Customer Blog Takeover: Tackling List Hygiene in Retail
As email providers get savvier about what email recipients want in their inbox, marketers must stay on top of keeping their email list clean. The algorithms that determine your inbox placement have gotten smarter over the years – more variables than ever go into determining whether your email ends up in the coveted position at the top of a recipient’s inbox.
As a company that had been collecting email addresses for many years without addressing list hygiene in a systematic way, we knew that our list was dated, contained old and invalid addresses, and hampered our deliverability. This left us vulnerable to spam traps, increased complaints to our customer service center, and high bounce rates. As another complication, in addition to collecting emails with orders online, we collected email addresses at our call center and retail stores, where typos and invalid addresses were common. All this added up to an email list with diminished efficiency and lowered productivity.
Our first two goals were to clean up our existing list and make sure that going forward we were identifying invalid addresses before they reached our subscriber list. Once this was done, we needed a strategy to make sure we continued these efforts going forward. We knew this was an endeavor that would require both internal resources and some outside help.
We began by reaching out to Return Path about their partnership on email validation with BriteVerify. We took our entire email file, stretching back over a decade, to be run through the validation process. Unsurprisingly, many of the addresses came back as invalid and had to be wiped from the system! However, this gave us a starting point to reengage with some customers: when a customer who had previously had an invalid email on file came back to a store or placed a phone order, the associate or agent could use that opportunity to request a new address. In many cases, customers had a new email or the previous email had been mis-keyed – now we’re able to reach back out to that customer. Think about the points of entry for your list’s email addresses – are there specific places where mistyped addresses are likely, such as a retail associate entering a customer address on a condensed keyboard or point-of-sale? These are the areas that can cause breakdowns in email hygiene, so make sure to look at your email capture holistically.
Our next step was to ensure that we were getting good email addresses at the point of collection on the website. By adding the real-time email validation piece to our site, we catch problems with emails before the customer continues in checkout. This reduces contacts to our call center when customers key an invalid address, and it has allowed us to streamline our mobile checkout flow by removing the second “enter email address” field. Additionally, it has given us another tool against fraudulent orders.
After these steps were taken, the most important thing is to be vigilant going forward! Here are some tips on how to do so:
- Address bounces (both hard and soft) quickly.
- Be efficient and quick about unsubscribing or opting-down customers who request it.
- Look for role-based or distribution accounts on your list (such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) and have a plan for how you want to address that – for larger marketers, you may want to suppress them.
- Continue to critically review these issues regularly – make a point of putting a time on your calendar to regularly address email hygiene. It’s something that is easily forgotten or put off, but is a simple and critical way to boost the success of your email marketing.
The benefits of a clean list are numerous. For marketers paying for emails on a CPM basis, it lowers your costs by taking bad addresses out of the equation. Your data from your email service provider becomes more accurate and actionable: without invalid addresses clogging up your list, your open and click rates become more reflective of your actual performance.
While validating an email list doesn’t replace best practices on email permissions, it is a critical component of any marketer’s deliverability strategy. The more you can do to scrub your list and ensure that you are delivering the right message to the right person, the better your chances are at maintaining an active, engaged, and efficient email program.
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About Gail Buffington
Gail Buffington is the eCommerce Director for Soft Surroundings, a women’s apparel, beauty, and home furnishings company. In her current role, Gail’s responsibilities include site operations and strategy, content, and promotion development, analytics, social media, remarketing, mobile, and loyalty. She also works with retail and print catalog divisions to build a cohesive cross-channel experience for customers. Additionally, she serves as a public affairs officer with the United States Army.