Retailers Have Email Personalization Work to Do - eMarketer

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Retailers Have Email Personalization Work to Do

Retailers underuse email personalization

September 25, 2014

Retailers know that personalization is crucial to customer acquisition and retention. For some, email campaigns are the most obvious and painless way to use customer data and keep the brand top of mind for shoppers. But a SimpleRelevance study, which examined 20 retailers’ email campaigns for personalization based on customer profile and interaction data in 418 emails over a six-week period, found that retailers in industries ranging from apparel to home appliances and electronics woefully underutilized personalization in their email marketing campaigns.

Frequency with Which US Online Retailers Send Email Marketing Campaigns, July 2014 (% of respondents)

A Retention Science study indicated that over half of online retailers in the US send email marketing campaigns either weekly or multiple times each week. Over 10% surveyed said they sent email marketing campaigns daily.

With that in mind, SimpleRelevance found that retailers were not taking full advantage of the range of opportunities available once in a customer’s inbox. Of the 20 companies studied—18 of which had brick-and-mortar stores in addition to well-developed ecommerce sites—only 9% offered personalized product recommendations, with 25% offering no product recommendations at all. Walgreens, Sears and CVS actually failed to send a single promotional email after a purchase was made and had to be eliminated from the data set entirely.

Ways in Which US Online Retailers Personalize Email Marketing Campaigns, July 2014 (% of respondents)

Yet Retention Science’s survey claimed that US retailers with online presences were hard at work personalizing their campaigns. Six in 10 retailers surveyed said they rely on personalizing the customer’s name and/or a unique subject line to drive the opens; 40% included product recommendations in their dispatches. Nearly 30% of retailers reported taking advantage of personalized offers and shopping cart reminders.

For any and all retailers, the Simple Relevance study recommended best practices:

  • Pay attention to optimal send times. To guarantee email opens, the study suggested dispatching between 9 and 10am, also known as “Magic Hour.” “Magic Hour” refers to a single hour of the day when recipients click through on emails. While Dell, Target and Men’s Wearhouse adhered to that time window, over half of the companies evaluated failed to send emails during that timeframe, sending emails instead in the afternoon or early evening when recipients are much less likely to open the emails at all. None of the companies optimized send time frequency based on user interaction, either, which sometimes resulted in a slew of unsubscribes.
  • Tailor subject lines. Email subject lines that make use of the recipient’s name, deals catered to the recipient or a unique topic of internet resulted in a 12% increase in email open rates. Still, the study showed that 96% of the emails studied from the subject retailers did not include recipient names in their subject lines. Online-first retailer,, one of the two pure plays included in the study along with Netflix and a brand renowned for its approach to personalization, made use of the recipient’s name in the subject line in 70% of its emails, more than any other surveyed.
  • Keep email subject lines short. They should be clear, attention-grabbing and customized. Over a quarter of emails studied had subject lines of more than 50 characters, many of which were cut off in recipients’ inboxes because they were too long.

The gap between what customers expect of emails that land in their inbox—personalized morsels delivering exactly what they want at exactly the right moment—and what retailers deliver is still enormous. While generic messages sent en masse to customers is easier on the marketer drafting those emails, smarter, tailored messages are worth the investment and may be the difference between a one-time customer and a lifer.

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