Retail vs. E-commerce: Using Email Marketing to Respond to Buyer Preferences

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Shoes or Doorknobs? Buyer Trends and How You Can Craft Email Campaigns in Response

From groceries to digital downloads, you can buy nearly everything online nowadays.

Given the makeup of our offices these days, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Most consumers spend between eight and ten hours sitting in front of a computer in their office. A new dress is just a few mouse clicks away during a lunch break. No more fighting Saturday mall traffic. But just because everything’s available for purchase online doesn’t mean consumers are equally as willing to make purchases for all items.

What products do people want to buy online? And which items do people prefer to buy in stores? We’ve got answers about global purchasing preferences. And some email marketing tips on how e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers alike can respond to these trends.

Media Are Number One

Media are by far the most popular online product. In a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (pwc), 60% of survey participants reported a preference for buying media online. In a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (pwc), 60% of survey participants reported a preference for buying media online. Click To Tweet

In comparison, only 28% chose retail stores for their book, video game and film purchases. Of course, the instant gratification of digital downloading could be one of the biggest reasons for this trend. In addition, online platforms can offer a wider range than brick-and-mortar stores. Warehousing space and tight logistical planning make this possible.

Bar graph of the following survey: Online vs. Offline Purchasing Preferences According to Category, Global 2017 (pwc) Online, Offline in %; Books, music, films and video games 60 28; Toys 39 37; Consumer electronics 43 51; Sporting goods and camping items 36 44; Health and beauty products (cosmetics) 37 47; Clothing and shoes 40 51; Jewelry and watches 32 49; Household appliances 33 56; Hardware and DIY tools 30 52; Furniture and household wares 30 59; Groceries 23 70
Survey: Online vs. Offline Purchasing Preferences According to Category, Global 2017 (Source: pwc)

Looking for Specific Shoes? You’re Guaranteed to Find What You Need Online

Clothing took second place. 40% of those surveyed preferred to buy clothes online.

However, even though clothing shopping was the second most popular online shopping category overall, more survey participants preferred the offline option. 51% wanted to buy their clothes in person.

There could be multiple reasons for this.

One possibility: Shoppers who know exactly what they want vs. those looking for inspiration. If someone is looking for a specific item of clothing, they’ll have more luck online. Need silver shoes with a low heel for your next bridesmaid gig? You’re guaranteed to find that online, but not every shoe store will have something in your size.

Advanced search and filter functions, specific settings for size and color, and multiple preview options all target consumers looking for particular items. Browsing has become even easier online, with machine learning algorithms making tailored suggestions.

Of course the one catch to online clothes shopping is that you will never really know how it fits. What will the fabric feel like? Will it look like it does in the photo? Does this brand’s sizes run small or large? For those who prefer a more tactile clothing shopping experience, offline stores will always be their first stop.

Electronic Devices: 43% Preferred to Buy Consumer Electronics and Computers Online

Buyers  are split when it comes to consumer electronics. There was only an 8% difference between preferences for online and retail sales. Buyers are split when it comes to consumer electronics. There was only an 8% difference between preferences for online and retail sales. Click To Tweet

51% of participants reported liking to buy electronics in retail stores. Similar to clothing, one clear advantage to offline shopping here is the tactile experience. You can try out different devices yourself – see how they feel and sound. Also you want to make sure the user experience matches your expectations.

Another reason people might chose to buy electronics online? There’s often a knowledgeable salesperson at the ready to answer questions. Self-proclaimed technophobes can rely on retail staff to take the time to help them find the best fit. You don’t even have to be a technophobe to need this. Maybe you just find it overwhelming to navigate all the possible devices and models available online.

43% of those surveyed, in contrast, preferred to shop online for consumer electronics. One advantage of online shopping for these folks: configuration. How big do you want your hard drive to be? How much internal storage do you need?

Also, as is the case for media, warehousing makes it possible for e-commerce platforms to offer a huge variety of makes and models. If you’re looking for one exact phone, for example, your local stores might be sold out, whereas chances are you’ll be able to find it online.

Furniture and Groceries: The Last Frontier of Online Shopping

Despite the growing trend in urban areas of home-delivery grocery services, groceries came in last place – with only 23% of people globally preferring to buy their groceries online, and 70% putting items in a real live shopping cart.

Furniture and hardware tied for second-to-last place in terms of online popularity, as well. Only 30% of those surveyed shopped for these categories online. 59% of people surveyed preferred to buy furniture and household goods in stores, and 52% preferred to get their DIY materials in a store.

Quality could be the big factor here. You want to pick out your own avocados or practice lazing about on a potential couch. Or you need exactly the right-sized wingnut and you’d rather dig through boxes looking for a match to your bolt then buy something online that you can’t guarantee will fit.

Furthermore, just like with electronics, you know you can find a specialist at a hardware store who’s ready to advise you about exactly what you need. While you might have to fight for a clerk’s attention on a Saturday morning, you know that, eventually, you’re guaranteed direct communication, unlike in online shopping.

A close-up of a farmer's market stand, tomatoes, cabbages and kale and a sign that reads "Heirloom Tomatoes $3.50/lb."
Despite the growth of online grocery delivery services, most people globally still prefer to pick out their produce in person. Photo credit: Dane Deaner (photo reformatted)

The Difference Between Brick-and-Mortar Shopping and Online Shopping?

In sum: Digital shopping is here to stay and on the rise globally. Both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers just need to figure out how to make this work for their specific situation. Remember that consumers go into brick-and-mortar stores for personalized recommendations and, in many cases, to guarantee a tangible experience. They want to literally get their hands on what they’re purchasing and they want expert advice. Remember that consumers go into brick-and-mortar stores for personalized recommendations and, in many cases, to guarantee a tangible experience. They want expert advice & to literally get their hands on what they're purchasing. Click To Tweet

Our Email Marketing Tips for You? Automated, Personalized Email Campaigns

Armed with the knowledge from this survey, you can tailor your email marketing to the intersection of your consumers’ purchasing preferences and your unique selling points. This is where automation, segmentation and personalization come in.

According to a 2016 global study by SalesForce, “Fifty-seven percent of consumers say they’re willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized offers or discounts.” These days, personalizing your email marketing goes way beyond addressing your customers by their first names.

The first step to personalization is getting the data you need into your email marketing software. To do this, you can integrate your e-commerce platform or point-of-sale (POS) system with your email marketing software. This allows you to keep track of details such as customers’ buying preferences and date since their last purchase. Even if you don’t have an integration between the two systems, you can always just keep your data up to date with a manual weekly csv/xls import into your email marketing tool.

Want to know more about segmentation? Read our blog:
 17 Ways to Segment Email Lists for More Opens!

Automation and Personalization for E-commerce Retailers

Now you’ve integrated your data, and you know which of your fans like what. It’s time to start scaling! Send them offers they can’t resist opening. And remember to always include preorder or buy buttons in mailings.

Personalized, Automated Email Campaigns for E-Commerce Retailers

  • Whatever industry you’re in, keep your buyers informed about new items they care about. This might mean letting a consumer know when their favorite band has an upcoming release or when their favorite fashion brand has revealed its spring look.
  • Has it been too long since a consumer’s last purchase? Establish an automated coupon campaign that triggers when a buyer goes 60 days without buying anything from you. For example, our software allows you to do this with a voucher pool feature.
  • Of course, there’s the classic technique: putting items on sale. Use our 1-click product transfer and various personalization options to regularly send your consumers deals on all their favorite products.

Use Email Marketing to Remind Buyers of the Alternatives You Offer to an In-Store Experience

Remember that email marketing can go way beyond encouraging a one-time purchase. Be in it for the long game. Encourage customer loyalty and fight any negative customer expectations about online shopping.

Here the important question to ask yourself is how you can leverage your email lists to inform customers about the digital alternatives you offer to “offline” shopping perks!

  • Send your customers case studies about the expert live-chat option you offer.
  • Inform them about any shipping changes that will positively affect them. Do they know about your free shipping? Or maybe it’s a limited-time offer on free shipping?
  • Remind them how easy it is to shop with you. Do they know about your standing order possibilities for groceries?

Keep them informed, especially when it comes to how your online shopping experience stands out. Online sellers should ask themselves how they can leverage their email lists to inform customers about the digital alternatives they offer to offline shopping perks! Click To Tweet

Automation and Personalization for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

Customer preferences don’t have to dictate the success of your store. And that’s where email marketing can help. For example, independent bookstores in the U.S. have been bucking the trend of increased online book and magazine purchasing for some time now. Similarly, in 2017 the U.K. recorded growth in independent bookstores for the first time in 22 years.

Ryan Raffaelli, a researcher at Harvard, has found that three things have contributed to the resurgence of independent booksellers in the U.S., what he calls the “Three C’s”: Community, Curation and Convergence.

An email newsletter is an excellent way to build community and encourage convergence. Independent retailers and chain stores alike have been tapping into email marketing for some time now. After all, who hasn’t been asked, “Would you like to sign up for our mailing list?” the last time they made an in-store purchase?

But here’s a question for all the retailers out there: Are you doing enough with your email marketing? If you’re only sending out a quarterly announcement about events at your shop, there’s a lot you might be missing out on. So, are you ready to scale and increase customer lifetime value?

Personalized, Automated Email Campaigns for Retailers

Even though you can’t track all touch points to the extent that e-commerce retailers can, chances are you still have a POS. Based on purchasing habits visible in your POS, try these automated and/or personalized email marketing strategies:

  • Implementing a frequent buyer program is a great incentive to get customers to give you their name every time they step up to the cash register. (Make sure you actually GIVE them something of value in return, of course.) Apply the same principles listed above. Inform customers about new launches related to previous purchasing history.
  • Set up an automated coupon campaign to trigger when a buyer hasn’t bought something in a certain period.
  • Inform your customers about a giveaway or a raffle that might interest them at your store to stay top of mind.

The important question when it comes to standing out from the competition is how you can leverage your email lists to inform customers about all your store’s “in-person” benefits over a digital shopping experience.  Brick-and-mortars need to think about how they can leverage their email lists to inform customers about their store's 'in-person' benefits over a digital shopping experience. Click To Tweet

Nonsegmented Campaigns to Get Customers Away From Their Computer Screens and Into Your Store

We learned that consumers go to a store for “tangible quality” and for expertise. Bookstores and record shops aren’t the only independent retailers that can show off expertise. Other small retailers can apply Raffaelli’s findings, too, and build community with expertise.

  • What about bike repair workshops at your local hardware store or DIY quiz night? Launch events for new technology and software can also be popular.
  • Why not guarantee your customers the expert advice they want? Small retailers can easily set up an online appointment-booking tool so customers can make online appointments with their favorite salespeople.
  • Share top staff product picks regularly in your newsletters.
  • Inform your customers about your upcoming expanded holiday hours.
  • Are you always attaching iCal and Google Calendar appointments to those event emailsMake sure your fans don’t forget about the event on the day of!
a multicolored row of men's shoes
People prefer to shop in person when in comes to tangible quality. Photo credit: Dương Trần Quốc (photo resized)

Shoes or doorknobs?

Of course brick-and-mortar vs. e-commerce doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. While consumers might prefer one mode over the other, it doesn’t mean that the local bookstores have to restrict themselves to just a retail space, or that large e-commerce platforms can’t also have traditional retail spaces and showrooms.

But to get back to our original question – shoes or doorknobs? 40% of consumers are probably more likely to buy their shoes online, but an even larger 51% will be buying their shoes in person. And their doorknobs? Most likely that’ll also be a traditional retail experience.

But, the truth is that the right email marketing strategy, combined with awareness of consumer trends, can go a long way in encouraging your customers to buy any product on- or offline.

Did you know that Newsletter2Go rewards good marketing? We’re on a mission – to improve the quality of email marketing globally. For starters, we’ve got a free knowledge center to educate you on how to grow your business with email marketing. Not only that – we put our money where our mouth is. When you use our email marketing software, you get money back for emails that perform well!

Learn how to earn money back for good email marketing.

About the Author

Mara Taylor
Online Marketing Manager at Newsletter2Go

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