The Limited Tops Email Performance Audit, But That May Not Be Saying Much

Retailers often view email as an afterthought. They either send too much, fail to personalize it or even use the wrong name in the message, according to Women’s Retail Customer Experience Audit, a study by technology provider Customer Portfolios.

Customer Portfolios audited the emails sent by 10 women’s retail brands to two parties named Jeff Sanders and Susan Johnson (not their real names).

Only one retailer personalized a large number of emails.

Some used the payer’s name instead of the buyer’s — one personalized email addressed Susan as “Nick” — and the subject lines often stressed sales, not the brand or product.

“Retailers use email every day as an essential part of their marketing and treat it as an effective channel that they feel they have mastered,” says Nick Godfrey, EVP strategy for Customer Portfolios. “Looking at these results more closely, though, their execution still shows opportunity for better personalization and targeting.”



But first let’s eliminate the suspense. Here is the brand ranking, based on summarized audit scores: 

  1. The Limited — 76
  2. Ann Taylor — 72
  3. Boden — 56
  4. Chico’s — 52
  5. J. McLaughlin — 44
  6. Talbots — 44 
  7. J. Jill — 44 
  8. Lafayette 148 — 40
  9. Lane Bryant — 36
  10. Dressbarn — 24

Now let’s drill down into the audit process. 

Jeff was not engaged either during or after the audit. He opened emails but never clicked. He visited sites and browsed through multiple categories, but made no purchases. 

Susan, in contrast, was engaged throughout the audit, although not afterward. She opened emails, always clicked through, browsed a single category and made a purchase.

Here are the five main findings: 

  1. Four brands sent from 10 to 20 in one month to Susan, close to the optimal number of 10. But six brands sent 30+ emails, showing “there is still room for improvement,” the study notes. The average brand score: 3.3. 
  2. Despite his lack of engagement, Jeff received just as many emails as Susan — even more from two brands. The average brand score: 2. 
  3. Retailers sent just as many emails to Susan after the audit period, when she was no longer engaged. The average brand score: 2.4.
  4. Most brands either failed to personalize the subject line or used the credit card name for personalization. The average brand score: 1.6. 
  5. While Susan made a purchase and Jeff did not, there was little evidence that brands considered these behaviors when planning their emails. The average brand score: 2.7.

“Email is pervasive,” the study concludes. “And yet, the approach is riddled with non-best practices.”


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