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Digital Marketing: Marketing e-volution

Email marketing can ensure that a retailer’s latest Sales news and offers are communicated directly to their customers’ inboxes, but only if the message isn’t lost in the spam crowd.

Chances are you already receive some fashion-based email alerts. Perhaps you sign up to trend spotting or news services (look no further than Drapers, of course) or maybe you are on the receiving end of more commercial email promptings from etailers such as Net-a-Porter and My-Wardrobe.

If any of the above are true, you’ll know that these emails are more sophisticated than the spam that has infected inboxes ever since email began. This is not just the preserve of etailers though. Independent retailers whose foundations are in bricks and mortar have also embarked on sustained digital marketing campaigns.

Jennifer Loisette, online manager for designer womenswear boutique Start, which has three shops in Hoxton, east London, puts together weekly and monthly alerts. “The weekly one is simple. We choose nine pieces to show our customers what is new. It takes 40 minutes to put together.” The longer monthly version, she adds, takes a couple of hours to compile.

The pictures are taken from the website, resized and sent. Loisette says: “It’s not just about what’s new – we have to choose pieces that will look good on screen too.”

The Start mail-out is simple and eye-catching with a list of designers down the right-hand side, which lays out the store’s credentials and encourages click-through.

Alert to the opportunity The online operation at two-store York designer indie Sarah Coggles is well developed, and the business has been sending email alerts every seven to 14 days for the past 15 months. Operations manager Richard Hatfield says: “It’s all done in-house; we have a team of designers responsible for it. For smaller operations where the manager or owner tends to take on a lot of the marketing duties it would be more difficult.”

Like Start, Sarah Coggles’ alerts are designed to highlight new product and hot items. But how are decisions made about what goes in? According to Hatfield it is an organic process. “There are 10 or 11 of us in the office and we all know what’s going on. We have daily deliveries and the managers give us information on what is hot and what sells. We also get feedback from the online sales,” he says.

As a bricks and mortar business, Hatfield says Sarah Coggles has always had a stringent approach to Sales. “The buyers are very good but whatever doesn’t sell, we put in the end of season Sale,” he says. Up until now its emails have only highlighted full-price pieces, but Hatfield says the company is due to trial emails that carry brand-specific promotions.

So, will he ever be tempted to sneak in an item that is not shifting on the shopfloor? “No, that would be negative marketing,” he says. “If a piece is not selling then we know it is something that our customers are not interested in.”

The first challenge for any retailer setting up a system of email alerts is getting contact information on the database. Graham Brown, general manager of indie Cruze in Camberley, Surrey, says the shop has a database of about 11,000 customers, built up over 15 years. For most of those years however, email addresses were not a priority when acquiring information. “It’s a bit annoying. It costs us about £2,500 to print 4,000 leaflets for our mail-outs,” says Brown.

Brown sees email alerts as an efficient, alternative route. “We’ll definitely do it. It will be cheaper to do it by email and it will be easier for us to control what it looks like, rather than having to rely on a printing firm.”

In order to make sure the store can compile a list of email addresses, point of sale technology alerts the sales person at the till to ask for these details after each transaction.

Brown says: “We ask people for their contact details and tell them there is no third party involved. We use the details to contact them twice a year to give them Sale priority.”
He adds that he does not anticipate any revolutions in style in the migration from print to email. “It is difficult to get the personality of the store across in any leaflet; we just try to keep it simple.”

Uzma Chowdry, marketing consultant at design and communications agency Torsion Creative, points out: “The key is to stand out from the crowd. To do that you have to make sure that your message is not just sell, sell, sell. You have to communicate with your customer. Position yourself as an expert, give tips and offer consultation.”

She adds: “Good email marketing doesn’t have to cost the earth. Start with targeting your clients and see how you can add value to what you give them. Execution is important – texts and emails should be personalised and relevant. Be aware that sending a general marketing piece out about why someone should buy from you is not enough; you need to give people an incentive to use you.

“Think about incentives you could give that are relatively low value to you but have high value to the customer, such as a promotional code that gives 10% off or free delivery on certain orders.”

What many retailers will want to know though, is does it compare favourably with paper marketing? Jonathan Myers-Lamptey, online marketing consultant for internet consultancy, Design UK, says: “While direct marketing has its place, email marketing is cost-effective and allows the retailer to react to changing conditions, for example
communicating one-off promotions, Sales, or in-store events to a targeted audience.

“Also, the measurability of it means the return on investment can be shown in tangible terms. For example, if they opened the email, if they clicked through to your site, and if they went on to take up your offer. Used wisely this knowledge allows the retailer to build up a profile of each customer and produce more targeted mail campaigns which will improve conversion rates.”

In terms of response rate, it is an effective medium. Deryane Todd, owner of womenswear indie The Dressing Room in St Albans, Hertfordshire, says: “If we send an email or text alert on a Friday morning, we’ll see footfall increase that afternoon.”

Sign-Up.to is an electronic marketing specialist with about 1,000 clients, including shirt specialist Hawes & Curtis. Owner Matt McNeill says that when tracked properly, electronic marketing can provide powerful insights into customers’ shopping habits. “We work with lots of retailers and there are some consumer patterns that emerge. For instance, men are more responsive at lunch while for women it’s the end of the day,” he says.

Such nuggets of information are becoming increasingly valuable. As the need for more sophisticated email alerts grows, messages are being tailored to their recipients. Myers-Lamptey says: “Our clients include Selfridges, for whom we have designed the website and devised a customer acquisition and retention email marketing strategy to recruit new customers and manage brand interaction.

“Emphasis is placed throughout the website on generating context-sensitive customer email sign up, to which Selfridges can target specific segments with relevant offers, all of which have been successful in generating visits to its website and ultimately driving footfall in store.”

Beating the spam trap:
Most of us have email accounts that filter out spam, but when you are trying to get your message out the last thing you want is a spam filter to stop your message reaching your customers’ inboxes. Differentiating a useful alert from spam can boil down to grammar.

Jonathan Myers-Lamptey, online marketing consultant for Design UK, says: “Use good grammar and good html, do not use spammy words such as ‘win’, ‘free’ or ‘cash’”. Uzma Chowdry, marketing consultant at Torsion Creative, adds: “When picking an email provider ask what its inbox deliverability rate is and if they can advise on how to ensure you don’t hit the spam filter.”

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