Monitoring a year of Macy’s email…and living to tell about it.
First things first: My e-hat is off to all the programmers, merchandisers, web technicians, copywriters, graphic artists and digital geeks who run the Macy’s direct email program. Well done, guys. I am in a position to make this evaluation after what seemed a rather simple task: I would gather and save all the promotional emails Macy’s sent me as a customer over the course of one year. I began moving those messages rom my inbox to a separate folder on Jan. 1, 2014, and filed my last one at 11:46AM this past Dec. 31.
Simple my ass…ortment.
As a customer who had made home, apparel and jewelry purchases from Macy’s over the years, my inbox became a breeding ground for a promotional onslaught that neared biblical proportions. By any measure — quantity, variety, creativity or just plain audacity — my year with Macy’s email was memorable. First, the volume, which was indeed voluminous. I received an email from Macy’s virtually every day. Some days I received two. Occasionally, I missed a day, which I attributed more to spam filters than any lack of enterprise on the part of the store’s promotional department.
The Name Game
Each day brought a mélange of names, numbers, spins and variations on the basic promo calendar that was remarkable. I was expecting the usual suspects: Sales for Presidents’ Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and all the rest of the holidays retailers have been hanging their sale hats on for more than a century. But Welcome Spring? The Great American Summer Sale? Easy Updates … whatever they are? They were all there in my mailbox.
Curiously, what wasn’t there was that longtime staple of the soft home business, the White Sale. Once reserved for the first weeks of January when retailers needed to promote a category they hadn’t beaten to death at Christmas, White Sales over the years multiplied and were dependable vehicles several times a year. But not at Macy’s, at least not via email in 2014. Oh, don’t get me wrong: There were countless bed and bath sales and all kinds of home events throughout the calendar. But no White Sales. For a store that never met a sale it didn’t like, it was an odd omission.
The Macyean Calendar
Which was not the case for One Day Sales, a perennial backbone of the Macy’s merchandising schedule. I’m not sure it is the retailer that invented this event, but Macy’s has certainly taken it to new levels, not the least of which is the fact that Macy’s One Day Sales run for two days. These are not to be confused with its Three Day Sales… which actually run for three days. There were no two-day sales — at least none actually called that.
One Day Sales ran at three- to six-week intervals throughout the year, the only exception being two of them in December, when anything goes in retailing. And don’t confuse any of these two…er, One Day Sales, with Super Saturday or Super Sunday events. They showed up fairly regularly too, though I’m not enough of a mathematician to understand the pattern. Some were right on top of One Day Sales, others spaced accordingly. And, every once in a while, there was a Weekend Sale, which I guess covered all contingencies.
Whatever calendar issues Macy’s had with individual days or weekly occurrences, it was nothing compared to the company’s take on seasons. Julius Caesar, who gave us what we generally use today as the world’s standard calendar, would be turning over in his grave if he saw Macy’s reinvention of the seasons. Yes, there were four “Lowest Prices of the Season” events on the Macy’s calendar, but they bore little resemblance to anything any of us were taught in second grade.
The first season on the Macy’s calendar ran from Feb. 1 through April 30. Call it Winpring. That was followed by one from May 1 through July 31. Spummer perhaps? Then came one that the store simply labeled “Fall Season” without specifying dates, though the process of elimination pegged it as August though October. And then the year wrapped up with its last season, starting on Nov. 1 and running through Jan. 31. What Macy’s lacks in Julian skills, it compensates for with financial accountability: The four seasons seem to correspond to the company’s fiscal year.
What’s the Frequency?
The e-department has a very specific model when it comes to its biggest events, which include those lowest-prices-of-the-season sales, as well as VIP sales and the once-believable/now-ubiquitous Friends and Family sales. (There were three of these, by the way, during 2014).
Most of these major promos deliver a minimum of seven emails, sometimes two a day, but always giving you warning it’s coming, the announcement that it’s on and the ticking clock — digital of course — that it’s almost over. Other sales might yield multiple emails, but the big events get the star treatment.
Then there’s the issue of delivery charges. It has become the Holy Grail to online shoppers, and this past Christmas it was probably the single biggest tool retailers used to drive business.
But not Macy’s … at least not to me. Maybe better customers got better deals, but virtually every email promo I received shouted “Free Delivery” only to be followed by small print that specified a $99 minimum purchase. That kind of bait-and-e-switch nonsense is not Macy’s finest move, and sooner or later it will need to find a way to tackle free shipping.
Curiously, the store dropped that minimum down to $75 in August and again in December, and once cut it to $60 with the purchase of anything from the lingerie department. I have a feeling different customers got different deals, but the fact that Macy’s did not play the real-free-shipping card for general customers is a serious lack of understanding the e-psyche of today’s online shopper.
Macy’s also seems to be unsure of how to use percentage-off numbers and should look at its archrival Kohl’s, which is certainly the reigning master at this game. Most percentage-off promotions were in the 15 percent to 25 percent range, with a few higher rates in the 50 percent to 60 percent range showing up from time to time. Even worse, in home, the numbers usually drop by at least five points. Let’s get real here folks. Today’s shopper is hitting delete anytime they see a sale that starts with the numeral “1” these days. A 25 percent-off promo is a starting point at best.
Shoppers, used to the endless Kohl’s clutter of numbers — now being copied quite nicely by a promotional-rejuvenated J.C. Penney — expect to see big, big numbers on a regular basis. I saw only a few instances of Macy’s venturing higher than 60 percent, and then mostly with clearances. Kohl’s gives 60 percent off just for walking in the door. Macy’s needs to get with the program here.
The Holiday Home Stretch
In the end, any retailer is judged by its efforts during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and the weekend after New Year’s. That is when stores play their A games. Macy’s certainly rose to the occasion. It sent its first Christmas-themed email on Nov. 13, which, when you consider that the first Radio City Christmas Spectacular TV commercials aired at the end of the September, is rather civilized.
Whatever restraint it showed was gone by Thanksgiving. There were no fewer than five individual Black Friday emails, followed by Cyber Monday and the lame Green Monday. There were two one-day-sale events, reduced free-shipping minimums and a Super Saturday or Sunday nearly every weekend. After Christmas Prices kicked in on Dec. 22, of course. And the final email of the year highlighted yet another Macy’s invention, the Week of Wonderful, which I loved even if I didn’t quite understand what it meant.
My year of Macy’s email is over, and I can return to hitting that delete button with reckless abandon. Not that I always will. I will continue to observe, applaud and even react by making a purchase to my daily dose of e-Macys. I’ll be curious what new angles and events they’ll come up with in 2015. Will they succumb to the free shipping mania? And will the Week of Wonderful become a more regular event, one more assault on the calendar from the folks on 34th Street?
Can’t wait to check my inbox…though for a little while, at least, I think I’ve had e-nough.