How Stale Prices Can Kill an Email Campaign (and What Marketers Can Do)

Vivek Sharma
by Vivek Sharma 11 Apr, 2017

Smart marketers know the awesome power of email to drive engagement and create loyal, long-term customers. While the 'death of email' is a recurring industry topic, no other channel including display and social media comes close to email in terms of ROI and conversion rates.

For all its success, however, traditional static emails must evolve to provide consumers with real-time information. For brands with prices and inventory that frequently change in real-time, marketers are forced to merge those details into emails when they send - essentially chiseling it in stone with no regard to what the actual price and availability will be at the crucial moment when the customer opens or re-opens the email.

This often leaves customers feeling like a victim of a "bait and switch" price or product offer, which easily squanders a brand's trust. The end results for the marketer and business are poor response rates, high unsubscribe rates, and most importantly lost bookings and sales. While email itself is far from dead, email content too often is. Static information like inaccurate prices and inventory can definitely kill an email campaign.

This scenario is a reality for marketers across many industries. Here are a few examples of challenges and the ways marketers can integrate real-time pricing and inventory into emails that build brand credibility and increase sales.

1. Travel and Hospitality 

The Challenge: Email is a great way for hotel and airline brands to send offers and sale information to guests and customers. What happens, however, when they click on a room or flight that's no longer available? Many consumers will simply move on and may opt out of the email list altogether or place an expensive call to your customer service center - not an ideal experience for the customer or the brand.

As with anything, supply and demand dictates the price and availability for hotels and airlines. Unlike in retail where there could be thousands of any single products in inventory, hotels and airlines have a limited number of rooms and seats available each day that customers are trying to book and the brands are trying to fill. This causes prices and availability to change rapidly - sometimes with each click or page refresh.

For airlines, incremental add-ons have become a huge source of revenue, but the ability to market them at scale is incredibly challenging. Historically, it has been impossible to forecast availability and pricing in a way that works with the email production process. So instead, many airlines use generic messaging with no assurances that there are available upgrades for the customer to choose.

Providing real-time pricing in emails makes it easy for customer to make travel plans and relieves the frustration of digging for accurate prices and availability.

Here are some possibilities for travel and hospitality emails:

  • Real-time pricing for various loyalty and frequent flier tiers
  • Device targeted call-to-action (CTA) buttons that deep-link into relevant apps for booking
  • Flights to possible destinations based on where the customer opened the email
  • Real-time seat map and seat upgrades with pricing
  • Real-time flight status information

2. Retail/Ecommerce

The Challenge: Accurate, real-time pricing is essential for any online retailer - and so are inventory levels. Whether it's a special-edition gaming console or a limited number of flash sale items, delivering accurate inventory levels in your emails creates urgency, drives your customers to act quickly, and boosts your conversion rates. Perhaps even more importantly, it builds the trust needed for long-term customer relationships.

Real-time pricing is a great first step for any email campaigns. There's another way for online retailers to level-up their marketing strategy by combining real-time pricing and content automation into abandoned cart emails. According to CPC Strategy, 68 percent of online shoppers abandon their cart, which is why an appropriately timed abandoned cart email based on recent customer behavior is a must-have for every marketer.

For example, if a customer browsed a particular item, the email will automatically display that item, the most recent price (perhaps including a discount) and a call-to-action that directs them back to their shopping cart. The retailer can even include messaging like "Only five items left!" and "Check out in the next 10 minutes to receive 10% off" to create a sense of urgency.

Here are some possibilities for retail emails:

  • Real-time pricing for all products presented in the email
  • Countdown timer and offer with special price in abandoned cart email
  • Automatically remove products shown in emails when minimum inventory thresholds are reached

3. Sports and Entertainment

The Challenge: When sports and entertainment brands need to sell tickets or drive last-minute sales for a big game or concert, it should be as easy as possible for customers to complete their purchase. That means removing any obstacles and delivering relevant, up-to-date ticketing and seating information. It also means making sure fans don't miss out on limited-time pricing for upcoming events.

Like with hotels and airlines, there are a lot of places for sports and entertainment fans to find and purchase tickets - direct from the venue plus countless ticket brokers and resellers both online and in mobile apps. For ticket sales and distribution companies or parent companies of multiple venues, email is a great place to provide customers with live seating charts and pricing for local events within a certain radius of their location at the moment of open. This eliminates the need for the customer to do additional online research.

For a sports team that wants to promote an upcoming game at newly reduced prices, the marketer can leverage APIs to make sure that the pricing and availability in the email is the same as on the team's official website. This way, information is always consistent and since messages are time sensitive, fans are urged to act fast to receive their discounted tickets.

Here are some possibilities for sports and entertainment emails:

  • API-driven event information
  • Real-time pricing and seating availability
  • Geo-targeted events based on customer location at time of open

Experience Counts

Prices and inventory change constantly across many different industries, and presenting customers the most accurate, up-to-date information is critical to the success of any email campaign. With the right strategy and technology to provide real-time pricing and availability for flights, rooms, products, and event tickets, marketers can remain steps ahead of the competition and provide the best possible experiences for their customers.

About the Author

Vivek Sharma is the co-founder and CEO of Movable Ink. Vivek is leading the charge to make email a more dynamic and relevant communication channel for marketers and consumers. With a background in both sales and product development, Vivek brings a potent combination of engineering talent and business savvy to his role as Movable Ink's CEO.