How Do Retailers Decide When and How Often to Email Customers?

Engaging the customer without flooding their inbox

Author: Alison McCarthy

March 8, 2017

Doing digital old school is appealing to retailers who are more often relying on email marketing to grab the attention of customers. With email, though, there’s always the conundrum of how to find the right balance of engaging the customer without flooding their inbox.

A February 2017 survey from email marketing company Coherent Path found out how US retail marketers plan their email calendars, and what sorts of campaigns they include.

For one thing, they give a lot of weight to what worked last year—85% of respondents chose this as an influential factor. A slightly higher proportion (87%) slot in major holidays and events.

Most of the retail marketers surveyed realize the risk in overwhelming their customers with too many emails. About 43% of respondents said they send one to two emails per week, while 46% said they send three to four.

But because email is such a powerful tool, marketers are being pressured by their companies to do more campaigns. While only 11% of US retail marketers said they send five or more emails weekly, the majority said they feel pushed to send a higher number to up their returns and increase awareness.

In many ways, discounts and deals seem to drive email’s success. One reason email is so successful is because customers know that marketing emails often include promotions. Three in four marketers in Coherent Path’s survey cited the use of promotions to drive revenues as a source of influence when planning their email calendars.

Almost a third of respondents said between 50% and 75% of the emails they send include promotions. And one in 4 retail marketers said that more than 75% of their emails include some type of discount.

While many retail marketers are succeeding with their email marketing tactics, there’s still room for improvement, according to Coherent Path’s study.

Personalization has received a great deal of attention in the industry. However, only half of respondents said they personalize email messaging based on a customer’s prior email activity. Additionally, only one in four retail marketers reported repurposing their email content—a tactic that, if done successfully, can help save time and resources.

While finding the perfect recipe for a successful email marketing campaign can be tricky, there’s good reason for retailers to invest in email marketing: Email has been proven to provide marketers with some of the highest returns of any digital marketing channel.

A June 2016 survey of US marketers from the Data and Marketing Association (DMA) and Demand Metric also found that email’s median ROI, at 122%, was overwhelmingly higher than social media (28%), direct mail (27%), paid search (25%) and online display (18%).

Another survey of US marketers in May 2016 from the New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA) and BrandSpark mirrors that finding: Email was rated as the marketing channel with the greatest ROI.