Creative ways retailers can use email to weather a time of crisis

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Enterprise retailers with major investments in brick-and-mortar locations are on the front lines of change in today’s economy.

In a time of dramatic disruption, many are turning to their digital operations to help them keep revenue flowing and the light at the end of the tunnel as bright as possible. Locations that remain open have their own set of challenges: balancing store traffic with managing employee and customer health and safety, and dealing with supply-chain disruptions.

As a marketer, you’re probably fielding many questions about how to make your digital channels even more effective and working overtime trying to find ways to increase your company’s bottom line while maintaining an excellent customer experience with your brand. 

One answer – maybe not surprisingly – is email. The reliable workhorse that consumers prefer over other digital channels for brand communications in good times is emerging as the go-to connector in turbulent times for shoppers whose favorite stores are closed for the duration.


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Updated data from BounceX show email open and conversion rates soared by early April this year – open rates were up 25% and conversions topped 40%.

However, business-as-usual emails won’t help retailers make up the revenue gap or connect with unsettled or stressed customers. 

Advanced personalization and real-time communications will help you solve problems now and set the stage for even better performance after the lights come on and doors open later, as you can see with these five email marketing tactics for retail stores:

1. Press “send” confidently even as conditions change. One of the biggest challenges retailers face in this uncertain economy is how quickly things change, whether it’s a product that suddenly goes out of stock, locations that open or close, or offers and messages that become outdated or inappropriate in a new context. 

That means the email you send in the morning could well be out of date by the time your customer reads it even just a few hours later. It’s enough to make any email marketer anxious when it comes time to deploy their campaigns. 

Gain the gift of the “take-back” with modules of editable email content you can change even after you send your campaign, using technology that lets you switch in up-to-date content based on when or where your recipient opens your email. You’ll send with confidence, knowing your audience is getting the right information whenever they open.

2. Offer real-time product recommendations: Products can fly off the shelves fast in turbulent times, and supply-chain uncertainty means shipments might not come in as regularly as before. This creates a bad customer experience even in good times. In bad times, it can quickly turn customers against your brand and even drive them to your competition.

Using real-time recommendations based on inventory levels will help you avoid promoting unavailable products online or in-store. Your messages can use adaptive product recommendations that change based on real-time inventory data.

3. Engage your loyalty-program members. Keep your VIPs and other high-value customers warmed up and ready to convert with personalized messages that build on their purchase or membership history or reveal their tier status and the benefits they’ll get when they move to a higher level. Give them advance notice of store specials or changes in hours or locations, and let them be the first to know when your doors will be open again.

4. Update triggered and transactional emails. Add value for the customers who do buy from you by including personalized recommendations, product advice or coupons based on browse or purchase history, predictive or “next logical product” models. If they’ve made an order online, include a real-time shipping tracker so they can keep an eye on their package as it’s being prepared and sent (bonus points: this can also relieve stress on your customer service center from customers calling in to ask where their order is!).

You might do this already for order-confirmation or cart abandonment emails, but look at the possibilities for including personalized or “moment of open” content in welcome emails or account-registration emails to accommodate any influx of new customers finding you online when they can’t access their preferred brands. 

5. Add “tap to text” to expand email reach. Although homebound workers and students on desktops are driving up email open, click and conversion rates, their phones keep them connected to family and friends. “Tap to text” lets you reach these customers quickly with late-breaking news, updates and offers. An in-email call to action automatically populates a text when viewed on mobile or provides easy instructions to customers checking their email on desktops or other devices. 

Upgrades today bring benefits later

Advanced personalization and real-time messaging will help you stay connected with your customers now as we all weather the storm together. But once the world begins to recover, your email program will emerge even stronger, positioned to respond to and even anticipate your customers’ needs and wants and making your messages even more valuable to your customers. 

Get even more actionable advice and tips for accelerating your retail recovery in this ebook made just for retail marketers helping their brands recover from the global crisis. Download Personalizing Your Customer Journey As Retail Returns today!

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Michelena Howl is VP Client Success and Services for Liveclicker, providing email marketers real-time data driven solutions for their digital marketing needs. Michelena is a leader in the ecommerce project management landscape, with a diverse background ranging from producing celebrity entertainment at E! to Yale University classrooms, e-commerce analytics, site optimization and creative management.

Michelena Howl
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