Practical Ecommerce

How to Personalize Ecommerce Emails, or Not

Ecommerce merchants rely on email marketing for new customers and for recurring sales. Many of these customers, however, receive many emails per day; grabbing their attention via an email is increasingly difficult. Personalization — subject lines, offers — can help with this. But there are good and bad ways to personalize an ecommerce email.

In this article, I’ll review examples of personalization “hits” and “misses” from actual ecommerce emails.

Hit: Twitter

Twitter’s email subject lines and content are tailored to each individual that it is emailing. Based on an individual’s activity on Twitter, it is presumably easy for Twitter to identify other people that a user may know, and groups and discussions that may interest her. For example, my most recent email subject line from Twitter read, “Do you know Nely Bonar, Glen Gilmore #SocBiz and Email Inspiration on Twitter?”

A sample Twitter email subject line, tailored to the author, that reads, "Do you know Nely Bonar, Glen Gilmore #SocBiz and Email Inspiration on Twitter?"

A sample Twitter email subject line, tailored to the author, that reads, “Do you know Nely Bonar, Glen Gilmore #SocBiz and Email Inspiration on Twitter?”

By framing this as a question and including the “Do You Know” at the beginning of the subject line, it peaked my curiosity. Even if I don’t really know these people, maybe I should and maybe I’ll click through to follow them. Twitter’s algorithm for following someone is likely complex and doesn’t apply to my particular situation often. However just the way the subject line is framed invites an open based out of curiosity of the reader.

Hit: Pandora

Like Twitter, Pandora knows a lot about its users and the music they like. Pandora presumably wants its users to return to its app or website to keep listening, and hopefully upgrade to the premium commercial-free version. This email below from Pandora was well executed because it calls out specifically four songs that I recently liked, and provided links to those songs to listen to similar artists or find more information about the artists or albums.

Pandora's personalized email, noting songs the author had previously listened to.

Pandora’s personalized email, noting songs the author had previously listened to.

The underlying objective of the email is the call-to-action at the bottom, asking me to listen ad-free with Pandora One. Although the email is nicely done, the subject line could use more personalization, such as including the artists’ names, instead of the generic “4 songs you love.”

Pandora's subject line of "4 songs you love" could use more personalization.

Pandora’s subject line of “4 songs you love” could use more personalization.

Miss: Shoprite

I received an email from Shoprite, a consumer-goods discount retailer, with the subject line “Back to School Hot Deal: Samsung 32” TV $229.99 + Free Shipping.”

Since I am a parent of two children, the “Back to School” personalization portion of the subject line grabbed my attention. However, the fail here is that the offer for the TV is not a product most parents are looking for during the back-to-school season. In fact, it’s probably the last thing I am thinking about purchasing at this time because I’m allocating discretionary funds for clothes, backpacks, shoes, and supplies.

In short, when using an event or holiday to try to tie into a sale, make sure the offer is relevant to the event and the subscriber.

Miss: Ebates

Ebates functions as an affiliate for merchants and service providers. Ebates offers its customers a cut of the affiliate commission in the form of a cash rebate. Oftentimes, as an Ebates member, I forget to log on to the Ebates site to receive my commission. Reminder emails are likely a crucial element of Ebates’ overall email strategy. Thus tying as much information as possible into the subject lines can help a user remember to claim the commission. The recent email I received from Ebates, however, had the following subject line: “Your Monthly Cash Back Statement.”

Ebates' subject line — "Your Monthly Cash Back Statement" — is too generic.

Ebates’ subject line — “Your Monthly Cash Back Statement” — is too generic.

Although this subject line is okay and enticed me to open to see what my current rebate value is, it could be much better. The subject line sounds generic and gets lost in the other monthly statement notification emails that I receive. Ebates knows a good deal of information about me, including my first name and my current balance. So a better subject line would be, “Carolyn, Your Monthly Cash Back Statement” or “Carolyn, You Have $10.56 in Cash Back Waiting.”

Using an odd dollar value in the email subject line often increases open rates, even if it is not tied to the individual. In my previous job as an ecommerce email-marketing manager, I often used odd dollar values as a sale incentive, such as “You have $10.13 Off Waiting for You” instead of a generic “Take $10.00 off your next order.” It usually had a much higher open and click rate.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Scott Lansing August 26, 2014 Reply

    Nice post, Carolyn. Quick read with some good food for thought. I find it interesting the two profiled “Hits” of personalized emails done right are social media/social-driven companies, with personalization already at the core of social engagement and taste in music.

    I’ve been reading a lot about social commerce lately; this seems to be a good example of how the two consumer good/ecommerce-specific “Misses” in the post could adopt some best practices from their social counterparts.

    Thanks for writing!

  2. Mitch Fredricks August 26, 2014 Reply

    All good points, but in reality, you have to take personalization beyond “subject lines”. The email experience should be unique for each and every visitor and return shopper who touches your brand and receives an email from you, whether it be marketing or transactional. Subject lines are important in regards to making the receiver open them, but the meat of the email is what motivates the reader to take action and click..most often driven back to the site and makes a purchase.