With Email Preference Centers, Be Careful What You Ask for

Preference centers can either be a dead zone or an opportunity to nurture customer relationships. Customers want to interact with retailers on their terms, and they want each interaction to feel personalized. By using preference centers, retailers can build a relationship with customers that feels like both parties have an equal say.

When asked for preference center advice, my response brings me back to some childhood teachings from my parents:

  1. Just because everyone has one doesn’t mean you should, too.
  2. Don’t save it; use it (unless we were talking about money).
  3. Treat others like you’d want to be treated.
  4. You’re more likely to get a “yes” if you ask nicely (unless we were talking about money).
  5. Be careful what you ask for.

Allow me to elaborate.

1. Just because everybody has one doesn’t mean you should, too. Corollary: If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, are you going to jump, too?

If you’re considering collecting preference data beyond email subscription preferences, you should start by defining your goals and identifying the data points you need that you can’t acquire or derive some other way. Preferences like size and style could be acquired with a preference center, but information like gender and birth date should be obtained another way. Develop a plan on how you’ll use the data and how you’ll market and measure the adoption and value of your preference center. If you can’t nail down these baseline objectives, then you’re not ready for a preference center, or you might not need one.

However, you do need a preference center for email subscription preferences if you do any type of email marketing. Most customers unsubscribe because they received too many emails. We all know companies that send multiple emails per day that provide no value except clogging up inboxes with their brand name. Get ahead of the unsub by giving control back to customers to engage with you how and when they prefer. Opt-downs are a good option for a customer who wants to stay in the loop but also wants to cull his inbox.

2. Don’t save it; use it. Retailers do customers a disservice by asking a ton of questions, hoarding data, and then doing nothing with it. How many times have customers told a retailer their gender (or purchased women’s shoes and apparel), only for their next email to be about a men’s sale, pointing out that they might be interested in their best sellers? Not all brands are listening, and people are preference-centered-out. Retailers need to rebuild trust and put that valuable information they receive to good use. If you do ask for preference data, make sure you use it, and use it now. Build a preference center only if, and when, you have the tools and technologies in place to get the most out of it. 

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