Back to E-Mail Basics

Like many of you, I did much of my holiday shopping online this season. Though traditional retailers’ sales saw modest gains offline, many reported healthy online gains. A 2004 study on consumers’ online holiday mood found 91 percent of merchants saw online growth this holiday season. Seventeen percent experienced sales more than twice as high as a year ago. There are many reasons for the continued rise in online sales. E-mail is among the most powerful and interesting.

A 2003 study found email was retailers’ number one online marketing tactic. Reviewing the messaging I received from some of my favorite brands was enlightening. In general, messaging accelerated from October through December and continued post-holiday with clearance sales. On average, most national retailers sent two messages per week:

Estimated E-Mail Messages by Leading Retailers, Q3 2004
Month Kmart Sears JC Penney Best Buy The Gap Kohl’s
October 5 10 7 2 7 8
November 5 11 8 4 6 10
December 4 13 9 4 8 12
Total 14 34 24 10 21 30
Weekly average 1.2 2.8 2 0.8 1.8 2.5

Leading brands showed varying degrees of sophistication, including noted capabilities around automated messaging, personalization, and dynamic content. Yet many retailers overlooked the basics, despite lessons shared during the 2003 holiday season. This year’s basics included:

  • Welcome messages. Whether email subscriptions or online product purchase, many retailers missed the all-important welcome message. The welcome message is an immediate confirmation of a subscription or purchase. It offers the marketer an opportunity to remind recipients of a subscription’s or purchase’s benefits and value. It may also provide an opportunity to encourage additional purchases (up- or cross-sell) or offer a new-customer discount on future purchases. And it can educate by providing recipients with account information and access to important consumer control features, such as privacy policies, preference centers, and online customer service.

  • Viral messages. An October 2003 study by Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) on tactics for improving email results found only 30 percent of offers included a viral component. Only 20 percent of those viral messages prominently promoted the option. Despite its lack of use, viral marketing remains one of the most effective ways to accelerate acquisition and response rates in a cost-effective manner.

    Perhaps confusion or concerns around viral marketing and CAN-SPAM compliance are at fault, but such concerns should be discussed with your email service provider (ESP). The ESP can guide you through the legal ramifications of viral marketing and devise strategies to improve email communication efficiency through these tactics.

  • Personalization. Retailers have some of the richest databases in existence. So why do they act like they’ve never met me? Few retailers demonstrated a personalized approach in the email communications I received, despite endless case studies and research reports touting its effectiveness. In a December 2003 Jupiter Research report on target marketing, companies that adopted personalized techniques reported their results were four to eight times better than those from static campaigns. Isn’t that enough proof to accelerate adoption?
  • Surveys. In an era of message bombardment and consumer control, you can’t afford to overlook customer feedback. Whether you ask for more personal information or solicit comments on what you can do better, customer outreach efforts designed around building relevance and satisfaction are critical components of any successful email communication and relationship-building effort. Customer surveys may also be an effective tool to help measure the success of on- and offline initiatives over time and should be a component of any strategic initiative. Remember the golden rule: keep surveys brief. Only ask for and collect the information you need and will use.
  • Thank-you messages. In an increasingly competitive environment, customer appreciation is essential. Thank-you messages have become a staple of several leading reward programs within the financial services industry but are surprisingly absent among leading e-commerce brands. A customer is a customer, online and off-. We all like and appreciate a simple thank-you. No excuses.

There you have it. The rules are very similar to those for operating a retail store. In many respects, they’re easier and less expensive due to the enormous control, consistency, and efficiency of the interactive medium. Consumers expect the basics: to be greeted warmly, asked about their opinion, and thanked. Why should the email medium be any different?

Till next time,

Al D.

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

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