How can email be used for converting subscribers to customers?

By Will Gillingham

Every customer’s email address in a retailer’s database is worth, on average, £79. Email is purported to be the number one marketing resource for ROI and generates somewhere in the region of £30bn of retail sales in the UK alone.

Which is an exceptional figure, when you consider that more than 50% of recipients in retailer databases are merely subscribers, rather than customers.

Indeed, more than 100 separate UK retailers of 260 tracked by IMRG sent a marketing email every day in 2018’s Black Friday week, looking to entice as much of their email databases as possible into making a purchase. A larger proportion of activated customers at this time of the year, especially, could result in a substantial uptick in revenue. So, what are the best ways to engage those non-purchasing email subscribers?

We approached email specialists in our community for their expert insight, and collated a quick grab-and-go fact file for those retailers looking to refine their email outputs. Let’s jump in.


In a conversation about email, this word is more or less guaranteed to make an appearance. And there’s a very good reason for that: personalised emails generally have an 82% higher open rate, and a 75% increase in click-through rates, than a generic mailshot.

If you’re not personalising your marketing emails, this should instantly be pushed to the top of your priority list.

As Alecxa Julia Cristobal of AsiaPay explains: Personalised emails hook the subscriber’s attention. If their name is encoded on the header, they will review its content. While personalising the email, you can also apply digital marketing strategy by attaching photos of new products, coupons, or rewards. Consumers tend to take advantage of the freebies handed out by the retailers, and in this way, they may reconsider looking up your website.’

But there are far more ways to refine your personalisation strategy at a more granular level than simply including an encoded header, and these revolve around knowing how your customers behave.


Track Behaviour

Personalising marketing emails to people who have bought with you before is relatively easy to achieve: you can inspire them with similar products to those which they have purchased, or even promote products which complement those which have been purchased. But what about customers who have never bought with you before?

According to Bluecore, there are two ways to engage the unengaged. The first relies on them having at least browsed on your site before, while the second is in looking at historical first-buy practices of paying customers.

Mike Harris, GM International, Bluecore: ‘With true 1:1 personalisation, the content and frequency of campaigns gets determined by individual consumers’ behaviours. For example, a retailer may surface personalised product recommendations based on each shopper’s browsing behaviour as well as common co-purchase patterns associated with the products browsed.

‘While this personalisation should extend to the entire customer base, it is particularly important for converting subscribers into customers. An average of 55% of consumers in a retailers’ database have not yet purchased, and the key to converting these subscribers lies in creating a different email experience for these consumers compared to already loyal shoppers.   

‘One way to create a unique email experience for non-purchasers is to feature personalised product recommendations based on a category-specific best first purchase algorithm. This algorithm looks at the category in which each customer has browsed and predicts which products from that category shoppers are most likely to buy as their first purchase based on historical first purchase patterns across the retailer’s entire customer base.

‘For the retailers who can harness the power of data and machine learning to create these kinds of powerful experiences, the rewards are rich, with revenue per email increasing by as much as 25% and campaign creation time reduced by up to 70%.’

And there’s one more snippet of advice which, when applied synchronously to the other two core elements of best email practice, arms retailers with an email strategy determined to coax those window-shoppers into action. This one last aspect of best email practice? Segmenting by relevance.


Segment by Relevance

Quantity of emails sent is constantly cited as a detrimental aspect of email marketing, but, according to Exponea, it’s not the main deterrent for those subscribers you’re looking to engage. The real issue is a lack of relevance.

Samuel Kellet, Head of Content at Exponea, explains: ‘You might be sending too many or too few emails, but that’s probably not your main blocker: a lack of relevance is what stops the subscriber from converting. A simple way to fix this is to segment your audience into smaller groups, sending relevant comms or offers to each segment.

‘You can create demographic segments (women aged 20-30; men over 45; etc.), behavioral segments (bargain seekers; big spenders; etc.), segments based on how long they’ve been subscribed, etc. Find the best way to split up your subscribers, and target each group separately. Emails that would have just been spam now provide each subscriber with value.’

By grouping subscribers by demographic, you can ensure that the emails you send out are going to be paired with the recipient’s interests, which is a must if you’re looking to eliminate the generic catch-all mailshot.


In Summary

Email is one of the most important resources available to a retailer, putting brands in conversation with their audience and acting as a channel for a significant amount of revenue.

But there’s far more potential in this already-lucrative marketing channel; even the best performing retailers, or the most successful campaigns, will have fallen on a portion of deaf ears. There will be subscribers in your database who, for one reason or another, took an interest in your brand and then never bought anything.

To convert these dormant contacts into active buyers, there are three optimisation tactics to thread into your emails: personalise, track behaviour, and segment by relevance. If all of these are implemented and utilised to their full extent, you may well start to see those profit margins edge towards that ever-agreeable uphill trend.

Will Gillingham, Content Manager, IMRG

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