Retailers are missing a big marketing opportunity in small screen e-mails

Only 23% of U.S. and U.K. retailers optimize their messages for mobile.

Katie Evans

Checking e-mail while on the go via a mobile device is becoming increasingly common. Recent research by Google Inc. shows that smartphone users check their e-mails six times a day on average, and 61% use their smartphones to make purchases.

However, most retailers are missing the opportunity to market to such on-the-go consumers via e-mail because they have not optimized their messages to be easily read on smartphones, a new study from e-mail marketing firm dotMailer finds.

The study examined the mobile e-mail of 30 U.S.-based retailers and 30 merchants in the U.K. Two of the main factors it looked at include if e-mail is easily readable on smartphones and if mobile e-mail linked consumers to mobile-optimized landing pages. Only 23% of the 60 retailers optimized their messages to fit smartphone screens. However, 84% all 60 retailers linked mobile consumers to landing pages formatted to render well on smartphones.

“The scores for mobile were a surprise, particularly as a third of all e-mail is now read on a mobile device,” says Tink Taylor, managing director of dotMailer. “Optimization for mobile is becoming less of a bonus and more of a requirement for today’s marketers.” 

When it comes to mobile e-mail readability, U.K. supermarket Sainsbury’s scored high marks.

“We were looking for examples of e-mails that were easy to read on a smartphone screen and that didn’t require users to scroll horizontally or zoom in drastically to read the text. Having bold buttons and calls to action and a clear single-column layout for small screens won brands top marks,” the report notes. Sainsbury’s was one of the only brands to put together a fully mobile-optimized campaign, using a simple one-column layout that was easy to read on various smartphones, the study says.

DotMailer says a quick and simple tip e-mail campaign designers can use to see if their messages render well on mobile devices is to zoom out on their desktop view of a message to around 50% and see if the message is still easy to read.

One of the reasons Sainsbury’s e-mail rendered clearly and with readable text and that none of the images were lost on mobile phones is that the retailer applied responsive design techniques by using media queries to adjust e-mail for multiple screen sizes. Sainsbury’s also hid some content that displays in desktop e-mail for e-mail opened on mobile devices so recipients see only what they need to and can see it clearly, the report notes.

Media queries allow the presentation of web content to be tailored to a range of devices without having to change the content, a key to responsive web design. Internet Explorer 9 and up, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and most mobile phone browsers can handle responsive design and media queries. Responsive design uses one set of web content and one code base to create a single site that renders differently to fit the screens of desktops, tablets, smartphones and other web-enabled devices.

Retailers not using such responsive design techniques should stick to a simple template, says Ger Asby, head of design for dotMailer. “For example use basic one-or two-column layouts to present your content; this way the content will not feel squished within the window. Imagine your current five-column template squished into half its original size,” he says.

Retailers getting top marks for mobile landing pages include Victoria’s Secret, No. 35 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400 ,and Asos, No. 84. Both retailers’ mobile landing pages ensure that the e-mail recipient can begin making purchases in a few clicks with no unnecessary zooming or extensive scrolling, the report says. Asos, for example, lists categories such as new products or accessories less than 10 pounds in a single column for easy navigation.

U.S. retailers examined in the report include Macy’s Inc., No. 21 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 6, and J.C. Penney Co. Inc., No. 37. U.K. retailers include House of Fraser Stores Ltd., No. 221 in the Mobile 400, and Tesco Plc., No. 40.


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