Top Brands Fall Short In Email Personalization

  • September 25, 2014 at 11:44 AM EDT
  • By Glenn Taylor
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EmailMarketingAlthough email marketing is still central to most retailers’ strategies, many are still falling short in personalizing these messages, according to research from SimpleRelevance.

In fact, only 9% of retailer emails offered personalized product recommendations, while 25% didn’t offer any form of product recommendation.

SimpleRelevance gathered results by selecting 20 companies from the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500. Retailers ranged in category, from apparel to home appliances and electronics. In total, 418 emails were analyzed over a six-week period, and were assessed based on the following elements of email personalization:


  • Product recommendations;
  • Image optimization;
  • Time of send;
  • Send frequency; and
  • Subject line.

The SimpleRelevance team created two fictional customer email addresses to purchase one item from each company that cost between $20 and $40. SimpleRelevance also used the fictional addresses to register for each retailer’s email newsletters and alerts.

Major retailers, including CVS, Sears and Walgreens, didn’t send a single promotional email, even after a purchase was made. In fact, these three companies had to be removed from the initial sample of 20 retailers to keep data reliable.

“Knowing what we were expecting going into the study, we were still very surprised by the data,” said Erik Severinghaus, Founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance. “We went through and rechecked the data several times to make sure we weren’t missing anything. It’s absolutely unbelievable how many organizations out there are not executing the basics of communicating with their customers.”

Results also concluded that brands have a high propensity to mislead their customers into thinking product recommendations are personally curated to their needs. Up to 78 of the 418 emails analyzed falsely suggested that product recommendations were selected specifically for individual customers by using messaging such as “Recommended for you” or “Items just for you.”

“The data goes back to the issue of integrity around the brand claiming that they’ll put in work to always find the right product for the customer,” Severinghaus said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s just not true, and I think customers pick up on that pretty quickly.”

Overall, retailers also are failing to include relevant and compelling images in emails. Only 10% of emails contained personalized images related to a product. Another 19 emails failed to include any images at all.

After creating two additional inactive email accounts to test email frequency, the SimpleRelevance team determined that none of the 17 retailers altered their deliveries based on user interaction and engagement. Up to 40% of the retailers evaluated sent less than one email per week or didn’t send any marketing emails.

Although retailers still are sending emails touting bulk recommendations and generic messages, they have the potential to see exceptional results if they refine and optimize their personalization efforts.

“It’s important for us take a more holistic view of the customer,” Severinghaus said. “Then we can use that to analyze everything from frequency, messaging, content, timing and subject lines. We wanted to explain our thought process and what we very strongly believe, which is that it’s absolutely critical to let the data drive the decision making process and then use that data to continuously improve the way that you’re talking to customers. We were really trying to ditch this niche perception in the marketplace, which is, if you put somebody’s first name into the subject line, then you are now sending them a personalized email.”



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