Is email still the place for conversions?

Photo: @rebekah via Twenty20
Jun 27, 2019

Email marketing may not get as much buzz today as other forms of online marketing, but Cindy White, senior e-commerce marketing manager at Plow & Hearth, explained at the Internet Retailer Conference and Expo (IRCE) at McCormick Center in Chicago that it still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. 

In a conversation with RetailWire, Ms. White detailed an important distinction between the uses of social and email marketing.

“I think that the goal is different,” Ms. White told RetailWire. “I think email is still the place to go for immediate sales — the ROI is so incredibly good with email. Social I think kind of became a place where you had to pay to play a little bit, but that is where your engagement is going to be. If you can build that engagement I think the sales will eventually come; I think it takes a little bit longer to nurture that channel than it does to email.” 

In her session, Ms. White detailed strategies to leverage email given what we know about the contemporary customer. 

Regarding the types of marketing emails likely to see engagement, Ms. White noted that transactional emails, such as registration emails and shipping confirmations, are opened at a rate eight-times greater than any other type. She recommended taking advantage of the open rate to add appropriate product recommendations and even push repurchases. She pointed to welcome messages at the beginning of a customer relationship being important, given that those customers who read welcome messages read more than 40 percent of their emails from that sender in the next 180 days. 

Ms. White also saw cart abandonment followup emails — smoothing over the reason for abandonment within an hour of the missed transaction — as a prime place to push conversions. 

She also recommended automating the process of segmenting contacts by frequency of purchase and then using different messaging geared towards each segment. 

As far as behaviors to avoid, she strongly warned against practices like purchasing email address lists in favor of collecting email addresses through various forms of on-site engagement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should companies shift focus away from other more “buzzy” forms of online marketing like social and work on getting email marketing right? Is email marketing more effective for particular types of customers or brands?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Email blasts can be too much of the same old, same old. How many ways can you say “Sale” when you say it 365 days a year?"
"Like all things in marketing, it’s important to know how your target engages with each medium."
"...perhaps going back to “basics” may not be a bad idea. What’s next? Catalogs?"

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11 Comments on "Is email still the place for conversions?"

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Ralph Jacobson

People still check email first … at least for now. Be sure to create compelling subject lines so they don’t get trashed.

Art Suriano
It’s really very simple. Email is a great advertising tool, but marketers too often miss the boat. Consumers today are bombarded everywhere with ads with TV, radio, billboards, and everywhere online from pop-ups to emails. Moreover, as a result, we are programmed to tune almost all of it out. So what makes one ad or one email different than another? The ability to get the customer’s attention with something that stands out. That can be a subject line in an email, a graphic, or some clever approach to get the person’s attention. However, what too many email ads suffer from are sameness and repetition. Many of the businesses think that their brand is all that matters so that an advertisement from Staples or Best Buy, for example, is all that matters, but in reality, the customer is quick to hit delete before even reading them unless they just happen to be in the market for something that company sells. We’ve lost the ability to be creative today as we have become too focused on analytics… Read more »
Neil Saunders

The success of email relies on having something interesting to say. Unless I need to purchase, I delete the emails of J.Crew or Gap as they are just more of the same discounts on generic products. However, I frequently open emails from Wegmans (which have receipts and meal ideas), Aesop (which has little stories and tales), and John Lewis (which have fashion and home design inspiration). Make it engaging and relevant and people will open email!

Georganne Bender

There’s no doubt that email marketing works, the key is getting email marketing right.

This is an area we consult on so I have a separate email account to review the retailer email blasts I receive every day. Adding my name to the top of the email is about as close to personalization as I have seen, and usually it says something like, “Hey, BENDER,” which is annoying. Some emails capture my interest enough to make me want to click open right away, but too many are poorly constructed and, well, boring.

Retailers who run ads, circulars and catalogs obviously take time to make those pieces compelling. Email blasts, on the other hand, maybe because of frequency, can be too much of the same old, same old. How many ways can you say “Sale” when you say it 365 days a year?

Brandon Rael

Personalization matters, and emailing will remain in the short term a very effective way to drive clienteling experiences, and help drive increased conversions. However, emails have to be done strategically, and delicately to drive interest, but not to the point of annoyance and driving folks to unsubscribe.

In our instant gratification world, China and other countries have demonstrated via WeChat, that consumers will not only engage, but will also ship via their messaging app. It’s a cultural shift, however messaging apps, along with the shop now capabilities offered by Instagram will not only increase in relevancy, but will become a more significant shopping channel in the years to come.

Alibaba has really driven innovation in the messaging commerce space, along with integrating payment options via WeChat. We should expect this evolution to spread to both the North American and European markets over the next few years.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
3 years 1 month ago

Email marketing isn’t going away anytime soon but in the end, you still have to be where your customers are. The real issue is getting customers’ attention when they are bombarded with all forms of media ads everywhere they go. It’s not about the medium, it’s about the message!

Joan Treistman

It makes sense to effectively use email marketing, because more people engage with emails than with social media. And social media users can have a more restricted tolerance for marketing than those seeing your email. They’ve chosen social media (often) for reasons other than being recipients of promotional communication. Like all things in marketing, it’s important to know how your target engages with each medium.

At the behest of clients, I’ve conducted surveys that leveraged their social media following only to discover the people on a particular site were not necessarily users of the category, much less the brand. So, I’m in favor of communicating with a broader base of potential consumers. Depending on the category it can simply be a numbers game.

Rich Kizer

Email does work, when done smartly. Two issues always come up in focus groups: frequency and having to scroll immediately to get what the email is all about. My takeaway is that you cannot be in their face every three days, unless you do something unbelievably great, and I don’t know what that would be. And just like in the newspaper advertising world (remember?), it’s all about the “top of the fold.” Put the gist of the offer above the fold so I don’t have to work and scroll to get to the great offer.

Craig Sundstrom

I think e-mail can be remarkably effective if, yes, there’s an if — a big one — it highlights something the (would be) customer truly wants. Not “you were looking at furniture, we have furniture on sale” but “you were interested in a 1905 Stickley sideboard with Art-Nouveau drawer pulls…” Suffice it to say, this requires a great deal of data collection, which the customer may not want to give out, and the specificity of the targeting limits how often it an be done.

Beyond that, one gets into rapidly diminishing returns as the number of e-mails grows. Of course it’s up to the customer to limit what they receive, and many sellers may find they’ve been blocked.

Shep Hyken

The old expression is, “Everything old is new again.” For the right market, email can work. And, since retailers are looking for alternatives to email (text, message, social, etc.), perhaps going back to “basics” may not be a bad idea. What’s next? Catalogs?!

Kenneth Leung

I think email has still got a place in marketing when used as an information delivery medium. Spam type email with loud hype headlines, not so much. Information based or transaction/status confirmation with cross-sell marketing messages I think still gets eyeballs.

"Email blasts can be too much of the same old, same old. How many ways can you say “Sale” when you say it 365 days a year?"
"Like all things in marketing, it’s important to know how your target engages with each medium."
"...perhaps going back to “basics” may not be a bad idea. What’s next? Catalogs?"

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