Shopper or Marketer Apathy?

Email is a workhorse for brands, and is used consistently to re-engage shoppers, but it’s also taken a hit in the last few years. Between the volume of messages a shopper receives daily, the advent of the Gmail promo tab to filter messages from the primary inbox, and the seeming lack of innovation in email tactics, it’s easy to come up with excuses for dwindling performance. But marketers are responsible as well. They’ve fallen into the rut of batch and blast email messages. Where brand sponsored broadcasts deliver a single message to everyone on their mailing list; turning the shopper inbox into another brand property.

Marketers are forcing in as many emails as they want, on any topic, whether it’s relevant to the recipient or not, and are hurting their own performance by ignoring the real problem with email. And if you talk to a marketer about their tactics or declining open and clickthrough rates, they write off poor email performance as shopper apathy.

This term describes individuals who is access email on a mobile device, have a shorter attention span than a goldfish, or rarely engage with content in the moment, but it’s also a marketer’s excuse. When shoppers have shown their willingness to repeatedly engage with content that’s relevant to them, why do so many marketers ignore this concept when it comes to email?

I had a conversation with a marketer friend recently, who was struggling with their own email performance. His brand implemented a new campaign designed to overcome the “apathetic shopper” by adding a carousel of recently viewed items to triggered messages, and changing the trigger to “viewed product detail page” rather than the more common “add-to-cart” action, dramatically increasing the number of emails sent. But my friend’s team weren’t seeing results, and as we talked, it was clear that marketer apathy – rather than shopper apathy – was the real culprit:

How many items do you show per message?
As many as they’ve viewed.

How often do you trigger the campaign?
Every time they return and view items.

Why so many messages?
Because they’ve engaged with us, and we should respond.

How do you know they liked these items?
They navigated to the product detail page.

Are you updating items with any new behavior?
No, we’re using the initial interaction.

What if they didn’t find what they wanted?
Showing them viewed items can help restart their search.

Do you think that will work long term?
Maybe. Even if 1% clickthrough, that’s better than 0%.

Can you make the merchandise more relevant?
We could, but why?

This approach mistakes a browsing action for purchase intent, and then bludgeons the shopper with unlimited options to try to isolate one item that will bring them back to the site. In my opinion, the marketer gave up. Instead of improving the shopper experience, they’ve implemented a widget that hints at shopper interest and increased the frequency of a largely irrelevant campaign; further alienating shoppers and increasing the likelihood of unsubscribes, while making their brand look more out of touch with shopper’s needs.

Shoppers have shown us that they will engage with content that interests them, and many brands are succeeding by looking at the long-term opportunity to bring relevant messages to the inbox:

Apathy Table

As shoppers become less responsive to marketers methods of email re-engagement like abandoned cart campaigns, limited time offers, or recommended products, marketers write it off as apathy. It’s a self perpetuating, dangerous cycle. But it’s the marketer’s job to break the cycle, and adapt to the changing shopper. Once they do, relevant email becomes an attainable goal, even when we have less than 8 seconds to capture the shopper’s attention. By taking what digital marketers already know about the shopper and applying that individualized strategy to email to dynamically display content, messages, offers, and products in real time, brands can start to revive email engagement.

Hillary Wilmoth

Hillary Wilmoth is the senior product marketing manager at Reflektion. Having worked in merchandising, consumer products, publishing, analytics and technology over the past 9 years, you might think she has ADD; but each marketing role was shopper-focused and research-driven. Hillary is a native of Baltimore, and, no, it’s not exactly like The Wire.