Understanding BACK-TO-SCHOOL email strategies

Seasoned retailers deeply respect the importance of intelligently planning key events and selling periods. Considerable retail revenue and profit are at stake in optimizing performance for each of these. The November-December Holiday selling period is the most important example, but there are certainly many others. In fact many marketing teams work selling period to selling period, rather than the standard calendar.

Visibility and predictability are key elements in planning for any selling period, but unfortunately many marketers have found themselves needing to rely only on their own historic successes and failures for predictable insights into how they can maximize revenue and more importantly profits during the selling periods definite time boundaries. But those that use available 3rd party market data find that visibility into competitors actions is crucially important, and its pretty accessible.

My focus here is of course increasing visibility and predictability through detailed monitoring of marketing email, which can supply marketers with a lot of the answers to questions they never could answer before.

Back-to-School is a good example of a selling period that is just about to get started and we at eDataSource took a look at what some retailers might expect based on previous years activities, especially if they compete in any way with Amazon, Macy’s, Best Buy, Target or Walmart. Few of the things we found were eye opening and I hope this quick overview can be helpful for email marketers.

  1. The Back-To-School promotional period may be longer than you thought.   The graph below shows 2014 Back-to-School campaigns and their send volumes by week. Most campaigns started around Week 27 (2nd week in July), peaking in Weeks 32-34 (mid to late August), with a smaller number extending through September.BTSimage
  1. There’s a lot going on. During 2014, the five retailers in this analysis:
    1. Mailed a total of 128 Back-to-School campaigns or segments (50% were Amazon’s),
    2. With a total send volume of 488 million (63% from Walmart), and
    3. Generated higher than average aggregate read rates ranging from 19.1% (Best Buy), to 12.1% (Target).
  1. There’s a pattern to the emails with some of the highest read rates:
    1. In relation to these brands’ likely panel reach, these emails all have relatively small audiences, and were therefore segmented and targeted to high likelihood responders.
    2. Three of these messages reference college, and two of those reference technology. All make strong reference to categories reflecting Back-to-School staples.
    3. Note that explicit ‘price-off’ is not a key component of these successful campaigns. They’re much more likely to be category-based.

How do I use this information?

  • Calibrate timing of your Back-to-School campaigns: You can be in your customers’ inboxes when your competitors are, and/or you can also mail at other times (earlier/later), when your mail may be more visible. There’s a case to be made for both approaches. You need to test their relative performance in your own programs.
  • Segment and target Back-to-School mail to most likely buyers: “Likely” would be based on:
    • Previous purchase or web-browse of Back-to-School categories, especially during the relevant period
      • Note that these categories likely extend (for college students) to various home store categories not always associated with Back-to-School
    • Previous purchase or web-browse of merchandise strongly cross-shopped with Back-to-School categories
    • Likely presence (imputed or known) of appropriately aged offspring in the household
    • Also: Customers opting into email within six months of 1st Back-to-School campaign deployment, and who’ve opened at least one of your emails in the past ninety days.

The full report can be found at: eDataSource_BTSreport

G.B. Heidarsson
Chief Executive Officer