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The UK's retailers are actually getting worse at email marketing, as many are failing to follow best practice guidelines, according to a new report. 

This is the verdict of dotMailer's Hitting the Mark study of 36 UK retailer's email marketing efforts, which places HMV and Republic at the top of the class, with Currys in last place. 

Some highlights from the report: 

Top performers

HMV and Republic top the table with average email effectiveness scores of 72%, with New Look ad Figleaves joint second on 70. The average score across all retailers in the study is just 60%, down seven percentage points on last year's study

Could do better

Harrods, Early Learning Centre, H&M, Lidl, STA and Currys make up the bottom five, all scoring under 50%, with inconsistent rendering of emails across different email clients and mobile devices a common issue.

For example, this is how the Currys email looks in my Gmail inbox: 

Personalisation

Econsultancy's most recent Email Census found a big increase in the proportion of companies taking advantage of their email vendors' ability to personalise emails. More than half of respondents (52%) said they use personalisation, compared to 38% in 2009.

However, despite various studies showing that personalising emails can improve open and click rates, very few retailers looked at by dotMailer seem to be making the effort, with an average overall score of 0.5 out of eight.

Just 8% of the retailers studied used any kind of personalisation in their emails and just one, New Look, used the information gathered by customers at the sign up stage to tailor content to customers. Clearly this is an area where retailers can improve a lot.  

Collecting customer data when they sign up

The report recommends that retailers collect enough data to begin to target and personalise emails, while being careful not to make forms so long that customers abandon the sign up. 

The email sign up process on The Entertainer website is an interesting example on this, and it could be argued they are going too far to collect customer data:

 

As well as entering your name and address, you are also asked to select your nearest store, given the opportunity to input the gender, ages and birthday month of the children you may be buying toys for.

You are also provided with a number of options around when and how frequently you want to receive emails. For instance, you can opt only to receive emails in certain months, or just in the run up to Christmas.

While it does have the drawback of making the email sign up process lengthier, allowing customers to control email frequency like this could well result in more engaged subscribers. 

Mobile

With smartphone usage still growing, more and more customers will potentially be reading emails on their iPhones, Blackberries etc. The key here is for marketers to find out how many of their emails are being sent to mobile devices, and optimise accordingly. 

Keeping emails brief and to the point with clear calls to action, as well as adding 'view in browser' or 'view on a mobile' links are among the recommendations. 

'Forward to friend' links

One way to potentially extend the reach of email marketing campaigns is to add a link that allows recipients to forward emails to friends. 

Though a recent survey suggests that few people actually use this feature, it is still worth a try, but few retailers are doing this; 64% studied didn't provide this link.

In this example, Next provides a prominent link to share emails, as well as promoting its social media presence: 

Social media

While some analysts have predicted that social media will threaten the future usage of email, smarter marketers will realise that integrating email and social media in campaigns can improve the effectiveness of both. 

Email can increase awareness of brands' social media presence, and also encourage recipients to share email content on social networks, yet an average score of just two out of thirteen for social media/email integration in the report suggests that retailers can do better in this area. 

Graham Charlton

Published 11 May, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Couldn't agree more - I very rarely experience a marketing email that hits the spot. 

To slightly rephrase the assertion, I'd say that many retailers confuse 'sending out an email' with real email marketing and, as such, do nothing to enhance their brand or bottom line.

over 6 years ago

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email marketing

Great article with good suggestions. I particularly like how you showed that many HTML emails do not show up correctly in the user's email In-box because the default "show images" is turned off. It is always best to send email to different email clients, before they go out in the campaign. There should be an alternative text version offered as well.

over 6 years ago

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Tiffany Schmuck

Super Auftaktartikel :-) Warum müssen sich E-Z Promis nur immer bei solchen Shows melden?!@Stefan: die Schmuche gibt’s u. a. hier:<a href="http://www.tiffany4girls.com">http://www.tiffany4girls.com</a>

almost 6 years ago

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