For most companies, sending email in “real time” constitutes sending an email immediately after a relevant action has been made.
Coming from someone that’s been sending behavioural/triggered emails for over 10 years now (it’s not the ‘new’ phenomenon many would have you believe) I’m not going to tell you “don’t send in real time” because we send many of these emails in real time and it can undoubtedly be the right thing to do. Instant responses to key actions like purchasing, confirming a saved quote, registration confirmation and welcome programmes all require an immediate interaction with your customer to maximise existing engagement.
However, for some emails, “real time” response is not so black and white. A key example is the abandoned basket email, when a “real time” email is based not on what the customer does, but what they don’t do (i.e. purchase). The main mistake marketers make when implementing abandoned basket email is not to trigger their “real time” email from actual abandonment, but set it based on the purchase time (i.e. if a customer has added an item to their basket, but after 5 minutes no purchase has been completed, an abandoned basket email is triggered). The logic for doing this can be summed up in three points:
1. The customer is on your site, so you know they are both ‘online’ and ‘interested’.
2. They have added to a basket, so they are unlikely to be hotter in terms of brand awareness.
3. They likely have the ‘time’ to read your email, because they have found the time to browse the site.
The reason why marketers think this way is simple: they panic – quick, the sale is taking too long, the user must be getting cold feet, send them something now to put them back on track – but in reality, buying your time can pay off.
Understanding the purchase funnel
A question we get asked a lot at RedEye and one that inspired me to write this post in the first place is ‘how long does it actually take to purchase after you’ve added to a basket’.
It’s important to understand exactly what this means; we are not talking about the average time from arriving on site through to buying, but simply from the moment someone adds an item to the basket through to actually completing the purchase.
Based on analysis looking at a number of different style retail sites, selling at different price points and with different brand recognition, the actual average time to close a purchase is…
10 minutes and 43 seconds
Interestingly the range of times goes from 7 minutes and 40 seconds through to 15 minutes and 21 seconds. The fact is when it comes to making an online purchase, online users take their time. Unfortunately during this time there is a risk of abandonment which can usually be categorised into the following:
1. Distraction – with the evolution of laptops, then smart phones (out selling PC’s since April 2011) and now tablets, the days of the dedicated user in front of a monitor using his desktop are a thing of the past, so whilst distraction during buying has ALWAYS been an issue, it is now worse than ever.
2. Multi item buying – depending on the site, people are not just adding one item to the basket and buying, they are looking at multi items!
3. Price comparison checks – unless you are very lucky, chances are the product(s) you sell are not exclusive to you and people might well be checking your costs with others.
4. Delivery – NEVER underestimate the importance of delivery costs and timing, people spend a lot of time looking at this area. It is consistently cited by Forrester as a top reason for people abandoning.
5. Your site is not Amazon – As user friendly and good as you think your site is, you don’t have Amazon’s brand awareness and patented 1-click checkout process; people will take longer than you imagine going through your funnel!
At this stage, this risk of abandonment is the marketers’ greatest fear. However, while the user is still onsite, and a purchase is still live, it’s important not to react too quickly. Sending an email based on time, rather than action, means you’re assuming a behaviour rather than reacting to one. In other words, you’re letting your fear get the better of you.
Getting it right
Triggering an email based on time rather than behaviour can be dangerous for the following reasons;
• You are sending people emails whilst the majority are still on the site.
• You are potentially giving away discounts/offers to people that will be buying anyway.
• You are undoubtedly interrupting their buying process with the email. This may even make them less likely to purchase than they already were.
• You may speed up the purchase process but stop them buying as many items as they would have.
So if you don’t want to scare your customers by sending big brother style emails, or give money away unnecessarily, getting the timing right is vitally important. I’m not discounting swift and timely responses (that’s why behavioural email works) but you have to understand what’s best for your business and your customers.
Another very important fact to remember; all sites are not made equal. As the stats show it’s vital not to assume what works for one site will work for you – test, test and test again. This is not just on the initial email but on any follow up you do as well. I’ll reserve the importance of the follow up email for another post, but for now just say that nearly all programmes with a series of emails work better than one off emails and the timing of those follow up emails is another thing you need to test to get right.
So when should I send?
To conclude I would just say that there is no one right answer for everyone, test what works for your site, but please ensure whether you are sending the email after 5 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour or a day the message in the email must reflect the action the customer performed. “Real time” is great, but it only works if it’s relevant. To send a successful real time email, don’t guess, respond.
Author: Garry Lee, March 23rd, 2012