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Holidays Are Past, but Retailers Keep Flooding Inboxes

Mail volumes rise but KPIs don't

The holiday season is over, but retailers from Amazon to Toys "R" Us don't seem to be letting up on emails they send to consumers to entice them to shop or visit stores.

Leading Email Marketing Tactics Used by Retail Marketing Executives Worldwide*, Oct 2016 (% of respondents)

Between December 26 and Jan. 2, Amazon, for instance, sent out 519 million emails, 15% more than the same period last year, according to a study of eight major retailers by eDataSource, which has a panel that tracks 2 million global consumers' email inboxes. Toys "R" Us mailed out 141 million, 70% more than last year; Macy's sent out 162 million, 36% more; and Dick's Sporting Goods's 127 million sent was almost five times the year-earlier level.

Other retailers including Best Buy Co. and Target also have dispatched more emails. Wal-Mart's and Kohl's total emails sent decreased even though both retailers increased the number of their email campaigns, the study showed.

The only big issue is most of these emails looked to be unread. With the exception of Amazon, which saw the highest percentage, or 33%, of its emails read, the other seven retailers had less luck: only between 12% and 17% of their emails in the week after Christmas were read, according to eDataSource.

Other surveys highlight similar challenges for retailers.

According to a survey of 100 retail marketing executives by marketing technology company Magnetic and Retail TouchPoints, retailers admitted they have mostly fallen short of their own email marketing objectives, from increasing open rates to getting consumers to spend more.

True, inboxes are flooded these days and emails are competing with social media and messaging apps for consumer attention. But retailers themselves are partly to blame. Less than half of retail executives in the Magnetic survey said they experiment with personalized email subject lines, send triggered emails based on specific consumer behavior or capitalize on how often and when they send emails.

The result: only 35% of consumer survey respondents said they open at most three marketing emails a week. Another 37% don't open any at all.

"Personalization and the use of it in email has been around for years," said Jason Shriver, senior vice president of client success at Magnetic, which counts retailers including Container Store and Dollar Tree among clients. "But retailers still continue to struggle with it. The main thing is about data collection and putting it to use. The more you can deliver personalized trigger messages, the more you can see higher open and conversion rates. It's not about sending more messages to consumers, but smarter messages."

Even without availing themselves of all the email marketing tactics available to them, many marketers still think it's a better bet than other channels. Some 650 marketing executives surveyed by the New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA) and BrandSpark in conjunction with software provider Dapresy, rated email higher on an ROI basis than social media, digital video, and a variety of other digital channels and tactics.

—Andria Cheng

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