Email is Michael Cabral’s main focus at women’s apparel retailer J. Jill.
“I keep an eye on all email-related metrics, but I keep a very close eye on [inbound website traffic from email],” he says.
Cabral is senior manager of email operations and strategy at J. Jill. In July 2022, the retailer completed the last of three email migrations — and experienced a drop in email deliverability.
“We hit an [IP] block over the Fourth of July weekend,” Cabral says.
J. Jill’s consumer engagement in email deliverability went from 99.7% to 96.8%, Cabral says.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about a high volume of people, it’s actually pretty impactful for us,” Cabral says.
Emails lead to a “very large portion” of J. Jill’s online sales, Cabral says, without revealing more.
J. Jill IP address needed a ‘good’ reputation
The more a consumer clicks and engages with an email, the more emails that consumer receives from the retailer. If interaction declines, J. Jill sends fewer emails.
“If you’re not engaging with the emails, we don’t want to inundate consumers with our messages,” Cabral says. “And we don’t want them hitting the spam button. It’s actually better to opt out of our email program than hit the spam button.”
Senders are blacklisted when too many people hit the spam button on an email. A blacklist is a collection of IP addresses noted as sending out spam. Blacklisted email addresses are either blocked or messages are routed to the recipient’s spam folder.
J. Jill used Everest tools from Validity, a data quality and email marketing software platform, to see which emails are approved and unproblematic, he says.
Cabral and his Validity account manager determined that the retailer was targeting every email on its list as if they were engaged recipients that regularly clicked open emails.
“That was an issue because of an Apple iOS update for pre-caching, where everyone was considered an open email even if you didn’t open the email,” he says. Pre-caching is where software stores or caches a consumer’s web browser data in advance so when the time comes to email a consumer, the retailer can deliver it to them faster.
Warming up the IP address
In early 2021, Apple’s iOS 14 changes gave customers the option to opt out of activity tracking. This makes it harder for marketers to track web users and create personalized advertising campaigns.
At a certain point, J. Jill emailed people that were identified as having opened an email.
“But because of Apple iOS 14 changes, we were unable to truly know if it was an opened email,” Cabral says.
When J. Jill or any retailer completes an email transition to a new vendor, or changes the companies it sends its emails to, the retailer has to build up its IP address to get a “good reputation,” Cabral says.
To do this, J. Jill “warmed up” its email IP address, he says. Warming up the email IP address allows it to “get a good reputation,” he says. IP warming is the practice of gradually increasing the volume of email sent with a dedicated IP address, typically over a few weeks.
“To get a good reputation, you need people to open and close your email to show you’re a trusted sender,” Cabral says.
Gmail and Yahoo monitor email IP addresses to ensure recipients are not receiving spam messages. To avoid being blacklisted, Cabral first sent emails to its most engaged audiences, he says.
Once J. Jill consumers clicked through and engaged with emails, the IP block lifted, Cabral says.
“We started getting more and more people to click and open emails,” he says.
Enticing shoppers going forward
Now that emails are reaching the intended audience, Cabral says J. Jill prefers to promote the “newness” of its merchandise over discounts, Cabral says. That’s what’s relevant to customers, he says.
He knows this because he tracks what the email open rates tell him.
“That tells me that anything that’s new or just arrived was really a peak request,” Cabral says. “Those get the open rates. So I take advantage of that.”
J. Jill mixes up its messaging.
“Even when you’re talking about the same product, send one (email message) and then another two weeks later,” Cabral says. “I think that keeps the customer engaged in making a purchase.
J. Jill shoppers also go as far as emailing customer service if they’re not receiving messages, he says.
“I think our customers are very engaged with our email program,” Cabral says.
The retailer also emails customers with news of delayed shipments of new or popular-selling items. When a customer views an item that is delayed, J. Jill emails them that they will be alerted once the item is available, he says.
Since iOS changes, Cabral says website visits are down. However, the time users spend on site has lengthened.
“Our engaged customers are still coming [to the website], and they’re actually spending more than they previously had,” Cabral says.
J. Jill ranks No. 245 in the Top 1000, Digital Commerce 360’s database of the largest North American e-retailers.
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