The Unintended Consequences of Email Best Practices

Smart firms often deploy email practices like: 1) integrating email campaigns across channels; 2) following up on abandoned shopping carts; and 3) communicating special rewards through email. But sometimes these practices have unintended consequences.

Example #1: The Integrated Campaign Email

DogFoodCo sent an email to a customer who registered online after viewing a television ad. Nothing wrong with sending a confirmation email except that the email indicated that a coupon would be sent in 4 to 6 weeks.

Unintended consequence: The customer was ready to buy, but DogFoodCo lost the sale. With no coupon from DogFoodCo, he went to the supermarket and purchased his regular brand (which wasn’t from DogFoodCo). In fact, when he received the coupon four weeks later, he didn’t even remember that he had registered online with DogFoodCo.

Example #2: The Abandoned Cart Email

Three days after abandoning an online cart (including a dog hair conditioner), PetStuff sent a customer an email (with a picture of the conditioner) offering her 10% off online purchases. What PetStuff didn’t know, however, was that she had purchased the product at a store two days ago.

Unintended consequence: An irate customer. Her lament: Why didn’t they offer me the discount when I was online three days ago, or give me 10% off for an in-store purchase?

Example #3: The Special Reward Email

A discount brokerage emailed a customer, notifying him that his recent trading activity earned him a discount off the standard trade commission. But when the customer placed his next trade, the fee wasn’t discounted.

Unintended consequence: Instead of feeling rewarded for his loyalty, the customer was inconvenienced, orced to email and call the firm to fix the problem.

Avoiding The Unintended Consequences

It’s not that the firms shouldn’t have used these tactics, it’s that they didn’t implement them orrectly. Firms that deploy these best practices should:

  • Align offers with the consumer’s purchase cycle. A consumer who views a TV ad, registers on a Web site, and then opens a confirmation email is signaling his engagement with the brand and sending signals of purchase intention. DogFoodCo should have capitalized on its customer’s interest with an email that included the coupon. Forcing him to wait four to six weeks was out of sync with the consumer’s buying cycle.
  • Track cross-channel behavior. Ecommerce groups are often incented to drive sales online, and incenting consumers the change their channel behavior and preferences is commendable. But an abandoned cart may not mean an abandoned sale. If cross-channel transactions are too expensive and difficult to track, than firms should use abandoned cart emails to elicit from customers why the transaction was aborted, so they can determine whether or not to extend an offer.
  • Test operational capabilities. The discount brokerage in example #3 didn’t understand the systems requirements of its trading app. The email notification was sent before the trading app was updated to reflect the discounted commission. Marketers should assess the operational impact of email offers on business processes and systems. Consumers who transact online typically do so because it’s more convenient for them and operational issues negate that convenience.

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