Email is a versatile marketing channel. For example, it can be used to deliver a content strategy, to maintain customer relationships, or to promote new products.

However over at Macy’s, email is really only used for one thing – offering discounts and money off.

In fact I’ve noticed that for the past few months the only marketing messages I’ve received from Macy’s are those that promote a seasonal sale or special offer.

Email is a very effective sales tool, with respondents in Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Census stating that it delivers the best ROI of any digital marketing channel.

Discounts or offers are a common tactic and can drive high volumes of sales, however Macy’s approach is overkill.

I have to go back three weeks to 25 August to find a subject line that didn’t mention some kind of sale or discount, but since then I’ve received 12 other sales emails.

If I go back to the beginning of June, giving us a window of two and a half months, I have received 55 emails from Macy’s of which only one wasn’t promoting a sale.

However it was promoting a digital wallet, which enables shoppers to “save & manage your Macy’s offers all in one place!” So it is still essentially a sales message.

Macy’s poor email creative compounds the problems caused by the constant barrage of sales messages.

I’ve discussed this before in a post looking at email call-to-action design, but it’s worth reiterating here:

Father’s Day email

This email is supposed to advertise a Father’s Day sale, but the first link is for women’s products and there’s also a link for handbags.

In general there’s too much going on and so it fails to achieve its stated goal of promoting Father’s Day gift ideas.

There are a further five promos beneath this email, which further dilutes the sales message.

Promo code email

This design is so cluttered that you have to read it several times before noticing there’s a promo code.

It’s also followed by a huge amount of other content promoting homewares, furniture, cologne and even mattresses.

As one would expect from Macy’s, there are further ‘two-day’ specials on offer at the bottom of the email.

Labor Day discounts

This email coincided with a Labor Day sale, though it takes careful reading to work out which discount I’m actually entitled to.

Is it 25% off, 15% off, $10 off, or free shipping?

In conclusion...

In fairness to Macy’s, its welcome email spells out what customer should expect to receive: “Now, you’ll be the first to know about exclusive offers and savings.”

But Macy’s aspires to be a mid-range retailer – it has its own parade, after all – and this image is undermined if email is only used in this way.

Instead the brand is positioned as a discount retailer and customers become conditioned to expect money off.

Why would anyone ever pay full price at Macy’s when they know they need only wait a few days before they’ll receive a sales email?

The department store clearly feels this is the most effective way of using email marketing, but it runs a high risk of creating fatigue among recipients who eventually become blind to the never-ending flood of discounts and offers.

David Moth

Published 16 September, 2014 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Andrew King

Andrew King, Sr. Strategy Consultant at Lyris

I totally agree David! Retailers need value added content to keep subscribers engaged. I see British retailers doing this much better than their US counterparts in general. John Lewis and Net/Mr Porter come to mind as good examples.

over 3 years ago

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Lauren Barham

Hi David, thanks for the post! This is very interesting as email can be a very powerful tool and clearly Macy's thinks so too! It is funny how some people would find emails as frequent as this very annoying and typically want to unsubscribe from them, however for others it will work in the way that they will remember Macy's and that they have many promotions on currently and therefore encourage the customer to purchase from there, which is of course the aim of the email. I guess Macy's just feels that it refers people more than it deters them so in this way it works. I completely agree with your points about the purpose of the email, the design has to be right or it is just not effective in the way that it could be, which is of course very disappointing. I feel the layout for email marketing is key and it is a great way to inform and encourage customers! Kind regards, Lauren

over 3 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

David,

Great assessment of the email content from Macy's. Completely agree with your comments.

I am now working for a "Macy's equivalent" in New Zealand and they have the identical conduct.

This stems from traditional retailers being used to pushing one-way communications to consumers for decades and getting away with it. My client is what I call a "first generation" digital client. They are very knew at driving this channel.

When I presented a conceptual email marketing comms plan with less sales messages and more "content", I thought the digital team was going to have a collective heart attack.

I am in the middle of taking them through a journey of "communication reinvention". They are not used to taking the consumer in consideration when sending out messages.

I suspect Macy's is the same.

Greg

over 3 years ago

Becs Rivett

Becs Rivett, Email marketing manager at Becs Rivett freelance

Macy's are indeed very familiar with the spray and pray technique. There is nothing worse than getting an email from a company every single day, especially when it has little relevance. Saks do exactly the same so they aren't the only ones guilty of it - I wonder what their unsubscribe rate is like.

over 3 years ago

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Henri

That's why I never subscribe to any newsletter. Not a single one.

Out of curiosity, how many times did you shop at Macy's during this time, online and offline?

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Managing Editor at Barclaycard

Hello everyone, thanks for your comments.

@Andrew, I'll definitely do a follow up post looking at how other retailers compare, particularly big department stores such as John Lewis.

@Greg, it's interesting to hear about your experiences. Good luck with it!

@Becs, thanks for the heads up, I'll take a look at Saks.

@Henri, I don't think I've ever shopped at Macy's. I signed up while writing a blog post that looked at how different retailers deal with welcome emails.

over 3 years ago

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bella smith, student at 600628

appreciate you guys!

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and GDPR Geek at Fresh Relevance

I think you need to known the recent history of their compatriot JC Penny to understand why Macy's is so fixated on cut price offers.

Basically JC Penny tried to mimic Apple by going for "fair and square prices" and a quality shopping experience, not bargains, and this was a huge failure. Macy's have learned the lesson and are erring in the opposite direction.

http://business.time.com/2013/04/09/the-5-big-mistakes-that-led-to-ron-johnsons-ouster-at-jc-penney/

over 3 years ago

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