Consumers to Retailers: You’re Fired!

Harsh words made all the more famous by a reality TV series. In real life, being fired is seldom a surprise. There are signals: a warning; ongoing performance issues; a sudden management change; or the power of consumers, stakeholders, or shareholders voicing concerns or dissatisfaction. In most cases, there’s opportunity for change or improvement through a performance plan, role switching, product improvement, or a change in attitude or approach. Whatever the situation, the message is simple: Shape up, or ship out.

Recently, my company teamed with NOP World Research/Roper ASW to survey retailer shoppers and assess consumer perception, satisfaction rate, and interest around email and retail shopping for the 2003 holiday season. We looked for signals to further guide and educate clients on their customers’ needs, interests, and satisfaction.

Some signals are clear and direct. The most glaring is over 40 percent of consumers who purchased at a retailer in the past three months “believed their retailer could be doing a better job sending more relevant email communications based on interests and past purchase behavior.”

Powerful feedback every retailer should take seriously or risk hearing the dreaded words: “You’re fired.” Before I elaborate on the importance of listening to the consumer, let me share some research highlights. These provide context for a better understanding of the opportunities and magnitude of the email medium and the importance of watching for signals.

First, the good news.

E-Mail Subscription Rates and Purchase Behavior

E-mail’s alive and well. Despite reports of its demise due to spam, more consumers than ever are opting in. Approximately one third of all adults (28 percent) and 40 percent of adults with home Internet access subscribe to or received an email communication based on a request or purchase during the 2003 holiday season. Those who currently subscribe or received an email based on a request or transaction during the past three months were more likely than the total population to have purchased from retailers in the past three months, including the 2003 holiday season:

Consumers Who Purchased From a Retailer in the Last Three Months
Retailer Total Respondents (%) E-Mail Recipients (%)
Wal-Mart 69 73
Sears 36 41
JCPenney 33 39
Gap 16 25
Eddie Bauer 10 17
L.L.Bean 10 20
Total respondents 1,019 304
Source: Retailer Email Communication: Summary of Findings, February 2004

E-mail is a growing influence affects our daily lives. E-mail customers are your best customers.

The Signals

Shoppers who currently subscribe or have received an email in the past three months due to a request or purchase expressed general satisfaction (66 percent). But only half believe the email messages were relevant and targeted to their needs.

Retailers can do more to build their customer relationships. Forty percent agree their retailer could do a better job sending more targeted, relevant offers based on their specific interests and past purchase behavior.

Such sentiments are expressed most strongly among shoppers of older establishments, such as Sears and JCPenney. These familiar brands’ customers expect more because of their long-term relationships. Approximately 45 percent of Sears shoppers believe the 118-year-old retailer could do a better job sending more targeted, contextually relevant offers. JC Penney and Wal-Mart, the king of real-time inventory management and optimization, follow Sears with 42 and 39 percent, respectively.

What does this mean in an age of clutter and spam? Marketers and retailers have a great opportunity for change. The opportunity is to reinvent the way they communicate with shoppers via permission-based email. Dynamically driven, relevant email is to the customer relationship as real-time inventory management systems were to inventory delivery and cost optimization in the ’90s. Those who understand it will build competitive advantages in the marketplace and set the bar for others to follow. Those who don’t risk being fired by consumers who are directly responsible for their long-term success.

The Payoff

E-mail customers are your most valuable stakeholders. They have high expectations. When we looked at the results by demographic or segment, consumers typically targeted by income, age, or gender don’t compare to the most powerful customer segment of all: email subscribers/recipients.

In this study’s every measurement, those who subscribe or receive email are more satisfied with their retailer. They’re more likely to shop there and recommend it to others. Marketers spending to attract key segments may need only to market better to their email subscribers by building contextually relevant communications that offer value and deliver on promises.

Statement Receive/
Subscribe to Retailer E-Mail (%)
Don’t Receive/
Subscribe to Retailer E-Mail (%)
You are satisfied with this retailer. 90 83
You are likely to recommend this retailer to others. 88 81
You are likely to buy more products from this retailer in the future. 91 84
You are more likely to increase your online shopping with this retailer in the future. 56 31
Total respondents 263 1,705
Source: Retailer Email Communication: Summary of Findings, February 2004

E-mail is a relationship-building tool. Marketing leaders are moving toward more dynamically driven content in email communications. Will you be one of them? Or are you be destined to face frustrated customers who demand your resignation? Who ignore or delete your attempts to communicate? For additional information on the 2003 Holiday Season Retail Consumer Research results, including consumers’ top email interests areas, drop me a line.

’Til next time,

Al D.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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