At this time of year, with consumers heading into the mall for some serious shopping, retailers are looking to capitalize on that warm body in-store by promoting their online programs and collecting email addresses at the register. This can be a good idea, if it is well-planned and well-executed. Handled the wrong way, it may not even be worth doing. You must keep in mind upfront costs, backend costs, and the true value of the resulting email address.
Retailers will often give an incentive on the spot to entice customers to provide an email address at checkout, like $5 off their purchase. This makes sense, since the $5 in this example to acquire a valid email address is a good value in the long run. But depending on how you actually collect that email address, you might be throwing $5 out the window. For instance, using a guest book where the shopper scrawls the email in the midst of their rush to complete the purchase and not hold up the line of people behind them is probably not the best approach. It leaves too much room for human error when the customer is filling out the form, or when it is entered into your CRM system at the end of the night - particularly since a lot of people's handwriting is less than legible these days. A better method is when the cashier enters the email directly into your POS system, confirming the address back to the consumer as they enter it.
Even better, think about how and when the incentive is delivered. To increase the chances of getting a valid email address, structure the program so that the incentive is delivered via email, to be used on the next visit. This is also a perfect opportunity to ask for a confirmed opt-in (i.e., "To get your coupon and to receive marketing messages click here"). While confirmed opt-in may sound scary, it validates the email address and interest of your customer to participate in your online marketing. More importantly, it effectively eliminates any possibility of hitting spam traps, which are often part of the backend costs of POS acquisition programs.
Building incentives for your customers is only half of the equation. How you motivate your employees is equally important. Don't build programs based on total number of email addresses collected each shift. Your employees can easily be tempted to make their quota by fabricating addresses, some of which might actually belong to a real person who will flag your email as spam, or have now been made into spam traps by an ISP. Employee incentives should only be based on the number of deliverable and confirmed email addresses collected.
Offering an incentive to customers or employees comes at a cost, which you can estimate up front based on your acquisition goals. But there are other costs to keep in mind. One is data auditing. You'll want to make sure you catch common errors in addresses like misspelled domains or missing dots in dotcom. An easy way to do this with online data collection is to add a real-time validator to your enrollment applications. This is easy to do and usually not very expensive. This will not only make corrections on they fly, but it can also be configured to catch your current customers who are already in your system.
Another hidden cost to consider is the time spent in the checkout process overall. Depending on how time-consuming it is to collect email addresses, it could mean fewer transactions per hour, and some shoppers might even abandon their purchase if the line doesn't move quickly enough. So be sure to train employees well, and perhaps set guidelines to keep the line moving.
Once the email address has been added to your database, the work is not done. Don't add these new addresses to your latest promotional message stream right away. It is important to nurture the new subscribers and keep them engaged past the holiday in order to make the acquisition efforts worthwhile. So make sure the first email you send delivers the incentive you promised, but also sells your email program. Outline that the reward they just received for signing up is only the first of many great things coming their way. If you can do that, hopefully that first point of sale won't be the last.
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Rick Buck is vice president of privacy and ISP relations, CIPP at e-Dialog, a provider of advanced e-mail and multichannel marketing solutions. Rick works with clients, ISPs, and privacy organizations to promote best practices around responsible marketing. He is an active member of the Direct Marketing Association where he sits on the Ethics Operating committee and previously served as the Ethics Policy committee chair. Rick is also a board member of the E-mail Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC). Prior to his current role Rick served as vice president, business lists and data for Harte Hanks.
Rick is an accomplished speaker and author on such topics as e-mail deliverability, privacy, and CAN-SPAM compliance. Rick has over 20 years of experience in privacy, acquisition strategy, database management, and Internet marketing. He joined e-Dialog in 2000.