Total Retail published their annual Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers report for 2018 in conjunction with Radial. After doing a mini-report on their website acquisition strategies, we decided to continue with another mini-report on welcome emails!

Total Retail released the second annual ranking of 100 publicly traded retailers based on their omnichannel capabilities and programs offered, as well as the execution of said programs. The report scores 100 retailers on their ability to sell online, pick up in store, search for in-store products, and many more criteria.

After doing an analysis of our own on their website acquisition strategies, we’re continuing our analysis on welcome emails.

Our analysis was conducted by gathering each and every welcome email triggered from the website acquisition tactic and then working through a series of criteria. Essentially, after giving an email to all 100 retailers, we looked at the welcome emails (or lack thereof) to see what we could find.

We recorded several key pieces of data: the number of welcome emails, subject line, unsubscribe features, offers, CTAs, and personalization. While there are surely many more data points to look at, these were the most interesting for the sake of this report.

Without further adieu, let’s get started.

The Number of Welcome Emails

Count of Welcome Emails

From our last report on website acquisition, we noted that 98 of the 100 retailers were actively acquiring email addresses on their website — which means that 2 retailers were not acquiring email addresses.

Now looking at the pie chart above, you can see that 23 of the 100 retailers did not send a welcome email, including the 2 that did not collect an email address in the first place. This leaves us with 21 retailers who acquired an email address, yet didn’t send a welcome email. According to information collected by SmartrMail, welcome emails are opened 4X more often,  clicked 5X more often, and generate 8X more revenue than promotional emails.

To me, this chart is simple: Retailers are leaving money on the table. Welcome emails are a fundamental and essential email for every marketing program. Why aren’t retailers sending them? And no, they were not in my spam, trash, or other tabs in my inbox.

Over 20%, or 1 of every 5 retailers, didn’t send a welcome email. This reveals a startling truth about the state of email marketing: Marketing organizations still need to adopt basic tactics and fundamental components of mature programs. If retailers aren’t utilizing welcome emails, what else are they missing out on?

The Subject Line

Used Welcome In Subject Line

The fact that 47 of 100 retailers, and 54% of all emails used the word “welcome” in their subject line should remove any doubt about where the name “Welcome Email” originated from. However, if you think about it, this also means that 46% of all the welcome emails sent didn’t have the word “welcome” in it. This is probably indicative of marketers moving away from conventional practices and exploring more creative subject lines.

Used Thanks or Thank You In Subject Line

“Thanks” or “Thank you” were the second most commonly used word or phrase in subject lines with 12 of 100 retailers using it, representing approximately 14% of subject lines in all the welcome emails.

Used Emoji In Subject Line

To be honest, I was expecting to see more emojis in subject lines. Maybe they’re reserved for promotional emails and marketers haven’t gotten around to updating those old dusty welcome emails? Only 2 retailers, representing about 2.5% of welcome emails, used an emoji in their subject line.

Used Dollar or Percentage Discount Offer In Subject Line

Only 13 retailers, or around 15% of welcome emails, used a dollar or percentage discount in their welcome emails. In our previous report, 30 of the 100 retailers used a dollar or percentage discount as an offer to acquire the email, so why the discrepancy? Here’s a few reasons:

  • Many retailers delivered the discount within the acquisition method — usually within the popup or thank you page.
  • Retailers don’t want to cultivate a culture of discounting. Discounting can add up quick, and retailers don’t want to train customers to always search for a discount.
  • Discounts are given in promotional emails quite frequently, so there’s no rush to jump straight into discounting from the get-go in the welcome email.

Unsubscribe Features

Had Google Unsubscribe Feature

Google’s unsubscribe feature for Gmail could been seen in 61 of 87 welcome emails. While the feature was announced in 2014, it was still going through updates and roll-out as recently as December of 2017. And it seems that it’s already affecting 70% of retailers. How the other 16 retailers have seemingly avoided the feature is beyond me, but interesting nonetheless.

Had Footer Unsubscribe Link

When first planning this report, footer unsubscribe links were not in it’s scope. However, after reviewing many of the welcome emails, it was clear to me that I did indeed need to include it. Even in 2018, with Total Retail’s Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers, I had to check the unsubscribe links (or lack thereof) of an automated email. 8 of the 87 welcome emails (~9%) either didn’t have an unsubscribe link or the link was broken. 9% may seem like a small number, but for a fundamental feature like this, it’s a phenomenally large number considering laws like CAN-SPAM and GDPR.

The Offers

Offers 1

This chart is fairly consistent in the previous report on website acquisition strategies, which further illustrates the dominance in using percentage discounts over dollar discounts, and the increasing push to join VIP or Rewards programs. This push in loyalty programs is a timely, and wise, effort to maximize CLTV and compete against Amazon.

The CTAs


While this chart looks uninteresting from first sight, it actually highlights something very important: Retailers who did not initially make an offer to acquire the email then make an offer in the welcome email. In other words, retailers are intentionally foregoing making an offer to acquire the email in favor of making an offer in the email. Any reasons for this would just be speculation, but I have a hunch that it’s due to data quality issues. It may be in an effort to reduce the number of potential customers who give a false email just to get a discount. By offering the discount or perk within the email, retailers can ensure that it’s the correct email.

Personalization Used

Count of Used Basic Personalization

This was one of the criteria that I expected to use much, much more often. For the purpose of this report, I defined “basic personalization” as the use of a name, birthday, gender, or location, as these are the two most commonly collected data behind the email address itself. Only 4 retailers used a name or location, leaving 73 retailers who sent a welcome email without the most basic forms of personalization. Now, this also depends on what data the retailer is collecting. But if we look back at the website acquisition report, we can see that 28 retailers collected information other than an email address, which means that only 4 of 28 retailers used their data to personalize their welcome email, a mere 14%.

Some Welcome Email Favorites


Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 1.26.41 PM

DSW does a great job with their welcome email to achieve a few key objectives:

  • A fun, light-hearted email that introduces the brand (the bow-tie is a GIF in the real version)
  • Educates subscribers on what they can expect by clearly listing three main points
  • Uses the looping effect by teasing a future email with a discount in it

Abercrombie & Fitch

Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 1.27.25 PM

Abercrombie & Fitch takes an unorthodox approach compared to the majority of the other designs. It almost resembles something from Chipotle. What I love about this welcome email is it’s minimalism. Large, bold text on a gray background with just over 25 words above the fold. It also clearly tells subscribers what they can expect with earning points, exclusive offers, and sales.

Office Depot

Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 1.28.37 PM

Office Depot stays true to brand with a very functionally designed email. What’s special about their welcome email is the use of location personalization. As you can see at the bottom, they showed a map of the nearest office depot to me using the zip code I provided when signing up for their email list. This may not seem special, but it was the only retailer to do this in their welcome email. Again, not every retailer collects this data, but they were the only ones to utilize it. Kudos to you, Office Depot.

Kate Spade

Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 1.29.12 PM

Kate Spade showcases a very similar welcome email to DSW with a very minimalistic design. In the real version, the sparkler is a GIF, for a nice added touch. The email tells subscribers what they can expect and makes an offer for a discount. It’s short, sweet, and to the point.


Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 1.31.26 PM

I’m not going to lie, seeing my name in bold in this Marshalls email made my heart flutter a bit. Surprisingly, this was the only email that utilized my name like this. Going back to the “Personalization Used” section, very few retailers used even basic personalization in their welcome emails. Marshalls was one of the few, and it honestly made them stand out from the rest.

In summary

The overarching theme of what I learned from this mini-report is that there’s still a lot of work to be done. It was obvious that even large brands still struggle use personalization and basic automation. Many brands are simply leaving money on the table.

But the question is, how do you stack up?

What grade would you give yourself?

Ben Thiefels

Ben Thiefels

Content Marketing

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