What makes email marketing successful in generating engagement for retailers and what challenges do they face?

Email marketing is an effective digital tool used to communicate and engage customers. It is considered as a very important investment to most retailers as it ultimately helps them to retain existing consumers and attract new ones (BII, 2017).

Some people may think that email marketing is out of date, especially with the rise in social media and modern cloud technologies. However email marketing is still considered one of the highest ROI for marketers (Fernandez, 2016). In fact there are 2.7 billion email users worldwide (RadicatiGroup, 2015-2019), compared to 1.7 billion Facebook users (Statista, 2016) and 313 million Twitter users (Statista, 2016). And according to the data and marketing association 66% of online consumers have made a purchase online as a result of receiving an email-marketing message.

What makes email marketing so successful?

It is an effective way to keep customers informed:

It is a simple way to keep customers up-to-date on the latest fashion offerings and information about the company including upcoming events and store openings, for example email 1 displayed below is advertising a ‘grand opening’ of a new store.

Email 1


An easy way to reach mobile customers:

Emails are available to consumers through their smartphone. According to an Adobe survey 88% of Millennials regularly use their smartphone to check their emails (Naragon, 2015). Consumers are notified upon receiving an email and can click through to make a purchase from the email easily and quickly.

Allows for faster campaign deployment:

Lead times for email content and the whole campaign lifestyle is normally shorter than other media methods (Chaffey & Chadwick, 2016).

It has options for testing:

It is relatively easy and cheap to test different email creative and content. This helps marketers to deliver the best content every time (Damian, 2014).

Email promotions drive online sales:

Sending promotional codes like 20% off or free next day delivery is an incentive for customers to take immediate action, click through to the website and make a quick purchase (Chaffey & Chadwick, 2016). Email 2 shown below developed by retailer ASOS shows how they are using promotional selling methods.

Email 2

Emails are easy to customize and personalise:

The most successful emails are adapted to suit the needs, wants and behaviour of particular individuals, for example, by highlighting specific products that they would be most interested in (Zantal-Wiener, 2016). Drawing insights from sophisticated CRM systems and big data analytics will also help to target specific segments of customers and will help make content relevant for specific individuals (Damian, 2014). Email 3 is created by ASOS and shows how retailers are personalising their email content.

Email 3 


Email marketing can be combined with other direct media that can also be personalised, like mobile messaging or web personalisation, which usually increase campaign response (Chaffey & Chadwick, 2016).

Email marketing is less expensive than other methods:

Typically email-marketing makes up less than 10% of digital marketing spend. Particularly sophisticated platform will require a larger investment but then this generally leads to better ROI (Roesler, 2014).

What are the challenges with email marketing?

 According to a 2016 Adobe survey, roughly 50% of respondents claimed that email was their preferred mode of receiving marketing material, However, more than one-third (37%) ignore emails from retailers (BII, 2017). And another survey from retail touch points revealed that 65% of retailers aimed to increase email rates in 2016, such as click-through rates and conversions, however only 51% were able to successfully meet their objectives (RetailTouchPoints, 2016). These results show that retailers may struggle when it comes to engaging consumers with their emails.

In order for an email campaign to be successful the content and format of the email must be right. Non-relevant, unpolished emails are likely to be ignored and if opened may damage the brand image. Chaffey (2006) uses the mnemonic CRITICAL for a checklist of questions that can be used to improve the response of email campaigns (Chaffey & Chadwick, 2016):

Two of the main practical challenges for marketers to manage are deliverability and renderability. Due to increased efforts by ISP’s and web-email companies to reduce spam in their users inbox’s, marketers will need to make sure their email has been delivered and not placed in junk-mail boxes or simply deleted by the systems detecting spam emails (Chaffey & Chadwick, 2016). Renderability on the other hand refers to the capability of an email to display the correct format in different email readers and desktop and mobile devices (Damian, 2014).

In Summary

It is clear that email marketing is affective and is still an affective marketing communication. However it is crucial that marketers send the right content and ensure emails are targeting to the right people. Spending time creating engaging, eye-catching material should increase engagement and sales. The average open rate for emails from retailers is 20.5% and the average click through rate is 2.5% (Chaffey, 2016). Anything in this region or above is a good indication that email marketing is working for you!



BII, 2017. Retailers miss on email marketing goals. [Online] Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/retailers-miss-on-email-marketing-goals-2017-1 [Accessed 5 March 2017].

Chaffey, D., 2016. Email marketing statistics 2017. [Online] Available at: http://www.smartinsights.com/email-marketing/email-communications-strategy/statistics-sources-for-email-marketing/#q2 [Accessed 11th April 2017].

Chaffey, D. & Chadwick, F., 2016. Email Marketing. In Digital Marketing. Sixth ed. Harlow, UK: Pearson. pp.524-28.

Damian, R., 2014. Understanding Email Marketing. In Understanding digital marketing: marketing strategies for engaging the digital generation. 3rd ed. London, UK: Kogan Page. pp.178-203.

Fernandez, M., 2016. Email Marketing vs Social Media Performance (2016-2019 Statistics). [Online] Available at: http://optinmonster.com/email-marketing-vs-social-media-performance-2016-2019-statistics/ [Accessed 25th March 2017].

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RetailTouchPoints, 2016. INBOX LOVE: Investigating the State of Triggered Emails & Personalization for Retailers and Consumers. [Online] Available at: ttps://tinyurl.com/knu6h5a [Accessed 25th March 2017].

Roesler,  ., 2014. Top 5 Reasons Why Email Marketing Still Works. [Online] Available at: https://www.inc.com/peter-roesler/top-5-reasons-why-email-marketing-is-still-works.html [Accessed 25th March 2017].

Statista, 2016. Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2016 (in millions). [Online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/ [Accessed 25th March 2017].

Statista, 2016. Number of monthly active Twitter users worldwide from 1st quarter 2010 to 4th quarter 2016 (in millions). [Online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/282087/number-of-monthly-active-twitter-users/ [Accessed 25th March 2017].

Zantal-Wiener, A., 2016. 12 Personalized Email Examples You Can’t Help but Click. [Online] Available at: https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/34146/7-excellent-examples-of-email-personalization-in-action.aspx#sm.000094zccn10f9fo4qfbgjro5gca9 [Accessed 25th March 2017].