Top Online Retailers Still Miss Key Email Opportunities

A few surprises showed up when my company analyzed the email-marketing practices of Internet Retailer's Top 500 online retailers this year:

On the up side, more retailers are cross-pollinating their email and social channels for greater growth and engagement. They're also emailing more often in the critical first 30 days after opt-in.

But the study also found that fewer marketers offer new subscribers options either to customize their email programs or to avoid unsubscribing later on. 

Statistics Snapshot

Below are eight quick stats from the 2012 survey, which includes Top 500 data and, in several places, data for 130 other retailers that didn’t make the cut. How does your email program compare?


  • 56% of all retailer websites put the email opt-in field or link at or near the bottom of the home page, while 36% put it at the top, and 7% squeeze it somewhere in the middle.
  • 91% of top retailers include email opt-in links or form fields throughout their websites.
  • 24% offer subscriber preferences at opt-in.
  • 68% of all retailers send a welcome message.
  • 32% offer unsubscription alternatives at opt-out.
  • 80% add social links to their emails (74% offer both social sharing and like/follow invitations).
  • 83% offer sales and discounts in their emails, down from 89% in 2010.
  • 40% sent 11 or more email messages (up from 27% in 2010) in the first 30 days after opt-in.




Survey Takeaways and Opportunities


1. Optimize the opt-in process for visibility and data. Many retailers are still burying their email sign-up link at the bottom of Web pages, which can make it extremely hard to find. Sprinkling opt-in forms all over your website boosts visibility, but make sure you are maximizing sign-ups on your most visited pages.

Test to find the place on your pages that delivers the most subscriptions. Put your sign-up link or form on every page of your site.

Consider alternatives to the static opt-in, such as a pop-over, which is driving 200%-400% lift on opt-in rates for many retailers. Go beyond your site and add an opt-in form on your Facebook page. Use social sign-in as an option to create new accounts.

2. Put out a better welcome mat. The number of retailers who send a welcome email after opt-in is holding steady at 68%. But that also means more marketers aren't getting on board.

As I noted in an earlier Email Insider column, a welcome email is one of the most important messages you can send if you want to increase engagement and decrease inactivity.

A series of unique messages timed to launch at specific intervals can step up your email program even more than a single message.

However, an onboarding program, which uses subscriber behavior and preferences to drive message content and cadence, is rapidly becoming the email gold standard for high-performance email programs.

3. Test to find the best frequency. We looked at how many emails retailers send in the first 30 days after opt-in because that's the period when your new subscribers are often the most engaged.

Email volume in that period was up significantly this past year. At the same time, 15% of Top 500 retailers sent no emails in that period, up from 10% in 2010.

Although emailing while the opt-in memory is fresh in your new subscriber's mind is a good idea, simply ramping up frequency isn't obviously the whole answer.

Instead, you need to find the optimal frequency that keeps your messages visible in the inbox without driving your subscriber to unsubscribe, click the spam button or go inactive just to get away from you.

Here are two sample approaches that can help you meet that challenge:

  • Segment your database by activity, such as "engaged" versus "inactive.
  • Use profile/preference data and behavior to create automated messages that launch when a subscriber meets one of the conditions, such as a birthday email, post-purchase offers or replenishment reminders.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

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