY email marketers: Klaviyo might actually slow things down for small mom-and-pop shops. It has so many options and features that it can be hard for a newbie to get started.
  • Companies leaning into newsletters: Mailchimp is great for writing longform emails where the text is more important than images or product recommendations. To Stamouli, the ideal customer for Mailchimp is “a company that is trying to create community.”

“Within Klaviyo… there’s almost too many bells and whistles” for clients with simple needs, Diamond said. “People probably get analysis paralysis.” 

Both tools: as good as the marketers who use them.

“If the operator is good, Klaviyo just gives you a lot more capabilities and functionality,” said Dimond — a Klaviyo fan through and through. 

Don’t ignore that “if,” though. 

“These are all tools,” Diamond said. “Whether [the marketer using them is] in-house, whether it’s someone on MarketerHire, whether it’s an agency like mine — at the end of the day, a tool is only as good as the person operating it.”

"A tools is only as good as the person operating it."
Kelsey Donk
about the author

Kelsey Donk is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. She particularly enjoys writing blog posts and website copy for small businesses in niche industries. Learn more about Kelsey's work at www.kelseydonk.com.

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