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Retailers are still ignoring email best practices

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The annual benchmark study, Hitting the Mark, has found that some of the UK’s leading retailers are continuing to overlook key email marketing techniques that could increase online traffic and sales, at a time when many are struggling with the onslaught of the recession.

While the study recognises retailers such as Marks and Spencer and H Samuel for using brand-enhancing design and compelling calls to action, says dotMailer, others including Somerfield and H&M showed little signs of improvement on 2008, failing to use best practice techniques to engage with recipients.

The benchmark study assessed emails sent from 41 UK retailers around 8th December 2008 — the festive season’s busiest shopping day. Each email was evaluated against 14 criteria based on dotMailer’s Hitting the Mark matrix and the DMA’s Email Best Practice Guidelines, with each retailer awarded a total score out of 100.

Marks and Spencer and H Samuel jointly top the study for the first time with scores of 81, moving up from fourth and 15th positions respectively in 2008, closely followed by Ethical Superstore and Argos.

This year, Somerfield and H&M jointly replace Lidl at the bottom of the email marketing index with just 48 points, followed by Schuh and Tog24. Lidl continued to flounder in the bottom five with 58 points, moving up only four places. However, there was good news for 2008’s lowest scoring retailer, Office. The shoe retailer boosted its score by 21 points this year to rank in eighth place with a score of 75. Last year’s top placed company Topshop ranks joint fourth this year with 78 points.

Whilst some of the lowest scoring criteria from 2008 showed signs of improvement, such as including a valid unsubscribe link and using engaging subject lines, there were some notable areas where retailers failed to deliver this year:

  • Only 29% asked for relevant interests during sign up, in order to target emails more effectively.

  • Only two retailers our of the 41 included social network links to help spread their messages virally.

  • 32% don’t meet necessary legal requirements

  • Overall, the average score of 67 was down four points on 2008’s average of 71, and only 14 retailers managed to score 70 points or more this year.

“Whilst the 2009 report shows improvements in certain areas, it’s evident that many of the retailers that we assessed have not taken steps to improve their email marketing campaigns,” says Tink Taylor, dotMailer’s business development director. “Many of the best practice guidelines outlined in the report are very easy to implement and by making these simple changes and improvements, retailers can start seeing some incredibly positive results, very quickly.”

Using the information contained within the report, dotMailer’s Tink Taylor has issued five top email marketing tips for retailers striving to ride out the recession:

  • Include forward to a friend and ‘add to social networks’ links — 50% of retailers failed to include any kind of viral link in their email.

  • Personalise your greeting — Opening an email with a personalised greeting can significantly improve both open and click-through rates by engaging the recipient and helping to establish one-to-one communication. 70% of the emails we looked at failed to do this.

  • Check renderability before sending — 19% of recipients will delete an email unread if it fails to display correctly. There is still more work to be done in this crucial area with only 20% of emails we studied rendering correctly in every type of email account.

  • Make sure your template has a good balance of text to images — as well as helping your campaign to pass spam filters, this ensures an email is readable when images are switched off by the email client — a simple step that can increase open rates by up to 40%.

  • Initiate some action — the key to the success of an email campaign is to help recipients answer these three questions: Who is it from? What’s in it for me? and What shall I do next? Make sure you provide clear guidance on what you expect a recipient to do once they have read your email, for example click through to a product page, forward it to a friend, or contact your team. A third of retailers failed to provide a clear call to action.

The full report is available to download free of charge from dotMailer’s website.

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