Email Marketing Trends for Online Retailers

28th March 2016

Alita Harvey Rodriguez

Online marketing has many facets, one of which is the world of email marketing. With over ten years’ experience, Alita Harvey-Rodriguez of Milk It Digital is no stranger to email promotion. We asked her about the past, present and future of email marketing and how it can be applied to today’s retailers.

The story so far.

“I remember in the first part of my career I would sit with CEOs and I’d hear: ‘email marketing is dead, it’s on its way out’. Forward five years and I have those CEOs calling me saying ‘actually you were right, and now we need to fix it because now we’ve got an opportunity in front of us and we want to get it right.’”

So what’s changed since email marketing gained traction in the industry? Alita’s belief in the power of email marketing has never faltered. However, that’s not to say she hasn’t had to evolve and adapt along the way.

“There’s a deeper understanding from brands about the value of email. We’re now able to do a deep level of segmentation which is super exciting. ‘Spray and pray’ doesn’t work anymore.”

It’s this level of segmentation that has led to closer communication with consumers, helping brands towards their goal of better communication with their demographic. Alita believes that “email marketing is the future of marketing : one to one communication.”

The value of email.

It’s clear from Alita’s persistence that email marketing is worth pursuing, but what is the value of an email address? According to Alita, it’s around $7 and size doesn’t always matter.

“Each business has to calculate their own value, which would be the revenue you’ve generated via email and the amount of subscribers you’ve actually got, so every business is going to be different, but as an industry standard it’s around the $7 mark. It doesn’t matter how big the database is.”

But where to begin?

Alita explains that many established retailers don’t realise they’ve already got a database to work with.

“Dig deep,” she suggests, “because there is data in your point of sale, online in your store and in your customer database. Even though they might not have opted in, they’re still email addresses that you can access.”

The only trick is to know how to market to these consumers.

“If they haven’t opted in you can’t email them directly but you can still leverage that email address across multiple platforms. You can use ‘custom audiences’ on your social media platforms to target them specifically or use them to build ‘lookalike audiences’ to help you grow your list and generate sales.”

With so many marketing opportunities available to retailers, it’s obvious email is more than just an inbox, so what is the number one way to yield an email address and start building a list? To put it simply: value.

“People want to know that they’re getting something. When you give over an email address it’s a precious piece of gold and you need to respect it and treat it that way.”

To do so, Alita suggests the idea of a loyalty program for retailers looking to entice their demographic. As an example, she highlights Bookworld, who promote one price for regular shoppers and a lower price for loyalty members. As she says, “why wouldn’t you want to log in in and share an email address to get 20 percent off? It’s compelling.”

Once you’ve got the contacts, it’s time to market – but first you’ll need to plan your content. “If we’re talking about one of those one off newsletters, start with products you want to get rid of. But if we’re talking about an email series, you want to be promoting your best selling products, customer reviews and how you can build value into that person’s life,” Alita recommends. “What are you going to be giving them for their precious little nugget of an email address?”

Bulletins featuring current products or offers have been a staple in the past, but today, emails that garner the most success are those that contain information or education. Is this the way forward for retailers?

“Some brands do still focus on promotion,” Alita says, “but the brands that are going to continue to have sustainable growth are the ones triggering communication based on where people are in the buyer’s journey. There’s no point in sending someone a sales message if they’re just in their research phase. There’s nothing wrong with promotions, but make sure it’s at the right time.”

Quantity is also worth considering, with Alita advising that three emails per month is the ‘magic number’. “We need to make sure we’re not saturating and suffocating our audience” – actions which may result in unsubscribes and low click rates.

Testing out the trends.

Email is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of the trends. Alita shares her insight to the latest:

GIFs are constantly used by brands on social media and it looks like they’re crossing over to email too. “They’re becoming pretty cool,” she points out.

Video is another hot topic, although it can be harder to integrate. “You still can’t embed video in email, but video is becoming a massive trend so it’s important to have it to support your email content and leverage it across every platform.” Although the video cannot be played directly, Alita clarifies that “you still get that play button in a screen shot and put that image in the email. The click through rate is really high.”

Drop down menus are another recent addition, whilst other retailers are embracing new technology, such as secret codes that appear in an email when a mobile device is rotated, which the consumer can use to access more information.

Finally, connectivity is key, and Alita’s been testing new methods for herself. “We’re trying messages that can come from your mobile phone and connect up multiple devices in your home. We are connected across multiple devices – an email address is really going to help us centralise our communications and follow the customer journey across multiple devices.”

As for the future, Alita predicts “brands being a lot more sophisticated and automated in their communications and a lot of people building on segmentation. I don’t know if we’re going to see more of a shift towards mobile as a single identifier but for brands I think only time will tell.”

Is email futureproof?

“I don’t know if email is going to be around forever, but it’s still a valuable tool. For now, I think we’re safe with email, it’s still performing better than any other channels so stick with it,” she recommends.

“I asked at Retail Global last year, ‘who sends email?’ Most hands went up, but a couple didn’t. The one thing I said to them was ‘I don’t care what you do after this session, but I want you to go home and send an email. Just send anything with your best products.’ And I got emails from those people saying thank you so much.”

What will you do after reading this article? If you’re looking to improve your strategy, take Alita’s advice.

“Don’t worry about being perfect. The best way to learn is to fall over and work out how to stand up again. Just send an email.”


Alita will be speaking at Retail Global between May 25 – 27th 2016. For further updates, follow her on Twitter @msalitahr or visit