Thursday, 10 December 2009

What we learned from one day’s worth of pre-Christmas emails

In the summer I had the bright idea of logging in every marketing email that Miri and I received for a week. It made for one of our most popular blog posts, as well as for an exhausting several days. So since I couldn’t eke out the time to repeat that experiment (I have prezzies to buy and latkes to fry), I decided to instead home in on the emails we received on 9th December, two days after the so-called Mega Monday. At this point merchants should have had a solid grasp of which products, if any, they needed to push to meet sales goals, so it seemed as good a time as any to take a snapshot of their marketing efforts.

During the week in July that I tallied up the emails, we’d received 150. On 9th December we received 51, not counting duplicates (which makes me even more glad I decided to limit the experiment to one day!). Of those 51, nearly two-thirds—33, or 65 percent—offered some sort of discount or sale. That doesn’t include the email from fashion retailer Warehouse, which promoted a 25 percent discount voucher in the current issue of Grazia magazine.

Free postage and packing was appreciably less popular: Only nine of the emails, or 18 percent, offered it. For the most part the free P&P was tied to an order deadline (Neom Luxury Organics, womenswear cataloguer Gray & Osbourne), a spending threshold (toys cataloguer Letterbox, A Hume Country Clothing), or both (outdoor gear mailer Patagonia), though home-entertainment merchant and womenswear retailer Wall London offered unconditional free P&P.

Although these emails were sent just two weeks and a day before Christmas, only one in four notified recipients of the order deadlines for Christmas delivery. Orvis, for one, specified the date in its subject line (“Order by 14th December for guaranteed Christmas delivery”).

Gifts retailer Past Times spelled out last order dates not only for the UK but also for Continental Europe, US and Canada, and “rest of the world”. Granted, those overseas deadlines had already passed, which Past Times duly noted by striking through them, but by including them on the email it subtly reminded customers that it does indeed delivery worldwide.
Snow and surf gear seller Blue Tomato went one better, specifying dates for both standard and expedited delivery to EU and non-EU countries. I was confused, however, by the addition of dates for delivery to “AT” and “DE”. After a bit of sleuthing Miri deduced they meant Austria and Germany. (Since when did those countries drop out of the EU?)

So engrossed were marketers in their Christmas promotions, they for the most part neglected to follow email best practice. Take personalisation: A scant 8 percent of the emails (those from toys cataloguer BrightMinds, Conrad Electronic, wine merchant Vintage Roots, and pet supplies seller Zooplus) had any degree of it, and even these limited the personalisation to the salutation. Fewer than one-third—31 percent—of the emails included some sort of “forward to a friend” link. Only 27 percent included a link to their Facebook or MySpace page, their Twitter feed, or some other social-networking site, though that was an improvement from July, when just 17 percent of the emails we tallied offered such links.

In terms of subject lines, few really stood out. There was Orvis’s previously mentioned reference to the ordering deadline, and several others that also emphasised urgency (“Christmas gift ideas--Special Offer--One day only SAVE 20%” from gardening gifts merchant Primrose, “Wild Wednesday--Up to 80% off for 24hrs only” from general merchandiser, “20% OFF EVERYTHING--Ends Midnight Friday!” from fashion retailer Evans). Others simply stated their offers (the awkwardly punctuated “25% Off Everything and Get Ready for Christmas, shop now!” from Laura Ashley, “25% off all purchases at The Body Shop”). I did like “Stuff Those Stockings—Gift Ideas” from fashion brand White Stuff and “Christmas gifts? Ask the experts!” from gadgets merchant because they were somewhat different.

Only two subject lines really stood out, though. One was from cosmetics brand Space NK, and that caught my attention because of the typographic error: “Limited Time Offer: Receive #10 Off Your Purchase”. As an American, this made sense to me: What is called a hash tag on this side of the Atlantic is known as a pound sign on the other side. But I’m sure it baffled many other recipients.

Then there was this: “Christmas Tree Almost Ruins Christmas--A Case Study from The Healthy House”. C’mon, you have to open an email with a subject line like that. Apparently the writer of the email once had a genuine Scotch pine for the family tree, but the kids ended up being allergic to the attendant dust, mould spores, and terpene (yeah, I had no idea what that was either). The moral, according to Healthy House, is to be conscious of people’s environmental sensitivities and other allergies, and if you’re going to opt for a real tree, click through to the Healthy House website to buy an antiallergy spray.

On a happier note, here are my picks for the most aesthetically pleasing emails. The vast majority featured a broad selection of the merchants’ product ranges, which was quite practical. After a while, though, they blurred together in my memory. These didn’t:
Patagonia didn't eschew its creative trademark--fabulous action shots--and it also tied its copy to the photo: "Don’t be cast out in the cold because you didn’t get your gift there on time. There’s still time to pick up great Patagonia presents and get them there on time..."

The simplicity of this message from fashion brand Howies is refreshing. Plus Howies was one of the few marketers to promote gift vouchers, which are always popular to give and to receive.
Okay, I'm a sucker for puppies. Want to make something of it?--SC

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