High Margin Email: Getting Past the Discount Habit

It’s a common trap that retailers and many other email marketers find themselves in – slaves to the discount. Once we start to regularly offer discounts or free shipping in email messages, subscribers become hooked, and they torture us by not responding as well to other types of messages. As a result, it becomes harder for email marketers to break out of the trap of sending discounts and free shipping offers when we are judged on revenue at the end of every month. However, as revealed in our fourth annual Holiday Email Survey, discounts do not trump value.

Our study showed that the importance of both discounts and free shipping offers as determinants for opening and reading email messages rose by 15% from 23.1% and 20.2% last year respectively. But it is important to note, that this figure is simply not as significant to the subscriber as knowing and trusting the sender (59.1%) and what we call “prior value” (previously opened a message from this sender and thought valuable) at 45.8%. Yet, most of what gets sent out in email marketing are discounted offers.

Even avid email readers in our survey confess that email promotions alone had little influence. One respondent said, “This year, as with last year, I did most of my shopping online, and much of it was influenced by the emails I received…although about 95% of what I purchased was from websites from which I was a ‘regular’ customer.” This is a clear indication that discounts are not the only drivers to success.

So what makes an email message relevant and compelling? A great discount can do that, but only if discounts are not the day-to-day fare. Relevancy is not created overnight. The concept we call “prior value” still has a high influence on email channel revenue and this can only be created with high value email programs. Remember, each email contributes to the relationship. Sending discounts three times a week trains subscribers to wait for a bigger discount. Similarly, inserting a random, one-time non-discount message into the mix won’t likely have any dramatic effect; such messages will be out of synch with the “prior value” that has been established around discounts.

The key to escaping the discount trap is to send more messages of higher value, and save the discounts for VIPs, new buyers, important win back campaigns and site-wide sales. Higher value messages include information about your product and service benefits, not just product features. Subscribers always love short, easy to digest suggestions on how to be smarter, faster, better looking, wealthier and more fit. Of course, your product will likely have something to do with reaching those utopian states.

While, it might take a bit more thought to figure out how to construct email messages that have compelling content, it’s no more work. Place a few tips alongside the product shot. Use segmentation, eye grabbing subject lines and strong merchandising to make email subscribers feel valued and welcome. Even a suggestion on an ensemble can be more interesting than “we’ve got shirts on sale.” Treat your best buyers like they are special. And once or twice a quarter, include content, interactivity or a survey to engage with subscribers who may be tuning your messages out. Once they start ignoring your messages for 90 days, it gets really hard to win them back.

Download our Holiday Survey results for more ideas and to benchmark your own program against what subscribers say is most important to them.

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