How they did it: Email marketing conversions increase 54% at Aaron’s

By April Berthene

June 3, 2024
aaron's increases email conversions with more targeted sends

It was 2019 and the email marketing program at retail chain Aaron’s needed a reset.

The list was dirty. The sends were batch and blast. And the content was dry, said Hody Crouch, vice president of data and analytics at the lease-to-own retail chain.

“At the same time, the company was digitizing. We were moving from a website that basically had a few promotions and [a store locator], to a commerce cloud with a full product catalog and the ability to start a lease online,” Crouch said. “When you do that, digital marketing has to keep pace with commerce.”

Enter Salesforce Marketing Cloud 

And that meant a full refresh of the email program spanning transactional and marketing emails. The home furnishings merchant selected Salesforce Marketing Cloud and imported all email campaigns into the platform, Crouch told Multichannel Marketer at the Salesforce Connections Conference.

One of the main goals? Increasing emailing deliverability and ensuring the millions of shoppers on its list engaged with its emails. “What the data told us was not to send more, [and] be more careful of who we send to… and figure out how to get more people to engage,” Crouch said.

Aaron’s now uses Marketing Cloud tools to tailor email campaigns to each specific shopper. For example, it sends emails at the specific time when shoppers have previously opened and clicked on an email. It will run a campaign with a promotion that it knows that particular shopper might be interested in — say, some shoppers gravitate toward the “start your lease with $1” promotion while others prefer a discount on payment.

Whichever promotions are most likely to convert a shopper is the one they receive, Crouch said. And the bottom of the email includes product recommendations in the email based on the shopper’s browsing history. “When we bring all of those things together, we see better conversion rates,” Crouch said.

By sending shoppers emails that are more tailored, raw conversions jumped, even though the marketing team sent fewer emails to fewer people.

More personalized email sends to engaged shoppers also helped improve the deliverability when the brand sent out promotions to a larger group.

“By reducing the total send volume and increasing the percentage of people interacting with the email, we were able to land in the inbox more consistently for the vast majority of our customers, putting us in a position so that when we had an important promotion we wanted to run, we could can dial that back up again and still get the emails to where they need to go,” Crouch said. “If we kept the foot to the floor on the email, our deliverability would tank.”

Improved transactional emails 

Beyond its marketing emails, Aaron’s also worked on improving its transactional emails. The brand sends more of these types of emails than a typical retailer, as it needs to send reminders when shoppers have a payment due on their leases. “Previously transactional messages were very dry. Lots of field, colon, value,” Crouch said. “[They] tended to have an out-of-date logo and they didn’t have the right color.”

By bringing those emails into the same campaign manager as marketing emails, Aaron’s can ensure that headers and footers are right and messaging fits its brand voice.

These updates, along with other changes made to the company’s ecommerce site, have helped increase the conversion rate from email by 54%, Crouch said. Its share of ecommerce sales has also significantly increased. Online sales are about 24% of Aaron’s total lease revenue in Q1 2024, up from roughly 15% just two years ago in Q1 2022, Crouch said.

Aaron’s upgraded to Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud in 2019, and spent the next year resetting its program. By 2021 it started accelerating the program and started making those gains. In 2023, Aaron’s purchased Salesforce’s Data Cloud which further helped the sophistication of its program.

Time savings with data cloud 

One of the biggest improvements with the new system is time savings, Crouch said. After Aaron’s purchased the data cloud, it gave its marketing team access to complex data forms to build campaigns that they can execute in the marketing cloud, Crouch said.

For example, as temperatures started to rise in states for the summer, Aaron’s ran a promotion for air conditioners for shoppers who previously leased an air conditioner and then returned it, and who lived in a state that had a heat wave. “We ran it, and it worked great,” Crouch said.

Previously, this type of campaign would take a couple of weeks from inception to launch. Now, Aaron’s marketing team executed it in two to three days, he said

Email as a marketing channel is a workhorse

Today, Aaron’s can run more email campaigns faster, to a more targeted group of shoppers to yield better results.

“We’re able to spend more time looking at results rather than just sending emails all the time,” Crouch said.

Of all Aarons’ marketing channels, email and direct mail are the largest drivers of its revenue, Crouch said.

“Email is workhouse for us, no doubt about it,” Crouch said. “Email has been able to maintain its share of sales, otherwise we think it would have significantly degraded.”