Last July I wrote an article called how fashion retailers use email marketing, in which I investigated 16 brands including ASOS, Topshop, H&M and Gap to check the frequency, content, subject lines and ultimately effectiveness of their various email campaigns.

Now six months later I’ve decided to follow up the article by cautiously peering into the inbox of the email address I created specifically for the investigation to see what its current state is.

Have I been forgotten about? Has the account buckled under the weight of January sales emails? Have I missed any super-sweet deals, retargeted emails or impassioned pleas for my return while I’ve been away?

It turns out that by far the largest presence in my inbox is that of international clothes retailer and proponent of the new boring, Gap.

Before we begin, let’s took a look back at last year’s study and see how Gap compared.

2014

Frequency

Here was the frequency of emails per company over a one-week period since creating an account, filling a shopping cart and subsequently abandoning it on 24 June 2014 (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

Gap pummelled my inbox daily with fairly irrelevant emails (maternity wear?) and didn't send me either a welcome email or basket abandonment email. Then again I received zero emails from Topshop, Topman, Next, Miss Selfridge or Pull and Bear. A barrage of emails is certainly better than none at all from a retail conversion point of view, although I'm sure recipients would argue otherwise.

Subject lines

In terms of subject lines, Uniqlo and Urban Outfitters sent welcome emails that had me opening them immediately, with clear propositions and short relevant text.

Whereas Gap used an unfortunate mixture of upper and lower case text and a mixture of two unrelated messages…

Although American Apparel was far too enigmatic to raise any interest at all.

Content

Threadless had beautiful looking email content, full of its signature flat tiled design, however it wasn’t mobile optimised which is a must for all email marketers as 41% of emails are opened on mobile devices.  

Uniqlo and Forever 21 also offered good quality emails with product links that led directly to their respective product pages (this doesn’t always happen).

Meanwhile Gap sent possibly the largest marketing email I’ve ever been sent, 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 was a hit and hope approach, whilst H&M sent the poorest optimised email with almost unreadable text.

So has Gap improved since July?

2015

I fear what’s to come. Not because I resent the influx of marketing emails, I signed up for them after all, but more because I really should have managed this account more often.

Then again, I wouldn’t have the pure wide-eyed shock of seeing 183 emails from Gap…

Frequency

As I was saying, Gap sent me an incredible amount of emails. 183 emails in the space of 215 days (assuming none of them became waylaid in my spam folder), which is the equivalent of one email sent every 28 hours. 

It’s like that bit at the end of the original Miracle on 34th Street where they dump 21 sacks of mail addressed to Santa Clause in the courtroom to prove his existence. Only instead of Santa it’s Gap, and crikey I am now thoroughly aware of Gap’s existence.

There is absolutely no let up. Also bear in mind that I haven’t visited Gap’s site since I wrote the original article six months ago, in that time I haven’t been marked as ‘emotionally unsubscribed’ or removed as inactive. 

I also haven’t been offered any directly personalised emails regarding my behaviour, just a daily entirely sales focused email that has clearly been sent en-masse without any thought to segmentation. 

Subject lines

Gap’s subject lines are not the worst example seen in my inbox by a long shot, unfortunately they’re also not the best.

The mixture of all-caps and lower case text is off-putting. Which is probably more to do with how our brains are now trained to expect spam when we see this being done.

Also the sheer repetition of the sales message just leads me to ignore them. We’ll talk more about variation later, but if the only thing you’ve got to offer is a sales message than at least try something different then ’20% if everything’ every single day. We quickly become annoyed if the record gets stuck.

On the plus side, since the beginning of the year Gap has stopped shoe-horning a second message into the same subject line.

Content

Content-wise it’s the same gigantic epic scrolling format as we six months ago, with no focus on the recipient’s personal data.

(Click for larger, then hold your breath)

Every single one of Gap’s emails follows the same template, even its Christmas sale ones, but it still must be a huge challenge for the creative team to knock up an entirely different design on a daily basis, without any flexibility.

The fundamental problem doesn’t lie in its frequency though (and this is where I pull my arse out of the fire in terms of being called a hypocrite, as I’m fully aware our Daily Pulse email arrives daily) in its lack of variation.

Receiving an email from a publisher featuring a different collection of curated articles daily, where the most interesting one is featured in the headline and theoretically if you’ve signed up for it you should be interested in the content anyway is very different from receiving an email a day from a retailer with the same ‘money-off’ or ‘sale now on’ message.

It’s exhausting, however one way to protect against recipient fatigue is by varying your subject lines and content. One excellent way to help this is by setting up a blog or editorial feed on your ecommerce site. That way with regularly produced content, you’ll have more of a legitimate excuse to send marketing emails tat aren’t purely sales focused. For a thorough guide on editorial best practice download our report Fashion Ecommerce and Content Marketing.

Further reading…

There are lots of resources on the blog to help you with your email marketing efforts. In terms of brand case studies you can check out What makes the Adidas basket abandonment emails so good? or ASOS sales emails are excellent, but are they too frequent?

For guides to perfecting your subject lines, read Email marketing subject lines: why best practice matters and 45 words to avoid in your email marketing subject lines.

Then for a fuller, in-depth overview download our latest Email Marketing Best Practice Guide

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 20 January, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (4)

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Phil Ireland, Email Specialist Manager at Woodhouse Clothing

Great article once again. Could I potentially request a look into our email marketing at Woodhouse Clothing? We are doing some big things this year and would be great to showcase them with Econsultancy?

over 3 years ago

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Libby Jewell, Ecommerce Assistant at Personal

41% of emails may be opened on a mobile, but is there any data on how many are viewing the mobile version? Nearly every email client I use personally strips out mobile queries (Gmail app & Mail on Android), I didn't even realise half of them were optimised until I clicked view on web.

over 3 years ago

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Jaina Mistry, Email Marketing Specialist at Padawan Group

I used to be very critical of GAP's email design with their large tiles and massive emails, but what we don't know is GAP's customer database. They could have a large amount of customers who use the Gmail app, on mobile, for example. Which makes having a responsive email almost pointless (not totally!). These emails actually look great on the Gmail app with their big fonts and massive clickable areas. They work. Yes it's all images and it grates against me as an email marketer, but they are very well optimised for the gmail mobile app.

I'm not saying what they've done design wise is right, but we don't really have all the facts.

over 3 years ago

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Naomi Brown, Digital Advertising Manager at Wex Photographic

You know what really bugged me about Gap's email marketing? (this is as a consumer) - they lured me in with a 'sign up and get x% off', and then never actually sent me the discount code. Followed by, as you've experienced, a ton of irrelevant emails.

over 3 years ago

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