Retail Engagement and Deliverability Strategies Throughout the Year

Jan 13, 2022
Brad Gurley

As a retailer, the ultimate goal of your email program is to drive revenue, but that’s not necessarily the only goal. A few precursors have to take place before any email can generate revenue. Each email must:

  • be targeted to your audience
  • get delivered to that audience
  • be seen by the audience
  • drive the audience to engage with your brand

Most retailers spend countless hours refining and optimizing their campaigns to achieve these goals, but the ever-changing landscape of email marketing recently threw a proverbial wrench into many marketers’ plans.

For years, a key metric used for targeting, deliverability, and engagement tracking has been open tracking. Accomplished through the use of a tiny pixel, open tracking informs senders when and how often a customer opens an email they received. In September of 2021, privacy concerns prompted Apple to implement measures designed to automate the open pixel download and obfuscate any data that identifies the recipient. Other mailbox providers are expected to roll out similar features in coming years, leading to less-accurate open tracking data for most marketers.

As open tracking loses its efficacy, retailers face problems not only with promotion and retention, but also with email deliverability. Major mailbox providers penalize senders for sending to recipients who rarely or never interact with messages from that sender. Without accurate engagement data, though, it can be difficult to ensure you’re sending to only those recipients that are actively reading and acting upon email campaigns.

In our work with many of the world’s most recognizable brands, we see a handful of common strategies that often provide more insight than the open metrics previously considered the gold standard of engagement tracking.

Clicking into place

The most common call-to-action (CTA) in a marketing email is a hyperlink, and changes to open tracking don’t have any impact on senders’ ability to track clicks on those links. While a few enterprise-level security solutions sometimes generate false clicks, a click remains a much stronger and more reliable signal of engagement than an open pixel download. Customers who click through on a CTA should be considered among your most engaged. You can even use click data to augment the open tracking metrics, knowing that those recipients who register both an open and a click are almost certainly actively engaging with your messaging.

Who’s Buying?

For most retailers, the customers most likely to make a purchase are those who have previously bought something from your brand. Incorporating purchase history into audience segmentation helps identify your highest-value customers and target them with each campaign you send. Purchase data also allows content personalization opportunities based on item preferences, buying patterns, and even geographic location – all data that can’t be reliably obtained from open pixel tracking.

Retailers who specialize in big-ticket items, many of which are only purchased once per year or every few years, may see little ROI when sending promotional email to recent purchasers. Purchasers of these items can instead be targeted with cross-promotional content for smaller related items or with informational content, keeping them engaged with the brand until the next purchase window rolls around.

Some of our largest retail senders follow up large purchases with a series of messages giving insights about the items purchased and their optimal use. This strategy provides additional value to the customer while keeping the brand top-of-mind for the consumer during the lull between purchases.

Not only are previous purchasers more likely to buy, but they are also generally more likely to engage with your email campaigns. By sending more frequently to those high-value customers, you’re boosting your reputation with the major mailbox providers in addition to your bottom line.

Loyalty above all

One of the most consistently beneficial tactics we see among Super Senders is recognizing and incentivizing customer loyalty. The retail space has long known the value of building and maintaining customer relationships through these strategies, but the potential demise of open rates provides opportunities for using loyalty and affinity programs in new ways.

Program members typically choose to provide additional personal data to help brands more accurately target campaigns to personal preferences, which can include message type, frequency, and channels. Using the customer’s own submissions, you can get the “right message, right person, right time, right channel” to drive purchase behavior.

Just as the most loyal customers are the key to your marketing success, they also play a key role in maintaining optimal deliverability. Recipients who enroll in an affinity program should be considered among the most engaged and accordingly comprise a significant portion of your regular marketing efforts.

If you don’t have a fully realized loyalty program in place, you can see many of the same benefits by inviting customers to volunteer additional information in exchange for discounts or special promotions. It’s not necessary to have complex workflows and automations in place to start identifying your most loyal customers; but if you’re ready for (or already using) that type of solution, MessageGears has a powerful set of tools to help.

Keep it consistent

Retail marketers typically see an outsized portion of their revenue during a particular season – Q4 each year, in many cases – but marketing campaigns sent throughout the year can have an impact on performance during the busy season. Increasing volume too quickly or by too large a factor during peak buying times can cause reputation problems and delivery delays or rejected mail. Retailers should make every effort to contact customers more than once or twice a year; mailing during the “offseason” to these less-active customers can help keep them apprised of product updates, promotions, and news while potentially feeling less pressured to buy right away.

Many retailers dig deep into their lapsed customer files only when crunch time rolls around, but this strategy often backfires and hinders mail delivery to even their most loyal customers. We’ve seen top-tier retailers get blocked by multiple providers during the busiest weeks of the year because of this strategy. These types of blocks have been known to prevent millions of emails from reaching their intended recipients, with devastating effects on revenue.

Customers who haven’t been mailed in the past 6 months or longer represent an elevated risk of delays or blocks; the longer they’ve gone without an email the higher the risk. Mailing those customers periodically throughout the year can help weed out addresses that may have been abandoned, while also allowing options to unsubscribe instead of marking your mail as spam because they didn’t realize they were still on your marketing list.

Bringing it all together

Alone, each of these strategies is likely to bolster your marketing efforts; combined, they represent a much more comprehensive approach to customer engagement. Combining click data, purchase history, and loyalty program participation with open pixel data (not completely useless just yet) will highlight the segments of your database that are most valuable to your business. Using that data, you can tailor your mailing patterns and content to their customer profiles while reducing resource expenditure on customers unlikely to purchase or engage.

The benefits are appealing: potentially cutting costs by reducing database size (no more paying to mail to abandoned addresses), driving additional revenue by strengthening relationships with high-value customers, and improving deliverability by increasing engagement rates for your campaigns — all accomplished using data you probably already have.

About the Author

Brad Gurley

Serving as MessageGears’ Director of Deliverability, Brad spends his days watching mail queues, analyzing customer delivery data, and researching the latest updates to email technology. He’s been in the email marketing space for the better part of two decades and harbors a passion for educating senders on how to more effectively deliver mail to their subscribers. When he’s not busy updating MTA configurations, you might find him preparing a variety of smoked meats or leading a group of friends to the closest karaoke bar.