Best of the Best: Which Department Stores Have Optimized Their Email Programs
Email marketing is a very competitive field. Not only is your brand vying against direct competitors as well as other retailers for attention, you must also prove to mailbox providers that your content is desired by subscribers and should be placed in the inbox. To find out which brands are excelling in both inbox placement and subscriber engagement, Return Path compared the email programs of the top department stores and identified which brands stand out above the rest.
For our study, we compared six department store brands, analyzing their engagement metrics for 52 weeks beginning in July 2013. The metrics we used to compare each brand's email programs were inbox placement rate (IPR); delivered-to-spam rate; read rate; deleted without reading; spam complaints or "This Is Spam" (TIS); rescues from the spam folder or "This Is Not Spam" (TINS); and Sender Score.
Brand of the Year
The award for overall winner in the department store category goes to Hudson's Bay. In a very tight race, Hudson's Bay placed highest in deliverability with an average inbox placement of 98 percent, a spam rate of 2 percent, and a sender score of 94. Of those messages that were sent to the spam folder, 14 percent were rescued from customers pressing the TINS button. TINS is a highly trusted engagement metric by mailbox providers. A high TINS rate shows mailbox providers that subscribers notice that brand is missing from their inbox and will actively go to the spam folder to rescue their email.
Focusing just on the five weeks of holiday shopping, Kohl's managed to overtake Hudson's Bay as the lead department store. Over the holidays, Kohl's earned an average IPR of 98.7 percent and a spam rate of 1.3 percent. Kohl's not only received the lowest spam complaint rate over the holiday season, it maintained its lead in low complaints throughout the year with a yearly average TIS of 0.02 percent and an even lower holiday complaint rate of 0.013 percent.
While Kohl's earned the top spot for department store marketers, nearly all the brands we observed earned higher placement and engagement over the holiday season. This may be a reflection of an increase in demand for holiday content during the gift-giving season.
The department stores (and other industry's brands) that are missing the most from their email marketing program are those failing to connect with their customers. No matter how clever your copy is or how enticing your offer, if your emails aren't making it to your customers you're not getting their business. Having a low inbox placement rate and reputation score hurts your brand and causes you to lose customers.
For those messages that passed the first hurdle of landing in the inbox, the next step is creating a positive, worthwhile relationship with your customers. When your subscribers show passive disinterest (i.e., delete unopened rate) or active displeasure (i.e., spam complaints), mailbox providers take notice and limit your inbox placement, placing you back at square one. Retailers should constantly monitor their email metrics to ensure they're connecting with their customers and quickly addressing any signs of a declining relationship.
Tom Sather is the senior director of research at Return Path, an email marketing solution that helps to improve deliverability and ROI.