Five e-mail marketing best practices for retailers

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 10, 2009

Five e-mail marketing best practices for retailers

Some of the UK's leading retailers are continuing to overlook key email marketing best practices that could increase not only their online traffic but also their sales, according to dotMailer's annual 'Hitting the Mark' study.

While the study identified email marketing leaders such as Marks & Spencer and H. Samuel for using brand-enhancing design and compelling calls to action, a surprising number of others showed few signs of improvement over 2008's performance.

The study assessed customer emails sent by 41 retailers around 8th December 2008 (the festive season's busiest shopping day, with £320m being spent online), and evaluated each message using fourteen criteria based on dotMailer's own best practices matrix as well as the DMA's email best practice guidelines, with each retailer being award a score out of 100.

Marks & Spencer and H. Samuel came first, with each scoring 81 (having moved up from 4th and 15th positions respectively in 2008), followed closely by Ethical Superstore and Argos. The lowest scores in the 2009 email marketing index came in at a dismal 48 points. Overall, the average score of 67 was down four points on 2008's average of 71, and only 14 retailers managed to score 70 points or more in 2009.

Whilst some of the lowest scoring criteria from 2008 showed signs of improvement (such as including a working 'unsubscribe' link and using engaging subject lines) there were also some notable areas where retailers failed to deliver such good results in 2009. For example, 71% failed to use a personal greeting, which has been shown to significantly increase open rates, and only 29% asked for relevant interests during sign-up in order to target emails more effectively. Half the retailers examined also failed to include a 'forward to a friend' link to encourage customers to share bargains with friends. Only two retailers out of the 41 included social network links to help spread their messages virally.

The highest scores for 2009 were:

  • Marks & Spencer (81);
  • H. Samuel (81);
  • Ethical Superstore (80);
  • Argos (78);
  • John Lewis (78);
  • Topshop (78).

The lowest scores for 2009 were:

  • Lidl (58);
  • Tog 24 (53);
  • Schuh (50);
  • H&M (48);
  • Somerfield (48).

"While the 2009 report shows improvements in certain areas, it's evident that many of the retailers that assessed have not yet taken steps to improve their email marketing campaigns," concluded Tink Taylor, dotMailer's business development director. "Many of the best practice guidelines outlined in the report are very easy to implement and, by making these simple changes and improvements, retailers should start seeing positive results very quickly."

Using the information in the report, Taylor has summarised five key email marketing best practices:

  1. Include 'forward to a friend' and 'add to social networks' links. Viral and word-of-mouth marketing can provide lucrative opportunities to spread marketing messages, drive traffic, collect contact data and increase revenue, all at little or no cost to the marketer.  
  2. Personalise your greeting. Opening an email with a personalised greeting can significantly improve both open and click-through rates by engaging the recipient and helping to establish one-to-one communication.  
  3. Check renderability before sending. Some 19% of recipients will delete an email without reading it if it fails to render (display) correctly. Remember that there are dozens of popular email clients and web-based services that should be checked for readability.  
  4. Make sure your template has a good balance of text and image. As well as helping your campaign to pass spam filters, this ensures that the email is readable even when images are switched off by the email software. This simple step can increase open rates by up to 40%.  
  5. Include a clear call to action. The key to the success of an email campaign is to help recipients answer three questions: "Who is it from? What's in it for me? What should I do next?" Make sure you provide clear guidance on what you expect a recipient to do once they have read your email (for example, click through to a product page, forward it to a friend, or contact your team).

The report offers detailed advice on how to run best practice-based email marketing campaigns, along with practical advice and real-world examples. The report has been made available for free download from dotMailer's web site - click here (free registration required).

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