How email can help retailers navigate challenges caused by the rising cost of living

Email can help retailers - cost of living

This article explores the ways that email can help retailers navigate the challenges caused by the rising cost of living.

Britons are experiencing the worst cost of living crisis for 40 years. Inflation is soaring, reaching its highest level for three decades, interest rates have gone up three times in two months, and there are supply chain issues facing most industries, all of which have intensified with recent global events. 

According to the most recent ONS Opinions and Lifestyle survey, almost 90% of British households reported an increase in their cost of living in April as they were hit by escalating fuel, food and borrowing costs. 

ONS data also shows that, over the three months to April, retail sales fell by 0.3% on the previous quarter – a trend that has been on a downward trajectory since last summer. So, as consumers continue to tighten their purse strings, retailers face yet another challenge and are having to be even more mindful with their marketing while trying to maintain sales. 

Email remains king

Marketing is key for enticing customers and keeping them engaged with your brand until they are ready to purchase. And while omnichannel marketing – which involves integrating various channels to create a consistent brand experience – continues to rise in popularity, email remains the king of business-to-consumer communications. It is a truly powerful tool that is pivotal to customer experience and loyalty, and not without a good reason:

  • It follows your customers everywhere: on laptops, smartphones, tablets, watches, etc.
  • It’s friendly and easy to use for consumers, and cost effective for businesses.
  • It’s a rich medium that supports a wide range of content types, design assets, and engagement tools.
  • It can be personalised – more so than other marketing activities – to the individual, so a truly individual experience can be had.
  • It’s the most widely used channel of communication, with over 15 trillion emails sent every year.

Email enables retailers to be agile 

Throughout the pandemic, email was a key method of communication for businesses across every sector – but especially so in retail. It played a crucial role in communicating key information to customers such as revised opening times, new deals, order tracking, and more, when things were changing on a week-by-week basis.

As one of the most cost-effective channels, email provides the perfect opportunity for marketers to improve their communications with customers and clients. Granted, there may be a big draw towards new channels, particularly for younger consumers, but brands need to balance the draw of these new channels against delivering success. Email therefore remains central for retail marketers, as a consistent communications channel that also provides sustained ROI. Ultimately, customers want a more holistic experience and email plays a vital role in tying that experience together.

The challenge, however, is ensuring the business is able to operate out of its siloes so it can deliver such holistic experiences. This takes effort, but it’s where marketing expertise from outside the company could help; in order to make your email the best it can be, why not take the pressure off your marketing team by outsourcing certain services such as SEO and PPC? Marketing leaders need to identify where efficiencies can be made so that they can deliver more for their consumers across the operation.

Privacy changes: an opportunity, not a concern

It’s not just the cost of living crisis that’s impacting retailers, as privacy-related issues are an added worry; with the jump to a cookieless digital landscape scheduled for 2023, pressure to shore up marketing processes and data strategies is what’s keeping leaders up at night according to SparkPost’s latest industry benchmark report.

These changes highlight the importance of zero-party and first-party data to retailers, which is why they should renew their marketing focus on email and other channels that are powered by zero and first-party data. Retailers need to know their audiences as well as possible and during times of crisis it’s more important than ever for them to understand and use customer data. Investing in developing meaningful interactions and proving they are loyal to the customer will help retailers maintain a good level of engagement.

Data forms the basis of a successful email campaign

Assisted by martech and the rise of analytics, marketers can design and deliver programmes that bring the highest return and enrich the day-to-day interactions consumers have with the business. For customer communications, email has always been an indispensable tool. Retailers can capitalise on email to optimise the brand experience for the connected consumer. There are several martech providers out there who offer a plethora of solutions and analytics tools (like our SparkPost solutions), so retailers can improve their campaigns and make them more relevant to the ever-connected, ever-demanding customers.

Email’s role in times of crisis

Five months ago, when data from SparkPost’s latest annual benchmark report was released, businesses said they were feeling positive about the future despite challenges thrown their way. However, the outlook then was very different to what it is now and consumers are known for making emotional connections with brands – even more so in a time of crisis. As Britain heads towards another recession, email remains a pivotal tool for optimising the level of personalisation and engagement with the connected consumer by harvesting operational, contextual and behavioural data. The more loyal brands remain to the connected consumer, the more customers will reciprocate.

By Sam Holding, Head of International, SparkPost