Riding Out COVID-19: Retailers Change Email Tactics To Engage Customers

The COVID-19 crisis is driving changes in email strategy as retailers try to stay in touch with their customers, judging by a flash survey conducted last week by SmarterHQ.

Indeed, 100% of the retail brands polled have adjusted their messaging strategy based on unique and changing behaviors during the pandemic.

For instance, 43.75% have prioritized sending messages in the two-week period ending last Thursday. Only 12.5% sent fewer personalized messages, an 43.75% stayed at the same. 

This snapshot survey was conducted during a April 2 webinar titled Pivoting to eCommerce-Only Marketing During COVID-19.

SmarterHQ also found that 46.15% of retailers are using in-store shopping data to personalize messaging and encourage customers to shop online. But 38.46% plan to but are not yet there, and 15.38% are not doing so. 

The biggest challenges going forward are: 

- In-store sales loss — 53.85%

- Inventory management — 15.38% 



- Staffing and re-opening stores — 15.38%

- New customer acquisition — 7.69% 

- Online customer retention — 7.69% 

“While the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every brand, we’re seeing a large percentage of digital marketers adapt their personalized messaging strategies to best resonate with their consumer base during these unprecedented times,” says Kara Holthaus, VP client services at SmarterHQ.

Holthaus says that “even though many brick-and-mortar stores have temporarily closed, marketers are leveraging that in-store data to send more meaningful and impactful email content.”

What’s more, “Since the majority of marketers we surveyed believe that the biggest challenge they’re confronted with is in-store sales loss, utilizing this data to offer more personalized experiences online that reflect a customer’s style, preferences, and history with the brand will better position these companies when the virus is behind us,” Holthaus concludes. 

During the webinar, Holthaus noted these trends:

  • Brick-and-mortar isn’t necessarily seeing a huge spike in e-commerce revenue since the shutdown — This is largely due to job loss and lack of spending.
  • Some retail categories show a surge in online sales over the past two weeks — Among these categories are loungewear, beauty and home goods. 
  • Many retailers are reverting back to old marketing tactics out of fear of the unknown — Some are blasting to their full list ad, running big sales equivalent to those on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Holthaus urges retailers to send the right message, not the wrong or generic one,” 

Holthaus also offered these tips:

  • Sensitivity is paramount — You havehave to be flexible and empathetic 
  • Distraction is at an all-time high — Children and work-at-home can divert people from your emails. “Make sure messaging in real-time as much as you can,” Holthaus says.  
  • Identification is key — people are going into sites without logging in — you have to identify those people appropriately to follow up, especially through email channel. 
  • Treat this data differently — This is a moment in time. Itwon’t be a longer-term norm,  Holthaus says.
  • Pull back on mass blasts — Instead, send personalized emails andleverage ad-hoc, trigger-based behavior,” Holthaus advises.
  • Optimize and stay flexible — Changes occur every day, especially on the inventory front. Be willing to swap pieces of marketing content.



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