Retailers have traditionally relied on the RFM model, segmenting customers by the recency, frequency and monetary values of their purchases. Sometimes they also bucket people by the categories they typically shop, whether someone is a dress buyer or more of a fashion buyer, for instance. Rarely do retailers segment by how a customer shops, which increasingly includes click and collect: curbside pickup and buying online, picking up in-store, otherwise known as BOPIS.
Click and collect, BOPIS and curbside pickup have been steadily growing in popularity for years, accounting for more sales every holiday season. Adoption was naturally accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which all but decimated brick-and-mortar foot traffic in many parts of the U.S. A survey by market research firm Ipsos found that consumers are using BOPIS and curbside pickup 78% more than they were pre-pandemic.
While click and collect is important — especially as you think about retaining those holiday shoppers — it’s a mistake to think of these shopping behaviors as simply being another channel. Click and collect isn’t a channel; the customer is the channel. There are different personas to keep in mind and along with our sister brand Sailthru, we’ve identified four particularly important ones:
These four personas represent unique customers who should be engaged differently. Though some messaging tactics warrant more emphasis with some personas than others, some apply to any click and collect shopper. Communications should always be clear, timely and accurate before, during and after the pickup experience. Personalization is also always important as strong click and collect messaging enhances the personalized customer experience, giving people a say in how they receive their purchases. This is also where advanced personalization really shines. Moment-of-open technology ensures customers see the most up-to-date information when they open a message — not when the retailer sent it.
Understanding the nuances is challenging, but a worthwhile endeavor. Consumer behaviors have evolved in response to the pandemic, and many of the brands having strong years — Target, Best Buy and The Home Depot, to name a few — owe much of their growth to strong click and collect experiences.
Optimizing yours is a must, and along with our sister brand Sailthru, Liveclicker is here to help you do it. Download The 4 Curbside Customers to Know in 2021 to learn more about the four click and collect personas, and the different messaging tactics that work best for each, featuring examples of the brands doing it best.
Amazon’s decision to delay Prime Day extravaganza to October could throw a wrench into retail marketers’ Black Friday/Cyber Monday campaigns, threatening to steer holiday spending away from the traditional Thanksgiving weekend shopping extravaganza.
The Prime Day challenge, plus surveys showing nearly half of U.S. consumers expect to spend less on holiday shopping and a significant share remain skittish about in-store shopping, mean marketers must engage customers more creatively to compete and win in this highly unusual and uncertain holiday season.
Many marketers are counting on a record-breaking holiday season this year to make up for lost time. Make a few core adjustments and adaptations to set your email program up for success during the peak of the holiday shopping season.
1. Anticipate the Prime Day challenge
Coresight research shows one-third of consumers will do their holiday shopping on Amazon Prime Day (which could land in early to mid-October and run as long as a week), while only 15% said they would shop on Black Friday instead.
It’s a problem because Prime Day shoppers might end up with less money to spend on Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions or have finished most of their holiday spending.
Delivering a better customer experience with advanced personalization and real-time data can help marketers recapture shopper attention by the time Black Friday and Cyber Monday roll around six to eight weeks later. Adopt flexible tactics like:
2. Double down on loyalty
Loyalty programs are rich sources of data that marketers can use to keep members’ eyes focused on their stores and websites with some clever messaging strategies:
3. Stress convenience and safety of local store shopping
Coresight research also shows that consumers are once again avoiding public spaces like shopping centers and malls as COVID-19 cases rise again.
It’s too soon to predict what will happen when the holiday shopping quarter begins on Oct. 1. However, marketers can use email to explain how they keep customers and employees safe in their stores and what services they offer, like curbside pickup and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) for time-pressed or cautious customers.
Besides this content – which can also explain mask requirements, sanitation, and store layout changes to reduce time spent online – marketers can use dynamic content modules that contain late-breaking news, such as sudden changes in hours or open locations.
Adding a map or store address of the nearest open location can keep foot traffic going to the right stores and reduce shopper frustration.
4. Get on your customers’ calendars
Whether it’s an in-store VIP event or a major promotion online, an add-to-calendar function lets customers add the date to their phone or desktop calendars and then generates a reminder just before the event happens.
This is a big bonus because the reminder comes from the calendar—appearing on the desktop or the phone lock screen—and keeps the big day from getting blitzed by wall-to-wall Prime Day promotions in the inbox.
5. Keep email content up to date and accurate with real-time inventory data and moment of open technology
An October Prime Day might pull inventory as well as spending forward six to eight weeks. That, along with supply chain disruptions, can lead to shortages and out-of-stocks for Black Friday Week promotions.
Marketers can use dynamic content powered by real-time data to swap out-of-stock promotions for in-stock merchandise, even after sending the email. Moment of open technology refreshes email content automatically whenever the customer opens the message—another way marketers can reduce frustration and increase conversions.
There’s no doubt that 2020 is testing retailers like never before. But marketers who connect with their customers on deeper levels and offer them more than just a deep discount, who reduce barriers and frustration and build trust and reliability will be the ones who come out on top when the world rights itself again. Get actionable inspiration to shape your own email strategy for success through BFCM and beyond in the Liveclicker 2020 Holiday Lookbook.
In a normal year, many email marketers would be hard at work right now planning strategy and campaigns for the holiday shopping season. But these days it’s hard enough planning a campaign just a week or two out, let alone three to six months in the future.
And nothing’s more frustrating than scrambling to replace a campaign you had to scrap because something went wrong at the last minute—except, perhaps, scrambling in damage control mode as you realize a campaign you just sent has incorrect or outdated information.
This year, with so much riding on a successful holiday season, you must be able to plan campaigns knowing your hard work and creativity won’t be wasted if conditions change unexpectedly. But how can you do it without pulling your team off other projects to create and test hasty replacements?
Here’s the not-so-secret secret: Dynamic content that you can swap out as needed will keep your messages fresh and up to date no matter when your customers open them.
Dynamic content lets you update messaging and creative in emails at any time. It’s as easy as changing out a header image on your website, and updates can be automated or made manually depending on the situation.
You probably know about some tried-and-true uses of dynamic content, like a map that shows your customers where to find your nearest stores. These days, with businesses opening and closing at short notice according to government requirements, that feature is more essential than ever. But dynamic content can do so much more, keeping all your hard work and holiday planning as evergreen as the finest tannenbaum.
Need some holiday email marketing ideas? We just came out with a new guide, the Liveclicker 2020 Holiday Lookbook, which is filled with ways to use dynamic content to boost revenue, help your team work smarter and build customer engagement that makes your brand your customers’ reliable source for easy holiday shopping.
Here are three tips from the Lookbook you can use right away to create campaigns that will stay relevant and usable months after you create them:
1. Give customers a gift they can open again and again
Keep your subscribers clicking on your emails with a multiple-day, multi-touch campaign that highlights different limited-time promotions (like a “Twelve Days of Christmas” campaign with last-minute gift ideas).
Dynamic content ensures that each subscriber sees only your current offer, no matter which email they open or when they open it. It ends the frustration customers feel at clicking on a tempting offer, only to find themselves shut out when they reach your website.
2. Make the moment unforgettable
Whenever you have a big event coming up, like your Black Friday kickoff or a VIP gathering at local stores, include an “Add to Calendar” function in your email invite.
With just a couple of taps, your customers can add your event to their calendars. They’ll even get a personalized reminder when it’s time to show up!
3. Reduce your follow-up workload
Expired offers and out-of-stocks are some of the hazards that go along with the harried holiday shopping season, but they don’t have to be business as usual in your email messages. And, in this year of disruption and uncertainty, you could be dealing with other issues like merchandise delays and regional business disruptions, too.
So, use dynamic content to update your outdated email automatically with correct information. Your customers will see only the updated content whenever they open the email – even after you send it! Your team won’t have to spend time on follow-up emails or even the dreaded “Oops!” apology email. This gives your subscribers a better experience with your brand, too.
Your copy of the Liveclicker 2020 Holiday Lookbook is as close as a click. It’s free and filled with great tips to help you leverage the power of dynamic content and moment of open technology for more relevant and engaging email.
Retail marketers have their work cut out for them as we quickly approach a holiday shopping season that remains full of question marks. Advanced personalization that uses dynamic content and moment-of-open technology will be even more essential in this challenging year to bring value to email campaigns and help marketers keep up in an uncertain, constantly-changing retail environment.
It’s never too early to start planning, especially this year when marketers will pull every available lever to drive traffic, sales and revenue without relying on deep discounts or margin-eating incentives.
Research from the National Retail Federation shows nearly 1 in 4 consumers say they start shopping in October or earlier. This year, you need to get ahead of these early birds to serve their needs and wants and retool campaigns quickly if conditions change.
Need some help to get started on your strategic holiday plan? Find it in the Liveclicker 2020 Holiday Lookbook, packed full of tips and tactics for sending emails that will get your customers excited about shopping this holiday season.
U.S. retail sales, including holiday, will fall 14% in 2020, eMarketer predicts, while ecommerce should rise 18%, bolstered by shoppers who discovered the convenience of curbside/home delivery and in-store pickup.
No matter what happens, retailers are in a stronger position today than they were in the early weeks of the pandemic. They have learned how to survive shutdowns and manage around product shortages and day-to-day changes.
With the holidays looming, marketers can put that knowledge to work by using dynamic content and moment of open technology to create high-value email campaigns that roll with uncertainties and get customers excited about shopping again.
Different parts of the country will be at different stages of recovery this year, from full reopening to partial or total shutdown. Your email campaigns must reflect these variations, especially if your company relies on physical stores for sales and customer service.
One email, many variations: Save time, money and resources by replacing all of your regional email campaigns with a single email template that includes dynamic content modules. These let you blend standard content for all shoppers with content that’s right for different regions.
A map of your nearby locations can update automatically based on where your customers open the email. Copy can list regional store hours or shopping policies. No worries about sending customers to closed stores or posting inaccurate information!
Many consumers are adamant that they won’t join the usual holiday throngs this year. Show shoppers you care about their health and safety by offering click-and-collect or “buy online, pick up in store” services that let them shop but stay socially distant.
Create a fun animation or short video that walks new users through the steps so they understand how the process works and gives them confidence to use the service, like this example from Tractor Supply Company.
Then, add it to a special promotional campaign or to purchase-confirmation emails if they choose the service at checkout.
Remember to add location data and dynamic content to the mix! With these you can target the locations where you offer the service and swap in substitute content for emails opened in regions where you don’t offer it yet.
Whether your online shoppers choose regular delivery or click-and-collect from a local store, keep them updated (and off your customer-service lines) with shipping updates that track delivery dates and times.
Add this content to a dynamic module in your regular or triggered emails, or send a stand-alone email they can refer to whenever they want an update.
Your copy of the Liveclicker 2020 Holiday Lookbook is as close as a click. It’s free and filled with great tips to help you leverage the power of dynamic content and moment of open technology for more relevant and engaging email. Learn more about these cool tools, too:
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.
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 retailers:
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.
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!
Sometimes, email works a little too well. That irresistible promotion or clever creative drew tons of conversions; maybe so many that you sold out before you could even send a reminder campaign.
Well done! But what about all your other email subscribers who will open your email an hour or day or even week later, rush to your site and find the dreaded “Sold Out” banner plastered over your irresistible offer? That’s a complaint just waiting to happen (not to mention a missed conversion).
It can happen any time of the year, but it’s especially likely now that we’re in the thick of the busy holiday shopping season, when inventory flies out almost as fast as it hits your store shelves and deals can change in a jingle. It sets up a poor customer experience, one that can drive customers to your competition if you don’t manage it well.
The same channel that drove all those customers to your site can also bring them back again when you offer to take their names and let them know when the product is back in stock.
“Back in stock” emails function like abandoned-cart messages. You’ll get more customer action when you give them detailed information about the restocked product, like this message:
This email is about as specific as you can get. It names the product, provides a photo and details, links to the product page and even reminds the customer why she’s getting the email.
“Back in stock” emails are popular with customers. They generate some of the highest open rates of any triggered messages – 47.6% to 65.32% according to different sources. For one brand, 7.7% of site visitors who clicked from a “back in stock” email bought the product, compared with the site’s 1.7% overall conversion rate.
Those figures are impressive. But, your customers are still hitting dead ends when they click from your email to your website only to find they’re too late.
Here’s an even better way: Use real-time data and content to replace the original email offer with an updated message when products sell out or some other catastrophe happens, like a delayed shipment from your supplier.
If you can integrate your inventory management and messaging systems, you can substitute a notice that the product has sold, suggest similar products or invite the customer to sign up for an alert when the product gets restocked.
Your customer might still be disappointed, but she won’t get an unexpected and unpleasant experience on your site and then go away empty-handed or click over to a competitor.
Pop-culture retailer Hot Topic uses moment-of-open technology that keeps its email customers up to date on new-product availability – not just when a product sells out but even before, when it becomes available in-store and online.
The content automatically updates when the product’s status change, as shown in this promotion for the hot collectible brand Funko :
If a product sells out, Hot Topic substitutes a grayed-out image that subscribers see at the moment they open the email message.
This tactic reduced customer complaints about missing out on hot sales and generated a 30% lift in clicks, longer browse sessions and higher sales. (Get more details in this blog post: 2 Wins and a Fail: Real Email Marketing Experiences and Lessons from Hot Topic.)
Dynamic content that updates when customers open their emails can mean fewer unhappy surprises on the website for customers. But what about people who find your site through search, by typing your site name into their web browsers or clicking through from your emails anyway even if the message says the product is sold out?
A well-done “back in stock” email can save that sale.
Offering to email customers when a product is available again is a standard feature on Amazon product pages. The product page will automatically disable color, size and other options and substitute a message like the one below:
Logged-in Amazon customers don’t have to type in their email addresses; the system adds those automatically. If you can’t provide that same seamless experience, ask for an email address so you can send a restock alert.
Collect that address in a form on the page, like Amazon’s, or in a pop-up form (often called a pop-over or overlay).
You don’t have to worry about complying with email or data-privacy laws like CAN-SPAM, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) or the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation because you are emailing your customers at their request. That makes them transactional rather than marketing emails
But, while your have your browsers’ attention, why not invite them to join your mailing list? Highlight the benefits of joining – special offers and discounts, VIP notices, etc. – but assure them they can request a restock alert without opting in.
Also, remind customers why they should sign up for an email stock alert, such as being the first to find out when the product is restocked.
Be careful that your marketing-driven material is secondary to the restock reminder. Keep reading to see two ways to handle this.
1. Be specific: We mentioned earlier that “back in stock” email messages function like abandoned-cart notices. They work best when you get as specific as possible, beginning with the subject line.
Instead of saying “Your item is back in stock,” specify the product you mean in the subject line and list details in the message in case you need to jog your customer’s memory. This is important all year long, but it become crucial for holiday shopping when your customers can easily go into information overload.
2. Make them memorable: Many “back in stock” alerts look like a robot formatted them. Design yours to be as attractive as your other marketing messages by using a similar template and adding your brand logo and colors and a little marketing pizzazz, like product alternatives.
This Glasses USA email recognizes that the love affair your customer had with a product when it wasn’t available can cool off by the time it gets restocked, so it suggests similar items from inventory.
This email from Lyst gives customers the option to request similar product views by clicking the “Similar products” button. Consider this approach if you are concerned about adding marketing-driven material to a transactional email.
3. Build urgency: Persuade customers to jump on the alert. This Huckberry stock availability email stokes customers’ egos by noting that they are the first to learn about the restocked product and then ramping up the FOMO (fear of missing out) by reminded them that the new stock is limited. You don’t want customers missing out twice on a good deal!
No matter how effective your inventory-management system is, you can’t always avoid being sold out of a popular product. But you can retain more sales by using real-time data and dynamic content in email to get out in front of the problem before customers hit a dead end on your website.
Then, follow up with a persuasive “back in stock” alert that entices them to come back and close the deal.
According to new analysis based on groundbreaking research on marketing personalization, email marketers are getting creative about surviving in the Age of Amazon, Whether they go up against the ecommerce behemoth in head-to-head competition or work to gain traction on Amazon’s own platform retailers are finding new ways to compete on the basis of relevance.
These retailers aren’t just using personalization for the sake of personalization, like merging a first name into subject lines or the body copy.
Instead, today’s shoppers look for a superior experience with a brand on the major touch points, from the website, to email updates to in-store contacts. And, retailers are listening.
Delivering “a more relevant and enriching customer experience” is the No. 1 tactic retailers are using to compete successfully with Amazon, and advanced personalization is one of the tools retailers use to make it happen.
Advanced personalization uses data and automation to add localized and real-time data to regular email messages. This gives campaign emails the immediacy and appeal of transactional messages. They tell your customers that they aren’t just email addresses in a database – you know them as people.
Personalization is one of the areas where marketers think they can get an edge on Amazon, as our report explains. The ecommerce giant “hasn’t recently shown dramatic advances in personalization, and not in advanced personalization technologies.”
But Amazon does have two email tricks that are worth testing in your own email program:
Personalized customer newsletters. These aren’t Amazon’s usual browse-session follow-up emails. Instead, Amazon sends its Kindle Unlimited users personalized emails designed to encourage them to rent and buy more books and to continue paying for the service.
The newsletter features in-depth information about authors on the member’s rental, browse and wish lists and suggests other reads – some paid, others that the membership fee covers. Other newsletters, such as those sent to Amazon Prime members, don’t have the same depth of personalized content.
1. Reassuring package-delivery notice: Do you worry about porch pirates making off with your online orders? Your customers do, too. You can help them feel more secure by letting them know when their packages are delivered, not just when they leave your warehouse.
This notice from adidas is a follow-up to an earlier shipping notification. It goes out within a few minutes of delivery and includes both package contents and tips on resolving issues, including exchanges and delivery problems.
Bonus tip: Add detail to the subject line: This subject line from Woot! merges the delivered item into the subject line so your customer can see right away what’s in the delivery: “Rejoice! Your Apple 60W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter Has Been Delivered!”
2. Gamified data reports: CVS sends this monthly spending report to members of its loyalty program. But it raises the stakes by turning the report into a game by showing customer progress from one tier to the next. The email also includes an incentive (more Extra Bucks discounts) and suggestions on how to spend them – two moves that encourage shoppers to go back to their store and buy again.
3. Real-time weather triggered email: Using location data to generate email copy and trigger emails is one way to add relevance and build store traffic. You can add a map to an email or nearest store address to an email. Or, you can use location data to pull weather data and get out ahead of local events.
This email from a movie theater chain took advantage of a major winter storm forecast that affected several cities in its market to promote movie attendance. It sounds like a contradiction, but anybody who lives in snow country will tell you that snow might cancel school, but malls and movie theaters are usually still bustling.
4. App-email connection: This ecommerce personalization example looks like your typical abandonment email. But it isn’t.
Instead of triggering after an abandoned browse session, this email popped into a shopper’s inbox after she scanned a product in-store using her Target mobile app. Although she checked out a cartload of products, the candle she browsed stayed on the shelf. The email beat her home!
If you want to go for a seamless customer experience, this email can help you bridge the gap between the app and the inbox. Add some context that shows your customers why they’re gettng the email to make an even stronger impression.
You’ll learn more effective tactics that marketers are using successfully to compete with Amazon in our report, Using Personalization to Win in the Age of Amazon. Download it and share with your team!
Online retailers are talking about this holiday shopping statistic from Episerver’s global shopper survey: 42% of shoppers plan to buy most or all of their gifts from Amazon this holiday shopping season.
Yikes! But the survey also found that 47% of shoppers will buy few or none of their gifts from Amazon. Plus, 43% of shoppers will start their searches on a retailer or brand website, not just Google (29%) or Amazon (30%).
How can you boost your chances of getting more sales from the 42% of Amazon devotees and retaining your share of the 58% that will shop elsewhere?
One of the best battlegrounds to contend with deep-pocketed ecommerce competitors is the inbox. As recent research from The Relevancy Group shows, advanced personalization on this channel has become one of marketers’ secret weapons against giants like Amazon.
Beating Amazon at the Relevance Game
Give your customers something they can’t get from the retail behemoth: an email experience that shows your customers you know them as individuals, not just as files in a database.
Of course, Amazon already does email personalization. But marketers can still find room to go above and beyond to provide unparalleled relevance. In fact, according to ground-breaking research, 52% of retail marketers cite ‘providing a more relevant and enriching customer experience’ as their primary way to compete with Amazon.
Cohort recommendations (“people who browsed that item bought this item”) and next-logical-product suggestions (“People who bought that item also bought these items”) are Amazon hallmarks, as are browse- and cart-abandon email reminders.
All of these have also become standard offerings on many ecommerce platforms like Shopify.
But they don’t substitute for the kind of advanced email personalization that can help your customers shop more successfully, avoiding frustrating missteps like out-of-stock inventory on a hot promotion.
How Retailers are Winning in the ‘Age of Amazon’
The Relevancy Group’s groundbreaking study, The Value of Personalization Optimization for Retailers, discovered that advanced personalization drives multiple benefits for retailers of all sizes.
Most notably, it can add $20 – or more – in revenue for every $1 spent on it, on top of the added revenue from basic or purchase-based personalization.
But advanced personalization, which uses real-time, clickstream and open-time data to drive unique, highly relevant content for each email recipient, can also help retailers stand up to Amazon.
There’s a lot to be learned from the past and the experience of others—building off their successes and learning from their mistakes. In this 2 Wins and a Fail blog series, we’re inviting clients, partners, friends and thought leaders to share their email marketing stories; both good and bad.
In this edition we highlight Faith Bukauskas, Senior Email Marketing Analyst for Hot Topic, and show how this pop culture retailer improved its email marketing results with three innovative real-time personalization strategies. Two of these email marketing examples exceeded expectations; and while the third didn’t go exactly as planned, Hot Topic has already learned how to adapt and find success with future campaigns.
Hot Topic has been the go-to destination for music, pop culture, and fashion for almost 30 years. With more than 600 locations across North America, the brand strives to ignite customers’ passions by offering only the best, authentic merchandise. Faith has worked on the organization’s email program for 3 years, and her stories and experiences hold valuable takeaways for marketers in retail, ecommerce, and CPG industries.
Hot Topic is rapidly expanding its ecommerce presence and relies heavily on digital channels, especially email marketing, to showcase its giant assortment of products to its loyal fans and customers.
Recently Hot Topic needed a new way to develop and deploy product-centric emails that were not just personalized, but could be updated in real time to deliver better customer experiences.
In the past, Hot Topic sent product promotion emails as soon as a particular product became available on its ecommerce site. But sometimes these products would sell out before all recipients opened the email (or even received it, depending on what time zone they were in).
“It was a negative customer experience,” Faith said. “The experience confused and frustrated subscribers who weren’t able to act fast enough to get the product they wanted.”
Hot Topic’s marketing team considered sending these emails earlier so they would be in everyone’s inbox before their day started—no matter what time zone they were in. Yet they were concerned that customers would forget to act on them. Even if they didn’t, the original challenge remained: customers might still open an email with a link to a product that was now sold out.
A solution was found in the form of dynamic real-time content from Liveclicker’s RealTime Email platform.
“We designed a comprehensive time-based targeting strategy to handle this issue and deliver a better experience,” Faith said. “ We started using a dynamic image when announcing a product was now available in stores. Then when the product also became available online, we used moment-of-open technology to swap in a new image with that message and provide a link to encourage online shopping. And we also had a third ‘grayed out’ image prepared for when a product was out of stock, so openers knew whether something was available at the moment they opened the email.”
Hot Topic quickly discovered that this time-based strategy was a hit. These new emails produced a 30% lift in clicks, and Hot Topic saw a significant increase in click rates after the image was switched to show a new product was now available for purchase.
Customers were much more engaged and now spent twice as much time viewing each email. Recipients now clicked before, during, and after a product went on sale; an improvement that generated new sales and revenue opportunities, especially in the case of customers who visited Hot Topic’s site before a specific product was even available.
The single biggest success metric was the reduction in customers complaining about receiving promotions for products that were already unavailable. Hot Topic has seen such improvement that they now believe they have virtually eliminated the problem on email.
Hot Topic sells an incredible variety of pop culture-branded merchandise, including Harry Potter products. The retailer used to send all Harry Potter product offers to fans based on their past purchases of any and all Harry Potter merchandise.
Yet this approach still wasn’t segmented enough; large fan bases are often split among different styles and preferences. Which band member is most talented? Who’s the coolest character in the movie? Which book is the best in the series? Such questions can divide as much as they unite.
One way the Harry Potter fans are split is among their school ‘House’ affiliation (Gryffindor, Slytherin, etc.), and that can have a huge influence on the type of merchandise they want. Customer service even noted an increase in customer complaints. If you’re a baseball fan, compare it to a sports retailer sending Red Sox fans personalized offers for Yankees jerseys. You can imagine the kind of response that would get.
“We wanted to improve overall segmentation for the fan base, but didn’t have the data to accurately divide this group,” Faith said. “So we did the most obvious thing we could think of: we asked them!”
The brand did this by embedding a poll in an email asking about subscribers’ house loyalty. This equipped Hot Topic with the data it needed to segment its list and improve future relevance, and minimized errors that might have occurred if they had to make assumptions based on click-stream or purchase data.
All of these efforts paid off. Where past Harry Potter control emails had a 10% open rate and a 1.2% CTR, Hot Topic’s new house-specific emails had open rates up to 36% and CTRs of nearly 5%. This represented improvements of 260% and 300+%, respectively.
The poll email was Hot Topic’s third-highest email in terms of highest clicks sent in 2018. The company also saw more than a 90% increase on average in click-to-open. In fact, this was so successful, the company is now considering new ways to use Liveclicker’s LivePoll element to increase explicit data from its customers, which can then be used to improve future targeting campaigns.
Hot Topic freely admits that the use of geotargeting has been a challenge, especially since a significant portion of their database is made up of Gmail users. Gmail prevents geolocation information from being recognized and instead shows all users as being in Mountain View, California.
Hot Topic’s marketing team initially wanted to deploy an email campaign that would use geotargeting to send personalized messages to recipients near the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con event.
“It was a really cool idea,” Faith said. “We had all this location-specific messaging and creative that would be perfect for anyone who opened the email within a certain proximity to the event. Unfortunately technical limitations with Gmail meant we had to table that strategy. We ended up serving the default message in email even though we went through the work of creating the segmented campaign and creative.”
As a result, Hot Topic missed out on valuable opportunity to deliver personalized content that was more likely to connect and engage with its target audience.
Fortunately, good news is on the horizon. Hot Topic is planning on taking advantage of new Liveclicker functionality that will be able to anticipate a recipient’s location at time of open based on past behavior.
Since activating on Geo-Prediction in the last few months, there have been 1.3 million impressions that have been predicted by LiveClicker. This means geo-centric content and promotions can be sent to Gmail users, along with personalized messages that can even be further targeted based on their operating system, device type, and other factors.
We would like to sincerely thank Faith Bukauskas and Hot Topic for sharing these great stories and examples. For more information, you can download the complete Hot Topic case study and subscribe to Hot Topic yourself for more inspiration (and great deals!).
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