Retailers need to get away from telling people what they have a lot of, and so need to sell, by instead building personalised, localised email campaigns centred around what individuals are most likely to be interested in.
It may sound simplistic but Chris Field, founder of marketing communication group Fieldworks, points out that it is only when you get close to big retailers that you realise how they are held back by their systems, technology and, in some cases, a lack of charismatic leadership. His company specialises in retail technology marketing and believes the disconnect between what marketers know is available, and what even major brands are using, is considerable.
“Conferences and the media set peoples’ expectations of what is possible at such a high level, it’s quite a surprise when you realise what retailers are actually working with,” he says. “They’ve got huge legacy systems that aren’t what they would choose to use if they were a start-up because their systems were built for their needs decades ago when they were very different businesses. It means they look at the media and see what’s possible and realise it’s all nonsense because they can’t generally do much at all.”
Legacy restrictions mean that retailers do not have a means of knowing their customer and can’t even begin to track them across channels. The symptom of this malaise is the back-to-front way that forces them to approach the market, Field claims.
“The problem is that, compared to the old days where there was virtually no competition, the big retailers are in a perfect storm,” he says. “There’s too many of them with too much stock chasing too few customers. The only way they feel they can get out of that is to push what they have a lot of which, of course, isn’t necessarily what people are actively interested in. So, they feel compelled to come to market the wrong way round, telling customers what they’ve got in stock, rather than pre-empting what customers want to buy.”
Part of the reason why this malaise has been allowed to continue is, in Field’s opinion, because all the attention and budget for retailers has been focussed on ecommerce. It is understandable that retailers have felt the need to develop sophisticated operations but, in the past couple of years, Field has noticed a slight return to common sense.
“Retailers are reminding themselves that something like 90% of all goods are still bought inside stores so maybe ecommerce isn’t the be-all and end-all,” he says. “The problem is, they often don’t have the data on each person to know that much about them. You would think they’d be able to look at your online ordering and tally that with phone orders, as well as what you’ve bought in-store, but the multichannel retail world is very much an early work in progress.”
Getting Personal, And Local
The solution is to begin working on using what you do know about customers to personalise and, if possible, localise email content.
“Every email should still obey all the usual checklist rules of being concise, clear, timely and featuring a strong call to action,” adds Field. “But you’ve got to really concentrate on the relevancy to the point of making it personalised. That doesn’t mean that if you’ve got a million email addresses you send a million completely different messages but it could mean you’ve got thousands of different emails based around what people have shown an interest in and where they are. It sounds terribly simple but it is actually quite a leap for a lot of big name retailers who just send out the same stuff to everyone, whether it’s likely to be of interest or not.”
It’s by getting the email basics right that two very powerful things can start to happen — other than, of course, getting more relevant emails in front of customers. To start with, you can look to integrate customer details with mobile apps and loyalty schemes to see when people are in your store and use that combined set of data to welcome them with a salutation that may well come with a relevant offer.
The other brings a retailer full circle to the initial job of shifting stock. Field believes many European retailers could learn a lesson from the digital savvy U.S. stores that build location and immediacy into flash sales. If you don’t have the data, you can ask people where they are and what they’re most interested in and then, when you have excess stock, the people in the vicinity that are most likely to be interested can get a message that product line X is on discount for the next 24 hours for all those who’ve signed up to be alerted.
That both enriches the data a retailer has on a customer, which has been proactively volunteered by customers, and builds up a loyal shopping group who don’t want to miss out when the store next has a flash sale.