How to Create an Award-Winning Email Communications Experience

2016 Exellence in Cutomer Experience Award banner

In previous articles highlighting the awards, we’ve discussed how SmartHub Benchmarking calculates the finalists in the “Best Packaging” and “Best Shipping & Delivery” categories of the Excellence in Customer Experience Awards. Now we turn to the “Excellence in Brand Communications” award, which tracks retailer’s transactional email communications.

All of the award winners will be announced at Multichannel Merchant’s Operations Summit on April 14th, 2016 at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati.

While a poorly designed shipping confirmation might not directly discourage repeat customers, ignoring best practices could result in an overload of CSR calls and missed marketing opportunities. Both scenarios could cost a retailer thousands of dollars in potential sales.

The SmartHub Benchmarking analysts review many data points in order to calculate the final scores, but the most heavily weighted numbers in the formula are derived from four distinct scores:

Order and Shipping Confirmation Emails

The most vital information a retailer can give customers is an acknowledgement of an order and notification of the delivery process. Otherwise, they have no reassurance that the order went through and no idea when to expect the package. Well over 90% of retailers in the SmartHub study send out both types of transactional emails. Four percent of the orders we placed in 2015 were not accompanied by an order confirmation, and 6% lacked any shipping information. A few of these occurrences were one-time missteps but many of the offenders repeatedly failed to provide notification either of the order or of the expected delivery.

To score well in this category, retailers must always offer at least one of these important communications, while standouts have a 100% rate for both types of emails.

Order Confirmation Timing

It’s not enough to send an order confirmation; the message must arrive promptly. Every minute between purchase and the receipt of a confirmation negatively affects a consumer’s belief that their transaction was valid. This doubt can lead to unnecessary customer service calls or chats, as anxious customers reach out for reassurance. Or it may cause a customer to lose hope and place a duplicate order moments before getting their confirmation.

The top performers in this award category have systems in place which send out a confirmation the instance the “buy” button is clicked. Thirty-four percent of retailers in the SmartHub study issued a transactional email within 60 seconds of order placement, while 81% delivered a confirmation within two minutes.

Transaction Email Type

SmartHub Benchmarking divides transactional emails into four levels of marketing design employed by a retailer: plain text, HTML non-branded, HTML branded and HTML branded with marketing messages.

The nature of plain text emails is obvious, while HTML non-branded emails resemble text emails with unadorned text and no clickable marketing messages. Six percent of order confirmation emails and 14% of shipping confirmations arrive as one of these two types. One of the main reasons retailers rely upon these unimpressive messages is fear that a customer’s spam filter will block more complex designs. However, most modern spam software uses other criteria to block emails, and reliance on text-only communication is a strategy which has outlived its usefulness.

The CAN-SPAM act has long divided retailer emails into two categories, marketing and transactional, both with unique requirements. While the act has no hard-and-fast rules, the general rule of thumb is to limit marketing material to 20%-30% of the overall content. While these limits exist, it does not mean retailers should avoid taking full advantage of the high open rate that transactional emails guarantee. Best practices show that adding images and promotional information can increase sales and SmartHub processors reward retailers for emails which contain marketing messages with the highest scores in the category. In 2015, an average of 57% of order confirmation emails and 50% of shipping confirmations included full-color branding and calls to action which linked back to a retailer’s  ecommerce site.

Number of Transactional Emails

While order and shipping confirmations are expected by consumers, very few retailers go above and beyond to provide additional transactional messages that keep the customer in the loop during the entire ecommerce sales cycle. These emails include:

  • Order Acknowledgments which are sent before an order confirmation to give immediate reassurance that an order was valid.
  • Shipment Scheduled, an email which states the package has not yet left a distribution center but gives a general date or time it will be sent to the carrier.
  • Shipment Delivery which is received after the shipping confirmation, alerting a customer to a package delivery.
  • Sale Follow-Up, a broad category which includes thanks you notes for an order, follow-up coupons and requests for a recommendation based on previous orders.

While none of these emails are common, sale follow-up messages were present in 18% of orders while at the bottom of the list, only 2% of orders utilized a shipment scheduled email. Retailers in our study earned extra points in this category for every additional email we received.

Stay tuned for the upcoming announcement of the finalist for each award and our next article in the series, which will focus on best returns practices.

Liz Harrington is a research analyst with eBay Enterprise + Innotrac