If, like me, you spent the bank holiday weekend fighting off a nasty bout of flu, you will have had time to read your emails instead of having fun and enjoying the, erm, “Great British Summer”. You will have also noticed several marketers using the bank holiday as a hook for their special offers last week. Like any event or special date in the calendar, the bank holiday weekend makes for excellent email fodder, so in my paracetamol-induced haze I had the idea of saving all my emails for analysis.
I took a random sample of 58 emails I received between Friday, 27th May and Monday, 30th May. Of the 58 emails I tallied, at least four merchants sent me more than one email during the course of the long weekend. So what did they have to tell me that was so important they needed to contact me twice? Pet Supermarket sent me a food-storage themed email on Sunday with no mention of the bank holiday. The following day it emailed to let me know that I had just 48 hours to get 10 percent off my order. The subject line worked to instil a sense of urgency, but I was much less excited when I learned I needed to spend £79 to qualify for the discount.
Another retailer, equestrian supplies specialist Derby House, emailed me on Friday announcing “75% OFF Bank Holiday Outlet Clearance*”. Asterisks in subject lines are never a good thing and should be avoided in my opinion. I looked up the footnote, which referred to 183 words of terms and conditions. Sure, they needed to be there, but perhaps the subject line wasn’t the ideal place to point them out. On Monday, the email from Derby House was titled “Hurry, these offers end midnight tomorrow!”—thankfully no asterisk this time.
Something for the weekend
Although Derby House mentioned the bank holiday in the subject line of one of its emails, it was in the minority of merchants that did so. Unexpectedly, more than four out of five emails (81 percent) did not include a reference to the bank holiday in the subject line. Those that did included apparel cataloguer Tulchan: “Bank Holiday Bonanza from Tulchan” and homewares cataloguer/retailer Cologne & Cotton: “A Great Bank Holiday Offer From Cologne and Cotton”. I was also impressed by Cologne & Cotton’s efforts to link email with its other channels. It featured a printable coupon that customers can use in-store to redeem 15 percent off selected lines.
Eight of the 58 emails, or 14 percent, did not mention the bank holiday in the subject line but did include it in the body of the email. Hush and Frugi definitely missed a trick here. Let’s start with apparel retailer Hush’s subject line: “Miri - The Grocer's Son, last chance to win Lazy Linen bundles from The Sleep Room, harem trousers update etc”. Okay, it gets a thumbs up for its attempt at personalisation, but “etc”? And where’s Hush’s product in this email, third in line with a “harem trousers update”—not even a special offer, but a stock update. I know Hush is known for its soft-sell approach, but burying a free delivery promotion at the bottom of the email just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially considering customers have to spend £75 to qualify for the offer.
Childrenswear brand Frugi sent an email titled “Something special to celebrate our 7th birthday”. The email then went on to offer free delivery and a 3-for-2 deal, as well as a Facebook competition to win a “Frugi birthday present”. I can’t help but think that open rates would have improved if Frugi had simply added “Free UK delivery” or “Win Frugi goodies” to the subject line.
Speaking of Facebook, my sample showed that 78 percent of emails featured some sort of social-bookmarking link. When we ran a similar study in 2009, only 17 percent included a link to the company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other third-party social-media site. While this is a huge improvement, there’s still more to be done. One in every five emails is missing out on the opportunity social networking presents to get closer to its audience.
Another missed opportunity is personalisation, with 90 percent of the merchants in my sample failing to personalise any element of the email. Just six emails featured any sort of personalisation: Hush, Yours Clothing and Chemist Direct opted for including my name in the subject line. Gifts marketer Cox & Cox and apparel etailer Curvissa chose to address me by name in the body of the email. Fashion retailer New Look’s personalisation was evident in the preheader text: “Miri, if you can't view our e-mail, click here”.
My favourite use of preheader text came courtesy of cosmetics marketer Feelunique. The preheader, also known “snippet text” appears in the inbox of some email clients along with the subject line. Often only used to remind readers they can view the email in their web browsers, preheaders have the potential to work much harder for the brand, something Feelunique clearly appreciates. Here’s how it maximised the chances of having its email opened: “It’s last of the long weekends & we’re giving you just the ticket to satisfy your beauty needs all weekend. Get a whopping £5 off any order when you spend only £45 or more – get summer sorted!” That’s everything a reader would need to help make the decision of whether to open the email or not. So much more effective than saying “Not displaying correctly, click here to view it in your browser”, don’t you agree?
The big deal
If 80 percent of emails were not promoting a bank holiday-related offer, they had to be promoting something else, right? Forty-five percent of subject lines made mention of a price-related offer, for example “25% off all clothing including online exclusives” at Tesco, and “This week’s top offers - up to 50% off!” at Debenhams. Twelve percent of emails chose to promote free delivery, or in apparel retailer Wallis’s case, a lower delivery charge of £1. A scant 5 percent offered a free gift, including cosmetics brand Clinique and mail order butcher Donald Russell: “New Butchers Specials - Get FREE burgers with orders over £80!”.
And finally, here’s one for the “Huh?” file. Toys and games etailer Smyths sent me an email tiled “Save €'s..Get Top Rated Games For Less”. The Galway-based retailer sent me its euro-priced email instead of the sterling email. Smyths needs to be more stringent with its segmentation. It knows I live in the UK—it even sent me a catalogue at Christmas—so why am I on the list for an Eire-only promotion?
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I received an email from Kurt at Frugi this morning in reference to my comments about the Frugi email. He's kindly allowed me publish his comments:
"You have stated childrenswear brand Frugi sent an email titled 'Something special to celebrate our 7th birthday'. The email then went on to offer free delivery and a 3-for-2 deal, as well as a Facebook competition to win a 'Frugi birthday present'. I can’t help but think that open rates would have improved if Frugi had simply added 'Free UK delivery' or 'Win Frugi goodies' to the subject line."
However, our research shows that we get over twice the amount of opens and click throughs with our ambiguous subject lines than actual, "Free delivey" subject lines.
After I posted this blog, I was contacted by a reader who said the reason his company didn't mention the bank holiday in emails sent on the weekend 26-30 May is because they used that hook 30 days earlier. A good point and perhaps the reason why many more retailers stayed away from the mention--bank holiday overkill?
What do you think?