Choosing Your Next Email Service Provider Should Not Be Simple


Multichannel Merchant’s Tim Parry recently spoke with Listrak clients Dogeared and Rodale’s for a Technology Report – Selecting An Email Service Provider:

Choosing an email service provideris not a simple task. That’s not just
because there are a large number
of EPSs to choose from but also because
you also need to choose what functions,
services, bells and whistles are best for
your organization’s needs.

Thomas E. Smith, president
of Goldcoast
Consulting Group,
points out that ESPs
are not one-size fits
all. Before you determine
which ESP is going
to be the best for your
needs, you need to put together a list of

For example, you need to ask yourself
what your email volume is, and how many
subscribers you have. Also, what are your
integration needs, and are you planning
to host your own database, or have it in a
cloud? And how robust does your reporting
need to be?

The process of selecting an ESP—or upgrading
to a new ESP—is not something
that is done overnight, either. New Pig, a
manufacturer and supplier of industrial
waste clean-up products, is in the middle
of implementing a new ESP.

Mark DeYulis, New Pig’s director of
ecommerce marketing, says the search for
a new ESP took seven months to conduct.
The biggest lesson he’s learned: Take the
time to assess the vendors and their products.

“As we’re implementing this, it’s going
smoothly because we vetted out how
it would work and what we would need,”
DeYulis says. “And so far, so good. Everything
is going right on schedule.””

Start Somewhere

If you’re new to email marketing, you
may want to start off with an out-of-thebox,
easy-to-use ESP. That was the case
with New Pig, and DeYulis says it was the
best way to learn about email marketing.

“When we started focusing on emails,
we went with the easiest package that
we could manage,” DeYulis says. “As we learned more about email marketing, we
felt we needed more bells and whistles.
It really wasn’t the fact that [our ESP]
couldn’t handle the volume, it was more
the fact we couldn’t do some of the things
we needed to do.”

Rodale’s is a brand of Rodale, Inc., But
the health-and-wellness products seller
has email marketing needs that differ from
its parent company’s media brands, which
include Women’s Health, Men’s Health,
and Runner’s World magazines. 

After starting simple, Megan Nonemacher,
ecommerce marketing manager at
Rodale’s, says she was looking for an ESP
that Rodale’s could grow with. And the
company wanted an ESP that would provide
extensive training and support, especially
since Rodale’s was looking to implement
a new platform during the 2014
holiday season.

“Our previous ESP did not have all of
the modules we were looking to explore
in 2015 under one package,” Nonemacher
said. “We wanted an ESP that would deliver
our daily emails efficiently, with custom
reporting available, but also give us capabilities
to run new automated campaigns
that we didn’t have built yet.”

It’s a similar story for
handcrafted jewelry
seller Dogeared. As
Dogeared grew, customer
experience director
Ashley Walkley
says it needed its
emails to deliver a better
customer experience.

For example, Walkley says Dogeared
outgrew its out-of-the-box ESP, and
couldn’t do segmentation, or focus on
things like transactional messages, which
have become the norm for email marketers.
Dogeared also wanted to be able to
tailor messages, create automated emails,
and use emails to cross-sell and upsell to
its customers.

And with its first retail store on the
horizon, Walkley says Dogeared was also
looking for an ESP that would offer a complete
omnichannel experience. Customer
data needs to be collected in store via the
POS as well.

Here’s a look at what merchants
need to consider when
selecting a new ESP. 

Mobile in Mind

If you are a small-sized
merchant, you might not have
the resources you need, but
you can still have emails that
look as nice as that of larger
merchants. Most ESPs provide
customizable email templates,
which allow the user to choose
a color scheme, add its own
content, and drag and drop

Within that, Smith says
you need to make sure they
are customizable for different
devices. Creatives are usually
different on a desktop than on
a mobile device, as you’d want
to use less content for mobile
emails to allow for a better fit
on a smaller screen. And you
want to have the ability to
send a preview to your inbox,
so you know how it will render
on different devices.

“Mobile is huge,” Dogeared’s Walkley
says. “The customer is able to have the
most seamless experience, no matter what
device they are shopping from, or reading
messages with.”

Smith says you also may want the templates
to be versioned, so you can build
for desktop and change it up for mobile.
And as you’re building these emails, you
also want to be able switch between those
views and see how look on different devices.
Based on how your subscribers view
emails, you may need five or six different
mobile templates.

“Even if you can accomplish that, the
conversion rates on a mobile device are
much lower,” Smith points out. “The conundrum
is more shoppers are viewing
their emails on mobile devices, but the
conversion from mobile devices is a lot less
than on a desktop.”

If that’s the case with your subscribers,
you may want to use an ESP that allows
you to track what time an email is opened
on a smartphone. If someone opens and
is not ready to react, and you can send it
again later when they are home on a desktop.

Segmentation and

Personalization should go beyond
“Dear, John,” but not be too creepy, Smith
says. It is important to be able to integrate
data such as past purchase history and
browsing history so you can create more
targeted, personalized campaigns. And if
you can include offline customer data to
match your online data, you can build the
perfect predictive piece.

Smith says that while working for an
ESP, he had a bicycle retailer client that
made both mountain and street bikes. It
knew it had customers who were mountain
bikers who were thinking about transitioning into road biking. The ESP could
get information about the customer from
browsing behavior, or from what the customer
was doing in the store. But that’s the
big divide.

You can match personas online and
offline, but the predictive piece is still dependant
on the offline information, which
is traditionally used to optimize websites,
Smith says.

“If you know someone is a great mountain
bike person and they’re surfing for
street bikes 20 hours a week,
and they aren’t buying mountain
bike stuff or looking for
mountain bike stuff, maybe
serve him an email with a totally
different offer based on
that behavior, even if he hasn’t
made a purchase in the past,”
Smith says. “That technology
is out there, but sometimes it’s
hard to get something as fundamental
as RFM or purchase
affinity from that browsing
behavior when it comes to a
campaign like email.”

Walkley says Dogeared
wanted advanced retail segmentation
from its ESP, to help
the merchant know exactly
who its customer is. Data is
collected plug and play, which
makes the process much simpler
from an implementation
standpoint. Walkley says
Dogeared is not doing a lot
of customization with it, but
wanted an ESP with the ability
to help it grow its segmenting
when the time is right.


Triggers can get pretty sophisticated,
depending on what you’re planning to do,
Smith says. But you want triggers to be a
part of your ESP’s campaign builder workflow.

You may want to start the new subscriber
journey by triggering a welcome
email, and if a purchase is made, sending
a purchase acknowledgment email and
thank-you email. Or, if you send an email
and there is no reaction from the customer,
you may want to be able to trigger a reminder

Nonemacher says she cannot wait to
grow Rodale’s automated campaigns in
2015. Since the brand launched, Rodale’s
has had successful welcome campaigns
and abandon cart campaigns.

“We’re taking it a step further now by
adding post-purchase campaigns, a winback
campaign for customers we’ve lost
touch with, or who haven’t been engaged
with us recently, a browse-and-abandon
campaign, and an automated email series
that provides personalized, recommended
products based on customer search behavior
and buying patterns,” Nonemacher
says. “We know that personalization can
increase customer engagement by as much
as 22%, so we’re going to focus a lot of energy
in this area.”

Smith says he once worked with a retailer
that sold bulbs and gardening equipment,
and it sent triggered emails based on
zones and what to plant at what time of the
year. But if Mother Nature brought a freak
snowstorm to the Northeast, and no one
was planting, it would be able to change
scheduled messages up based on inventory

So if the early planting season was
thwarted by a blizzard, the retailer could
instead send an email about an end-of-season
snow blower sale to customers in that
area. Or if snow blowers were not available
in a certain zip code, it could change the
message to talk about snow shovels.

“There’s a million ways you can go in
terms of the journey, but it’s nice to be able
to consider the options ahead of time and
build in those triggers,” Smith says.


You may go with an ESP that can provide
you all the bells and whistles for your
emails, but deliverability is also key. And
you want to make sure you’re working
with a reputable firm.

You want to make sure you have some
kind of reporting to show you who is
opening your emails, which addresses are
bouncing and who is unsubscribing. And
you it all in one central location that’s easy
to use, whether it’s in your email platform
or you want to integrate that into your
marketing database, Smith says.

Also, does your ESP allow your subscribers
to opt out at will, and does it help
you stay compliant with international
laws, such as the Canadian Anti-SPAM

DeYulis points out that as a B2B, New
Pig relies on a different set of metrics than
a B2C marketer would. He says email
marketing’s rule of thumb about email
addresses being inactive may
be the case for B2Cs, but isn’t
necessarily the case for B2Bs,
and analytics provided by
standard ESPs don’t always reflect

DeYulis says New Pig tries
to not just tie in who clicks on
emails, but also to tie in who
may call the contact center to
place an order, or live chat, but
then later go to the website. So
DeYulis relies on an ESP that
also ties into all of New Pig’s

“We have all these things
going on, and it’s not only at
an individual level,” DeYulis
says. “We may email you, and
you tell your purchasing agent
to go on the site and order.”

So now New Pig has the decision
maker’s email address
and the purchasing agent’s
email address, but doesn’t
know who is driving the purchase.

“That screws up our metrics
because you may not see
certain email addresses ordering, but they
are driving the sale. So it creates issues,”
DeYulis says. “Some packages may tell us
not to email these people because they
aren’t buying. But in reality, they are, or
they are getting the email and calling in.” 

Social Media Integration

Email and social media go hand in
hand. You have to look at providers that
make it easy to share an email via a social
media platform. Smith says ESPs are all
getting better and better at that.

“So if my daughter gets an email and she
thinks it’s really cool, you want to make it
pretty easy to share on Facebook without
her having to copy it, logging in and posting
it,” Smith says. “If there’s the ability to
link to social media and be able to share an
offer, that’s pretty important.”

Set Up a Demo Account

It’s really hard to compare apples to
apples because every ESP has a different
pitch, and every ESP’s pitch is going to
sound compelling. But it’s hard to really
know what you’re going to get from an ESP
until you really get into a live demo. 

“Someone is going to come in and tell
you everything a platform is going to do,
and assuming square pegs and square
holes and everything you do fits into their
model, then yeah, it’s great,” Smith says.
“But there’s always some level of customization
that you’re going to need, and
questions you are going to want to ask.”

Let’s say you narrow your choice down
to three ESPs, and only one of them allows
for an extensive demo period. That doesn’t
really help you out. If you can play with one
for a while and not the other two, it makes
it harder to make a decision, Smith says.

If you can get an extended period to test
an ESP, and you have the time and resources
to play with it, that’s key as well.

“You never really know how a platform
is going to perform until you implement it,
and the results we’ve had in the first three
to four months we had it proved we made
the right decision,” Dogeared’s Walkley
says. “We know we chose the right partner
for right now, and for the future of the


You can do your due diligence, go
through the demo process and decide
what you want. But you still need to check
the price tag.

You can spend $1,000 a month on an
ESP if you’re a small merchant, and you
can spend $50,000 a month on an ESP if
you have a pretty sophisticated program
and a bunch of systems that need integration.
But you’re also not going to find out
the cost until you talk with an ESP’s sales

There are also ESPs that will give you
volume discounts based on the number of
emails you send. But there are others that
charge a “use it or lose it” rate, Smith says.
And depending on the ESP, if you exceed
that rate, you would go into an overage
rate as a premium. This means you’d be
penalized for exceeding your target. 

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