Saks Fifth Avenue Forgot That We Read Email On Our Phones

image: Mobile Email

I get a lot of email. We all do.  And as if the sheer volume wasn’t enough to make you scream along came smartphones. So now not only is there a lot of email but you can access it from (just about) anywhere and are often expected to. You can’t get away from it. But being the adaptive sort of creature we humans are we find new ways to use the tools we have. Many of us – having realized that the smartphone isn’t a great device for crafting thoughtful emails –  are using our smartphones to quickly scan our inboxes weeding out the unwanted, meaningless and irrelevant emails and leaving just the ones that we need/want, many of which we will read later when time allows.  In fact many people perform this exercise before they even get out of bed.

I was doing this, too, – scanning my inbox using my new Moto X – when I came across an email from Saks 5th Avenue. I had recently subscribed to their email newsletter, though I have no idea why. The subject line was intriguing enough,

“Welcome to Your special offer inside…”

Cool. Let me quickly peek at what that offer is. Maybe this email is a keeper. And maybe – my hopes climbing a bit here – I’ll even find an anniversary gift for my wife! I tap the email to open it and viola:

Saks email no pics top

Wha?? This is a mess! I try to scan it and my eyes only manage to find “enter code WL2013AR7V83 at checkout”. The rest of the email appears to be images that don’t show. Plus the fonts are so small I can barely read the words. The message to me: Saks cares more about designing a fancy email than one that I can actually read. I’m going to unsubscribe now.


In the interest of research, however, decide to look at the entire email and begin a long scroll through illegible mouse-print:

image: Saks' Full email



Let’s turn on the pictures and see what we get:

image: Saks email with pics


The poor lady looks like the victim of a magic trick involving large metal blades.


What could have saved this campaign?

Saks is no stranger to mobile. They have a smartphone app, a mobile web site and a text-messaging program. If you’re on your phone, they want to be with you. Unless you’re reading one of their emails, which clearly are not designed for consumption on a mobile phone. It’s a common oversight but the impacts could be significant. Fortunately the fix is not complicated and may actually free up some resources in the Saks marketing department. They need to optimize their emails for mobile. Here’s how:

1) Build or use an email template that detects the device and renders the email appropriately. This is done using Media Queries. The concept is known as responsive email design.

2) Reduce reliance on images to deliver the message. Most Android email clients have images turned off by default to control data usage. Your message should come through even without images.  Switch to rich text for the bulk of the email with perhaps a single image at the top with generous use of the <alt> attribute to display text when the image isn’t shown.

3) Leave lots of room to tap.  The average finger is around 45 pixels wide. Jay Shwedelson at Worldata says up to 1/3 of your email clicks could be accidental if you’re not leaving 15 pixels of padding around your links.



About Kelly McIvor

Kelly McIvor is an 18 year veteran of mobile and is currently Principal at Atomic Mobile and professor (adjunct) at the University of Washington Graduate School of Communications where he teaches a popular courses on Mobile Media and Marketing in the Masters of Communications in Digital Media (MCDM) program. Kelly holds a BA in Business from the University of Washington.
This entry was posted in Email, Forgot Mobile, User Experience and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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