Fewer top online retailers are offering discounts in e-mails, while more actively encourage e-mail sign-ups on their sites.

Retailers tweaked their e-mail marketing programs in important ways in 2014, seeking to win sales more through personalized offers and less with discounts, according to a study by e-mail marketing firm Listrak. They also got more aggressive in seeking to persuade web site visitors to sign up for their e-mail lists, but are missing opportunities to connect with mobile shoppers, Listrak says.

Listrak studied the e-mail campaigns of the top 1,000 retailers in North America by online sales, those ranked in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and in the Second 500 Guide, which ranks retailers ranked Nos. 501-1000. A report on the study by Megan Ouellet, director of content marketing at Listrak, will be released next week.

The study found that 22.2% more of the Top 500 retailers sent personalized e-mails in 2014 than in 2013 and 7.5% more among the Second 500. Listrak also noted that more retailers including product recommendations in e-mail, “increasing the level of personalization and engagement.” Among Top 500 retailers, 22.2% used product recommendations in remarketing campaigns, for example to shoppers who have abandoned shopping carts, an increase of 85% over 2013; 7.5% of Second 500 retailers recommended products in e-mail remarketing campaigns, up 87.5% over the prior year.

But retailers were not relying as much on discounts to woo shoppers: there was a 45% decrease in discount offers in retailers’ first remarketing message, Listrak says.

While 77.7% of the Top 500 retailers display ratings and reviews on their web sites, only 5.8% put them into e-mails in 2014. Still, that was an increase of 70.5% over 2013. 55% of Second 500 retailers show ratings and reviews and 6.2% used them in e-mail campaigns, an increase of 31.9%.


The report points to Best Buy Co. Inc., No. 15 in the Top 500, as a retailer sending effective remarketing e-mails to shoppers who left items in carts, without offering explicit discounts. In the first message Best Buy offers to match a lower price, and later asks if the customer is ready to complete the purchase. Both e-mails include ratings and reviews on the products in the cart and recommendations of related items.

The study also shows that retailers are reaching out more quickly to consumers who abandon shopping carts. Among Top 500 retailers, 66.7% sent an e-mail within 24 hours of the shopper leaving the site, an increase of 1.4% over 2013, and 76.9% within 48 hours, up 4.3%. For Second 500 retailers, 85.1% reached out via e-mail within 24 hours, up 5.9%, and 87.8% within 48 hours, an increase of 5.4%.

The percentage that offer discounts increases from the first to the second to the third remarketing e-mails retailers send to these shoppers, but fewer of those e-mails offered a lower price in 2014 than in 2013. Among Top 500 retailers only 18.1% offered a discount in the first e-mail, down 39.3% from 2013; 39.5% in the second e-mail, down 22.2%; and 48.8% in the third message, a decline of 38.8%. For Second 500 retailers the figures were: 16.1% offering a discount in the first e-mail, a decrease of 50.1%; 56.1% in the second e-mail, down 11.4%; and 69.6% in the third e-mail, down 9.6%. In the fourth follow-up e-mail 41.6% of Top 500 retailers and 58% of Second 500 retailers offered a discount in 2014, according to the report, which did not provide comparable 2013 figures for the fourth e-mail in the sequence.

Retailers on average only have the e-mail addresses of 29% of web site visitors, and Top 1000 retailers are taking added steps to collect those valuable e-mail addresses, often through on-screen pop-ups (also called “modal lightboxes”) that encourage a shopper to sign up. Listrak found 28.9% of Top 500 retailers using this technique in 2014, an increase of 25.6% from 2013. For Second retailers, it was 29.5% asking for the e-mail address in an on-screen overlay, up 77.7%. For Top 500 retailers, 46.5% offered no discount or offer—such as free shipping or entry into a contest—as an incentive to sign up for e-mail, but that was true of only 31% of Second 500 retailers.


Listrak says many retailers are missing out on opportunities to present their e-mails effectively to the growing number of consumers reading e-mails on smartphones and tablets. Only 16.5% of Top 500 retailers had a responsive  web site—one that adapts to the size of the screen the consumer is using—and only 6.4% offered responsive e-mails that would be easy to read on the smaller screens of smartphones. For Second 500 retailers it was 16.5% with a responsive web site and 3.8% with responsive e-mails.

That’s a missed opportunity, Listrak says, because applying responsive design techniques to e-mail increases the open rates 9% and click-through rates 113%.

Listrak provides e-mail marketing services to 61 of the Top 1000 e-retailers in North America, 15 in the Top 500 and 46 in the Second 500.