2017 was a nail-biting year for many retailers. With traffic patterns on a downward slope, many brands doubled down and went back to the “come home to mama” channel they knew they could rely on to drive results fast and cheap…Email.
Email traffic for the top four retailers Amazon, Walmart, Costco & Home Depot alone saw a 41% increase in volume in Q4 2017 when compared to Q4 2016, according to Mintel data. Much of this growth looks to be driven by Amazon’s significant membership spike during this same period which is likely why, despite the massive uptick in volume, engagement remained relatively flat with only a slight 0.68% decrease in read rate. Paired with a 1.47% lift in email delivery, overall, a pretty good story.
Other retailers were not so lucky. The pressure to close out comps and traffic to a near acceptable level resulted in another kind of massive uptick in email sending that, after close examination, mimics the type of “yell and sell” pattern one might see on the EKG of a sick patient at the hands of marketers misusing a defibrillator. Email engagement fell in retail and considering that the category suffered a total traffic dip of -7% in 2017, desperation clearly got the better of many. Did retailers sell some stuff with all this sending? Yes. Did retailers win over hearts and minds with email? Probably not. Does it matter if sales were still up by +3.5%? Yes, and here’s why.
When brands put themselves before the consumer with brute force like they did in Q4 2017, a line gets drawn in the sand fairly quickly and if you are not already ahead of the curve, you are going to miss out. From a deliverability standpoint, ISP’s will penalize you and from a consumer standpoint, your relentless campaigns quickly become irrelevant and ultimately doomed to failure by neglect, unsubscribe or that ultimate mark of brand distrust…banished to the junk folder.
If you are reading this post and thinking….”It’s 2018, why are we talking about email?!” Please put those flashbacks of Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail” to the back of your conscience where they belong and listen closely: email has come a long way, everyone uses it and it’s not going anywhere. Programmatic, Chatbots and Voice Search may be dominating boardroom discussion right now but one thing is clear, email is still considered the most effective digital marketing channel, it’s still growing and it’s time to take the goldmine that is 1st party permission based data to the next level. Why? Because, at Z we take the long view and as retail experts we know that optimizing CLV (consumer lifetime value) is how you win. Batch and blast may feel like a win but ultimately, it’s how you lose.
In giving a retailer their email address, consumers demand something in return and it’s much more than a coupon. With Siri and Alexa at our beck and call, consumers demand very similar things in email as on other channels – predominately that brands know: who they are, what they want and when they want it. Capisce!? Simply put, more and more brands are now owning the entire customer journey on this channel and consumers are rewarding them for their relevancy, respect and intelligence in doing so. Sound like a lot of work to earn your brand the attention it deserves? It is, but one thing is clear…less is more when it comes to email. You will not have sustained success in the short or long term without doing a much better job when it comes to automated and segmented sends.
If you recognize your email program needs to evolve, here is what I recommend. First, take one full week off from sending; think of it as a detox for you and your subscribers. And instead work with your team through these simple steps that can make an impact right away and steer your efforts in the right direction.
1. Focus Your People-Hours on optimizing the small percentage of email that actually generates revenue vs. your list-wide deployments.
2. Think Mobile Forward. Make sure your email catches the thumb where 47% of opens happen…on mobile. Test your emails on iPhone and Android (via Native email and Gmail apps).
3. Automate One Piece at a Time. Focus on those most critical phases of your lifecycle and map out what the journey should look like for those audiences. Don’t set and forget your deployments, refine and optimize. Make sure your technology can support your objectives.
4. Keep Content Short and Sweet. If your content is more Blog vs. Pinterest post, reconsider your strategy. Email attention is short these days.
5. Add Real-Time AI to your most critical lifecycle stage to start (hint: think live maps, live polls, predictive purchase and weather forecasts).
6. Re-think your Email Calendar to follow more natural themes that fit into your consumer’s life vs. your promotional calendar.
Lets hope that 2018 will be a more successful year for email evolution – specifically the kind of high impact, low volume sending that brands like Starbucks and Wayfair have championed. We will be keeping a close eye on our inboxes and hope you will be too.