Staying Out Of The Trash: Better Retail Email Marketing

The divide between the retail industry and its customers is illustrated - even demarcated - by the language the two groups use to describe the emails that flow from the first group to the second. To us, they're “marketing emails”. To the customer, all too often, they're “junk” or “spam”. It's easy to see why. Marketing via email can, and should be properly targeted and relevant if it's going to have an impact.

It's also important to think about the ways customers are accessing email. The last few years have seen a move away from the desktop to mobile devices, and it's a trend that looks likely to continue. For retail marketers, competing for the attention of people on the move is more important than ever; but desktop computing isn't dead yet, and cross platform compatibility for marketing material is essential. ExactTarget's “Mobile Behavior Report” for 2013 highlights the fact that the vast majority of potential customers check their email on a smartphone on a daily basis; if retailers send out marketing emails that just don't grab the attention, they're going to get deleted.

For small and medium sized retailers, the effort you put into finding and communicating with customers is effort that you can't afford to waste. Building a reputation as a small business is hard, and poorly thought out email to customers is a fast way to spoil that reputation. So, let's take a look at three areas in which you can improve your email strategy.

1: Build a Great Mailing List

Permission, permission, permission. Those are the three magic words you need to remember in order to hold on to your reputation, if you're going to embark on an email marketing venture for your retail business. WODsuperstore, for example, is an online retailer that offers discounts to customers in return for email addresses; it's clear to the customer what the email request is about, and the addresses gathered are going to be relevant and well-targeted. In either a brick-and-mortar store or online, make it clear, at the point at which a customer is asked for their email address, that they may receive information from you in the future. And always include a way of being removed from an email list on any marketing mails you send out.

2: Content & Timing

Easily navigable, engaging content is essential, with emails tailored for specific customers and content that works on smaller screens as well as it does on desktops. IGIGI, for example, is a fashion retailer that, according to, gets 40% of current traffic via mobile users, and is now using responsive web design as mobile visitors become mobile buyers. But email is also an inherently transient medium. Think how many you receive every day. Now think about how you decide whether to read them or not. How many do you actually mark for action - or act upon there and then? Now add the fact that we're talking about marketing emails, and you can see that yours have to be pretty exciting in order to get a customer to act. If you're running a fantastic online promotion next week, don't send out an email about it today. By this afternoon it'll have been read (or not), and by tomorrow i t'll have been forgotten. Far better to send that email the day before the promotion, as many overseas retailers do for Black Friday - or even on the morning itself, if you think it's more appropriate. Remember how quickly information goes stale.

3: What Went Right?

Following an email marketing exercise, whether it went fantastically well or flopped, you have an opportunity to learn something, and either tweak the system for even better results, or have a major rethink. Wording of emails is something retail marketers take very seriously; SimpleRelevance's Email Fail Report also reveals that the top five words used in marketing emails sent by 20 large retailers are 'Your', 'Daily', 'Extra', 'Special' and 'Deal'. Look at whether sending email on a specific day, or time of day, has had an effect; often, retailers find that they get a better response from customers by not sending out promotions on a Monday morning - very few people have the time or the inclination to respond positively then, whereas later in the week it may be a very different story.

Email can be a fantastic, fast, cheap and effective way of getting up-to-the-minute information to a huge number of potential customers, while spending a relatively tiny amount of time and money. For many of us, it's a gift - as long as you use it wisely.

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