How 24 retailers use email marketing to collect customer data

This week, I created a brand new email address, and attempted to sign up to a bunch of different UK retailers’ emails over a period of two days.

Why? Initially, for two reasons that I will explore in this post. Firstly, I want to see how easy it is to become a subscriber, and secondly, I’m interested in the frequency and quality of follow-up emails.

Generally, I’m judging the retailers by this criteria:

  • Do sites push email subscription on their sites? (through pop-ups, prominent placement etc. I don’t want to perform a Google search to reach the subscription page).
  • Do I have to create an account to receive marketing emails? How much data do I have to input?
  • Incentives: Do I receive any discount or rewards for signing up to emails?
  • Follow up emails: Does the retailer send me a follow-up email, thanking me for subscribing? What is the copy like here? Is it personalised and useful? Are there links back to the site?

First, let me explain the importance of the topic. Email, despite the frequent and normally ill-informed articles predicting its demise, is alive and well.

Why? Because it works. It delivers the best ROI of any digital channel, offering a direct line from retailer to potential buyer.

So, for retailers, building an email list full of existing or potential customers is very important.

Often they’ll sign up post-purchase, but if they opt to sign in before then, retailers are looking at some very valuable email subscribers, as this action suggests a strong intent to purchase.

So, they should make it easy to find the sign up option, provide good reasons for subscribing, and follow up this interest with relevant emails and offers.

So, who is doing this well? I’ve picked some of the UK’s most popular retailers to test their sign up processes…

  1. Argos

argosnewsletter

Argos’ email newsletter subscription isn’t advertised on the main page of the site, and instead appears in small font in a list at the bottom of the site.

It’s not so easy to find here, and therefore unlikely to be found by anyone not actively looking for it.

argosnewsletter2

Argos’ ’email sign-up’ link leads to this…. so that’s that one over. Great start.

2. Amazon

amazon1

I couldn’t find a link to Amazon’s newsletter subscription on the site’s homepage, so I had to Google it, which took me to the page above.

amazonnews2

I signed in as a new customer, which then took me to another page asking for more details…

amazon3

Having to create an account before subscribing to newsletter is time consuming, and I’m starting to consider abandoning the whole thing. But then I have a change of heart, create an account, and subscribe to Amazon’s “deals” newsletter.

amazonnews3

Amazon thanked me, and confirmed my subscription. All in all, this was a pretty arduous process.

amazons

Amazon’s copy is not only boring in the follow-up email itself, but also in the newsletter headline – which should be as warm and inviting as possible.

Compared to other emails I received, the headline is pretty dry. Compare “You subscribed to Amazon.co.uk Deals Newsletter” with “It’s time we get to know each other” from New Look. I know the two retailers have different functions and tones, but Amazon’s copy is purely functional and shows no personality.

3. Apple

There is no mention of a newsletter on Apple’s UK or .com site, so I had to Google Apple newsletter subscription”, which took me to a page that asked me for my email address and location:

apple1

 

Yay! This is exactly what I’m looking for – it took about two seconds to do, and gives me options to tailor the content.

The bad news? I have no follow up email! It’s been a whole day, too.

Still, iPhones and iPads are still selling like hotcakes, so perhaps Apple doesn’t feel it has to try too hard here.

4. Tesco

tescones

Again, there was no mention of a newsletter on Tesco’s home page, but once I searched for it on Google I came to the form above which was super easy to fill out.

I don’t have a clubcard, so I typed N/A in this box, and Tesco let me sign up which was unexpected. Is there another newsletter that isn’t clubcard based? It’s not clear. I don’t have a clubcard, so this content might not be useful for me.

I’ve received no follow up email. Boo.

5. Asda

asdanewsletter

Again, Asda’s homepage has no mention of a newsletter. All this Google searching is starting to irritate me.

The subscription form, once I found it, was easy to fill out – i.e. I didn’t have to create an account before subscribing – but I’ve received no follow-up email.

6. Next

next

Finally! A semi-prominent sign up option! It’s not the best – it’s really small, and at the bottom of the page – but at least it’s there.

Their incentive here is being the ‘first to know’ about deals.

nextnews

All I had to do was enter my email address. Winner. But I’ve had no email to confirm I’m signed up.

7. M&S

ms

M&S’ newsletter sign-up is at the bottom of the page, and you can enter your email directly into the box.

mands

The form was relatively quick to complete, and I was able to select information I would like to receive (for the purposes of this experiment I ticked all the boxes):

MANDS2

I received a follow-up email instantly, which thanked me for signing up to the newsletter, outlined what I will be receiving in the future, and linked back to the site. There are also links to download the app.

than

A good effort from M&S, More work was required to sign up with having to enter details. However, if this pays off with more relevant offers, the effort may be worth it.

8. John Lewis

Another small sign-up form at the bottom of the page, which offers visitors offers and news and has a simple email-input format.

I wasn’t taken to another page to add more details, I was signed up immediately.

johns

This is a quick way to add people to the list, in contrast to the M&S approach. However, is an easier sign up sacrificing the advantages of finding out more about customer preferences?

I’ve received no follow-up email from John Lewis.

9. B&Q

b&w

From what I can decipher, to receive emails from B&Q, you have to sign up to be in their ‘club’ which I really don’t want to do. bandqs

Signing up to the B&Q requires entering a whole bunch of details I don’t have time to do. It’s a lot of work to ask customers to do, and I suspect that only most engaged B&Q customers will sign up for such a club.

For example, I’m asked to enter a mobile number, date of birth, home address and more. That will deter a lot of people.

Also, though the card field is asking for a B&Q loyalty card number, this isn’t at all clear, and some people may think its asking for credit card details.

The extra work here will put off many, but the result will be a smaller email list, but one about which B&Q knows a lot more.

Perhaps that’s a good strategy.

A welcome email comes quickly, complete with an extra offer of £5 off.

B&Q email

10. Debenhams 

deb

A more prominent sign-up form than other sites, which took me to a simple, quick online form that promised offers, news and deals upon subscription.

debs

My welcome email featured a 10% newsletter sign-up discount. A good way to tempt customers into a quick purchase.

11. Boots

boots1

Boots’ newsletter is visible on the retailers’ homepage, but entering your email takes you to a new page where you have to fill out more details, including age and gender.

bootd

I received a conformation email immediately, which encourages me to get an advantage card. It’s also worth noting this was one of three emails that came through to my main inbox rather than the “promotions” tab.

12. Currys

currys

 

To receive any marketing emails from Currys, the retailer requires that you create an account. This may benefit the retailer, but it’s an obstacle that some will not bother with.

curry

I received a generic welcome email, with no useful content.

13. New Look

newlook

New Look provides a great incentive to sign up (a competition to win free clothes for a year), and the retailer’s follow up email is super-friendly and reinforces the fact that you will have access to information and offers that others won’t:

news

14. Lastminute.com

lastmin

Lastminute.com has an easy sign up process, and asks for some detail on preferences.

There is more work here, but those customers that make the effort should be able to receive more relevant, personalised offers, if lastminute.com makes use of the data.

Lastminute

15. Ikea

Ikea’s subscription process involves a pop-up screen, which requires an email address only.

IKEANEWSLETTER

The follow up email is friendly, and again reinforces its purpose: for news, ideas, and offers.

ikea1

16. Sainsbury’s

I could find a general Sainsbury’s  newsletter, so I signed up to receive emails from Sainsbury’s magazine:

sainsburys

My follow up email thanked me, and linked to some content.

sainsburs

 

17. Homebase

Homebase clearly lists what it is offering in its email newsletter, and tailors its content to each subscriber’s specific interests:

homebase

My ‘welcome’ email was quite dull, but encourages the receiver to visit the store.

hoe1

 

18. River Island

Sign-up is clearly visible on the homepage, and content is tailored to gender:

riverisland

The River Island welcome email is informative, attractive, has great enticing copy, and useful content.

ris

It features a live countdown outlining online delivery times, information about click and collect, and links to the store:

 

risa

 

19. Premier Inn

premierinn

Premier Inn’s newsletter was hard to find on the webpage, and I have received no follow up email. The form features “your interests”, which Premier Inn should be able to tailor different content to different subscribers.

 

20. House of Fraser

House of Fraser was the first site that had a pop-up window encouraging newsletter subscription.

There are pros and cons to this – it is more prominent than a small, hidden link on a webpage, but could prove irritating to some visitors.

hofnewsletter

The welcome email clearly stated what I will be receiving by signing up:

hos1

sjhd

 

21. Halfords

half

Halfords has a clear sign-up button at the bottom of the webpage, which takes you to a page asking for details:

half2

Halfords offers £250 to sign up, which should have been advertised on the site’s main page. I have already clicked sign up, so I am already interested without the prize. There is a checklist of interests, which means the retailer can make my content as useful as possible:

half3

I received a clear, friendly and useful follow up letter, which links back to the site.

22. Littlewoods

Littlewoods’ email subscription has a prominent place on the site:

littlew

And I received a welcome email, telling me what to expect from my subscription:

lite

 

23. H&M

h&mnewsletter

H&M offers new subscribers 25% off an item, but…

handmnewsletter2

The form doesn’t work.

24. & Other Stories

I signed up to the & Other Stories newsletter, because I enjoy receiving it to my personal email address. The copy is unique, and it’s really elegantly designed.

andother

Signing up is quick and simple, I just had to enter my email address and location.

andothers]

AND I got 10% off.

 

CONCLUSION

Email newsletters can be a very effective tool for retailers, so getting them right is essential.

What actually constitutes best practice here will vary from site to site, and testing will help each retailer find the best balance.

However, I think a couple of practices should be more universal.

Firstly, if retailers are serious about building an email list, the sign up link should be obvious and relatively easy to find.

Then there is the balance between creating an easy sign up process and asking for too much data. There’s no right and wrong answer here, but having to create an ‘account’ to subscribe to marketing emails is likely to deter many potential subscribers.

The best newsletters have a specific function and offer information or deals that are not available to non-subscribers. Copy in the follow up email should be colloquial, friendly, personal and useful, and offering discounts is a great way to keep people interested.

I the next post on email, we’ll see how retailers handle email in the run up to Christmas. Will my inbox be full of emails as they take a scattergun approach, or will I find lots of useful offers based on the data I’ve provided?

Related reading