Half UK retailers ‘fall short in email strategy’ Mar 06, 2008

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A new retail benchmark study, Hitting the Mark released this week by dotMailer, reveals that some of the UK’s largest online and offline retailers are neglecting key areas of the email marketing process and failing to comply with Best Practice Guidelines.

Almost half of the retailers (46%) failed to comply with basic legal requirements, according to the study, which evaluates 46 retailers’ email campaigns against 20 criteria, awarding each email campaign an Email Effectiveness rating out of 100.

Topshop heads the index of UK retailers with a score of 86.5 but is one of only eight to score over 80%. STA Travel, ASDA and M&S were close behind with 85.5, 84.5 and 83.5 respectively. At the other end, shoe retailer Office came in last place (54) just behind Lidl and H&M (both 57). Overall an alarming 35% failed to score more than 70.

Key failings identified by the study included minimal or ineffective design, inappropriate landing pages and non-existent targeting. Alarmingly the average score for effective targeting was a lowly 16%, with only five brands in the study using information about customer preferences to tailor email content and just 15% asked for any information about customer preferences during the sign-up process.

The study also revealed that retailers are not investing in email specific design skills. By failing to understand the unique technical requirements of email design, communications are failing to render correctly across inboxes leading to a less than satisfactory customer experience.

Only 30% of retailers invested in campaign specific designs and 40% of retailers failed to design relevant landing pages with consistent branding and a clearly visible offer or call to action.

“Our study was eye-opening in demonstrating that many retailers are failing to realise the full potential of email as a sophisticated direct marketing channel, offering vast scope for targeted and measurable communications,” said Tink Taylor, dotMailer’s Business Development Director and a member of the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Marketing Council.

“There is a long way to go in understanding that email requires specific skills and expertise that offline designers and website developers do not always possess or are not actually aware of. These key elements are essential to ensuring that email marketing activity engages customers, encourages them to interact with brands, and ultimately, impact sales.”

The 20 criteria in the report were used to evaluate the key factors that need to be addressed by any email marketing campaign to be effective across the four key areas that determine success: deliverability, renderability, open rates and response rates. A range of aspects were considered, including sign-up, unsubscribing, the HTML code used, effectiveness of the design, targeting and time of sending.

Top Five Performers


Worst Five Offenders






STA Travel








Marks & Spencer








“With spam accounting for 85-95% of all emails sent, it is now more crucial than ever for marketers to get their message across. However, ISPs are filtering out marketing email and consumers are becoming more selective in the way they view, read and delete emails.

“Email marketing is a complex marketing method and if we simply ignore the best practice guidelines or not aware of the issues involved then we fail to maximise every opportunity that email offers. This study highlights how marketers should use the criteria we outline throughout their planning and development stages to ensure that they get the most out of their email marketing,” concludes Tink Taylor.

Some of the most critical problems found were:

Good practice legal requirements were not included – Following the Companies Regulations of 2006, marketers have adopted as best practice the requirement that every marketing email should now include the company registration number, country of registration and a registered office address. Incredibly, 46% of the emails studied did not contain this vital information

The website landing page was not consistent with the look and feel of the email – An email marketing message acts as a vehicle to direct recipients to a website. However, too often either the wrong link was used or a website page no longer existed. Many landing pages looked different to the email itself and lacked clear navigation that would allow calls-to-action to be followed through to a measurable conversion. 40% of the retailers assessed scored under half in this category

Emails did not render across popular email clients – Very few emails managed to display properly across the most common UK email clients. This suggests that designers are not aware of the way certain inboxes render emails and have not tested the message prior to sending.

No viral element or links were hidden – Only 20% of the emails examined contained a forward to a friend link or viral element and of these, many were hidden at the bottom of the email out of sight

Design was not appropriate to email or specific campaign – The survey revealed that only 30% of retailers had invested in a campaign-specific design

The email showed no evidence of targeting – Only 15% of retailers asked for any information about interests during signup. Targeting is crucial to ensuring that the right message is sent to the right person at the right time. Retailers scored 16% on average in this section

The full report and whitepaper can be downloaded from http://www.dotmailer.co.uk/hittingthemark