It may seem like there’s plenty of time before Black Friday. But if you’re a retail marketer you know better — especially now. Later this year, I predict we’ll see a holiday season unlike any other, so you might want to ask yourself, “Is it time to start evaluating a new ESP?”

Website traffic has declined throughout the coronavirus pandemic, though email marketing engagement has increased by 200%. But as stores reopen around the country, many consumers prefer to continue online shopping and taking advantage of click-and-collect options such as curbside pickup. With that in mind, I believe email and CRM will play an even bigger role in retailers’ success this upcoming holiday season.

To make the most out of yours requires a strong ESP. Here are five signs it may be time to upgrade:

1. Email Performance is Not Great

I have personal experience with poor email system performance. Knowing I had to go into a business review meeting with reports that email performance had decreased from the previous year was a terrible way to kick off my week. It was clear that weekly deal campaigns carefully curated by my merchandising teams were simply not cutting it anymore. Clickthrough and conversion rates were not where they were year-over-year and the solution was not to increase discounts in batch-and-blast campaigns. I needed a way to email my customer about things she really cared about in order to improve my metrics.

Email is the most effective digital channel for having that direct line to the customer. But only if the system is up to the task. In my experience, the numbers don’t lie. Assuming your emails are landing in the intended inboxes, your customers are telling you they are not engaging when open, click and conversion rates are down. Today’s consumer has a new expectation for their experience in email content and want a meaningful connection with a brand. If email performance is declining, it may be a sign you should be evaluating a new ESP. Instead, find a system that can incorporate relevant and personalized content in your email marketing strategy.

2. The ESP Has Slow Generate and Spend Speed

Think about receiving an email for a flash sale, opening it right away… and seeing that the sale had just ended. If you are experiencing the pain of a slow tool and slow email delivery, it may be a sign that it’s time to re-evaluate what is acceptable for your organization.

I have managed pretty high volume email lists, and while Black Friday and Cyber Monday are critical for all retailers, it was especially stressful for me when we knew our emails took hours to send and promotions were changing. It was a headache. Just as consumers have a very short attention span and patience for slow page load times, so do your fellow marketers! If running a report takes hours, you’re likely to be distracted. Perhaps you’ll have to come back and run it all over again, which is not productive.

3. Analytics Are a Headache

If you work in retail, you know how quickly reporting needs to be read in order to plan for next steps. As a marketer, I have long known the pain of pulling together weekly email performance reports from the ESP and marrying to site analytics platform data. I also understand the pain and long lead times needed to do simple audience query requests into an analytics team. If your email and customer data is delayed or cumbersome to pull, they turn into good-to-know hindsights — not immediately actionable insights.

I have found myself forced to either make decisions based off email engagement or submit an analytics request to a separate department. Simply trying to understand how my newly-registered customers responded to a loyalty-focused message, I once had to go through a formal request process with the analytics team. I was looking to understand email engagement metrics such as open, click and conversion data for a subset of a deployed campaign, but the report wasn’t segmented the way I needed. Real-time analytics are the only way to be real-time responsive.

4. The Team Is Working Harder Not Smarter

I have managed teams that first needed to submit a list request several days before a send. Then they had to manually upload the file into the ESP before manually scheduling it. Never again! I still cringe thinking about all of that manual work; a good ESP can make this a seamless process.

No matter the size of your email marketing team — even if it’s just one person — a proper focus is key. By failing to allot time to think about innovative ways to communicate with your customers, you may be leaving meaningful dollars on the table. Automation is both a super effective and efficient way to manage customer lifecycle touchpoints, and it can drive up to 40% of your email revenue. If your ESP does not have or allow you to easily build out automated customer journeys, it’s most definitely impacting the efficiency of your email marketing. That should most definitely be a factor when evaluating a new ESP.

5. You Don’t Feel Supported

I put a lot of value in the customer experience I deliver for the brands I work for. That means I expect the same when evaluating a new ESP. I once started a new role and experienced radio silence from the ESP account services team. There wasn’t a recurring call and I couldn’t even tell you the name of my account manager at the time. We were paying a lot, but just felt like a number. They ended up losing my business.

If you or your team are experiencing delayed responses or half answers, or simply feel like you’re navigating your email program alone with an account manager whose only concern seems to be increasing your contract, it does not have to be that way! Working with a variety of technical solutions in the past, I learned that there is often overlap in capabilities. Your ESP should not make you feel like a number, but rather an extended part of your team. A good partner cares about your roadmap, your company’s approach to personalization, your data strategy, and your general customer service preferences.

4 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a New ESP

If you agreed with any of the above, you might be ready to start evaluating a new ESP. Here are a few questions you should ask:

  • What is your differentiator and how can I derive the most value from that?
  • What does your product roadmap look like?
  • How does your account services team engage with the client after the contract is signed
  • How does your platform define personalization?

Monica Deretich is the former VP of Marketing and CRM at the TechStyle Fashion Group, and is currently serving as a Retail Advisor to Sailthru.