An Internet Retailer study shows most leading online retailers don’t use a shopper’s name in follow-up emails, even when a consumer has created an account. There may be technical hurdles to including the name in an email, or retailers may fear being creepy.

An Internet Retailer study of the personalization practices of 125 online retailers finds that most do not address a shopper by name in the emails they send following a consumer’s site visit, even when the consumer has provided her name by creating an account. One-sixth offered discounts in those follow-up emails, which some email experts say is a bad idea as retailers could be training shoppers to abandon carts to get lower prices.

Only 13.5% of the retailers that sent emails to Internet Retailer testers after they browsed a website without purchasing used the tester’s name—even though the testers created an account that included their names and email address. 17.9% of the retailers that sent follow-up emails to testers who left items in a shopping cart addressed the tester by name.

With both types of emails, the retailers made clear they monitored the tester’s behavior by including items the testers had browsed or put into the cart in the email. Of the browse-abandonment emails, 98.1% showed products or categories the tester had viewed, as did 93.6% of the cart-abandonment emails.

Name is only one dimension of email personalization.

If retailers are not concerned about letting shoppers know their site activity is being tracked, why are merchants shy about using a shopper’s name after the consumer has provided it? Experts say that may be because of technical issues or to avoid offending shoppers by being too personal.

Rob Schmults, former senior vice president,The Talbots Inc.

Rob Schmults, former senior vice president, The Talbots Inc.

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On the technical side, some retailers may use vendors to send emails to consumers who browse or create a shopping cart but don’t buy, says Rob Schmults, a former senior vice president at retailer The Talbots Inc., No. 85 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, and now a consultant. The vendors may not have access to the account database that stores the names of sign-in shoppers, or the retailer may choose not to provide the outside company with that personally identifiable information, Schmults says.

In some cases, retailers operating older e-commerce platforms may find it hard to feed consumer data into a newer system that triggers automated abandonment email, says Bart Mroz, CEO of digital commerce consulting firm Sumo Heavy. “Making new technology work with old technology can be very tricky,” he says.

But it may be that retailers just don’t want to come across as creepy by using the consumer’s name. “You do have to worry about creepy versus cool,” says Jeriad Zoughby, global lead for personalization at consulting firm Accenture Interactive. “You can be too aggressive.”

Best Buy cart abandon email with shopper name

Best Buy is among the retailers that addresses consumers by name in cart-abandonment emails.

Zoughby points to a recent Accenture survey that asked consumers how they felt about certain personalization practices. 41% thought it was creepy when they receive a text from a brand or retailer when walking by a store, 40% were uncomfortable getting a mobile notification after walking by a store and 35% didn’t want to see an ad on a social network about a product they browsed on a retailer’s site.

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Including the consumer’s name by itself doesn’t significantly increase the likelihood the consumer will open an email and click back to the retailer’s site, says John Landsman, director of strategy and analytics for eDataSource, which monitors and analyzes retailers’ email marketing programs.

“Name is only one dimension of email personalization,” he says. “The others—far more powerful—reflect clear recognition that the mailer is really messaging based on the customer’s location, status, preference or behavior.” Both the subject line and content of the message should be personalized in a way that shows the retailer is responding to the consumer’s signals.

As an example, he says, email subject lines that perform consistently well include wording along the lines of “Something you browsed has a new low price.” Putting the consumer’s name into the subject line doesn’t make those emails much more impactful, Landsman says. And an email with the shopper’s name but nothing else that relates to her behavior or preferences “has little or no clout,” he says.

Jordie Van Rijn, founder, EmailVendorSelection.com

Jordie Van Rijn, founder, EmailVendorSelection.com

The Internet Retailer tests conducted in the past few months also found that one-sixth of the abandonment emails retailers sent offered discounts in an attempt to entice our testers back to complete their purchase. This may not be advisable, especially when sending emails to customers that have previously purchased, says Jordie van Rijn, an email marketing consultant and founder of EmailVendorSelection.com.

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“Some of the buyers were going to buy anyway, so be careful about putting discounts in your abandoned cart emails,” van Rijn says. “You don’t want to train your loyal customers to abandon their carts!”

He says a better strategy than offering discounts in follow-up emails is to feature the products the consumer showed interest in during the next round of the retailer’s normal email marketing program for consumers who have asked to receive email. Just be sure, he adds, that the customer hasn’t in the meantime purchased the product.

Look for Internet Retailer’s upcoming research: The 2018 State of E-Commerce Personalization Report

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