NEW YORK: Retailers like Macy's, J.Crew and Gap are taking an increasingly nuanced approach to email marketing, which is especially important during the intensely competitive holiday season.

Macy's, the department store chain, is able to split its email list into more than 12 segments, targeting the resultant output based on criteria from location to any recent purchases made by customers.

"The name of the game is to be relevant," Kent Anderson, president of, told the Wall Street Journal.

While retailers traditionally ran campaigns at peak times of email use, such as when people logged on to PCs at work, the rising uptake of smartphones and tablets means habits have changed.

"It's about letting people consume it on their own time," Aaron Shockey, vice president of advertising and digital marketing at Neiman Marcus, the luxury retailer.

Responsys, the marketing software provider, has estimated that the typical web user receives some 38 promotional emails per week in the holiday season, versus 25 at other times of the year.

To ensure its material achieves the desired stand out, J.Crew, the apparel specialist, often sends messages appearing to come from stylists Jack O'Connor or Gayle Spannaus.

Diego Scotti, the firm's chief marketing officer, said this was preferable to merely using an impersonal corporate account. "We want you to know that you are talking to a real person," he said.

Effectively engaging shoppers that have opted-in to receive communications is similarly key, Scotti added. "They are people who reach out to say, 'I want to hear from you'," he said.

Shelley Perelmuter, vice president of customer relationship management at Gap, also from the apparel category, suggested that composing an eye-catching subject line was a vital first step.

"[It] is sort of a make or break moment where the customer is saying, 'Do I keep it do I dump it?'" she said.

Consumers who open messages must also be drawn in quickly. "You really have about five seconds to grab them or they are clicking out," said Kelly Cook, senior vice president of marketing for DSW Inc, the show chain.

A shopper survey by Deloitte, the advisory group, found 45% intended to make purchases on the net in the holiday period. The National Retail Federation, the trade body, also predicted ecommerce sales will rise by 12%, ahead of 4% for the sector as a whole.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff