Only 2% of the top 100 US retailers use in-store signage to promote email or SMS engagement, according to a new report from ExactTarget.

In comparison, 8% promote their online social communities in-store.

Of the ‘Hot 100 Retailers’ 95 have brick-and-mortar stores, but the Retail Touchpoints Exposed report suggests retailers aren’t doing enough to connect the offline and online shopping experiences using email marketing.

The report was compiled through both in-store observations and by tracking brand communications and engagement across email, mobile and social channels for a period of 30 days.

In-store experience

Signage is a useful tool for retailers to alert consumers to digital communication channels, yet only 39 of the top 100 retailers sought any sort of digital engagement from in-store consumers.

Of those that did, the most popular call-to-action on signage was a website URL (18%).

An iModerate survey found that more than half of smartphone owners use the internet in-stores, yet very few of the top 100 retailers are seeking to engage with these consumers through their in-store signage.

Retailers are obviously aware of the need to encourage future engagement with consumers, as 62% trained employees to seek customer data at the point of sale.

An email address or postcode were the two types of data most frequently being asked for, but retailers are also seeking to find out phone numbers and postal addresses.

Sales receipts offer another opportunity to communicate with consumers as it acts as a warranty or proof of purchase if the customer wants to return an item. Yet only 2% offered to email sales receipts to customers.

Website opt-in

While all of the top 100 retailers have websites, only 72 offer e-commerce enabled sites. This is a surprising statistic, but shows that there are still huge opportunities for gaining market share online.

Looking at customer acquisition through web pages, 74 of the Hot 100 Retailers give customers the option to opt-in to email communications via the homepage and 67 include an email opt-in form on other pages.

11 of the retailers also offer a first-purchase incentive discount to new email subscribers, but eight of the businesses surveyed make no effortat all to acquire email addresses.

The fact that 26 of the retail websites surveyed made no pre-purchase effort to convert website visitors into email subscribers screams of a missed opportunity.

Of the retailers that do ask consumers to opt-in to emails, most err on the side of caution by asking for limited information.

The email experience

Welcome emails are a relatively easy way to begin building a relationship with a customer, yet only 74 of the top 100 retailers sent welcome emails to new subscribers.

Of the welcome emails sent, 67% communicated the value proposition of the retailer’s email program and 35% included an incentive to inspire future purchase.

Interestingly, 26% also asked their new subscribers to update their preferences – a smart way to gather more consumer data to aid segmentation and personalization without weighing down the email opt-in form.

Only 9% used it as an opportunity to market recommended products or used the customer’s first name within the email text.

On the hot topic of email frequency, the study found the number of emails sent in the first 30 days after email opt-in varied wildly.

While 11 sent no emails, three retailers sent between 30 and 35 emails in the first 30 days.

Not surprisingly, the high-volume sender was all about driving sales—every single one of their messages promoted a sale or product incentive.

In fact, as a general rule the more emails a retailer chose to send, the more likely that retailer’s emails were to eschew sharing the brand story in favour of pushing sales and incentives.

As we have noted in the past, consumer reviews are increasingly important for driving sales.

But while 63 of the top 100 retailers host consumer reviews on their sites, only 17 sent a post-purchase email in which product reviews were sought.

Another common failing was the personalisation of emails. Only four retailers personalised emails after an in-store purchase and 15 did so after an online purchase.

A vast majority of the Hot 100 Retailers are sitting on consumer data that could be used to help power more relevant content – if only they would put it into action.

ExactTarget also looked at how many retailers use email after cart abandonment. It found that only 16 of the 72 Hot 100 Retailers with e-commerce websites (22%) send cart abandonment emails.

In a recent interview with us’s COO Chris Bale said he was sceptical about the technique as there is generally a valid reason for not completing the purchase.

Yet it can still be a useful tool for e-commerce sites to encourage consumers to come back and complete a purchase.

Looking at the types of abandoned cart emails sent, four retailers included incentives to purchase in their cart abandonment emails and eight included an image of an abandoned product.

Email recommendations

To optimise email communications, ExactTarget recommends that retailers:

  • Supercharge the welcome email: sent in a timely fashion, welcome emails will produce an email program’s highest opens and CTRs. Use it to reaffirm brand promises and offer a feeling of exclusivity.
  • Tie frequency to consumer expectation and brand reputation: the first 30 days after opt-in are critical. Don’t drown consumers in promotions, but find the right balance for your brand and product offering.
  • Use the data you collect: segment and personalise emails based on consumer data.
  • Re-engage everyone: ask customers to review products, or build a cart abandonment program that gives them a good reason to purchase.