Macy’s optimized its send time for emails and launched a campaign to reactivate shoppers to boost holiday sales.

Q4 2017 had to be stellar for Macy’s Inc.

Comparable store sales were down for 11 straight quarters, and the retail chain needed to finish the year strong, Stephanie Lau, vice president, retention marketing for Macy’s, told attendees this week at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience conference in Chicago.

The retail chain zeroed in on email marketing as the channel to reengage shoppers, as email is a top traffic driver to both Macys.com and Macy’s stores, Lau says.

After evaluating several tactics, the retailer decided to start with two strategies that had the highest impact and were the easiest to implement, or “low-hanging fruit,” Lau says. The retailer decided to do a deep reactivation with consumers who were at one point on its marketing email list but had not opened or clicked on an email recently, which resulted in a 6% increase in its active email subscribers,  and optimize the send time of its email campaigns, which increased its open rate of unique users by 9% and click-through rate of unique users by 14%.

With deep reactivation, the retailer looked at shoppers who were not actively engaged with the retailer’s promotional emails and segmented them into five buckets based on how long they were inactive, such as a shopper who hadn’t opened an email in 13 or more months; a shopper who hadn’t opened or clicked on an email in 7-12 months; a shopper who had made a purchase on Macys.com but never opened or clicked a promotional email; and a shopper who had opted-in to an email program and confirmed her opt-in but had not yet engaged with an email.

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The email campaign was not focused on selling but getting the consumer to engage with the email. This is a smart strategy, said Heather Goff, director of deliverability strategy at Oracle.

“It’s a mistake to keep sending promotional emails and not switch up what it looks like,” Goff said. “They are already dead to you in email, they don’t like your other emails, that’s why they’ve gone quiet.”

Macy’s new email had much more white space than usual and a single text-message-like speech bubble that says, “Are you there?” and to the left of it reads, “It’s been a while, let’s keep in touch.” The email prompted the consumer to confirm her email address. If the shopper didn’t respond to that email, Macy’s sent another email with another text-message bubble that read, “We miss you” under the “Are you there?” balloon. Macy’s then sent a third email with “Come back!” added if the shopper didn’t respond.

“It definitely looks like an ex who wants to talk to you, but it works,” Lau said.

The entire campaign lasted around three or four days, and 27% of consumers who received these emails confirmed their email address.

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Macy’s also used email subject lines with more transactional language, such as, “Please verify today” or “Confirmation requested,” because the retailer knows that transactional emails have a higher open rate, Lau said.

The entire six-week reengagement campaign to its customer segments increased the size of its active marketing campaign list by 6%. While this percent may not jump off the page, Macy’s emphasized that this is significant because of the size of Macy’s list, and that the retailer generated the increase in a short amount of time leading into the holidays, said Paul Grass, senior manager, retention marketing for Macy’s.

For the time-send optimization campaign, Macy’s used its data on when shoppers open its email. Previously, the retailer sent most of its promotional emails in the morning between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. The retailer looked at the average time the consumer opened and clicked on a Macy’s email within the last six months and then sent the consumer an email at that time. Just by changing this, Macy’s increased its unique open rate by 9% and unique click-through rate by 14%.

Throughout these campaigns, Macy’s kept an inbox rate of 98%, meaning only 2% of emails went to a junk or spam folder. This is a big deal, Goff says, as retailer emails may get labeled as junk when the retailer emails a non-active consumer. This also is key heading into the holiday season, when Macy’s sends more email than the rest of the year.

Besides boosting its email marketing campaign’s size and effectiveness, Macy’s also had a good fourth quarter, as Macy’s web sales increased 11% in Q4 2017, according to Internet Retailer’s estimates, and its comparable store sales increased more than 1.0%.

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Macy’s is No. 6 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500.