UK Retailers Still Not Hitting the Mark: dotMailer Study

Despite the global recession, online retailing is still hot in the UK, with Christmas 2008 generating more than 15.2 billion GBP in the last quarter of the year. (Source: CapGemini, Interactive Media in Retail Group). Email marketing was a big part of this, as retailers continue to use email to build the brand and drive traffic to ecommerce and High Street locations. Looks like some top brands may be leaving money on the table, however, by not using email effectively. A new retail benchmark report from our partner dotMailer, part of the dotDigital Group PLC, found that the majority (65%) of retailers surveyed failed to score more than a 70% grade.

The dotMailer “Hitting the Mark” 2009 (free registration required to download) reports on the email activities of 41 High Street retailers – measuring them against 14 best practices in four key areas: sign up/permission, technical, email effectiveness and design. Marks & Spencer and H Samuel took best of show honors, scoring 81 out of 100 points. Last year’s winner, Topshop, slipped to a joint third place and a score of 78 this year. Of the 29 retailers featured this year who also ranked last year, only eight have increased their total score, while 21 earned a lower score.

In particular, I was saddened to see the low scores on renderability (average score 60%) and coding (average score 55%) in this report. Frankly, there is no excuse for this. Tools like Return Path’s Campaign Preview make it easy to see how your messages render in all the top email clients (from Outlook to Orange to T-Online to smart phones), and some email service providers make those tools available to their clients, including dotMailer. Even without automated tools, it’s still possible (although time consuming) to check test accounts at various ISPs prior to mailing. Outlook in particular is problematic for any sort of style sheet and advanced fonts. If your message reaches the inbox and renders the way you intend, you are well on your way to earning a response. When marketers fail to take even these simple and basic steps, then it’s hard to expect that they will make the effort to create compelling subscriber experiences through relevant content and a timely sending schedule.

And that is not good news for subscribers. Or, retailers, either. There is a powerful return on good email marketing, and in retail it’s immediate: Send messages that engage your subscribers, and you see the retail till ring. Why not make that extra effort to optimize email strategy and deliverability? The effort more than pays for itself.

You’ll want to read the full report and glean other benchmarks and good ideas for your business. Meanwhile, a few other interesting highlights:

  • Most retailers do not personalize. Only 28% personalized the salutation.
  • A sizable minority (29%) failed the legal requirements criteria. This is shocking to me.
  • No retailer earned top marks for unsubscribe process. A great example is highlighted from M&S, which offers choice to the subscriber, while still making it easy to opt out altogether.
  • Half included a Forward to a Friend link, but only two (5%) including a link for sharing with a social network.

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