Are retail communications out of sync with consumers?

Discussion
Source: Macy’s
Jan 18, 2023

A survey from Emarsys finds retailers failing to align with consumers when it comes to when, how and what they want to hear.

When it comes to frequency, the survey found 61 percent of retailers surveyed believe that their customers want to hear from them multiple times a week. Only 31 percent of consumers agree with that schedule, however, with the majority preferring contact once a week or less.

An analysis of 13,836 email subscribers of eight major apparel retailers by Return Path in 2015 found expected read rates decreased as send frequency increased. Customers could still be expected to read every fifth email (0.21) at a five times a week send frequency, and every seventh email (0.15) at a seven times a week send frequency. On the flip side, customer complaints increased rapidly when email frequency exceeded five messages per week.

Emarsys said in a press release that its research showed that, beyond frequency, retailers were equally concerned about “understanding exactly what customers want to hear from them, and where they want to hear about it.”

On the “where” question, Emarsys’ survey found that 45 percent of consumers would still like to hear about upcoming sales in-store, while a higher percentage, 51 percent, preferred to hear about upcoming sales via email and on social media (44 percent). For new product announcements, however, in-store (46.7 percent) topped the list of preferred channels, followed by social media (46.3 percent) and email (45 percent).

An Alliance Data study from 2019 found 69 percent of consumers want control of the frequency of communications from brands/retailers and 63 percent want to control the content. However, only 10 percent and 24 percent of brands/retailers, respectively, were delivering that need.

An eMarketer study from 2019 found marketers challenged in executing and analyzing cross-channel campaigns, particularly when it came to integrating data and actions across all the media, devices and buying platforms involved. The report stated, “It’s impossible to know how often audiences have been reached or to manage any particular frequency or cadence of messaging across platforms.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are retailers guilty of too frequent and often too irrelevant communications to consumers? What solutions do you see and what challenges does omnichannel messaging add?

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"It’s this simple. Abuse the customer’s email account or number (for texting), and you risk losing the customer. The customer has the power. They just turn you off."
"E-mails are a connection with customers that has both performance and branding aspects."

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24 Comments on "Are retail communications out of sync with consumers?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Some retailers are terribly guilty of this. And it isn’t just about frequency — a problem though that is. Much is about relevance. Retailers like Gap and J.Crew just fire off generic emails offering discounts with no thought or personalization. The number of times I’ve had emails from Gap leading with womenswear (which is completely irrelevant to me) is absurd. Too many irrelevant emails is boon to the unsubscribe button.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Wait, I don’t believe my eyes: People want relevant and personalized communications, and engagement declines as frequency goes up? Who knew? Thank goodness we have this new study to tell us that we have to engage with consumers on their terms about things they care about if we want to influence their purchasing decisions. Now that this study has finally exposed the truth, maybe businesses — in every industry — will learn from it and invest in better messaging. I’d write more about how to solve this vexing problem, but I don’t have time. I have too many unwanted and irrelevant emails that I have to delete from my inbox. I guess businesses will just have to figure out a way to collect data about their customers and use it to communicate better without more pontificating from me!

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

Yes, there is a disconnect. However, it’s not the communications it’s the platforms.

Generation XYZ is advertising-blind, getting more expensive, and generating ROI is even harder. Connecting with an ever-changing audience and fashion trends is a minute-to-minute job that is almost impossible to juggle.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Retailers seem to have taken the lessons they should have learned from retargeting and added them to emails. So, I now consistently get emails from Amazon exhorting me to buy something I just bought. That’s a head scratcher. The company didn’t used to do that.

I have most retailer communications going into a separate folder where they are never seen again. The problem is, these kinds of communications don’t cost the retailer much in real dollars. They do erode brand equity, however.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Amazon? That is interesting. We buy almost everything through Amazon. Every once in a while, we order up to three times per day. And we get no promotional emails from Amazon … order confirmations, or tracking … yes … promotions, no. Maybe they asked me, and I said that was all I wanted.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I didn’t change anything. But literally, the day after I buy something, I get an email asking if I want to buy it.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I get this from them all the time as well.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Guilty as charged. Retailers over-communicate and “under listen.” What’s missing? A two-way conversation where the consumer is asking the questions. “When an item like this is discounted by 20 percent or more, send me a text.” It really needs to be at level, and more pull than push.

Almost every retailer that emails me or texts me over-communicates. It is incredibly annoying, as my buying frequency isn’t daily. Weekly or monthly seems to me to be the best frequency. Amazon is multiple times a day, but the buy frequency is higher than say a specialty retailer. Less is more in this case.

In the olden days, a men’s clothing store manager, for example, would pick up the phone and call a customer when something came in they knew they’d like. So maybe what retailers need is a time machine to get that level of customer awareness and service back. Back to the Future!

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

Consumers will vote with their feet if retailers get the cadence of communications wrong, with so much “information” today people become tired of receiving too many emails especially if the content is not of value, it is a case of quantity and quality. It is easy to fall into a trap of believing that if a customer signs up for communication they want to hear from the retailer every day, if it gets too much they will simply bar that communication and then the retailer has not only lost the right to communicate but probably the customer as well.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Communications to consumers from many retailers are irrelevant (to me) and too frequent. Some retailers know how to pace the communication. With AI, and even pre-AI available history, it should be enough technology available to dens out only communication perceived to be relevant to a consumer. Of course, “relevant” is a large umbrella that includes “timing” since I purchased a similar item, “price” point at which I buy a category of product, “styles” of my liking, previous “categories” I purchased, etc. Preventing being “a pest” should not be difficult.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
Social media as a communication is completely up to the consumer, who chooses whether or not to click on a post/ad or ignore it. Email is more complicated. You have to wonder if retailers look at stats or just blindly throw email marketing at the wall? I have a separate email account to monitor retailer offerings — believe me when I tell you it’s out of hand. Most send email multiple times a week, many send email daily, and some, especially during the holidays, send email multiple times a day. I don’t care how much you love a store, that’s too much. The attempts at personalization vary and are generally more of a miss than a hit. “Hey there, BENDER!” Still, I believe email marketing is important. The messages themselves are beautiful, it’s the delivery that needs help. Surely there is someone looking at stats, and hopefully someone in marketing who is willing to listen to what the data says about open rates and click- thrus. When a good thing graces your email box too… Read more »
Mark Self
BrainTrust

“Once a week”? How about I get a new email address?

How about asking the consumer how often they want to hear from you? Or, have stronger personalization tools after someone proactively or inadvertently signs in for emails? More than “click here to unsubscribe”… and half the time you keep getting the emails.

So — Guilty on all counts. And-empower your customers regarding frequency.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

We (the BrainTrust) have been saying this for years — way too frequent communications from retailers. [Most] people have other things to do with their lives than shopping — retailers need to get that.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The line between “helpful” and “spam” is a thin one. And it’s different for each consumer. Nothing motivates me to hit “unsubscribe” like when I perceive a company is sending me too many communications. The best solution is to give the consumer the ability to control the level of communication they want and for the company to respect those choices.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There is a delicate balance between providing personalized and relevant communications against potential spam-like relentless emails certain retailers send. Consumers are more than happy to receive email communications that are timely and relevant, which hopefully inspires them to take action and shop online or in-store. However, the wrong targeted email strategies could lead to customers unsubscribing and, in the worst case scenario taking their business elsewhere.

The recent NRF had many similar narratives of the previous retail big shows, where data is king and customers want personalized experiences. Retailers must leverage all the tools, capabilities, and technologies to take the time to know their customers. In our attention-starved culture, retailers and brands only have seconds via social channels or email to attract consumers with personalized and — most importantly — relevant offers.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Judging by my own inbox, I’ll say the level of emails received from retailers is anywhere from high to ludicrous. Anywhere from once a day to 3-4 times a day. And don’t even get me started on the follow-up emails after I have looked at a specific item and not purchased it. More choices, more inventory and more emails to sell it all. And we wonder why we have a waste problem.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

How many of us have created “junk” email addresses for retail sign-ups? Retail email communications are a lesson in what not to do: too frequent, too long, not relevant, no value. And that’s followed up with the NPS request.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

An interesting point: In my department store days, I had a conversation with about 35 consumers on our ads and the power they created to make or motivate motivate the group to purchase. Most said they immediately lost interest in the message because the frequency of delivering the same (or nearly the same message) was beyond boring. Results? Frequency and appearance had to change. Lights out!

My takeaway was to lose the same-template layouts and gauge frequency. It worked for us. Our ads always looked like new news.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust
Retailers are absolutely out of sync with the majority of their customers — no matter how many messages they send (if they send the same basic messages to everyone). Customers have all types of preferences for brand engagement and companies need to ask the customer what is relevant and how often they would like updates. Retailers should also be measuring how various segments of their customers respond to different types of messaging/frequency — so they can compare actual behavior with what customers are saying, and then find the optimal cadence. Because I’m involved in innovation, I sign up for just about everything, but 99.9% of the time the companies never figure out that people I know call me Chuck (rather than Charles). And because I have lived outside the USA for most of the past 20 years, I do a lot of shopping during 2-3 trips back to the US, but zero in between, so weekly in-store offers are completely irrelevant. AI can help with this mis-match, but organizations need senior executive champions and executional… Read more »
Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It’s this simple. Abuse the customer’s email account or number (for texting), and you risk losing the customer. The customer has the power. They just turn you off.

Even if your messaging is in alignment with what a customer will accept, the message and content must be relevant. Otherwise, why would the customer want to engage?

Know your customer base. Know how often they want to hear from you. Know what they want to hear from you.

Scott Norris
Guest

I can sympathize, as a marketer. But I don’t even know how I would go about consistently communicating with myself! My Apple mail client filters out a lot of messaging even if I’ve signed up — and when I go to clean the filters, I end up saying, “yep, way too much — good job, computer!” I don’t watch terrestrial or cable news anymore; get most of it from aggregators, but I have tracking disabled in iOS. Read the print newspaper at work on break — can’t track me there and Sunday circulars are irrelevant.

We go to Target about twice a week regardless of the specials — but the best marketing they’ve done with us over the last three years was customized print coupons mailed to our home, based on our purchasing data. Those cut right through because they were fun, spot-on relevant, and unexpected — and we used about 80% of them.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

I have had clients have some success finding the balance by changing one minor bit of communication. Instead of the expected “Unsubscribe” default link at the bottom of emails, they use “Hear From Us Less,” which leads to a menu of the different types of communication tracks that users can opt in or out of. Usually FOMO kicks in and they stay connected at least to major sales events or sweepstakes (depending on the business).

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

E-mails are a connection with customers that has both performance and branding aspects. From a performance point of view, “excessive” e-mails might still be effective. However, from a brand point of view, retailers need to monitor if excessive e-mails are coming across as desperate. I must say that personally, Bed Bath & beyond e-mails are coming across that way to me.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Generally “yes” and “yes” (The comment “61 percent of retailers surveyed believe that their customers want to hear from them multiple times a week“(emphasis added) left me shaking my head: there’s no retailer in the world I would want to hear from that often).
Of course consumers need to do their part as well. If you subscribe to 25 different sites, you’re going to get a lot of mail, regardless), but until we see much more customization in e-mail options, as well as retailers adopting a more modest view of themselves, the solution will continue to be the nuclear option … unsubscribe.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Connecting with an ever-changing audience and fashion trends is a minute-to-minute job that is almost impossible to juggle."
"It’s this simple. Abuse the customer’s email account or number (for texting), and you risk losing the customer. The customer has the power. They just turn you off."
"E-mails are a connection with customers that has both performance and branding aspects."

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