Gourmet Retailer, Gourmand E-Mail List

  |  March 4, 2004   |  Comments

How an online retailer grew its e-mail list 20 percent in only five months.

I’ve written several times about growing a mailing list. But before a company can focus on growing a list, it must decide on the list’s purpose. Are the mailings a transactional tool? A sales tool? A combination? Here’s a look at a business that grew its mailing list to further both goals.

GourmetStation is an Internet-only retailer of high-end gourmet foods. Founded in mid-2000, GourmetStation offers four-course dinners and a range of appetizers, entrees, and desserts; for example, you can order the Cajun chicken and salmon sampler with Low Country sauces. As GourmetStation sells exclusively online, it’s crucial the company take advantage of Internet marketing.

In the beginning, its marketing focus was on lead generation using search engines. GourmetStation added customers who came to the site via search engines to its database. But if visitors went to the site and didn’t order, there was no way for GourmetStation to capture those email addresses. The company needed a way to keep a relationship going with those who didn’t buy.

Six months ago, the retailer teamed with BrightWave Marketing. The two focused their efforts on email marketing. In five months, GourmetStation has grown its list database by 20 percent.

They started with an email newsletter that fits the site’s look and feel: clean, colorful, and brief. The newsletter contains a mix of special offers and news. A recent newsletter promoting Mardi Gras menus contained a few facts about Mardi Gras and a coupon for Cajun products. Once the idea of the newsletter was set, the companies used a variety of tactics to entice and retain customers:

  • Registration form. Before last summer, GourmetStation had a registration form on its site, but it wasn’t prominent. Potential customers were presented with the form when they visited the site. GourmetStation moved the form to the home page; a simple tactic, but one that worked.

    The form has since moved to the newsletter page to clear home-page real estate. Notice it asks only for visitors’ email addresses and if they’d like to receive special offers. That’s it. By not asking for too much detail, they lessen the risk of turning folks off. Granted, your company may need to capture different information, but this is appropriate for an Internet retailer with no prior customer relationship.

  • Sweepstakes. GourmetStation offers registrants a chance to win a free four-course meal when they sign up for the newsletter. When the newsletter first launched, this also was prominently featured on the home page. It now resides in the newsletter section to save home-page real estate. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell how many were enticed exclusively by sweepstakes to sign up for mailings, as all registrants are automatically entered.

  • E-mail privacy policy. GourmetStation revised its privacy policy to directly address email marketing. The policy states data will not be sold or disclosed to a third party, and GourmetStation will not solicit the registrant for any type of business relationship. The added language appears in the second and third paragraphs.

  • A new host. Special offer emails were initially sent anonymously. Soon, GourmetStation and BrightWave Marketing created T. Alexander, a gender-neutral character. T. Alexander signs email communications*. You can see T. Alexander’s signature on the site’s home page. This is the first I’ve heard of a gender-neutral character, and I find the concept interesting. Thoughts on this?

In addition to 20 percent growth within five months, 60 percent of sales in the fourth quarter are attributed directly to email offers to this database. Prior to the email campaign, nearly all the company’s sales came from word of mouth and search engines. Thirty percent of the database members are repeat customers. GourmetStation now considers email marketing a vital customer retention tool.

*This practice is called into question by the CAN-SPAM Act, which requires commercial email sender fields to be from an actual person or business entity. --The Editors.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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Heidi Anderson

Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She's a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of "Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program." Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What's Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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