Beth Thompson

Email Marketing: An opportunity not to be missed during a global pandemic

Head of Email Marketing, Christie Woodhouse, explains why the last number of months have presented a real opportunity for online retailers and demonstrates how innovative businesses have been utilising email marketing to form stronger customer relationships than ever before.

The initial reaction to COVID-19

In the last couple of months, almost everyone will have received an email regarding store closure, delays to deliveries and, probably, a personal message from a brand's CEO too - these emails were vital in terms of providing important updates (and it’s something we certainly recommended).

Many companies also took the approach to mirror on-site behaviour within their emails by adding the same COVID-19 notice banners to all communications, which was great for maintaining consistency. This also meant that no matter whether you signed up for the newsletter pre or post-COVID19, you were being kept up to date with the brand’s current situation. An example of this can be seen below by our client, Additional Lengths.

Not one of us could have predicted the emergence of COVID-19, meaning that with increased online sales, fewer staff and the necessity to adhere to social distancing guidelines, many companies did not prioritise email communications. Those brands that took the time to highlight delays and keep customers informed will be the ones that will be remembered in a post-COVID world. H&M kept it completely on-brand…

Prettylittlething also actively emailed all customers paying a yearly subscription for next day delivery, to inform them that due to the circumstances, next day delivery was temporarily unavailable. This email, in particular, was great for not only being honest, but it also set expectations before an order was placed, which will have helped the brand retain its loyal customer base.

One of the biggest pivots seen was following the Government announcement that working from home was a requirement wherever possible, and brands instantly reacted and began to pivot their email strategies.

John Lewis started to send emails with subject lines worded ‘The working-from-home wardrobe edit’ when pushing loungewear, whilst IKEA went with subject lines along the line of ‘Make WFH work for you’. These subject lines proved incredibly engaging since they were relevant across the board.

A common mistake from many brands at the start of the lockdown was to use words such as ‘Coronavirus’, ‘COVID-19’ or ‘pandemic’ in the subject line. Jay Schwedelson of Worldata advised marketers to avoid using those specific words because they were being marked as spam.

Interestingly, during the pandemic, it was found that words such as ‘urgent’, ‘rush’ and ‘hurry’ had a negative impact on engagement, whereas the words highlighted below experienced a surge and saw the open rate increase.

From emails sent relating solely to COVID-19, we found average open rates reached 30.62% which is almost double the industry average for eCommerce. Our client, Magic Madhouse, an online Magic: The Gathering store, sent two emails which focused on COVID-19 updates only, with no mention of products, and they achieved open rates of 34.62% and 41.18%, demonstrating just how engaged their audience was with wanting to know how COVID-19 had an impact on customers placing orders online.

The key takeaway from these stats is that engagement was a lot higher during this period, due to there being interest from the audience with people wanting to know the effects COVID-19 was having on the brands. When we draw closer to the end of the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions are lifted, it is important for brands to maintain this level of engagement with their audience which can be done through segmentation.

Segmenting based on someone’s preferences, purchase behaviour and/or engagement with past emails will ensure the email is of relevance to the end recipient, and in turn, key metrics will improve.

So, what should email marketing look like right now?

It’s important to remember that life will not go back to normal (as we knew it before) the minute the lockdown is lifted as consumer behaviour will have changed. For this reason, companies should be sensitive when designing and sending store opening emails, as the messaging has to be right.

Consumer behaviour has changed and therefore your messaging needs to take that into consideration. Being considerate and taking consumer mindset into account within your messaging will encourage more people to visit the store as they’ll feel safe to do so, so highlighting the precautionary steps your store will be taking is highly recommended.

We also recommend, if you haven’t already done so, revising the automated emails that have been on pause for the last few weeks. Any email on pause was paused for a reason and that reason was probably as the content wasn’t appropriate during the pandemic, so many brands will need to change the tone or wording to ensure they fit in with the new ‘normal’.

It’s equally important not to forget about those automated emails which are still running. Many people are open to discovering new brands and exploring new interests they’ve never had time for in the past. With this in mind, many brands are seeing more people signing up to the mailing list, therefore, ensuring that your welcome emails are up to scratch is essential. Beginning March 9th, the average weekly email signup increased by 20.59%, with a total increase of 73.42% from 9th March to 5th April. One client, specialising in pond equipment acquired 1,300 new subscribers from their overlay alone and another 891 organically.

If your company stopped all orders during the lockdown due to Government advice, it’s important to not neglect your audience. It can take brands months or even years to engage with their full audience and by neglecting them during a critical time period, you may be making it twice as difficult to build engagement back up. Your subscribers want to be kept in the know.

Now is the perfect time, more so than ever, to have a bit of fun with your audience. Utilise dynamic content and run a poll, ask people what they’re getting up to, how they’ve been keeping entertained and even what they want to see land in their inbox from your brand... Your communications don’t always have to be promoting products or the latest sale, sometimes they can just be about having a bit of interaction with your subscribers.

The new normal

No one really knows what the new normal looks like just yet, but COVID-19 and its impacts worldwide have certainly changed consumer behaviour. A lot of consumers will be unable to go back to their old buying behaviours or may even be reluctant to do so. We may find that consumers will be a lot more careful about what they purchase purely because they were limited to what they could buy during lockdown.

Here are our predictions for the future...

  • Brands will truly learn the value of concise and meaningful messages and will become more aware of how to add value to their email marketing than ever before. It will be more important than ever for brands to ensure the content of emails is more engaging, to be given the luxury of the reader's attention.
  • Although key metrics and engagement is high right now, we expect to see a dip in when people return to work simply because they will have less time to read and shop. We may however see a larger portion of the database being highly engaged, especially for brands who have created those one-on-one relationships during the lockdown.

  • We expect to see a fluctuation to the best send time for brands, which will need to be reviewed regularly, depending on how the lockdown is lifted. Most businesses are guaranteed to do a phased return to work and therefore, when sending email communications, brands will be targeting different people at different times, depending on their own circumstances. We expect the fluctuation to the send times to last for a couple of months before settling down.

  • Databases have grown rapidly during the lockdown with more people having more time on their hands to discover new hobbies and interests. It’s important that brands continue to be more ‘human’ with their email marketing and continue to share different content that goes beyond their products in order to maintain these subscribers.

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