How to reassure customers in uncertain times
There’s no hiding the fact that the retail industry is in a state of turmoil - delivery driver shortages, empty shelves due to supply chain issues and petrol and food shortages. On top of this, we are already hearing reports of consumers panic buying in fear of missing out on essential Christmas items.
A recent report by PwC revealed that consumer confidence has dipped to its lowest level this year, and that shoppers are being more cautious with their spending as a result of these concerns. As we enter the busiest time of the year, and with more pressure to make this Christmas a better one than last year, it has never been more important for retailers to be clearly and consistently communicating with customers, throughout the Christmas period and beyond.
The role of email as a trusted source
For most industry sectors, email marketing is pivotal to customer experience and loyalty, and not without a good reason. Email is a truly powerful tool:
- It follows your customers everywhere: on laptops, smartphones, tablets, watches, etc.
- It’s friendly and easy to use for consumers, and cost effective for businesses
- It’s a rich medium that supports a wide range of content type, design assets, and engagement tools
During a crisis, it’s more important than ever to understand and use customer data. Knowing where customers are in their journey can help organisations identify needs and create opportunities for proactive message development.
By offering helpful information to customers, brands can effectively evangelise their customer-first approach, while demonstrating their ability to understand customer needs through merging data with communications and thoughtful messaging. This ensures that each customer receives updates that are relevant to them, which helps them to feel reassured. Based on recent analysis of UK retailers’ email strategies across 2019, 2020 and 2021, experts at SparkPost predict to see increased mailing activity with large overall email deployments. Read / open rates may trend down across the larger audiences, but the actual number of impressions may increase due to heightened send volumes. When read rates remain level or improve in the face of increasing send sizes, that’s usually the result of senders creating or enhancing relevance.
What can brands do to reassure customers?
The situation seems to be changing almost by the minute, and so it is down to the brands to ensure customers are well informed of new developments, reassured of uncertain situations and trust that the brands are in control. Customers expect a high level of customer satisfaction, especially during times of uncertainty.
Email is the most reliable source of communication to ensure that customers receive the most relevant and useful information for them. Email enables retailers to be smart about how they are communicating with customers, so that they can provide more reassurance and regular updates of a situation, such as more personalised emails relating to their recent behaviour, purchases and concerns.
SparkPost’s analysis of recent email strategies found that decreased segmentation of curated, personalised content is less likely this year, based on relative lack of recent purchase history due in part to pandemic-related customer inactivity. Increasing holiday volumes will almost certainly require mailing to subscribers who've been email-inactive for 90 days or more. This needs to be done practically (and soon!) to avoid spam issues and inbox risks during holiday prime time. Inactive segments should be embedded within larger sends to activate new audiences – or warm-up cold ones. To optimise deliverability, avoid making those inactive audiences more than around 10% of any given deployment.
Responding to events in real-time
Producing and designing emails takes up a huge amount of time and resources. When combined with an ever-changing situation and multiple updates, setting up new emails with speed and efficiency is far more challenging,
There are various Email Design tools available that can be vital during these times, enabling teams to speed up email production processes significantly, and respond to changes and developments in near enough real time. For example, during the recent Facebook and Instagram outage, many retailers saw this as an opportunity to reach out to potential customers via email to entice them to browse their websites instead. Templates can be set up to ensure the email process is as simple and effective as possible, such as:
- Delivering a more consistent brand experience
- Implementing (and sticking to) email best practices
- Preventing brands from making mistakes
- Speeding up email production processes significantly, from a lead time of weeks to days
- Optimising and testing on multiple devices
- Delivering email campaigns in multiple languages, regions and formats at scale
It’s important to note that Email Design Systems take time to set up, plan and create, but once created marketers (email experts or not!) will have a world where they can confidently build emails quickly, efficiently and without mistakes.
What this turbulent year has reinforced is that email is the channel that can bring the adaptability, responsiveness, and reliability that retailers require when faced with new challenges. However, if not done correctly, there could be huge risks involved. Email can be time consuming to get right and investing in the right tools now, ready for Christmas, is essential.
Sam Holding is Head of International at SparkPost, leading the company's international operations for its email technology and analytics products. Sparkpost technology is responsible for almost 40% of the world's commercial email, working with global brands such as Financial Times, Booking.com and Pinterest.
Prior to SparkPost, Sam...