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The #1 thing that may be killing your email marketing

Earlier in the year, I did a 4-part blog post series on attribution and the need for retailers to move beyond simple last-click attribution. But the reality is, most retailers today, still leverage last-click attribution heavily, if not exclusively, to determine the ROI of their marketing spend.

If you are one of these retailers who still exclusively or heavily relies on last-click attribution to measure, listen up, this is for you.


Channel Shift

For years, I’ve worked directly for and with a number of online-only retailers as well as brick-and-mortar retailers to develop robust, digital direct marketing programs. Email is, without fail, always the foundation of that program and is the primary channel retailers leverage to engage and convert their existing customer base.

In those years, I have, on numerous occasions, come across the following phenomenon: email sales are trending down while overall website sales are trending up. How is that even possible, you might ask? What is causing it? And the final question that inevitably gets asked: Who is to blame?

I like to call this “Channel Shift” and allow me walk you through a simple, and common, customer experience to illustrate what is going on.


Is this the customer experience you intended?

You have a customer, let’s call her Melissa. Melissa is very valuable customer and has shopped with you multiple times over the last several months. Even more important, she is subscribed to receive your emails. She got one such email this morning, and she’s interested. She opens, she clicks, she browses the site, she adds products to the cart, she is doing everything you as a direct marketer want her to do. And then just as she is about to hit the button to proceed to checkout…you lost her.

That’s right, you lost the sale.


With your promo code box.

That big, empty promo code box right on the cart page.

You know what I’m talking about, the promo code box that is situated right above your “Secure Checkout” button.

The promo code box that says to every online shopper, “If you’re smart, and you’d like to not pay as much money as the cart says you’re going to pay right now, exit the site, search on Google for “Retailer X Coupons” and find a coupon.”

So Melissa, being the savvy online shopper that she is does just that. She leaves your site. She goes to Google. She searches online for your coupons. She goes to any one of the popular coupon affiliate sites out there, finds a coupon on that site that her order qualifies for, and she clicks through. And now you’ve lost.

She applies the promo code, completes checkout, and you and your efforts will go completely unrecognized for this transaction, despite the fact that your email did everything up until she was going to hit the checkout button. In the world of last-click attribution, your email from this morning may as well not even exist.

How do I know if I have a Channel Shift problem?

In the world of last-click attribution, the reality is that moving away from last-click in the short-term is not likely to happen.

So the first step is to recognize you and other retailers like you have a problem. How can you tell if you have a channel shift problem? The answer to the question, “Do I have a channel shift problem?” is almost always, “Yes.” Here are some of the common warning signs:

  1. Overall website revenue is growing, but email revenue is declining
  2. Email traffic to the website is growing, but email revenue growth is not tracking with traffic
  3. Affiliate channel or other channel revenue is far outpacing all other channels, including email for revenue growth
  4. A specific channel’s conversion rate is drastically higher than other channels because it has low traffic but high orders
  5. Affiliate channel revenue is a larger share of revenue than your email channel
  6. Etc.

A better way is if your website analytics allows you to do a first-click vs. last-click comparison report. This kind of report allows you to see based on what channel the shopper clicked first if it was also the last-clicked channel or if it shifted over to another channel for that last click.

Now that we’ve all agreed that you have a Channel Shift problem…

What are you going to do about it?

The second step involves change. You have to change what you are doing. Here are what some of those changes might be:

1. Minimize your promo code box – by repositioning it somewhere on the cart page other than directly next to the “Proceed to Checkout” button and replacing it with a much less prominent link that says something like “Do you have a promo code?”, which when it is clicked will reveal a promo code box where a promo code can be applied

2. Ensure channel offer exclusivity – by making sure that opt-in, permission based channels like email, SMS and push notifications have much better offers than other channels. This is no easy task, mind you, as it takes disciplined coordination among and across teams, especially between the acquisition marketing teams and the retention marketing teams, who are often not incentivized to work together to optimize their marketing spend.


For example purposes, I’ll use a free shipping offer (assuming that you don’t already offer free shipping every day) to demonstrate what this coordinated approach might look like.

  1. Mobile channels like push and SMS are at the top of the offer exclusivity hierarchy meaning that the best offers should be available in the SMS and push channels given their ability to reach (and potentially annoy) the recipient directly on their smartphone’s lock screen.
    • In push & SMS, I am going to offer free shipping on orders over $25
  2. Email is next in the offer hierarchy given that it is more ubiquitous, still permission-based and the inbox is not nearly as intrusive as a smartphone lock screen
    • In email, I am going to offer free shipping on orders over $30
  3. Your own website and social properties are the next level down in exclusivity. If the traffic is already hitting your website, best to distribute your own coupon to your own site and social audience rather than forcing them to go to an external site (where they could come across a competitive offer). Consider creating an SEO-optimized URL like www.retailerx.com/coupons-and-promo-codes or something like that to ensure that you show up at the top of Google’s search results for your own coupons.
    • On my website, I am going to host a coupon page where site visitors can find an offer for free shipping on orders over $50.
  4. External sites are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Given that you likely are going to pay some sort of revenue-sharing commission as well as a software platform fee to distribute these offers externally, they not only reduce your margins by reducing the final amount of the transaction, they increase your marketing spend with these additional costs.
    • On coupon sites, I am going to distribute a free shipping coupon on orders over $75.

3. Unique coupon codes – when combined with channel exclusive offers, unique coupon codes for each individual recipient help to ensure that codes intended for specific channels can’t be posted to coupon sites after-the-fact. Also, be sure that your affiliate terms and conditions make a note that they will only get a commission on sales that are distributed to them by you, and not by consumers. This incentivizes them to keeping their site clean and free of consumer-posted codes.

4. Consider removing the promo code box altogether – by implementing “click-to-activate” promo links. If you decide to go down this route, be sure that you also reinforce the activated coupon with persistent site messaging that is consistently messaged on every page on the site and especially on the cart.

And the list could go on from there…

Implementing any or all of these changes can help reduce the effect of channel shift and ensure that your permission-based channels of email, SMS and push receive the proper attribution of the sales that they drive and reduce the likelihood of Channel Shift.

Last-Click is so 2005

In reality, last-click is such a horrible way to measure the ROI complexities of today’s omnichannel customer experience. But making a fundamental change to attribution reporting is no small task, but it is the third step in Channel Shift mitigation. So, if you’re looking for ways to move beyond it, please read up on my past posts.

Image sources: round8.com, axialys.com, extrcdn.extremenetworks.com, socialmediaimpact.com

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