With Q4 in full swing, retailers are gearing up for what they hope to be another busy and profitable holiday season.  Here I will focus my attention on the email performance of one of the most talked about major retailers this year, JCPenney.

Since rebranding at the start of 2012, JCPenney has lost a significant portion of the market share and sales have plummeted below forecasted projections.   And judging by email statistics compiled from EDS Analyst™, JCPenney might continue to be in trouble against competitors like Target and Wal-Mart through the end of the year.

A quick look at the chart below shows just how far JCPenney’s email performance has fallen in a year, from Q3 2011 to Q3 2012:

Comparing Q3 2012 to Q3 2011, overall reach dropped more than 50%, total sent volume declined more than 75%, and average read rates decreased from 11.63% to 7.22%.  The only bright spot for JCPenney was in inbox placement, which improved from 61.92% to 91.05%.

In Q3 2011, email messages were more personalized and segmented, with the average volume per campaign at less than half a million subscribers.  In Q3 2012, JCPenney resorted to sending more “bulk” messages, with the average volume per campaign topping 2 million recipients.  This trend indicates that JCPenney has moved away from treating its customers as unique shoppers and instead has grouped them into fewer large generalized segments.

And similar to its TV and print ads, JCPenney has not been sending a clear rebranded message to customers via the email channel regarding its new pricing structure.  The chart below shows the percentage of subject lines that included “%” off, “$” off, and “free shipping” offers:

While subscribers were used to seeing percentage off discounts, dollar off discounts and free shipping offers last year, the number of incentivized subject lines has decreased dramatically to almost zero this year.

JCPenney’s rebranding strategy has proven to be disastrous so far.  Customers and email subscribers are clearly not happy with this change.  How will they react this holiday season?  I predict their growing frustrations will continue into 2013, and the emailable population will also trend downward.

How will JCPenney’s email performance in Q4 2012 compare to that in Q3 2012 and in Q4 2011?  Check back here in the new year to find out…


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