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Retailers’ mobile challenges multiply with email

July 8, 2013

Mobile's wrath on email

Mobile is close to hitting a tipping point as the primary way that consumers read email and eventually shop from, so why are most retailers still not nailing the basics?

A slew of new reports from last week point to mobile’s growing role in email open rates and click activity. Even though the findings point to mobile as a big opportunity for email marketing, the medium still presents big challenges that are daunting to retailers.

“Of course, you’re always going to have any business in a competitive marketplace that is lagging behind some competitors,” said Dave Lawson, director of mobile and digital unification at Knotice, Akron, OH.

“A lot of very big companies or a lot of very traditional companies are steeped in habit, as well as departmental structure,” he said.

“The nature of mobility is that it spreads out across a number of different departments, tactical executions and channels. There are few retailers who haven’t tried QR codes, rolled out an application or looked at making their Web site more mobile-friendly. There are many, however, who haven’t considered the implications of mobility on one of the most reliable performance channels for their business, which is email.”

Read on mobile
EmailOutbound Networks recently released its 2013 Consumer Views of Email Marketing report with the clear takeaway message that consumers are hooked to their mobile devices when it comes to reading email.

Forty-three percent of the 2,000 United States consumers surveyed said that they read emails most often on their mobile devices.

More importantly, 63 percent of the consumers said that they were interested in shopping directly from an email that was read on their mobile device.

As mobile becomes more influential in the shopping experiences, consumers’ expectations have clearly grown in the past year.

Roughly 30 percent of consumers responded that if they received an email that was poorly-designed to fit on their mobile device, they would unsubscribe from an email newsletter. That percentage is up from 18 percent in 2012.

Part of the problem behind why some retailers might be lagging in mobile is that they are not yet seeing mobile as being imperative to driving revenue.

For example, an additional new study from Constant Contact UK found that 66 percent of small businesses in Britain are using mobile as a part of their marketing. However, 33 percent of businesses do not have a strategy in plan for mobile.

A measly 15 percent of the small businesses in the study reported using mobile for their email marketing, and seven percent are using mobile to leverage social media efforts.

“For many small businesses and nonprofits, the power of community and personal connections are central to what they do, and that makes mobile devices in particular a great way to make a more personal, contextual connection with present and future customers,” said Annette Iafrate, managing director of Constant Contact UK, London.

“This means email can reach a lot of people, wherever they are, no matter what they’re doing,” she said.

“That’s an amazing ability for marketers to have, and it means email is more relevant than ever. But it also means that crafting emails to work well and look great on mobile devices is also more important than ever before.”

Next-generation experience
With marketers increasingly getting the hang of mobile, the talk nowadays is all about next-generation mobile experiences that are more contextually-based and tailored to individual consumers.

Optimizing emails for mobile devices is the gateway in getting consumers to those experiences.

Take how Sephora sends out emails, for example.

The retailer’s emails are set up horizontally and sectioned off with big buttons when opened via mobile devices.

Additionally, the email links drive consumers to the specific product pages on Sephora’s mobile site, where they can read product reviews, view larger images of the item or add the product straight to their shopping cart.

A recent email from Sephora opened from an iPhone

The click-through on the email to Sephora’s mobile site

On the other hand, Target could make better use of mobile with its email initiatives.

Like most retailers, Target regularly sends out email blasts with online and in-store promotions to trigger sales.

However, the emails are crowded with promotions organized into small boxes that make it easy for mobile users to accidentally click on the wrong items.

Additionally, sometimes the links from the emails lead users to Target’s Web site, even though the big-box retailer has an easy-to-use and comprehensive mobile site.

A recent email from Target opened from an iPhone

The click-through on the email to Target’s Web site

Yet, there are some sings that retailers are getting better at mobile email.

For example, Epsilon’s new Q1 2013 North America Email Trends and Benchmarks report found that email open rates climbed 31.1 percent in the first-quarter of 2013.

This suggests that marketers are realizing that as more consumers open email from their devices, the creative and content in their email campaigns needs to be optimized for mobile Web for a seamless click-through experience.

“Over the past year or so, retailers have just started to learn how much of their audience is reading their emails from a mobile device,” said Pam McAtee, senior vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon, Dallas.

“There is a learning curve to getting mobile email right, and some retailers have figured it out while many are still learning,” she said.

“Those who are getting it right are designing their emails to be more mobile-friendly and have a strong mobile capability for the post-click experience, whether it be through mobile landing pages, mobile sites or mobile apps.”

One-size-fit-all approach?
Another email design tactic that retailers are experimenting with is responsive design.

Email formats based on responsive design pull in multiple content options, which then adjusts to the size of the screen that the email is opened on.

For example, an email opened on a desktop device might include three columns, but the same email will appear as only one column when viewed on a mobile device. Additionally, buttons are automatically made larger on the mobile formats.

However, responsive design also requires complicated coding and designing that can be time-consuming for marketers.

Additionally, performance levels of emails on PCs are continuously stronger than mobile, which responsive design cannot help with since the same content is sent to all users.

As email open rates continue to grow on mobile devices, the key will be finding ways to not only format content to different-sized screens, but also tailor specific email messages to mobile users based on past email history, time of day and type of device.

“Most brands in retail have had any level of success because they’ve been able to build a brand that resonates with their customer base and ultimately with others that become a part of their customer base,” Knotice’s Mr. Lawson said.

“Recognizing that mobility is now an important extension of their customer’s daily life becomes a part of that and pays off with lower churn and higher propensity to engage,” he said.

“We see this in things like flash sales and driving foot traffic into stores, often arming customers with the digital product information, loyalty rewards and other promotions. In the past, these things often would have gone unprinted and unremembered on a desktop computer but are now conveniently at hand.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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