Sit Back and Relax

There’s never been a better time to be a consumer. Technology is disrupting any and every business that’s not paying attention, and 89% of companies believe customer experience will be their primary basis for competition this year. This isn’t difficult to believe, either, when you consider just how easy it has become to do so many different things, like get from point A to point B, or to have the exact food you’re craving made for you and delivered to your door. The on-demand economy has taken “there’s an app for that” to the next level, and in the process, our role as consumers has changed.

Convenience has largely meant much less effort, which in many cases has also meant a lot less thinking. An example that comes to mind right away is Amazon Dash buttons, which take the shopping list, reminder methods, and hate-yourself moments out of your life.

With strategic placement and borderline ridiculous ease-of-use, remembering to buy __________ becomes a total non-issue. What a time to be alive.

But what’s next for consumers might surprise you. Email is the name of the game, despite that it’s “a decades-old medium that most haven’t associated with innovation since the golden age of AOL.” After all, isn’t that the quintessential MO of an industry that’s ripe for disruptive change? A McKinsey report in 2014 showed, contrary to popular belief, that email remains substantially more effective in customer acquisition than sexier social media platforms. To be exact, email marketing acquires 40 times more customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. And yet, email is still considerably in its infancy considering analytics are anything but robust– open and click-through rates are the extent of what marketers can gauge. But what else is there to really measure anyway?

That’s why companies like Rebelmail are betting on the future of email, spearheading big changes that can give businesses new and better ways to communicate with consumers. They’re creating a future in which emails are interactive and incorporate live data that you can really engage with. Think: an #IS6621 email within which you can take the weekly survey and see tweets that are live in the #IS6621 feed at the time that you’re viewing the email:


…or what I personally think is potentially the coolest thing ever: an email from your favorite retailer about a great deal that you can shop without leaving your inbox:


The cherry on top is that the benefits are double-sided. The less inertia required on the part of the consumer, the easier your job as a marketer. For consumers, in-email shopping lends itself to a seamless, hassle-free purchase experience. It’s a win-win.

So why has nobody done this before? Remember that email was arguably the first instance of social media and took off around the time the internet still looked like this. Today, the web is where developers and designers play because tools have been built for use there. Almost no email clients support JavaScript– the programming language that’s used in websites to add functionality like live data integration and interactive features. This means that making emails engaging and more on-par with the web takes a lot of hacking with what tools there are.

The fact that there are many different email clients on desktop, web, and mobile, and that there are multiple versions (hello, parents still using Outlook 2003) certainly does not help. It means that development needs to be extremely heavy on testing. In fact, Cambridge-based Litmus automates that process for clients, taking screenshots of a test email in various combinations of email clients and operating systems. Giving consumers an incredible in-email experience is easier said than done, and messing up can mean a pretty big flop. When was the last time you were pleased by the sight of this?

(Intentional use of the image not found image. I know. Confusing.)

Plus, this is great news given the best scenario use case. Let’s not spend too much time thinking about bad emails, never mind bad emails with flashy interactive features. The ability to provide in-email shopping likens the email marketer to somewhat of a modern door-to-door salesman, and the idea of trusting him or her or the nearest algorithm to know your tastes and what you’ll actually want to buy is a little unnerving.

In any case, the consumer still has the power at the end of the day with the almighty “Unsubscribe” button. I have no doubt that bad email marketing that reeks of ruthless selling will be tossed in the unwanted pile without a second thought. Like I said, there’s never been a better time to be a consumer.

I’m curious to know— Would you make in-email purchases? What do you think the implications are for consumers and businesses?


  1. Really interesting post. I have never really thought in-depth about these aspects of email before. I think the in-email ordering is an interesting idea. I think this would be come substantially effective for companies like Amazon or Target. These companies have massive amounts of data, and can predict reasonably well when you are going to buy a specific item. I think by incorporating this data, Amazon could make this technology work very well for itself. If I got an email from Amazon telling me that it’s about time to order a new box of detergent, and I could place the order with the click of one button, I don’t see any downside. At worst, it would remind me to go to the store and pick up some detergent. Great post.

  2. ajsalcetti · ·

    I actually just ran out of laundry detergent and dreaded having to go out of my way to the specific store needed to get the cheap, huge container of detergent. My initial thought was I’ll just Amazon Prime it and have it here in 2 days. But the buttons they have make that an even easier decision. I’d have to imagine this is trending to become available for more options to have that “easy button.” In terms of the email, my initial thought was what would be the security and privacy implications of this. Right now email is sent to me and it is “supposedly” mine, CIA, NSA, and platform (google) aside. But if we allow the other side in (say JCrew) through an email they send that is live, what could they get access to? Just whatever is in that email; could they get into all my emails; all of my website browser tabs open, etc? I don’t know the answer to this but would think this would be a primary concern. With that said, if a company like RueLaLa had a live shopping and purchasing capability through an email with promos, I’d most certainly test it out and buy something. I agree email analytics is still in its young years.

  3. I think this is an extremely interesting post! I know in class we have talked a little about how email is dying out and its more for the older generation, but this article shows exactly the opposite. I agree that I think companies have to focus on making things easier for the consumer or they will just lose out. The thing I am curious about when it comes to ads and shopping within emails is can companies get into all of my emails? How do they actually get this done? Is it just through their own companies emails? This does seem like a very interesting topic to definitely keep an eye out for!

  4. I hadn’t seen the Amazon Dash Buttons before, so I went to the link and watched the video. That’s so genius! What a great example of a company targeting the customer experience – definitely in line with this week’s readings. You’re points about email also seem spot on. It’s an underutilized platform in the sense that companies aren’t getting all they can out of it, considering every employee and consumer uses it. I hadn’t considered the difficulties in formatting emails so that they work with individual’s devices and operating systems. In my experience the marketing campaigns I get via email are overdone or annoying and I tend to unsubscribe quickly, but these other features might change things.

  5. Very cool post! I have no doubt that Rebelmail will certainly be successful, and soon majority of emails that we receive from businesses will look like this. I agree with Nicole’s comment that it’s interesting that your stat on emails effectiveness in acquiring customers shows that email is certainly not dead. A revamp to email with services like Rebelmail will likely increase the effectiveness of marketing to customers even more substantially.

  6. Cool post! I’ve never thought about email in this capacity before, but your findings have really got me thinking! I think that some people think that email is dead because personal email is (generally) dead. When was the last time you had a personal, non-work/school related email conversation? My best friend and I had one two summers ago – we thought it was quaint (my codeword for old, but cute). Company/promotion emails are a different thing. I literally just clicked through an iTunes email to buy Beyoncé’s new album. There’s a lot of worth (deals, info, coupons, etc) in promotional emails that prompt people to click through at the rates you’ve mentioned. Email shopping would be amazing. If (and this could apply to others) I’m clicking through an email, my likeliness to buy has increased (RE: Lemonade downloading into my iTunes right now), and the closer I can get to a purchase, that likeliness will increase even further. I really hope this becomes a thing. I see it being very successful and lucrative.

  7. Really nice post. I’d be curious where the email/ SM numbers differ between this year and 2014. They’ve made alot of progress in the past few years, particularly on mobile platforms (at least FB has). But remember, for this class at least, email is social media too and this just creates greater viability for digital platforms in general.

  8. Very unique post. I actually am someone who responds more to email marketing than social media marketing (if we can call them 2 separate forms of marketing). Although they are both digital, I find that promotional emails catch my attention, especially when they provide unique promo codes or individual discounts. Not sure if I would make in-email purchases as they seem somewhat impulsive.

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