THE BLOG

E-commerce More Than a Refuge to Which Email Clings

15/04/2015 10:19 BST | Updated 13/06/2015 10:59 BST

For more than 20 years since it first became mainstream, the claims that email is dead have been as mainstream as the medium itself. No more so than email marketing, which has apparently been at death's door since it was born.

The deaths of programmes such as IBM's Lotus Notes, Microsoft's Outlook and even Google's Gmail have all been exaggerated, but this communication channel continues to be a default for business, even as other channels proliferate.

On mobile, messaging platforms have taken over from voice and are still outstripping the various social media vehicles, but these are skewed towards consumers talking to each other. B2B marketing is still evolving on these channels, while the one-to-one of email is still comfortable for users.

But it is still under attack from spam and other nefarious routes. Even if a lot of this disruption is filtered away from users, the refrain that it is impossible to stay on top of a constantly growing email pile remains. Perhaps email may not be dying, but it may be changing for the better.

In personal context as a writer, I receive thousands of emails a week that try to get my attention. If an email isn't targeted, has too many paragraphs, is over-familiar, is in an ugly font, has too many links, has too many pictures, then it is deposited in trash immediately.

Other emails that are more intelligent, tell me things I didn't know, are relevant to my areas of focus and even make me laugh, they make it through. Steve Masters is the Services Director of digital marketing agency Vertical Leap and believes passionately that email remains a force in the age of social networks.

"If it weren't for email marketing, Facebook would not have grown as fast as it has. Think about all those emails you used to get whenever someone mentioned you, replied to you or posted something. If it really is true that social networks have killed off email, why is it that Twitter needs to keep emailing us to tell us what people are posting. Would we see half of the stuff in our LinkedIn inbox if it wasn't for an email notification?", he says.

Masters has a point, but there appears to be one sector of email marketing that is not only surviving, but thriving... and its approach is personalisation and subtlety, rather than blanket-bombs and abrasion.

E-commerce reached its tipping point some Christmases[ ago and m-commerce did the same some Mothers Days' ago. Shopping has been transformed, but it's interesting that e-commerce is increasingly focused on being email-driven.

The strategy seems to be slowly, slowly, catchy monkey, with subscription being the nexus of customer acquisition. The mantra seems to be that if customers subscribe, increasingly sophisticated tools can then harness personalised communication to convert potential customers to sure-fire ones.

A personal favourite in this area is travel site Secret Escapes. The communication I receive is personalised, feels as if somebody (or something like a really clever algorithm) has made real effort to reach out to me and I have become a customer.

The same goes with certain fashion sites, especially Cornwall-based Finisterre. Their messages are regular without being too constant, relevant based on price and interesting because of what's on offer. Another one is Brighton-based tailor Gresham Blake, its email newsletter works because of the offers and sales that it promotes... it saves me money.

Interestingly, Secret Escapes Co-Founder Troy Collins also appears to see fashion e-commerce as an area where email marketing works. His new fashion start-up Endource is emulating the success of Secret Escape by similarly focused email marketing.

Another authority in this area of email marketing is customer lifecycle marketing e-commerce platform Ometria, which claims that it is 'the brain that powers all marketing communication between the world's retailers and their customers.

The platform, which is priced as a recurring subscription SaaS model, is used by dozens of global retailers and collects billions of data points on millions of individual customers. This data is used to create a unified profile for each customer, and allows retailers to set up a multitude of automated marketing campaigns within the platform.

"With consumers becoming ever more aware of the options available to them, it's becoming harder for retailers to persuade them to buy straight away. To get an edge, smart e-commerce businesses such as Swoon Editions and Boticca use an email signup model.

"Getting someone to subscribe to an email list is much easier than getting them to part with their money, and once they're on the list, there is the chance to communicate with them in a highly personalised way, thus maximising the likelihood of them becoming a customer. Even email signup pop-ups on e-commerce sites that dim when you land on it are cleverly done," says Ivan Mazour, CEO and Founder of Ometria.

Others have a similar opinion to Mazour. Ticketbis is a ticketing online platform, which is exploring email marketing to target both music and sports fans.

"From our perspective it is not as dead as many think. In our experience, sports fans are still loyal to this communication tool that has a conversion rate 30% higher than when used for music fans." Cyril Pierre, VP Marketing,Ticketbis.

Subscribing to email newsletters and communications is now a more mature process than it has ever been over the 20 years of 'dying' email. Many users signed up to such emails because of previous immaturity themselves in managing such channels.

I have been one of many who has unsubscribed from tens of email newsletters, only to build them up again as their delivery has evolved. Undoubtedly, the launch of 'new' email such as Gmail was part of this process, creating an email communication platform that could be managed personally and easily... and not just going with a job.

More email platforms will emerge and future deaths will surely be announced. But for now, email marketing survives and prospers... and it is the smart people behind e-commerce that are bringing us back to a channel that, as much as we protest, has a lot of life still in it.