Site logo

Industry Leaders Panel: The Role of Email in eCommerce

Mark Ash, Chris Donald

Presented by: ​Mark Ash, Chris Donald

Industry Leaders Panel: The Role of Email in eCommerce

Where is eCommerce headed in the next 10 years. Who will be the big losers and winners and why? What role will email have to play? About: Mark Ash

Energetic, innovative and sales driven digital marketer with over 19 years’ experience (agency, network and client side) in creating and leading data-driven marketing businesses About: Chris Donald

CEO at Inbox Group Email Marketing Agency and Managing Partner at Inbox Army, Chris has over 20 years experience in the business.


Mark Ash 0:45
So Hi folks, Mark Ash here from Pure360. For those of you who have not come across Pure360 we’re leaders in in email, and web personalization, we provide a platform for multi channel marketing, delivery and personalization. We’re based here in Brighton in the UK. And you know, a big focus for us as an organisation is helping our customers maximise the use of the channel at the email channel to deliver personalised comms across most channel context. So, yeah, we know today we’re going to be speaking predominately about how the role of email is going to be changing in e commerce specifically. I’ve been involved in email for about 20 years now. know a lot of you guys on the call. And it’s in this conference. Looking forward to some some interesting discussion, Chris.

Chris Donald 2:01
All right. So my name is My name is Chris Donald, I’m, obviously the better looking of the two. And he’s actually older than I am. Now, I’m only kidding. I’m the managing partner at inbox army. And we’re located in the Dallas area, but we have people all over the country, and in other countries as well. We’re an email marketing agency, we focus heavily on the production side. So design, coding, testing, setup deployments, data integrations, automations. And we work with both directly with brands and companies, as well as almost 50% of our business is actually for other agencies. So that’s enough of that, not here for a commercial. Alright, so where are we going to start? I got to keep shifting back and forth between our little deal here. So eCommerce brands looking to make the most of their email base in difficult times was one of our topics, right?

Mark Ash 3:09
Yeah, from I mean, just to get to give you a sense of, you know, context around this discussion in, obviously the situation that we will find ourselves in at the minute. And, you know, we’ve seen this historically, over the years, in difficult times, a number of e commerce brands, you know, look back to email to, to help it through difficult periods. Certainly, you know, where we stand now, we’re seeing a number of brands, and how they’re looking to, you know, prepare for what is going to be unnaturally a difficult period, traffic decline, organically, you know, they’re looking at shifting budgets from certain areas, whether that’s paid media, and other areas of their marketing spend, to see them through a difficult period. And, really, that’s presenting some brands, certainly, in certain areas, such as travel, and others, it’s a huge opportunity for them to look at ways in which they can get much more out of out of email. You know, from from my perspective, email is vastly underrated. We know that there’s a huge amount of influence that email drives across all areas of the customer lifecycle. But unfortunately, for a number of brands, the Mainstays still stick seems to be batch and blast approach, the regular newsletter, and that has come to kind of typify a core of many email marketers, you know, business as usual. But it’s times like these that present an opportunity we’re seeing certainly within the discussions we’re having with with some of our brands It’s an opportunity to step away from the day to day and do a lot of the spade work to move ahead with some of the larger projects that they’ve been wanting to do, but simply feel limited to because they’ve got into a habit of, you know, sending their regular newsletter comes. And that takes up all of their time. And now, it feels that that’s not necessarily the right thing to concentrate on. We know we know, as email marketers for a long time, that we’ve got to shift away from that we’ve got to shift to a much more of a customer experience, orientate orientated planning framework. And that’s absolutely super critical. So, you know, from our perspective of pure 360, you know, we we’ve we’ve looked at those, those challenges. And as you know, some people are mentioning that a lot of email teams are under resource, we were really doing all we can to remove those physical barriers, that means stepping in to help out our clients doing all kinds of different tasks that we wouldn’t normally do on a daily basis. We we’ve got to help our clients get through this period. That means looking at how email can deliver value in all kinds of different areas, whether that’s a support adjunct to customer services, you know, whether that’s in other areas that are just not necessarily commercially orientated, and it’s changing priorities. So I think as we come out of this period, we will realise far wider number of use cases and opportunities to use email them than I currently see. And it’s limited, sometimes limited commercial context. I don’t know if you’re seeing the same thing, Chris?

Chris Donald 6:48
Yeah, I mean, we’re, you know, so we’re getting inundated right now for people ask him for help for sure. The fact that it’s that email marketing is been under resourced is, you know, to say the least right? Over the years, it has been, you know, people in the C suite think it’s Oh, sending email, I can do it. So it must be easy, right. So and the other but the other problem is sometimes I think is how we approach the C suite with what we want to do to improve platform or improve the programmes or whatever we tend to want to talk about, because we think we’re really smart, right? We want to talk about all the nitty gritty and down in the dirt. And here’s everything that we’re going to do and we’re going to connect this to this, we’re going to do this, and they don’t care their eyes glaze glaze over, right? If you’re going to talk to the C suite about more money for a probe for your programme. Talk about dollars, right? So if you talk about increased revenue to the C suite, that music to their ears, don’t tell them how you’re gonna do it, tell them, you’ve done some testing, we if we do this, this, this and this, we can increase revenue up to 10%. Okay, go do it. Right? Because that’ll be their answer for the most part, if you can, you want to explain it that way. Right? Don’t tell them how you’re going to do it. Explain to them what’s going to be done and the benefit from it. But we’ve seen a lot of a lot of calls with people going, Oh, we need help with our automations right now. Because things are firing off that shouldn’t be firing off during this time. Like, hey, we miss you come back. Well, of course, you missed me. And no, I’m not coming back right now. Right? Because of what’s happening. You know, even birthday emails right now probably seem a little out of place. You know, it’s just deciding for your brand. What’s going out with your automations? And does it still make sense in the world we live in today? So that’s what we’ve been getting a lot of calls for.

Mark Ash 8:53
Yeah, we see that the same thing? I mean, I think it stems from sometimes the danger of automation, right? There is a tendency to set them up fire and forget. And the whole way in which consumers are buying right now has changed. So you really have to go back to the drawing board. And what you assumed to be the previous customer journey has changed. So you know that that’s an opportunity for customers just to get back to basics and understand, well, how are my customers feeling right now? Do my automations Make sense? Is the language I’m using relevant anymore? Or could it be even damaging? You know, are my segments of customers, are they still relevant? Now? What were typical segments of buying behaviour? Does that start stand true but certainly the next few months and moving forward? You know, will customers be buying differently as a result of this experience? I I think it’s really important that we just keep in mind And and, you know, we’re encouraging our customers just to review strategies that they relied on for a number of years and just get back to the drawing board.

Chris Donald 10:10
Well, yeah, and what people are buying now online, is probably very different from what they were buying before online, even with Amazon or other things. You know, they’re buying things online that they didn’t buy online before, right? People are doing grocery shopping online. And they may be doing that right now. But they may not continue to do that once normalcy gets back into place. We talked yesterday a little bit about multiple people using the same buyer session, right. So you know, where my wife was already logged into, into Amazon. And I went in through hers and made a couple of purchases. And in some households that may be pretty normal during this time. But I think the main thing is making sure that we don’t start to create, you know, segmentation, or look at the way when we look at data after this and going, Oh, well, they bought this stuff, they’ll buy it again, no, they buy this because of this time period. And that’s not gonna repeat, right, or may not repeat.

Mark Ash 11:16
Well, that, again, that’s, I think that underlines the importance of accurate data collection. But understanding the context behind what those data points point to right. Context is everything behind this. And we’ve just had this discussion around, trying to understand context. The use of surveys, for instance, is one key factor. I mean, I’m a lover of surveys, not necessarily in their historical sense of, of how, you know, they’ve been used in the past, but ways in which you know, brands can gamify data collection, or ways in which they can infer future buying intent, or even how people feel or think about a particular product or service. And I think, you know, times like these, that we have to really get creative, to try and to understand, you know, how how people feel about our brand. Certainly, in terms of crises like this, it’s never more important to do the groundwork trying to understand. And there are simple and easier ways, I think, using the email channel to launch very quick creative surveys, and creative ways of gamifying. How we ask customers, what they think of our products and services in ways that doesn’t feel necessarily that onerous? I do, I certainly see the point of multi user usage on an email address. And that’s, that’s presenting challenges to brands right now. You know, we’re we’re running experiments with clients where we are trying to identify almost like household personas. But certainly it just underpins what we’ve been doing in email marketing for a little, you know, quite a while now, moving away from batch and blast to understanding persona based marketing. It just highlights how critical that’s going to be, you know, right now and in the future, and why you’ve got to take a new lens to how we go about sending out messages.

Chris Donald 13:22
You know, Steven, I saw your note there about, you said about, you know, using the same account to buy something in the dress thing. So that’s a really good point. Because I saw, I can’t remember was Amazon and one of the other stores that that we do online shopping for and I had bought my daughter a dress. And it was it was not a Christmas time, because usually they try to make some adjustment with holiday data. But it was a birthday or an anniversary, I forget what it was. Anyway, and after I bought that I don’t think it was Amazon or some other place. I started getting these emails, selling trying to sell me dresses. And again, don’t wear a dress, you know, I never buy dresses, I bought it once. So a single point of data a single purchase doesn’t necessarily make a trend or a cross sell opportunity. Right? It can sometimes but you know, you got to kind of really be careful if you know the persona of the person. If you’ve built your database on personas, then you know I would be the male over 50 who way over 50 By the way, male over 50 who buys electronics and dog food, right? That would be my persona. So the fact that I bought a dress is an anomaly. The other thing too, is to make sure you look at when you are looking at data is is trying to set up a way to cross reference where it was shipped to so it was shipped to where the credit card is Where my credit card is shipped to my home and they know my home address? If it’s not shipped there, then chances are it’s a gift. So, not always, but probably a good proportion would probably be a gift because you’re shipping it to someone else. Because we look at that during the holidays a bit. But, yeah, I mean, in this, everybody’s buying habits have changed significantly in the past couple of weeks. And I’m going to be that way for the next four to six, eight weeks, probably. So all your targeting right now is probably off. So the question is, looking back to the whole automation thing is what do you do? Right? Do you rely on the data? And just hope it does what it’s supposed to do? Do you pause them? Do you make some adjustments to make them a little bit more? Less targeted? Hard to tell? Right? If you’re going to have to do it on your own? As far as looking at seeing what works for you. Dennis, the same thing, just on some of the shared accounts? Yeah, it does. Shared accounts are another problem. Whether you’re doing it on purpose or not, that’s always gonna be for sure.

Mark Ash 16:16
So while we were doing a bit of work to append a lot of the web data, web signals, where we can see distinct patterns of taste profiles, separate for one another, I think help helping that by asking customers, you know, within preference centres or within regular surveys, or just the normal buying cycle, ie buying for yourself or buying somebody else, trying to correlate that with the recency and frequency of those purchases, and tying that back to an individual email record, then, you know, it’s you can form some interesting patterns or correlations around Well, you know, is this is this type of user or this email address, buying this particular product, with this type of frequency, you know, with a with a particular buying context I gift purchase, versus a regular replenishment buy? And I think it’s kind of interesting, too, if you’re able to segment those users, those profiles those personas and personalise With that in mind, or at least if you’re sending to one email address, bearing in mind, you know, different buying contexts within a single email, then then, you know, you are your, your audience, you know, you’re trying to personalise to a number of different users have that particular email address. So it is, it is very tricky, but I think just focusing on trying to identify indicators of behaviour, is the starting point for all that.

Chris Donald 17:57
Yeah, and I think for those companies that actually have a community, right, you know, staying on top of that is really important. I mean, Amazon, apple, some of those that actually have a rabid following, or a community and sense. And there are other companies that do even mid market companies do to a point, making sure you, you stay interacted with them, right, stay interactive with them, give them information, what have you seen with? So some of the e commerce companies we work with, are going out of their way to do discounts on the things people are buying now. Right. And they’re actually messaging that we know everybody is in need of certain things. And so we’re putting X amount of products on sale right now. 20% off free shipping, you know, some are doing the right thing, not just trying to take advantage of it. But that’s a double edged sword, right? People need things, but there are a lot of people not working and not getting paid. So not everyone is as lucky as a lot of us are that can work from home, we can take a laptop anywhere and do our job. And I’m feel blessed for that part. But restaurant workers, retail workers, all those people that are laid off and not working. shopping, this is a problem in general anyway, and sending them you know, so did you make someone mad sending them an email with a sale for something that they can’t afford? Because they’re not getting paid? You know, there’s that issue to deal with too, right? Yeah, a lot of landmine is the problem, right.

Mark Ash 19:33
This is why it’s really important to understand your typical your personalization rules, right. As you mentioned before, Chris, got to be careful to make sure that they would apply now in any given circumstance. So you know, where we would typically group on certain bands of based on customer spend. You know, that’s a typical segmentation model for recency, frequency. See customer lifetime modelling, you may want to change that in view of the things that they’re buying and likely to buy in the future, as you say. Yeah, I think that it’s a careful balancing act. But, you know, just identifying the things that people are buying in huge frequencies, and giving them an opportunity, sending out stock reminders, sending them out, you know, back in stock price drops, the future opportunities to buy now in view of the price going up in future. I think so long as it’s sensitive, sensitively done, there’s, you know, there’s a real value adds to the customer experience, why not? But yeah, I think I think just pushing the same old thing, trying to upsell to certain customer segments where you think that right now this is just not going to happen, is more likely to do more damage than good. We’re certainly a lot we’re doing a lot more automations around stock reminders, back in stock, you know, expectations, being reactive to, you know, those products, which people want and need right now. That kind of thing going on? Definitely.

Chris Donald 21:17
Yeah, I think the main thing is, go through your automations map them out, make sure see what you’re doing. See what’s your see what’s actually going out to people. Watch your wingbacks as well. Right. So we miss you. Right? Oh, you know, we talked about that earlier. But you know, when backs up for e commerce, aren’t we miss you If we miss your money, right? So I keep waiting for somebody to put that in a subject line, because I’m going to love it the first day and time that happens. Because in reality, that’s what you’re saying, right? We miss you shopping and spending with us. We don’t really miss you is part of a problem. I think it’s a little disingenuous, but but again, so those type of things, we’ve got to decide, Is that still the norm right now? Or do we, you know, get rid of winback stuff right now? Or is it still a good time to run it? If it is, then maybe we need to change the message, right? And I think that’s probably what’s going to have to happen. So you know, you can change in these days and times, we wanted to reach back out to you to see if you know, the products and services you purchased from us before could help you now, with what’s happening, you could phrase it differently, right, you can approach it differently.

Mark Ash 22:33
This is it. I think what we’re seeing right now, the huge amount of honesty that the all organisations face in the narrative they have with their staff, with their suppliers with their customers, is forcing us to use a different narrative in our emails with customers, right? So transparency is absolutely key. You’ve got to be interested in supporting your customer base. I think Kate said this yesterday, it shines through as an opportunity for your brands to establish its personality and altruism with helping its customers. And so the wording you use in your emails is I think it’s going to be a really key important role in whether consumers continue to trust you as a brand or whether they think you’re exploiting. I also think that as we are all working from home, it’s changing our work patterns. Certainly, with the brands I’ve speaking, spoken, they’re working very differently with different parts of the organisation. So, you know, it’s an opportunity for us to break down company silos. That’s something that marketers absolutely, you know, it’s been a, it’s been a real issue in our industry for a number of years. But again, presents an opportunity for us to think about how is email going to help other parts of the organisation, you know, whether that’s delivery, whether that’s customer service element, you know, there’s a role for the the email team to do something really meaningful about that, and to feature in more places in the customer experience than purely just, you know, upsell and winback emails, you know, so I’ve certainly seen that with a couple of travel brands that have no offline sales channels. You know, it’s the coming together the coordination of all of our efforts that’s going to make that company succeed and see through this period, and I think that now is a great opportunity to, to show to the CMOS and the C suite, the role of email outside of just the last click sales associated with an email right now because it has to have a bigger role to play. This is a really great opportunity because I always feel that email is often just housed in a box. To the last 30 day, click back and sales related to the email newsletter, which is, which is completely ludicrous. So, you know, there are positives on the horizon. And, you know, as many of our brands are struggling to understand, right, what is the long term look in our email ecommerce planning, then they’re really refocusing on the next three months, the next six months. Looking now, well, when the green shoots of recovery stem from, you know, what we’re seeing across the world with cases dropping, then is an opportunity for us to gear up to the return to normal buying behaviour, or semi normal buying, although that will be different, undoubtedly, as a result of this experience. I also think that, you know, when we get the the need for greater interactive interactivity, the advent of ANP and more creative formats, will see email developer a lot more richer experience. Now, so it’s an opportunity for brands to be more testing than they have done because big doesn’t work, right. newsletters aren’t driving the cash, as they used to do. Now’s the time to be experimental. Now’s the time to push the envelope, try things that are at the edge of what would typically be acceptable for your brand, trying new narratives, trying new creative formats. And you know, that that gives brands a real edge when when we get back to a normal sense of buying pants.

Chris Donald 26:40
Yeah, I couldn’t I couldn’t agree more, you’re right on. And And the main thing that brands need to do is also is, is make sure that the that the voice is a reassuring voice, right and honest voice, hey, you know, the fact that we’re in this together? voice, right? You know, most countries have their own patriotism, right? I know, in the US, we think we own that. But all countries have that. You know, we want to, we want to band together, we want to get through something big, right? So if you speak honestly about you know, with affecting us, it’s affecting our employees, it’s affecting our customers, and we want to make sure we’re there for you and making things easier for you. And this is how we’re trying to do it. Now. I think some of those proactive messages are good, even when they have to talk about downtime or not being able to provide the services they provided previously, right? If you’re honest about it, instead of trying to hide it, you’re going to be much better off. You know, we’ve like, yeah, yeah, we’ve been,

Mark Ash 27:51
I couldn’t agree more when you’re just saying about being honest. I mean, certainly, when you’re working with vendors and partners in agencies, right. Certainly, where you’ve got multiple vendors or stakeholders in a relationship with a client, that’s, you know, talking about our client relationships. You say, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s always politics in marketing to a certain extent, and everyone protecting their position that goes out the window. Now, they don’t care about that, all I want to do is the best customers, because I want them to survive, I want you know, us to thrive in this era, and we just got to get done what’s needed. And that means be completely honest, if this part of the programme is not working, cut it or change it, we need to be more creative, we need to be more innovative, how we approach and how we support their end customers. And that requires a huge amount of honesty and integrity to be able to move forward with that. It means that you know, as a vendor, or our clients should be able to, to work with vendors to ask them to do things, not necessarily in their typical ba you we shouldn’t be quibbling about this, you know, we should be doing all we can to support that and coming up with with new ways of solving different problems nowadays. So, I think the more open minded we are to solving problems, the more flexible we are taking an honest approach to the numbers. And understanding how we can improve the overall customer experience again, not just being focused on the direct sales, attribute ID numbers of newsletters, but you know, where are we adding overall value to the customer experience? That’s gonna really make a difference in the long term.

Chris Donald 29:33
Yeah, so there are a couple of my wife and I, because we’re empty nesters, right, all our kids or our older Shall we eat out a lot. And a lot of times I’ll go pick it up on I’ll do a takeaway, right? So or to go. And I’ve got there were two restaurants we go to on a pretty regular basis. One is a major chain. The other is a local one in both send us emails, explaining that, you know, they’re not really serving in dining, but they are doing you go orders. But they are having a limited menu, which they included. So they had a limited menu because their problem is they can’t stock like they did before, right as a restaurant. So they can’t stock all the food because they’re not going to sell it, they’re not going to sell the same things, right. So they actually made their orders based on this limited menu of the most purchased items on their menu. And they sent that out to watch, here’s what we’re doing, here’s how you can order and here’s the items that are available. And we’ll you know, we’ll bring out, they actually bring it out to the car, both of them said, you know, when you get here, you can call us let us know you’re here, we’ll bring it out to you. So you don’t have to come into the building or interact with other people if you don’t want to. So there were some really great messages there. Right? First of all, we’re here for you. Yeah, they let us know things aren’t the same. But they’re trying to do things in a certain way. giving us the information, we needed to still order food, and given us the option to, to have them bring it out to the car for us. Right. So all those two are two of my favourite two that I got. Just because they were being honest, right, they said we can’t afford to order all the food we did and make all the different types of food. We’re short handed as well. So it made sense. They were honest, it was great messaging, and we bought from both of them. As well as having Chinese food last night, because unfortunately, people are a little goofy. And they think if you go to a Chinese food place, you’re going to get the virus, which is just silly. At least here. I don’t know about anywhere else. But the people that run my my favourite Chinese restaurant too far, not too far from me. They haven’t left America in like 10 years. You know, but I would go in there. And it was just dead empty. It was never empty. Right. So now we did get it to go because we had people at the house. But you know, I made sure to go there and make a purchase just simply because they weren’t getting the business that they normally do.

Mark Ash 32:11
Yeah, so I think that’s something that sorry,

Chris Donald 32:14
nope. So I would just say, if you’re if you have if you have the ability to go out and and purchase from some of your local places and, and support people that are, you know, don’t get tipped anymore because they were servers and nobody’s there. Maybe overtip a little bit. But try to try to still support your local businesses during this time.

Mark Ash 32:40
I would probably want to end this with just the point that Ryan’s made the power of authenticity is a is a huge driver. When when this when we get through this period, consumers will remember those brands that were authentic, that we really did want to help them and will absolutely see through those that exploited it for their own means. I think Jeff quite rightly pointed out, we’ve always done it this way is is no longer stands to reason. Good point, Jeff. You know, everything’s off the table and everything’s on the table. You were talking about old projects that were shelved because they’re a little bit risky, blah, blah, blah. Now, everything now is due consideration. It’s about how brands adapt, and, you know, drive that engagement with with their consumers and make sure that their consumers love their brands. So

Chris Donald 33:38
yeah, and I would say if you’re a brand that likes to use humour a lot, you may want to be careful during this time, right? I would probably back off that a little bit or be very, very careful that the humour is simple and not not offensive to anybody. You know, everybody’s got hypersensitive and on something like this if you want to try to try to bring across some humour that may not be may not just hit the mark right so you know me I have a pretty wide sense of humour there’s very little that offends me but most people are not like that. So it depends on your humour style, if it’s light and easy like Chester said, you know, manage it right. Just be be cognizant of what might be funny to you may offend a large group because they’re just in bad moods already. Just simple as that. Right.

Mark Ash 34:36
Well, good, good point to end on. Thanks, everyone, for listening. Good chat, Chris. enjoyed it.

Chris Donald 34:42

Mark Ash 34:43
stay safe, everyone. And yeah, good luck. And, you know, let’s, let’s rise to the challenge.

Chris Donald 34:53
All right. Take care guys. Cheers, guys. Thanks for coming.

Our Business Membership Programs are available for 2024