[NEW STUDY] Online shopping habits are changing. How can email help brands stay ahead?

We’ve always known that consumers have a penchant for shopping around. That was certainly heightened with the emergence of online shopping, but things have definitely moved on since 1994!

Today there are more retailers in the market than ever, which has undoubtedly impacted the way people buy. More choice means more competition, and more competition means consumers’ expectations in terms of availability, price and service is high.

At dotmailer, we were keen to get a handle on today’s consumer and recently conducted some research into shopping habits. A prominent theme to transpire was that increased consumer choice is leading to a lack of brand loyalty, with people even gaming the system to get an advantage.

I’m not at all surprised by this; if the price isn’t right or the customer experience isn’t up to scratch, people will have no hesitation in looking elsewhere. All they have to do is fire up a web browser, make a search and they’ll be served with hundreds – if not thousands – of alternatives.

I think it’s important for retailers to not be naive about the situation; it’s not new by any means. But by being aware of all the tricks involved, it provides businesses with the intel they need to stay ahead.

Here are a few of the most significant findings and my take on how brands can fight back:

Price rules

73% of US respondents in our survey said they’re willing to do extensive research to secure the best deal possible. That’s a significant number, so what does it teach us? First and foremost, sensitive pricing is absolutely key and companies should be keeping regular tabs on their competitors.

Another interesting finding was that around two out of five consumers will sign up to companies’ mailing lists in order to bag the best prices. What this shows us is that people are still more than happy to part with their email address when brands are willing to give them money-related incentives in exchange. Smart website popovers and other prominent sign-up forms should therefore not be overlooked as a successful way to promote subscriber offers.

I’m sure I don’t need to outline the other benefits of collecting people’s email addresses here. What I should highlight, however, is that 35% of US respondents felt the marketing emails they receive rarely target their situation. Email relevancy is still at a low, with more than a third of the online shopping population poorly engaged by the brands they buy from.

40% of consumers will wait for dedicated sales days

Shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become global phenomena, though it seems they’re programming consumers to hold off from purchasing during other times of the year. In our study, 40% of US respondents said they wait specifically for online sales days to secure a better deal, meaning retailers either need to offer better deals year-round or take a personalized approach to their pre-sales-event marketing in a bid to cut through the noise.

As we know, the latter is easy if companies have a single view of the customer and an email marketing platform that has seamless access to rich data. Stand-out email subject lines paired with relevant content that’s based on behavioral and purchase data is always going to win over spray and pray marketing.

Cunning tactics to outsmart the abandoned cart

Another interesting trend from the survey was that 15% of US consumers will abandon their shopping carts in the hope that brands will deliver a last-ditch discount to close the sale.

Cart recovery programs are a proven way to pull back reluctant customers and in our 2017 Hitting the Mark report, we were surprised that 60% of retailers didn’t have these emails in place. However, marketers should be wary of leveraging discounts in abandoned cart emails, especially if they’re including them in every campaign; doing so will train people to abandon their carts each and every time.

One way for businesses to overcome this dilemma is to understand who their target customers are and use this as a method to prioritize. For example, if they want to encourage new prospective customers to make their first purchase, a discount-led cart recovery email might be appropriate and fruitful.

On the other hand, those focusing on existing customers should avoid sending discounted abandoned cart programs to this segment and focus on a long-term loyalty strategy. Rewarding people with discounts for things like creating an online account, referring friends and leaving reviews is a much more logical approach.

I’m sure a few of these results won’t be a surprise to some businesses, but it’s always helpful to take stock and get some fresh insight in an ever-changing landscape.

Tink Taylor
Founder & President, dotmailer
eec Board Member; Chair of eec Nominations Committee
The online shopping research was conducted in June 2017 by YouGov on behalf of dotmailer and its communications agency, M&C Saatchi. The sample comprised 1,145 US respondents.