In an HGTV-obsessed world, few brands rack up style points like purveyors of sleek, trendy furniture and home goods. Mix in the dominating force of e-commerce, and it makes sense that some of the very best marketing emails come from home-focused retailers.
That's why we decided to put two of those brands head-to-head: West Elm and CB2. They're both younger, digitally-savvy offshoots of large, well-established brands Pottery Barn (West Elm) and Crate and Barrel (CB2).
But who truly wins in the inbox? Let's see the matchup.
The signup process
Unlike their parent brand, West Elm doesn't use a lightbox signup form on their home page. Instead, you have to scroll down to the footer to find a place to opt into their email list.
It's fairly bare bones as far as signup options go, but it's functional and easy to find. Once you enter your name and submit, this pops up...
... and allows you to opt into emails from their other brands, too. It's a super smart move on their part, but an odd choice to put so much more effort into the post-submission experience than the pre-submission one.
Finally, those who opt in are told that they'll receive a 15% off coupon in their first email – a nice surprise, though they strangely didn't say anything about that incentive on their form.
The welcome email
West Elm makes good on their offer a few hours after signup. This automated welcome email creates a sense of urgency by time-boxing the 15% off coupon and gives new subscribers plenty of product categories to explore.
I'd prefer if they provided some sort of brand introduction and set expectations for the types of emails they'll be sending, but overall, it's a solid experience.
After a few weeks of no purchases, I receive this automated win-back email. Offering up a personalized discount is a great way to bring me back into the fold and show me that they're paying attention to my behavior.
One design element West Elm consistently nails? Animated GIFs. They use them frequently and prominently in their communications, like in the example below. It's a great way to add an element of interest to their campaigns and really stand out in the inbox.
And while this not-so-subtle pug GIF may begin to slip into the realm of internet pandering, it does help add a dose of personality to their brand.
One small critique: They have an occasional tendency to cram a ton of content into their emails, with little direction on where to focus. Here's an example where things get too busy.
West Elm smartly segments geographically relevant campaigns to ensure only the right people hear about them. While I probably wouldn't be interested in an event happening in Portland, I do care about this one happening in my hometown, Nashville.
West Elm often leverages complementary brands to create more engaging email campaigns and promotions. This co-marketed giveaway worked double-duty as a general partnership opportunity and one to encourage new sign ups from each other's audiences.
This is one of their email program's biggest flaws: They send. so. often.
The Nashville-focused campaign proves that they know how to segment, yet I get broadcast emails from them nearly every (and sometimes multiple) times a day. The oversaturation means I often don't pay attention to their emails, and they could definitely benefit from some more targeted sending based on my interests and behavior.
Now, let's see what CB2 has up their sleeves...
The signup process
Similar to West Elm, CB2 relies on a super simple, email-only form on the footer of their website to grow their email audience. They could definitely be doing more to incentivize signups, but like West Elm, I imagine they probably get a good bit of their subscriber base from people who opt in during online orders or giveaway contests.
I'd say they're neck-and-neck at this point.
The welcome email
I have to hand it to them: Even though the literal value of this welcome email is lesser (because there's no coupon involved), I like this one more. Immediately, CB2 showcases a more memorable brand voice and draws me in with friendly, engaging copy. I also love how they lay out exactly the type of emails I'm going to receive from them and offer more touchpoints for connecting by including links to their social profiles.
The thank you email
After making a purchase, I receive this automated email that thanks me and solicits feedback – a fantastic inclusion. After all, what better way to improve your customer experience than to simply ask them what they think? They also provide a few related items for me to explore below-the-fold.
Though CB2 also uses GIFs in their emails, it's less frequently and more subtly. Usually, it's to draw attention to a specific product, like these outdoor string lights.
CB2 often makes use of the oh-so-popular Z Pattern in their email design – a popular tactic that gives their content a little more breathing room and helps guide the eye down the email.
CB2 makes use of a referral program to help fuel their email efforts. This signup form lives on a different part of their website, and while it's not framed as an email signup, that's what it functionally is. The only difference is that instead of just signing yourself up to get a coupon, you're also signing up a friend.
This is what the experience looks like from the friend perspective. (Word to the wise: Don't try to trick them by using one of your own email addresses – they definitely called me out when I clicked through!)
Noooooo! Just as they were doing so well, we get another crazy-high send cadence. They, like West Elm, send nearly every day and sometimes multiple times a day. I will say, however, that their choice to use lowercase subject lines stands out a little more in a crowded inbox.
So, who comes out on top?
With equally stylish campaigns and a similarly overzealous send cadence, they're neck-and-neck. But with a more memorable brand voice and less cluttered mailings, I'm going to have to give this one to CB2.
What do you think? Did CB2 win this one, or did you prefer West Elm's emails? Sound off in the comments!
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