Email on Tap, Episode 4: Jay Allen, VP of eCommerce, LightsOnline

From eTail West in Palm Springs to Shoptalk in Las Vegas, Anthony Chiulli, director of product marketing here at 250ok is making waves with Email on Tap! At Shoptalk, he sat down with two email gurus from different industries to chat about email, eCommerce, and the future of the channel for both marketers and consumers.

First up is guest Jay Allen, VP of eCommerce at LightsOnline, the online retail arm of Progressive Lighting. Anthony and Jay got real about what personalization means to marketers, what tech could change the email game, and how email has evolved from the beginning.

Spoiler alert: Email is still not dead.

(Keep scrolling for key timestamps and even a full transcript. Plus, find links to our podcast version!)

Total Run Time: 8 minutes
00:23 – What is LightsOnline and Jay’s role as VP of eCommerce
00:43 – Jay’s process in assessing digital strategy with brands; customer first
1:35 – Why personalization is so important, past experiences with brands getting closer to 1:1 personalization
3:10 – Jay’s take on the evolution of email and what tactics he believes should be table stakes for email marketing
5:09 – Most overlooked opportunity brands are missing out on with email
6:36 – Industry trends Jay is paying most attention to

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Anthony Chiulli
Hi, everyone and welcome to another episode of Email on Tap. I am your host Anthony Chiulli, and we are here live at Shoptalk in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m thrilled to have as my guest today Jay Allen VP of eCommerce for LightsOnline. Jay, thanks so much. Glad to be here.

Jay Allen
Thanks for inviting me.

Tell me a little bit about LightsOnline and what you guys do.

LightsOnline is a division of Progressive Lighting, and so what we do is, we manufacture and retail lighting for consumers. My role is to handle the eCommerce business and drive that forward.

So you’ve helped lead a lot of different brands and eCommerce digital strategy including Teavana, Invista and, and now recently with LightsOnline. What do you do when you step into a brand, to assess the strategy, and figure out what to focus on first?

I think it’s interesting and important to start with understanding what customers the business is going after, what customers they’re actually getting, which sometimes is different, and why those customers are buying. So I always assess a strategy for the point of view of customer-first, and then work into the talent on hand and the products that we’re selling and those pieces to really fine-tune the strategy. You know, usually when I step into a business, they have an online strategy, an eComm strategy and I’m trying to help refine and grow it over time.

One-on-one personalization is kind of the elusive goal for many brands and marketers here, and it continues to be a theme every year, of automation, and personalization, and making inroads. Can you talk about, in your own opinion, why personalization is so important and maybe some examples from your past of how you’ve helped brands achieve, or at least inch closer to that elusive personalization goal?

I think it’s interesting, we’re over time getting the tools we need to get closer to that one-on-one. So, you know, when I was at Cutter and Buck which was 15 years ago, one of the little things we did is we started tracking whether our customers were looking at men’s or women’s clothing. Then we had to use Excel to kind of work through which emails to send to those consumers. But just by doing that little bit of segmentation and personalization, we saw huge lifts. Then, moving into Teavana, I had a great partner, Melanie Riggins, to kind of help from a creative side of email, and we did some interesting testing there and got closer, just a little bit closer than I did at Cutter and Buck, to one-on-one. Then when I moved to FootSmart, we started doing a lot of transactional email, which gets a lot closer to a one-on-one-type personalization. I think what’s interesting now is we’re getting to the point where we can do one-on-one because of the technology available to us.

“Email is dead.” We’ve all heard that, yet clearly, that’s not the case. In your opinion—and I think you’ve got a unique background and having worked with so many different brands and been on different sides of the house with email marketing, and managing a lot of the digital strategy for these brands—in your opinion, what have you seen at least change or evolve with email? It may not be dead, but it certainly has adapted over time, as new digital channels and strategies have come into play.

I think this is a great point because way back 15-20 years ago, I’ve been doing this a long time, they were saying email is dead. Email is still a workhorse that really drives value for the business, for consumers. But I believe that you shouldn’t send out any email that doesn’t reflect some truth you know about the customer, which gets to the one-on-one. We now, as I mentioned, have these AI tools that can really get to that type of one-on-one personalization for emails, and in my opinion, batch and blast and those kinda boring emails are dead. You shouldn’t send those. It’s moving more and more to transactional—as close as you can get to transactional. We still have to send out the marketing emails to drive sales over time, but you can really personalize those emails, even if it’s just changing the focus a little bit based on what you know about the customer, or changing the image based on demographic data you have about the customer. Every email, even if it’s “join our contests”-type email, should be customized to that customer’s specific data. I’m a strong believer in that. I think it’s still hard; we’re getting closer and closer to it, and some of the people I’ve seen here are doing a lot of good in getting us to that point.

What do you think is either one or some of the most overlooked opportunities that brands are missing out on? We talked about personalization and kind of using different data points for targeting, but are there things that you’ve seen where they’re just overlooked or they’re simple things that are being implemented from brands on their digital strategy?

Well, I think what a lot of people miss is taking those transactional emails to the next level. Everybody has an abandoned cart, everybody has kind of some of the basic stuff, but if you overlay kind of a customer lifetime flow, like what you see from consumers over time, with your email list, you could do a lot of interesting things without the customer coming to the site. You know, if they bought product X, a year later, you know three percent of people buy product Y, you should send that email there. So I think that’s the next step, and that again moves us, our business gets more and more complex over time, and kind of fractures down to where we’re targeting closer and closer to our one-on-one consumer level. I think that’s the next step, and that’s another breakdown away from batch and blast, towards specific emails to consumers. I think that’s a good opportunity.

What are you paying most attention to, as far as some of the industry trends and the way AI— we talked about AI and machine learning kind of falling into the playbook of many digital strategies and use cases—are there any other trends or buzzworthy topics that you’re paying attention to?

AI is a huge one because it’s an enabler, right? As marketers, we have a million ideas and AI just kind of enables us to execute these ideas at a scale we couldn’t do just a few years ago, so I think that’s a really important one. And I think the other interesting thing is, as eCommerce marketers, we have to know more and more over time about the details of how things are being done, and email’s one of those areas where you really have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your program and how to push it to the next level. It is finding partners that can help you with delivery, which is an area a lot of people don’t pay attention to, or can help you with some of those little specific niches within the program.

I certainly think AI is going to be something that we hear about a lot more over the course of a few years. Jay, this has been awesome, thanks so much for sitting down, very insightful. I appreciate you taking the time. Thanks, everyone for tuning in, we hope to see you next time on another episode of Email on Tap.

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