Continuing our series on retail and how retailers use email, we selected three popular retailers in the UK, DIY giant B&Q, retail store Next and home goods shop Argos, to include three large retail sectors in our investigation as to what email efforts retailers with storefronts are using. Of most interest to us: Was email used to promote offers and discounts, or simply as a front-of-mind awareness technique? Did the retailers send recipients to their website as part of the email campaigns and were they targeting consumers with relevant, personalised emails?
To start the experience from scratch, we set up new accounts for all three retailers to see exactly how they engaged online from step zero.
Email Registration Process
Next, B&Q and Argos websites give consumers the opportunity to create an account without making a purchase. Great for lead capture and it allows each retailer to acquire demographic and psychographic data from those willing to fill out the in-depth account form.
The B&Q account registration process was a way to organise the various touchpoints a consumer could have with the business for instance I was offered a free home design consultation. This generates offline telephone leads for B&Q and offline sales.
Retail giant Next had a multi-step sign up process that allowed me to select the ways in which the company could get in touch, including phone, email and good old fashioned snail mail. Unlike B&Q, I wasn’t prompted to put in any payment information. I was also given the option to select which section I wanted to shop after the registration process was complete. I selected Women’s; it is autumn after all, I need to know what the newest trends are!
Argos had the most straightforward account set up, the purpose of which was clearly to make online ordering and in-person shopping a straightforward process. After the initial lead capture information, I was helpfully shown my closest Argos stores. I was dropped into the email newsletter list automatically, but again unsubscribing was visible and easy.
Over the month-long period between subscribing and writing this article, I received the following number of emails from each company, including a welcome email from each:
Surprisingly, after going through the trouble of capturing customer information, none of the retailers were overly ambitious in terms of engaging me online.
This could be a different story if I actually purchase something, but for those who simply have signed up, there’s quite a bit each retailer could be doing to prompt sales. For starters targeting me with relevant, personalised emails based on my browsing behaviour. After all I haven’t purchased but I have searched each site so they should know what I’m in the market to buy.
None of the retailers used email subject line best practices; Next even sends emails with subject lines that are too long, ignoring the very rudiments of email marketing.
Next even sends emails with subject lines that are too long, ignoring the very rudiments of email marketing.
None of the subject lines were personalised or particularly relevant to me, even though I had gone through a sign up process through which each retailer at least had my name, gender and location. With this basic information, Next, B&Q and Argos could have taken steps to create more relevant subject lines that would compel me to open their emails.
Not surprisingly, the emails themselves, once opened, were as general as the subject lines.
B&Q’s email content spans the needs of anyone looking for anything from a major home renovation to a small DIY task around the home. Not very compelling, to say the least. I did like the “how-to” videos and guides included in the email, though. There’s a lot B&Q could do with these, including personalising emails based on customer behaviour around clicks for the how-tos. For example, I’m looking to paint my room. The “How to Paint a Room” how-to video was very helpful, and a follow up email with more information and perhaps a few product recommendations would have been brilliant. For B&Q, using performance email targeting would do just the trick when it comes to getting more out of existing content.
Next’s weekly emails at least include products that are relevant to me as a buyer, using the information they have on my gender to promote women’s products. The emails always focus on new products, and always mention delivery options and specials at the top of the email, perhaps to make online shopping more attractive to buyers used to shopping in store.
Since subscribing, I have only received one email from Argos. This email was laden with calls to action and seemed more to educate on how to shop in store and pick up items than to go to the website or view stock online.
Final consensus: step it up!
I was surprised by all three of these retailers’ email marketing efforts. While Next uses general targeting based on gender, none had gotten more sophisticated than that. Considering the long account sign up process through which each retailer acquired information they missed many opportunities to make their email marketing efforts pack a punch.