Product Managers Struggle To Get Their Customized Email Correct

Product managers need to do a better job of customizing their emails
Product managers need to do a better job of customizing their emails
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So let’s talk about email for just a moment. If you are like me, you get a ton of the stuff. In all honesty, most of it is junk and I just end up deleting it even before I read it. However, there are those one or two emails that just happen to catch my eye. I’m in the market for something and that email seems to be talking about what I know that I’m looking for. When this happens, and it doesn’t happen very often, I will open and, gasp!, read the email. It turns out that retail product managers are currently not doing a very good job of getting me to open the emails that they send me. What’s up?

The Problem With Retail Email

So what’s going on here? When retailers send email to people that they want to shop at their stores, they have to create customized and personalized emails offers. However, what has happened is that retail product managers have fallen behind their online rivals who are currently doing a better job. Once upon a time, traditional retailers were the pioneers of capturing customer data and then using it to target what customers really wanted to buy. However, the world has changed. The importance of retailers catalogs and postal mailings have been overtaken by email and other types of online media and this has caused retailers’ product managers to start to struggle because they have not changed their product development definition.

What is happening is that the emails that retailers are sending to their customers are focusing on products that customers are not interested in. Retailers believe that they are doing a good job of customizing their emails. Unfortunately, their customers don’t see it that way. 90% of retailers say that they are focused on personalizing the customer experience. However, only 40% of customers are saying that the information that they are receiving from retailers is relevant to their interests and tastes. Retailers have a great deal of data about their customers. What appears to have happened is that retailers simply have not taken the time to understand how best to use this data. That’s not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume.

The holidays is the time of year that retailers really need to get their act together when it comes to sending effective emails. However, during last year’s holiday season retailers increased the amount of email that they sent out by 15% only to discover that customers opened 15% fewer of the emails that they received. It really wouldn’t be all that hard for retailers to improve what is called the “open rate” for their emails. All that they have to do is to start to include targeted offers that they create based on data collected from customer purchasing and web-browsing behavior.

How To Fix The Retail Email Problem

What retail product manager don’t yet seem to understand is that email is a different beast from traditional postal mail. Retailers can boost the effectiveness of their emails simply by changing something as simple as the time of day that they send them. One firm that started to customize their delivery times and send them at noon experienced a 40% increase in first-time purchases. The good news is that retailers are starting to make some improvements in this area, but they are still not doing a good job of customizing the shopping experience for their customers.

What a number of retailers are doing in order to do a better job of customizing their emails is segmenting their emails based on gender, income, geography and other metrics. Although this can improve open rates, it is different from personalizing messages for a single shopper. The problem with segmentation is that although it is effective, it can miss nuances of consumer behavior. Another approach that some firms use is to send customers emails on their birthday. This type of email has been shown to have a direct impact on sales with a boost of 8% not being uncommon.

Sending the right email at the right time can be quite tricky to do correctly. Some firms send alerts when products are restocked and notify customers with promotional offers. However, this can lead to customers feeling as though they are getting too many emails from the firm and then they start to ignore them. What retailers need to discover is what brands a customer typically buys and then make specific recommendations about products in those brands. If the company makes a mistake and sends a recommendation to a customer for a brand that they are not interested in, they run the risk of having that email ignored and then all other emails after it may also be ignored. Retailers need to make sure that the emails that they send are tailored to their customer’s needs.

What All Of This Means For You

The old world in which retailers send out catalogs and postal letters to their customers in order to get them interested in what they had in their stores has come and gone. We are now living in a new age where everything is all about email. Traditional retailers have not done a good job of finding ways to customize and personalize their emails – not enough customers are reading them.

The problem is not that retailer are not sending out enough emails. Instead the problem is that the emails that they are sending out are not capturing the interest of their customers. During the busy holiday season last year retailers sent out even more emails only to have customers open even fewer of them. Retailer product managers need to take a look at their product manager job description and realize that email is not the same as postal mail. Simple changes such as what time of day the emails are sent out at can have a big impact on if they get opened. Segmenting emails is good first step for retailers. However, this is not going to be the same as personalizing emails. Retailers need to understand what brands their customers are interested in and make sure that they send them emails that have offers for those brands.

Email has proven itself to be a powerful tool. Retail product managers have to learn how to shift the skills that they used to have with catalogs and postal mail to the brave new world of email. Understanding how to customize and personalize their emails in order to get customers to open them and take action is the key. The good news is that emails are free to send – retail product managers have plenty of time to get this right!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How often do you think that retailers should send customized emails to their customers?

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