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GUEST COMMENT Language optimisation, not high-pressure selling, will boost long-term retail sales

The pressures on the retail sector are well known. Stories of store closures, job losses and business failures are a regular read in the retail pages. For online retailers, the challenges range from squeezed consumer incomes to serial returners and ever more eroding margins.

In this environment, the idea of a quick win, such as an increase in email response rates from offering discounts or high-pressure selling, can be appealing. But are these always the best way to keep consumers activated? Are there other tactics that might be effective in the long term?

Turn off the pressure sell

When needing to do more with less, discounts can be alluring to retailers. 40% off jeans? Don’t mind if I do. Research by Deloitte this in 2018’s peak trading period, discounts were broader and deeper than had been seen in recent years. Remarkably, over half of all clothing on sale in the run-up to the festive period was discounted.

But: if you rely too heavily on discount selling, you’re training your consumers to never buy at full price. When discounts become the default, full margin sales become a thing of the past. If you know that the next insistent email with a discounted product is just around the corner, why would you ever pay the “full” amount?

Often these discounts are combined with pressure selling, which brings further hazards. If your inbox is anything like mine, you’ll be used to opening 5,000 unread ‘too good to be true’ offers. Perhaps you’ll be greeted by an email subject line created by an under-pressure marketer trying to hit their targets: “Urgent: You’ve been sent BIG savings (20% off >>)” or “IMPORTANT information inside. You’ve secured 20% OFF >>>”.

But let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. How do messages like the two examples above make you feel? Stressed? Anxious? Scared of missing out? Let’s say your customer sees these emails three times a week from you and visits your store once every two months. That means that in 96% of their interactions with your brand, that’s their emotional experience – anxiety, fear, and stress.

Eventually, this will start to rub off. While pressure selling might lead to an initial spike in response rates, that won’t necessarily mean an increase in long run customer value. Before long, consumers will get wise to these tactics and your emails will be as inconsequential as a fart in the wind.

In fact, Phrasee’s extensive data set shows that including the phrase “XX% off” actually reduces response rates more often than not.

Even worse, pressure selling risks creating a bad impression on the customer over time. In our recent survey of 2000 consumers in the UK, we found that three-quarters agree that brands exploiting their emotions negatively will lose their trust and loyalty. Moreover, nearly a quarter of consumers say they’ve made a purchase they regret off the back of anxiety-inducing marketing. Consumers that come to regret interactions with your brand are unlikely to return.

Keeping it fresh

So how can retailers improve their email subject lines? There are some well-known principles that will always apply: avoid using misleading language, use your brand voice and pique the recipient’s attention, for instance. But another important factor is language diversity.

Phrasee has analysed millions of email subject lines, tracked their performance over time, and found there is a clear link between successful email marketing programs and language diversity. In fact, when combined with effective split testing, linguistic diversity leads to an open rate uptick of up to 5% to 10%. It is, of course, one of many linguistic factors to consider – but it’s an important one that many ignore at their own peril.

When marketers conjure a winning line, they can tend to stick with it. As humans, we’ll naturally fall back to our favourite words, phrases and structures, and besides, why change something that works?

The problem is that there could be a better line out there – one that performs even better than your current top-performer. But, if you’re not testing a variety of words, phrases and even emojis, you risk putting all your eggs in one subject line-basket and risk losing out on even more opens. And by keeping the language fresh and varied, you can keep catching your customers’ eyes and bringing them back to your content.

Another reason that language diversity works is that every audience is different. Even if you’re targeting the same people, what might catch a customer’s attention four drinks down on a Friday won’t necessarily be the same as on their packed commuter train the following Monday.

So next time you’re looking for a sales boost, consider language diversity. To help demonstrate this, Phrasee has built an easy to use calculator for retail marketers to gauge the diversity of their email subject lines and see how they measure up against other retailers. You can try here. Good luck!

Author: Parry Malm, CEO and co-founder, Phrasee

Image credit: Fotolia

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