Perfecting your retail email marketing strategy

Email marketing is known to be a well-established channel which gives retail businesses direct contact with their customer base, and it is often cited as one of the most effective ways to nurture potential customers into loyal brand advocates.  

So it’s easy to understand why email can play a fundamental role in the digital marketing mix. It offers retailers a relatively low-cost way of reaching an audience without the need to invest in costly technology or software; each correspondence can be personalised to the individual customer, which is key when attempting to gain cut through in this digitally, always-on world; and the insights gained from shoppers can help personalise the offering, enabling tailored communications to be sent,– all of which works to enhance the overall user experience.

However, with 281 billion emails sent per day in 2018, and with the incessant rise of unsolicited emails and scams, where do you even start when it comes to creating and perfecting your email marketing strategy?

1.     Gathering data

It can be difficult and sometimes awkward trying to get hold of your customers’ email addresses instore, but data is crucial for building up customer loyalty and engagement. Why not ask each customer for their email address to send the receipt to? You could also create loyalty schemes, newsletters or competitions which require an email address to join or sign up to.

2.     Email platforms for retailers

There are several email platforms available, such as Mailchimp, MailUp and SendinBlue. These tools offer easy and user-friendly ways to design and send emails to existing and prospective customers. Whilst they all differ slightly in terms of functionality, they all offer a GDPR-compliant way of contacting your database. Start by looking at the different features each platform can offer you and compare. Take a look at the pricing structure too; as you would expect, some will charge more than others.

2.     Get noticed  

There are several factors which will affect whether an email is opened; many of them are beyond the reach or influence of brands or businesses.

For example, a big influencer is the device that your recipients are using to open their emails. Emails that don’t resize appropriately for the screen are a cause of frustration and can lead to emails being deleted straight off the bat.  

Uninteresting or lengthy subject lines can also be off-putting and can be cut short on smaller screens.

Finally, don’t forget that the person you’re emailing may be suffering from a serious case of inbox overload and may not even see your email.

There are some ways to get around this barrier. Appealing subject lines can help to pique interest, for example, and the more concise and attention-grabbing they are the more likely your emails are to be opened.

Even the time of day an email is sent at can have a huge impact; many emails go unread because they are sandwiched between other marketing emails all sent at the same time. Finding the best time to send your emails will require some testing but will ultimately pay dividends.

3.     Personalisation is king  

Gone are the days where you blast out the same email to thousands of email addresses and hope it’s opened. Nowadays, subscribers want a personalised experience. According to reports, emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to get opened. It’s not just subject lines, personal shout outs in the main copy can also work well and are simple to do.  

Once you’re a bit more au fait with the basics, you could even start to think about personalising the offer, imagery and call to action based on the customer data you hold.  

For example, if you’re talking to a young mother with a daughter, why not personalise the image to reflect that or utilise previous sales data to offer related products.

You could also segment your list into smaller audience lists and tweak your emails for each audience segment. Email marketing software allows you to upload multiple contact lists (as excel files) so you can send separate emails to each list. This will also help you to identify which segment of your audience is more responsive/engaged.

4.     Analytics and learning what to track

They key to success lies in your analytics, so it’s important to learn what to track. There are two fundamental metrics; open rate (the number of recipients that open the email) and click-through rate (the number of people who click the link in your email).  

Email platforms will calculate this figure for you automatically and you can then compare your percentage to an industry standard and start to figure out what you can do to improve. There’s some useful industry-specific information about open rates and click-through rates available from HubSpot and Mailchimp.

Most email platforms will also allow you to download a spreadsheet which breaks down who opened the email, how many times, and exactly which links they clicked. This is useful insight as you can chase leads and pitch to them based on the content and links they clicked on.

5.     Unsubscribes and bounce rate

Unsubscribes are difficult for marketers to accept because they mean that you’ve been unsuccessful in some way.

If there’s any way to include an exit survey on your unsubscribe – “Why do you want to stop receiving these emails?” – you can find out some very useful information which you can act on to stop further unsubscribes.  

Bounce rates (when an email physically can’t reach a recipient’s inbox and ‘bounces back’ to the sender) are more within your control than you think. Emails can bounce in two ways: hard or soft, and the nature of the bounce will determine the appropriate action to be taken.

A soft bounce is a temporary issue. It can be the result of a technical issue, such as a mail server being unavailable, or the recipient’s inbox being full so it’s worth keeping these on your list.  

A hard bounce, on the other hand, means that the email address is no longer valid. In this event, you should remove the address from all future efforts. To minimise hard bounces, frequently audit your database(s) to ensure you’ve got the most up-to-date and relevant contact information.

There are several hurdles on the way to email marketing success, but determination, an analytical mind and a willingness to experiment will see your efforts rewarded. Make sure you’re tracking and evaluating each email send so you can learn what works and what doesn’t. Don’t feel disheartened if your open rate starts off low, there’s always room for improvement.  

Contributor: Lucy Hedges, Marketing Manager at Opus Energy