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Monica Deretich has lost count of retailer transformations she’s witnessed in the last two years. As a consultant and veteran retail marketing executive, she now serves as retail industry advisor to Marigold Engage by Sailthru, helping brands counter revenue and retention pitfalls by automating hyper-personalized communications.

In recent months, Deretich has noticed a pattern in retailer digital marketing struggles. In this piece, we explore common challenges hindering retail profits, and how three leading retailers have refined approaches to meet shifting consumer demands.

Delivering Meaningful Customization with Zero- and First-Party Data

Changes in privacy regulations, buyer behaviors and emerging technology have snowballed into big shifts in how data is collected and leveraged in marketing. Increasingly, those irresistible, gotta-have-it buying experiences hinge on personalization. Though many retailers have turned their attention to harnessing zero- and first-party data (data volunteered by customers or gleaned from their behaviors, respectively), many aren’t yet equipped to optimize those functions at the speed required to deliver the custom experiences consumers demand today.

Thrive Market, an online grocer catering to health-minded shoppers, is a notable exception. When consumers turned to online grocers throughout the pandemic, many felt overwhelmed by the number of options and difficulty in finding what they needed without stumbling around unfamiliar “aisles.” Thrive Market set out to take the guesswork out of digital grocery shopping and facilitate cross-channel journeys.  

“The product selection is huge, and knowing where to start as a customer can be a big hurdle. People who were new to shopping for groceries online needed guidance,” says Deretich. To counter that, Thrive Market encourages first-time visitors to complete a shopping quiz where they define their dietary preferences such as gluten-free, keto, or paleo. Those data points are then used to create a custom journey for each shopper.

Thrive Market then tailors touchpoints in their welcome emails and newsletters following that quiz. Just as valuable, if a shopper shows interest in a different dietary lifestyle, marketing triggers can adapt to share content that reflects the change in interests.

“A lot of that is identifying behavioral shifts and using artificial intelligence to trigger behavior-based touchpoints. It’s carefully orchestrated; you don’t get an email at the same time as an SMS or push notification. They look at what channels you’re engaging with and optimize based on where you want to hear from them,” Deretich explains.

Did it work? Thrive Market reported a 90% growth in 2020 and 40% growth compared to before the pandemic, according to

It’s worth noting not all data is of equal value, particularly when prioritizing customer trust. “Just because you have an abundance of data doesn’t mean it is in a place where it can be activated in support of the customer experience. Data sets leveraged in marketing strategies must be evaluated for each use case in your customer touchpoint journey,” notes Deretich.

Cultivating Loyalty Across Every Touchpoint

In today’s market, loyalty is a massive ask considering consumers’ shrinking patience for retailers that serve up less than delightful experiences. It doesn’t help that three-quarters of consumers switched brands, products, stores or buying methods since the pandemic hit, McKinsey reports. That trend is expected to last, making personalization all the more critical to wooing customers for the long haul.

Luxury accessories brand MZ Wallace first sought Sailthru in 2017 to help them grow customer acquisition and support. Five years later, goals evolved to focus on repeat business, with MZ Wallace relaunching its loyalty program. To make the program a success, MZ Wallace brought their points management system in-house and leaned on Marigold Engage by Sailthru to integrate that system into their messaging across channels.

The in-house system integrates shoppers’ loyalty points into emails, enabling MZ Wallace to welcome new members with a discount code that follows them beyond the initial welcome message. “As a customer, you see that same discount code in the welcome email, in business-as-usual campaigns, maybe in the abandoned cart campaign. The same code follows you, so there’s a consistent message without having to give out extra discount dollars by having multiple promo codes out there,” says Deretich. The brand can also provide similar experiences across touchpoints for customer birthdays and personalize it further by discount offer or loyalty member tier. “MZ Wallace has seen notable lifts in revenue and engagement as a result of these efforts,” she says.

Accelerating Testing and Implementation

The speed of change in market conditions has many retailers feeling whiplash as they rush to test and adapt direct marketing efforts. “Consumer behaviors continue to evolve. Retailers need to ensure they’re set up to easily identify these shifts and act quickly so they can deliver compelling experiences based on current behaviors,” Deretich says. Put simply, most retailers aren’t moving fast enough.

The pandemic had just broken out in March 2020 when Brilliant Earth, a sustainable jewelry brand, approached Sailthru. Brilliant Earth’s marketing team felt a sense of urgency to refine their customer messaging strategy, fast. “They came to Sailthru to accelerate personalization efforts with email. More than technical capabilities, their ecommerce team wanted a partner solution with the expertise to support that fast ramp-up,” shares Deretich.

Armed with the ability to capture first-party data and automate personalization across channels, the brand also used a robust à la carte menu of levers they could test such as: personalized send time, dynamic email templates, dynamic promotions based on previous shopping behaviors. “They were able to get a lot more A/B tests and incremental improvements out the door. Within their first year, those efforts delivered significant increases in email conversion rates,” Deretich says. “They credited that growth to the ease of testing various campaign components and the support they received,” she adds.

Define Use Cases, Enlist Support for Hyper-Personalized Communications

For retail marketers facing similar pain points, defining use cases you need to support — say, fine-tuning abandoned cart flows, personalized recommendations, location-based updates or loyalty rewards, for instance — is a good next step. As you explore technology solutions for your chosen use cases, Deretich advises not settling for just a technical toolbox. “You also need a support and strategy partner in line with your long-term vision,” she explains. “These capabilities aren’t implemented overnight. If your organization is in high growth mode, ensure your vendors are too.”

Looking ahead, retailers aiming to outperform competitors should make hyper-personalized communications a top goal, McKinsey concludes: “When the only certainty is change and the only speed is faster, companies that stand still will soon be left behind.” Learn how to accelerate your cross-channel marketing initiatives and personalization with Marigold Engage by Sailthru.