Email The Go-To Channel: Retailers Say It's Their Top Moneymaker

TurnTo and WBR Digital conducted a survey designed to show the strength of user-generated content (UGC) in retail. But one detail kept popping up: the strength of email marketing. 

Email is the chief online revenue driver, and takes a large share of budget dollars for the 100-plus retailers surveyed at the recent eTail West 2017 event. In addition, it’s their biggest customer-retention channel.

UGC, which stands for content posted by customers, does have its adherents: It reduces the content workload while building brand engagement, and almost half of all retailers use it. But it ranks at the bottom of most performance charts.

Not that email and UGC are competing — one is a channel, the other a tactic. But email gets high marks either way.  

Asked to rank online revenue streams, for example, email came in first, with 40% saying it is their highest contributor. It narrowly beats search, at 39%. In addition, 25% listed email as their second-highest revenue generator, and 13% as third. Only 2% cited it as their lowest revenue stream.



Other tactics and channels did not score anywhere near as well. 

Display was the highest contributor for 9%, referral marketing for 7%, mobile for 5% and social for 3%.

Nobody placed UGC as their highest revenue driver. But 4% said it was second.

In terms of spend, search was way out in front, with 47% identifying it as the top item. Email was rated that way by 22%.

However, email still outpaced display (13%), mobile (7%), social (6%) and UGC (3%). 

The next question in this survey was to list the primary drivers of customer acquisition. Email came in third, with 50% identifying it as such . Paid search was first (72%) and organic search second (65%).

But email led in customer retention, with 81% citing it — the only majority attained by any online activity. Second was retargeting, with 35%. Paid search came in third with 32%, tied with organic search.

As for measurement, mobile saw the most significant increases in 2016 — for 58%. Conversion rates were a distant second, mentioned by 20%, although 50% said they somewhat increased during the year.

With all this considered, it’s only fair to give some attention now to UGC.

According to the study, 48% said they are using it. But 100% are either using it or planning to do so in their social media marketing.

What’s more, 50% say that UGC and customer images help distinguish their brands from their competitors. In contrast, 38% cited promotions, and 19% data, including demographic and purchaser segmentation.  

“While the majority of retailers invest in the same three channels — email marketing, paid search, and organic search — user-generated content is a growing and already successful part of retailers’ marketing strategies,” the study states.

And how do companies deliver UGC? Social media is first, having been successfully implemented by 46%. On-site search is next, celebrated by 33%.

Here is one area that email doesn’t dominate: it came in seventh, being specified by 22%. But it did beat mobile and customer loyalty programs.

Note on methodology: Of the mid-market companies surveyed, 72% are multi-channel, and 17% are pure-play online. Another 11% described themselves as “other.” 

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