Merchandising For Email Marketing — Selecting Products and Promotions

How do you decide what products to feature in your emails or which offers to promote in your emails? If you don’t have a process in place that answers these questions, you should. Merchandising for email should be a collaborative process for optimal results.

Setting The Promotional Calendar

The promotional calendar should be developed with the E-Commerce Manager, Email Marketing Manager, and Product Merchandisers. Any additional, relevant associates should be included, as well. For example, the Mobile Marketing Manager might be a different individual; or, you may have a Brand or Loyalty Manager to include for in-store promotions.

• Events & Offers

Begin by creating a promotional calendar that includes any e-commerce, in-store, or recurring events that email will need to support. For example, it could be a “Friends and Family” event that also has a supporting direct mail piece. From here, plan a mix of emails in support of those efforts, some that include offers and others that don’t.

The next easiest emails to plan are those that support promotions, since a sale will generally increase top line revenue. You may consider sending an email announcing the sale, and then follow it up with additional emails creating a sense of urgency as the end of the sale approaches.

• No Offers

Because of the downturn in the economy over the last several years, many retailers turned to more discounts and promotions to increase sales. However, not every email needs a discount. In fact, some of the emails with the highest open rates are emails that don’t include any offer at all.

Now that discounts and promotions are not a necessity, retailers are finding it hard to break the habit. You might be uncertain of what will happen to sales if a discount isn’t included, but there is only one way to find out – test. Select at least one email per month that promotes your product but doesn’t include an offer. You might find that you don’t have to take money off the table in order to achieve the conversions you’re after.

Consult with your Product Merchandisers to identify any new products that will be available in store or online. New content is great for an email audience. For example, you can pique their interest with smart subject lines like “Introducing the [product name]” or “Shop new styles just added.” Schedule these emails as appropriate throughout the month, when there is not a sale. You’ll be surprised how effective curiosity is as a driving force for conversion.

• Social Media

Consider at least one email per month dedicated entirely to supporting social marketing. After all, it’s good to return the love for all those email subscribers they have sent your way. If they are hosting a contest, send an email to drive traffic and engagement.

• Something Different

Still have holes left in your email schedule? Fill them by hosting ongoing brainstorming sessions with the entire team to gather new ideas for email content. Include individuals on the front line who are closest to the day-to-day operations, associates from other teams, and customer service representatives. We even include our receptionist sometimes!

Take a cue from Barnett Helzberg, Jr., and ask the group a variation of his “Three Magic Questions:” “What (emails) are we doing right? What (emails) are we doing wrong? What (emails) are we not doing that we should be?” This is where you need to get creative, break the mold, and don’t discard any ideas.

• Email Specific

Review the schedule for any email exclusive content and offers. Remember, your subscribers opted in for extra content, so be sure you are capitalizing on the opportunity by giving it to them. Give some thought to what the benefit of being on your email list might be, and then work to provide that value.

Finally, identify a test for nearly every email. It could be one of many options including images, copy, offers, personalization, etc. It could be as simple as a subject line, or as complicated as multivariate; but, nearly every email should have a test of some sort.

Merchandising For Email

Once you have your calendar drafted, it’s time to select the products to feature. Who picks your products for email? Is it someone who doesn’t know much about email? I sometimes find the products are selected by the buyers, and they consistently choose products that have excess inventory.

Inventory closeout promotions are ok on occasion; but often, there are reasons these products didn’t already sell. Repeatedly promoting undesirable products is not a sustainable long-term strategy; and, it’s not one that is likely to yield a lot of revenue. Unless your brand strategy is flash sales (like, save this tactic for items that were recently moved to the clearance section.

• Focus On The WHY

For emails that are showcasing new products or popular products without any supporting offer, focus on education and the product’s benefits. Email can highlight features that a consumer might not be aware of. Call-out the “why” of the product. Why would a consumer want to purchase this particular product?

Write the text and select the images while keeping in mind the simple fact that customers don’t read. No matter how compelling your creative might be, they just don’t. Keep it short and sweet. Use easily digested content — bullet points, highlighted text, images, and simple phrases. Get creative to present the content visually, like in this example from J.Crew Factory showcasing “3 Ways to Wear It.”

Three Ways to Wear It

• Top Products

Determine the best-selling products on your website. Inquire about the most-searched products on your site. Obtain the top-rated products from your ratings and reviews engine. These would are all be great products for an email. Paired with a compelling subject line, these products are likely to generate click-throughs and revenue. Add an offer, and you have the makings of a high grossing campaign.

• Versions & Segments

You have more than one kind of subscriber, so select different products for different segments. If you are segmenting by gender, for example, select one set of products for women and one set for men. If you are segmenting by size (or in addition to gender), select an additional set of products for petite and big/tall. If you are segmenting by purchase history, dynamically populate a product previously purchased in an additional color, or the next most purchased product based on the last product purchased; then select a set of products for those subscribers that have never purchased.

Dynamically populated products can be pulled from an existing data source (the website) to limit the level of effort required to build the email. If you are segmenting based on loyalty, you may have different products at different price points, based on total lifetime spend or the subscriber’s average order value.


How do you determine the success of your product and promotion selection? Specifically, a few key metrics to track include average order value, profit margin, and gross revenue. These metrics allow you to evaluate the result and effectiveness of any promotions.

For example, does a “buy more, save more” campaign result in a higher average order value and overall gross sales? Does a deep percentage off create a lower profit margin but high gross sales? Most email programs strongly support website goals. For this reason you may also include units per transaction (UPT) as another key metric in your weekly and monthly email evaluations.

Increased Email Engagement

By sending a mix of emails with and without offers, you are able to establish revenue benchmarks at the low and high end. Over time, this allows you to create the right cadence of offers and more accurately project email revenue. If you had previously trained your subscribers to expect an offer, you may experience an adjustment period of non-offer emails with low revenue overall, until they identify and take advantage of fewer promotions, generating higher revenue (and appreciation) for those emails.

Through a collaborative effort, you can improve the product and promotion selections of your email marketing campaigns, resulting in increased email engagement metrics and revenue.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is Director of Digital Direct/eCRM at DEG, a full-service digital consultancy based in Kansas City. Leveraging her 14 years of experience and thought leadership in digital direct marketing, she and her team lead email and SMS strategy, integrations, and campaign execution for flagship brands like Crocs, Helzberg Diamonds, MathWorks, Cabela's, Life is Good, and TITLE Boxing. In her spare time she runs half marathons, cheers on her beloved Royals, and drinks copious amounts of coffee while trying to exhaust her eight year-old daughter, five year-old boy, and one year-old golden retriever.

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  • Barbara Mckinney

    One of the great
    things about email marketing is that it’s so cost-effective. It enables
    independent retailers to communicate with their customer base far more
    frequently, and creatively. So, if you’ve been collecting email addresses
    from your customers all along, that list is one of your most valuable
    assets.Thanks for these tips Cara!


    Email marketing is great and we use frequently, however, if you send a promotional product along with it it will dramatically increase your ROI…


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