June 28, 2013, 2:44 PM

A global tour of holiday e-mails

An Experian study shows what works in different countries.

Lead Photo

The holidays have different flavors in different countries, and so do the best tactics for holiday e-mail marketing. For example, retailers hoping to reach consumers in India and France might want to send messages on weekdays instead of weekends, while the opposite holds true for the United States, according to a new study from Experian Marketing Services.

Brands worldwide rely most heavily on discounts, but the type they offer varies. In China, percentage-off campaigns are most common, but in France and New Zealand most offers are for a fixed amount off. Interestingly, in all three of those countries these discount offers drive lower click-through rates than other offers, Experian says.

Experian based its global holiday e-mail study on more than 100,000 campaigns from some 1,000 brands in 10 countries between October 2012 through the end of last year.

“The holiday season is incredibly important and significant to retail brands, as it can often make or break their revenue goals for the year,” says Peter DeNunzio, general manager, cross-channel marketing, Experian Marketing Services. “There are significant differences and similarities in customer behaviors and responses among the tactics marketers employ across the various regions. Knowing these behaviors allows global brands to capitalize on varying timing and tactical approaches by market.”

Take free shipping, for instance. Though marketers often combine free shipping with discount offers in e-mail­—that is, a percentage or dollar amount knocked off a price—consumers in some countries see few shipping teases in their inboxes as the holidays approach. In Spain, 0.5% of campaigns between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, included free shipping offers; in the United States, 5.1% of campaigns promoted free shipping. The relatively low percentage in Spain exists despite the “maturity” of the Spanish e-commerce market, Experian says. “Because of this, there is a real ‘first mover advantage’ in Spain for brands proposing free shipping incentives,” the report states.

Spanish consumers are more likely than those in some other countries to receive personalized e-mail messages, though. 13.7% of campaigns directed toward shoppers in that country carried personalized subject lines, compared with 7.4% in the United States and 9.0% in India. But China (27.0%) and France (37.5%) did better on this front. In France, consumers might see e-mails personalized according to gender, first name, child’s name, city and other factors, Experian says. The tactic can bring rewards, the report says. Personalized e-mails have a 21.5% unique open rate—defined as “the number of unique subscribers that have opened an HTML-formatted message.” In a regular quarterly report from earlier this month, Experian estimated that multichannel retailers had a 16.3% open rate in the first quarter of 2012. In its fourth quarter 2012 report, Experian pegged the open rate for all industries (not just retail) at 23.6%.

The holiday e-mail report also found that:

• E-mails that include messages about loyalty programs “remain the most engaging messages globally,” mainly because those e-mails go to what Experian calls “highly engaged consumers who are enrolled in loyalty programs.” Such messages also tend to have personalized content.

• Only U.S. and U.K. e-mails offered buy one, get one free offers during the 2012 holiday season. The incentive produced similar results: a unique open rate of 15.5% in the United Kingdom, and 13.9% in the United States.

• Holiday e-mails in the Asia-Pacific region—not all countries there mark the late-year holidays as do Western countries—tend to emphasis “urgency” more than e-mails in other countries. Urgency can include limited-time sales. The report highlighted China, where 7.5% of campaigns focused on urgency—compared with 4.1% in the United States—and produced a 12.5% unique open rate. In the United States, though, such campaigns have a 13.6% unique open rate.

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