How email can help achieve stability in a turbulent eCommerce market

It’s impossible to ignore that consumer buying has accelerated its shift to online as shoppers have learnt new behaviours during lockdown, having grappled with the UK government’s ‘stay home’ order and the new reality of working remotely for the past 3 months.

Online retail in general was hit hard by the lockdown in March, with volatile performance week-on-week and the hardest-hit eCommerce verticals suffering an average 30% drop in conversions and a 15% slump in revenues. However, online performance and revenues are all now hitting higher levels than pre-pandemic trading, and IMRG reported that in the week that physical stores reopened (w/c 15 June), online sales soared +41% on this time last year.

In unprecedented trading conditions such as these, retailers need to identify and leverage the most effective sales and marketing channels possible – and the good news is that one channel in particular seems to be immune to the current turmoil; email.

Email revenue has remained steady throughout the lockdown, with open and click through rates trending 4-30% higher than usual; increases that retailers must use to their advantage.

Email - the steady performer

The steady performance of email is due to a combination of factors, not least stay-home and furloughed workers with more time on their hands to open and engage with emails, read longer-form content and browse online. This environment has led to a recent 5-10% increase in daily, week-on-week email open rates.

It appears that after a low point for omnichannel retailers on 16 March, both revenue and conversion rates have returned to near pre-Covid-19 performance levels driven, at least in part, to high email performance levels as well as an increase in Facebook ad spend.

Analysis of the stats for pureplay ecommerce reveals that the pureplay segment hasn’t bounced back in the same way as omnichannel. Both revenue and conversion rates are down from their pre-Covid-19 levels, but they appear to have remained flat or even slightly improved since mid-March. This suggests that pureplays could soon improve even further in line with the positive changes we’re seeing in omnichannel.

Email presents a golden opportunity

As lockdown eases, consumers’ unwavering relationship with email – which has strengthened after months at home – is plain to see. It now presents a golden opportunity for retailers and brands to increase email send frequency and cadence as its captive audience remain for the most part at home. The new normal also means that consumers are less busy and less distracted as their hectic pace of life becomes simpler.

This calls for retailers and brands to switch from a heavily transactional and promotional email strategy to rich, content-driven messaging. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest you should be capturing at least 10% of your site traffic through email at the moment. Any less than that and you could be missing a lucrative trick.

To maximise email as a channel, it is just as important knowing when not to communicate with your customer, as knowing when to communicate with them. Get this wrong and you’re likely to do more harm than good, driving potential customers away.

Avoid the hard sell

A recent BounceX study of more than 1,000 UK shoppers revealed that nearly a third (32%) of consumers will unsubscribe from an email list if a retailer is going in for the hard sell.

This tells us that to be effective email marketeers, retailers need to inform, educate and entertain customers through relevant and timely brand storytelling, with relevance based on the customer’s intent triggers.

If retailers can strike the right balance between content and transaction, and build the right email capture strategies, using promotions and incentives, they will reduce email list fatigue and make the most of the uptick in email engagement among consumers.

Use your team members to increase impact

This email-centric approach is even more important as pay-per-click (PPC) visits drop off and retailers struggle to keep traffic levels stable in the short term. Using actual members of your team to send text-based emails to your most valuable customers is a great way to show your brand cares during the crisis.

Better still, pair this approach with SMS to make sure you’re really reaching people wherever you may be. It’s also a great idea to look into using platforms like Zoom to directly engage with your audiences. Consider hosting an event using a video conferencing platform so people feel connected even while they are working from home.