Email marketing: Waitrose reclaims top spot from Asda in Christmas battle

Dec 13, 2018 | Ads, E-commerce

Waitrose has won the Christmas battle of the inbox, reclaiming its crown from ASDA who won in 2017.

Conducted annually by Mailjet, the email service provider behind brands like Kia, Microsoft and Galeries Lafayette, this year’s analysis saw Waitrose outperform premium rivals and budget grocers in almost every field. All of this in addition to previously making headlines with festive ads satirising John Lewis & Partners’ own Christmas campaign.

The research analysed emails sent by nine of the leading UK supermarkets (including M&S, Tesco and Iceland) and scored the emails according to a range of direct marketing metrics including design best practices, personalisation, subject line, creativity of the content and, new this year, cross-channel elements of campaigns to test how collaboratively internal teams operate.

A key contributor to Waitrose’s win was in fact their savvy use of cross-channel tactics, a category in which Waitrose scored 3.5 out of a possible 5.0 points. Unlike its rivals, the grocer also invested in the personalisation of its direct marketing campaigns, scoring and extra 3.2 points.

A Lidl personality goes a long way

This year the strongest performance metrics have been seen in the “call-to-action” category, which rose to 3.2 out of 5.0 from an average of 1.9 last year. Knocking Waitrose off the top spot in this field alone, Lidl achieved the highest score with 4.9.

The key to Lidl’s success was the clever employment of custom buttons to ‘try recipes’ and ‘see upcoming offers’, giving new customers a clear next step in the purchase journey and existing customers the nudge to increase basket-size.

The festive season has also seen Lidl realise its creative potential – similarly to Waitrose – in the realm of satire. The supermarket’s strategy has involved mock-up M&S and Waitrose billboards calling out how much more expensive the premium brands are, and a much lauded play on the John Lewis ad involving a competitively priced keyboard.

Michyl Culos, Director of Marketing Communications, Mailjet, comments, “It’s clear that food retailers are feeling the pressure in a year that’s seen the likes of Amazon really double-down on the sector. For many, direct marketing is more important than ever as a means of driving revenue among shoppers at a vital time of year for sales. Worth noting, two of the grocery brands measured by the annual study, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, both opted against direct marketing campaigns for non-members this year, something which could prove costly when revenue figures come in.”

Cross-channel Christmas chaos

Despite cross-channel marketing being a commonplace email tactic across retail, this year’s campaigns revealed a serious gap in the supermarket sector. Grocers only scored an average of 2.2 out of 5.0 for cross-channel marketing inclusion, reflective of how few email marketing teams are aligned with the work of their social and wider digital teams.

Looking to the use of personalisation, this year’s study worryingly observed that Waitrose was the only supermarket to be able to personalise its emails with the customer name. The brand picked up additional points for choice of products and language used based on simple demographic tailoring.

Michyl Culos concludes, “UK grocers are in a unique place to hold one of the highest levels of point of purchase data about their consumers. However leveraging this to increase ROI during a peak season like Christmas cannot happen if barriers to collaboration exist between data and marketing teams.  CMOs must rethink their marketing investment to ensure the right internal tools are in place to streamline teams and processes, especially as data points and team sizes continue to grow.”


A team of email strategy experts analysed emails sent by the nine leading supermarkets in the UK between November and December 2018. Each email was individually scored according to how well it met the below criteria, (e.g. scoring system: 5 = best possible score, 0 = worst possible score) the average result was then calculated for each candidate.

Scoring criteria:

  • Design best practices (up to 5 points) – email is viewed on a desktop, mobile and tablet device and scored according to whether it is responsive and how well the design works across formats
  • Personalisation (up to 5 points)  – any evidence of changed fields or gender-bias for example
  • Subject line (up to 5 points)  – optimum length, word inclusion, personal
  • Cross-channel marketing inclusion (up to 5 points)  – social media buttons, directing to app or website content
  • Creative impact of content (up to 5 points) – format, appeal, interactivity, tone, strong brand personality
  • Automation (up to 5 points)  – whether the email uses automation technology
  • Call-to-Action (up to 5 points)  – whether a call to action is included, the strength of their CTA copy and the number of CTA’s
  • Cross-Channel Marketing Inclusion (up to 5 points) – evidence that email is being used with other channels, both online and offline.

All topics

Previous editions

Get email edition