5 Email Platforms for Retailers: An Expert's Opinion

By Tinuiti Team

Ecommerce email marketing programs have taken a giant leap forward in segmentation, UX, and CRM integrations over the last few years.

But how do you pick the right one–or even harder, migrate from your current email service provider (ESP) to a new one?

We consulted with Kestrel Lemen, our Email Marketing Manager at CPC Strategy with seven years of email marketing experience under her belt, to get her take on some of the most popular ESPs.

FREE: The Retailer’s Guide to Customer Nurture Emails

A Note Before We Start

This list features mid to high-tier ESP platforms, which may not be the right option for your company.

If you’re just starting out, email automation solutions such as MailChimp and GetResponse are still excellent options.

You can even layer multiple platforms to get the results you want–for instance, you can do abandoned cart and product review messages with a combo of MailChimp and Barilliance, which is a personalization software you can layer on top of your ESP.

Mid tier email platforms are great, but only if you have a clear strategy for using them, and it all depends on your business’s goals and your team’s capabilities. Lemen explains:

For the biggest return on investment on a mid-tier ESP, you’ll need to utilize automation and personalization, which means you also need to invest in your ecommerce site strategy. Additionally, you’ll need a team to take advantage of all of the features on the platform–or the means to pay a professional services organization to help you manage it.


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles your platform comes with–you need to define your objectives and ensure that your ESP integrates easily with your ecommerce platform. This is simple if you’re using Magento or Shopify, but can get complicated if you’re using a custom designed ecommerce site.

“If you really want to win at email ecommerce, you need to make sure your ESP integrates easily with your ecommerce platform.” – Kestrel Lemen, Email Marketing Director at CPC Strategy

1. Salesforce Marketing Cloud Email Studio (ExactTarget)

Formerly known as ExactTarget and now integrated into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, this email service provider is versatile, but expensive.



Boasting built-in deliverability and A/B testing solutions, the software is capable of sending emails in large volumes and armed with powerful APIs to address all design needs during complex campaigns.

The interface is fairly simple to navigate, and includes a number of tabs where you can manage content, subscribers, audience-building opps, and email tracking.

In addition, Salesforce is a HIPAA-compliant platform so businesses can be assured that it is among the safest email providers.


Given all of the features, users can expect a steep learning curve. Another knock against Salesforce is its customer support, as users often remark that it’s inconsistent. This is a problem given its complex features.


While the company does not disclose pricing for the email studio alone, Salesforce offers tiered plans for the entire platform. For large businesses and expanding ones with advanced IT teams looking for a software to grow with them, Salesforce is a viable option, but others may find it overly robust and pricey.

Expert’s Take

“This ESP is more of a general tool–sort of everything to everybody. However, you may need some more technical resources to customize it to fit your needs. Think: API developer hours” – Kestrel Lemen, Email Marketing Manager at CPC Strategy

2. Responsys by Oracle

Responsys, which supports both desktop and mobile access, is a marketing automation solution outfitted for larger companies with dedicated email specialists.


Responsys features actionable profiles with advanced targeting, easy content development, and mobile responsive design. Users receive a platform that empowers email marketers to craft a personalized and attractive cross-channel experience for subscribers. The email service provider is also lauded for excellent customer service.


The web management features leave much to be desired and, while sold as a comprehensive email automation provider, it lacks integrated features such as bi-directional syncing with certain marketing systems.


Pricing varies based on the specific needs of each business, such as the amount of volume purchased, the importance of the brand, and any services bought. Quotes may range from $9.90 CPM for 5 million sends (a total of $49,500 annually) to $2.67 CPM for 100 million sends (equaling ($267,000 each year).

Expert’s Take

“Responsys offers account managers and teams who can manage your account, which means many retailers can be hands off in terms of day-to-day management. But it’s also known in the industry for being ‘top tier’–so expect to pay more than you would for other service providers.” – Kestrel

3. IBM Marketing Cloud (Silverpop)

This ESP is designed primarily for the B2B market and is utilized by both small and large businesses. The ecommerce software features powerful automation tools and analytics interface. However, the IBM Marketing Cloud platform of which it is a part is perhaps even more renowned for its breadth of features.

IBM email marketing platform


PlacePunch allows customers to location check-ins that can be integrated into cross-channel marketing campaigns. Silverpop also touts a Share-to-Social feature designed to optimize marketers ability to utilize social media, and a “Snooze” option for subscribers to minimize list churn by giving them the opportunity to take a break from receiving emails rather than unsubscribing altogether.

IBM has been awarded TRUSTe’s privacy seal meaning that the company is known for a high standard of security and accountability regarding the collection of personal information.


A couple frequent complaints about the email marketing software is the complexity of the program, which makes it difficult to operate without formal training, and the lack of functionality in A/B testing. The platform also lacks a large number of templates with which to design email campaigns. Some users have also reported that customer support is slow to respond.


Like many larger email service providers, IBM does not offer exact quotes to the public. Rates vary based on scope and negotiation skills, and prospective buyers should contact IBM directly for more information.

Expert’s Take

“Silverpop has built a following for some their thought leadership in the email marketing space, specifically from Loren McDonald, who has a reputation for sharing solid information. However, you may find some hangups with the program’s user interface, which isn’t very intuitive.” – Kestrel

4. Bronto

This data-driven email marketing solution enables companies to carry out significant digital campaigns from conceptualization to actualization.

bronto email marketing platform


Bronto is enabled for email, mobile, and social media through drag and drop automation, and features perhaps the most intuitive workflow interface on the market. The program is very adaptable due to a particularly strong API and app options for integrations.

Additionally, the custom segment tool allows businesses to cull lists of subscribers based on a wide range of criteria. This is especially useful for creating targeted emails.

Bronto could be a budget and user-friendly fit for mid-sized business owners.


That said the major downside of Bronto is the pricing, which isn’t transparent or consistent.

While the base email service software is generally cheaper than their large competitors, Bronto is known to treat basic features such cart recovery like add-ons that must be purchased at an additional charge.

Furthermore, Bronto currently lacks third-party integration on the scale one would expect from an email platform its size.


See notes above.

Expert’s Take

“Bronto is a leader in the retail ecommerce space for features such as personalization and automation. It’s been a leader for years, and even hosts a platform for 3rd party apps. For the biggest bang for your buck, consider buying a package of professional services to help get everything set up. – Kestrel

5. dotmailer

Started in 1999, Dotmailer is now the UK’s largest email marketing service provider. It caters to medium and large enterprises and offers easy email design, campaign analytics, and management functionality for creating specific contact lists.

dotmailer email marketing


Dotmailer is loaded with templates that can be used by employers as mock-ups for email blasts. This ESP also excels with its split-testing module, which empowers companies to track the performance of multiple trial campaigns to assess their marketing strategy and improve their conversion rate.

Furthermore, this ESP also possesses global accreditations that proclaim it to be among the safest email service providers.


Users regularly complain about poor customer support.


Dotmailer is on a sliding scale subscription model. Quotes range from as little as $150 a month for smaller businesses to over $2,000 for companies with an excess of 100,000 contacts.

Expert’s Take

“Dotmailer emulates most of its features from other popular ESPs with out much original innovation. They have automation and segmentation, while currently being very competitive on price.” – Kestrel

The Bottom Line

There are many choices when it comes to choosing a new email service provider–these are just the tip of the email iceberg.

As a business owner, you should think long and hard about the size of your contact list, the size and bandwidth of your email marketing team, and the ESP features you can’t live without.

And remember, you shouldn’t rely on your email strategy too heavily.

Lemen says it best:

Email is very powerful in the world for ecommerce, but it’s only as effective at driving sales as your mobile site experience and CRO. Because at the end of the day, email is just a tool. You also have social, PPC, and Amazon as potential tools. If we pare email down to its main function, it’s retention marketing–a way to keep people coming back. But don’t get too comfortable with your strategy–always be thinking ahead about what your customers want.


One final word of advice–these platforms represent a sizable investment, so make sure you shop around for the best deal before settling on one.

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