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Continuing my quest to investigate how various industries use email marketing, here’s a look at how some of our favourite fashion retailers use this most effective yet often neglected marketing channel.
Much like my round-up on the travel industry a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be looking at the frequency of emails, the use of subject lines, the email content itself, special offers, editorial voice, personalisation, relevance… All of the many tools that a company can utilise to coerce the recipient to open up an email or even engage with it.
As well as the above criteria, I also filled up a shopping basket and abandoned it without purchase to see if I would receive any reminder emails. I also entered my birthday as a date in between sign-up and writing this article to see if I was offered any discounts or at some birthday wishes. It’s not fraud, it’s science!
These are the 16 sites I chose to register my details with: Urban Outfitters, ASOS, Threadless, H&M, Topshop, Topman, American Apparel, UNIQLO, Gap, River Island, Next, Pull and Bear, Anthropologie, Forever 21, Miss Selfridge and The Kooples.
Now let’s take a look at the ravaged state of my inbox. Thank you Gmail promotions tab…
Here’s the frequency of emails per company over the one-week period since sign-up (these figures include any registration confirmation emails):
- Gap: 7
- American Apparel: 5
- Threadless: 4
- Uniqlo: 3
- Forever 21: 3
- H&M: 3
- River Island: 3
- Anthropologie: 2
- The Kooples: 2
- ASOS: 2
- Urban Outfitters: 1
- Topshop: 0
- Topman: 0
- Next: 0
- Miss Selfridge: 0
- Pull and Bear: 0
Before we get to Gap’s pummelling waves of daily emails, let’s just point out that two of the UK’s biggest fashion brands haven’t sent me a single missive yet. Not a welcome, not a newsletter, not even a basket abandonment email.
Topshop, Next, Miss Selfridge and Pull and Bear are missing a serious trick here being as I'm actually inviting them to send me email marketing. I’m welcoming it with open arms, I’m a captive and wanting audience.
If a customer has signed up for a email you can be sure that customer was on your site in the mood to shop. It’s imperative to capture their attention as soon as possible after they’ve left, otherwise you’ll miss out.
It’s a really fine line between the right amount of email and too much email, however no email whatsoever is unforgivable from a business point of view. Even the least experienced of ecommerce user would expect at least one marketing email a week, before hitting the spam button.
As opposed to the travel industry, or in fact any big-ticket industry where purchases are potentially annual or even more rare, a customer’s spend in fashion retail isn’t a particularly major investment. Unless you’re Imelda Marcos or David Moth, so therefore the frequency of emails can be higher.
A major key to successful email marketing is variation. Gap may be sending seven emails a week, but if the content is highly varied then it won’t necessarily feel like a deluge of spam. So is this true?
Three of those emails I won’t open, being as they’re specifically tailored for women or feature baby gifts and maternity wear. When I registered my details I’m pretty sure I ticked the ‘male’ box and I also filled up a basket with men’s slacks. These seem like misfires.
On the plus side, the welcome email presents me with a 15% off voucher. However the 20% off and 60% off sale messages even in the space of just one week gets tiresome.
Sure the offers might be generous, but when one email on 27 June says “Ends TODAY: Extra 20% off sale styles (already up to 60% off)” then another a few days later says “Today only: extra 20% off sale styles already up to 60% off” I start to think that this is a load of old rubbish and I tune out. That’s when I reach for my spam button.
The Kooples’ two emails are also a little misleading. These are both email registration and confirmation that you’d like to receive the newsletter. I have yet to receive the newsletter. Then again at least I got a welcome.
Threadless however has the frequency nailed. After the welcome email, three emails in five days may seem a little excessive, but in terms of content I really enjoy that each is themed to an event or style.
Staying with the Threadless example above, I also like the subtle way it reveals its offer without resorting to ALL CAPS and spam filter triggering symbols.
The “All the eggs. All the bacon. All the free shipping” is a Parks and Recreation reference that ties into the respective t-shirt design and the limited offer. “Eat my shirts” is a Simpson’s themed winner too.
Elsewhere, using some very simple guidelines laid out in the post email subject lines best practice - personalisation, relevance, good length, originality variation and avoiding these 45 words - let’s take a look at some of the best examples from my inbox.
Uniqlo has me opening its welcome email immediately. The sneaky bunch.
I’m sure the open-rate is very high for that one, and it’s not a disappointment either. Contained within is a £5 off voucher (although you do need to spend over £60, which is perhaps a higher than average amount).
Other retailers thinking of clever ways of getting around the spam filter (or itchy delete finger) yet still managing to articulate a sales message include Urban Outfitters.
Words like ‘free’, ‘save’ and ‘free’ achieve very little, however nobody said anything about ‘treats’ yet.
This is the second time I’ve put the boot into Gap, for largely the same email, however the mixture of lower-case and upper case, unnecessary use of parentheses and a mixture of two unrelated messages makes this one particularly spam-worthy.
The meaningless of American Apparel’s subject line provokes little more than a “so?”
Simplicity does work if it’s coupled with relevance and a concise call to action.
Just describing what’s in your email as succinctly as possible will always be a winner. Okay so it won’t achieve a 100% open-rate, but it’s better to be honest, that way a recipient will always trust your content and not feel manipulated or tricked. That’s the quickest way to the unsubscribe button or spam folder.
Threadless has beautiful looking email content, full of its signature flat tiled design, however it isn’t mobile optimised which is a must for all email marketers as 41% of emails are opened on mobile devices.
Almost as disappointing is the fact that although you would expect each featured t-shirt to click through to its respective landing page, it doesn’t. Wherever you click on the email it goes through to the same general product-listing page.
Far better at providing relevant landing pages is Uniqlo. Each t-shirt clicks through to its own product page.
Although again the text is poorly visible.
Forever 21 does a great job communicating its message (a £5 off welcome voucher without a ridiculously high spend) and each image clicks through to the relevant landing page.
The text on this H&M welcome email is very small and poorly optimised. You’d think I was reading a non-responsive email on a mobile. I’m not, it’s on a giant desktop.
However it improves within its sale emails, by providing a neat feature that allows you to shop buy size by clicking on the relevant button underneath each product.
Gap provides a hit-and-hope approach to email content with epic scroll.
This is the first of five screens worth of content taking in the visible preppy teen clothes, an advert for its sale, children’s clothes, plus size menswear, maternity clothes and petite sizes.
It’s a generic approach, that’s unpersonalised and completely without relevance. I wouldn’t bother opening another Gap email if I wasn’t doing this for an experiment.
Basket abandonment emails
Very disappointingly after all my curtailed shopping excursions, the only basket abandonment emails I received were from Anthropologie.
This came on the same day I left the cart abandoned.
The subject said “What’s that in your shopping bag?” Then two days later a second one arrived saying “don’t forget the shopping bag you left behind”.
Not only does it contain a direct link to the checkout, but that second one also contains links to further items I might like.
So one out of 16 retailers here sent me a reminder email. I’ve heard nothing from the other 15 sites. Right now, I’m the easiest mark there is when it comes to a targeted email. I obviously wanted these products at more than one stage, I was even so far down the sales funnel that I registered my details, including my email address with them.
Chances are a well-timed email, reminding me this basket is ready and waiting, would have compelled me to make the final purchase, but so far I haven’t heard a thing.
And finally as a bonus little experiment for my own pleasure. The Birthday test. So who cares the most about me?
American Apparel! It clearly doesn't know I can't fit into its clothes.
Thanks for my discount American Apparel. I won’t spend it all at once.
For more on email marketing best practice from Econsultancy, download our latest Email Marketing Best Practice Guide.