Can Email Save Retail?

Maybe it surprises you that retail needs saving. But a survey of 202 retail marketers by Sailthru shows that 54% will have flat or reduced marketing budgets this year, and that 19% fell short of their 2016 marketing goals. Worse, 27% lack the structure to excel in cross-channel campaign management. 

“The reality is that despite the growing number of on-site engagement tools and CRO platforms, the majority of e-commerce traffic does not convert, and this puts merchants in a difficult position,” Daniel Kohn, CEO and co-founder of, generally observes in an article on Retail Touchpoints.

Maybe that’s why that old workhorse email will get more than its fair share of this year’s reduced budgets. The biggest marketing investment, cited by 28% of the retailers polled by Sailthru, will be in cross/channel campaign management in 2017. Email is second, with 26%. But merchants enjoying budget increases are more likely to spend the most on email — 33% to 28%. And of those expecting decreases, 53% plan to increase their email spend. 

That’s a smart move, given the numbers. Of those polled, 18% expect email to generate the most revenue for them out of all the digital channels in 2017. Granted, email is a distant second to online. But it beats mobile. And of the companies that exceeded their 2016 goals — 28% of the total — 25% predict email will be their biggest revenue channel.

What’s more, 96% feel there is room to innovate in email. Overall, 51% say there is lots of room to innovate, and that figure rises to 64% among companies that missed their 2016 goals.

Why are companies cutting their marketing budgets? It’s largely tied to 2016 performance. What’s preventing them from achieving multichannel campaign success? Lack of integrated technology, followed by lack of understanding of multi/cross-channel strategies, according to Sailthru, which will present this report at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs, California starting on February 27. The third challenge is attribution.

Add it all up, and retailers clearly see email as their salvation. For example, 24% expect email to the best channel in driving new customers, narrowly beating social media, Sailthru reports. And 56% expect it to be their top customer-retention channel.

Kohn seems to agree that email can help retailers both attract and keep customers, especially in these categories:

  • New Visitors — Incentivize these shoppers with free shipping or a discount on their first purchase. Kohn claims that emails to this group pull an average open rate of 56% and click-through of 38%.
  • Category Browsers — These consumers look at categories, not at specific products. Send them category-specific recommendations. These emails generate “an open rate averaging 45% and a click-through of approximately 22%,” Kohn writes.
  • Product Browsers — They looked, but didn’t buy.
  • Make specific recommendations. “These emails have been shown to yield high open and click-through rates such as 52% and 27%, respectively,” Kohn continues.
  • Home page Browsers — These folks are the window shoppers. Kohn urges you to display your store’s top sellers and invite these prospects back with a friendly message.

“These emails have an average open rate of 42% and CTR of 18%,” he adds.

And why is email the best medium for all this? “A careful examination of various marketing channels reveals that email still ranks highest for ROI and effectiveness when it comes to digital marketing strategies,” Kohn concludes.


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