Top Retailers Use Data to Improve Email Timing and Content, Study Finds

Basic email automation has become table stakes for online retailers, and the top 10 percent dramatically outperform the field in using customer data to improve message timing and content, according to the latest benchmark report from email service provider dotmailer.

Hitting the Mark [] 2017, dotmailer's largest research study to date, ranks fashion brand ASOS and electronics giant Best Buy first and second, respectively, out of 100 online retail brands evaluated for marketing activities related to email.

Among the findings:

• 86% of online retail brands deliver a welcome email, but just 40% have abandoned cart reminders;

• 92% use offer-led emails, but many of those messages are irrelevant based on customer activities and preferences;

• 71% offer mobile-friendly checkout options like PayPal and Amazon Pay, but many are still not providing optimized customer journeys;

• Online retailers send an average of four marketing emails per week, but volume matters less than relevance.

"Retailers across all sectors have adopted basic email marketing techniques, but the top 10 brands dramatically outperform the field by delivering compelling, timely email messages through automation," says dotmailer's Client Services Director Skip Fidura. "In many cases, the only difference in this top ten and the rest comes down to easy-to-implement automation programs which allow marketers to deliver human conversations at scale and deliver real ROI to their businesses."

Top Brands Hit the Mark with Automation and UX

Eighty-six percent of brands studied deliver a welcome email, and pure-play online retailer ASOS excelled with a three-part welcome program that included a gender-specific confirmation email, an email that highlighted new fashion trends as well as the brand's loyalty program, and an email offering a discount off the first purchase.

The top 10 brands outperformed the rest of the field by far (83% to 35%) in their use of customer data and great copywriting to deliver compelling messages, and also in their delivery of well-timed messages based on behavioral data (88% to 51%). In addition, all 10 of the top-ranked brands used advanced segmentation tactics.

For the first time since dotmailer began issuing Hitting the Mark in 2008, the report went beyond emails to assess the typical buying journey of a consumer and found that 71 percent of brands studied offer mobile-friendly checkout options like PayPal and Amazon Pay. Best Buy in particular stood out by shaping its emails and website around the customer experience, by sending emails that worked perfectly on any device and providing strong search functionality on its website.

Most Brands Leave Money on the Table

Most online retailers (60%) miss the revenue opportunities offered by advanced email marketing automations, and just 40 percent deliver abandoned cart reminders -- a major loss of incremental revenue given that the global shopping cart abandonment rate has reached 69 percent (Baymard Institute, 2017). Some brands that sent abandoned cart notifications could improve by introducing mobile-friendly templates, exclusive free delivery or discounts to clinch the sale, related product recommendations, or trust marks and customer reviews to show credibility. Further, 92 percent of brands used offer-led emails, yet a high proportion of those messages were irrelevant based on subscriber activity and preferences.

Volume Does Not Affect Quality for Leading Sectors

Brands studied sent an average of four emails per week, and average volumes varied among the nine sectors evaluated from as few as two emails per week to as many as 11. The two highest-scoring sectors -- the leisure, travel and transportation sector and the TV shopping sector -- had the lowest and highest email volumes, respectively, showing that sending more emails doesn't necessarily harm the subscriber relationship when communications are relevant and follow best practice.