Same Time, Last Year

The film “Same Time, Next Year” chronicles a couple’s 25-year romance. Each is married to another, but they meet at a secluded inn each year on the same weekend to relive memories of years past and to renew their passion.

Several years ago, when working with one of the top tax preparation services, I noticed a similar relationship. As with most tax services, this organization’s one connection with its customers was during tax season. Its local outreach grew dramatically around tax time. We talked at length about the growing trend of individuals opting to file returns electronically. The business back then, and I’m sure it hasn’t changed dramatically, was built on mass-market advertising. It served as a reminder to people with a need that they could visit a branch again to have a trained specialist handle their taxes.

Did it collect e-mail addresses? Yes. Did it collect the individuals’ names, addresses, and the time they filed their tax returns? Yes. So instead of waiting around for a customer to determine if he should use the service next year, did it send an e-mail 30 days prior to the date the customer filed last year as a reminder it’s here to serve him?


Why not? “Gee, we hadn’t thought about that. Sounds like a lot of work.” Instead, it hoped customers would return to the brand each year, disregarding the fact it has information about customers that can be used to retain them, year after year.

This comes to mind as we enter the most important retail season of the year. Researchers are already predicting another double-digit growth year for e-commerce; over 114 million users spending over $32 billion online. Yet user growth is up only 6 percent, according to JupiterResearch. That means a large percentage of folks who purchased last year will do so again this year.

Have you mined your customer database and built an e-mail strategy to remind your best customers you can once again fulfill all their holiday wishes? Have you thought of special promotions you can offer early, based on what they purchased last year, to entice them to return to your store ahead of the holiday rush? Do you know when they did their holiday shopping? Have you looked at shopping cart data and appended it to shopping visits to determine whether they’re last-minute shoppers or early wrappers?

Or are you waiting and hoping for your best customers to once again (with no prompting or encouragement) figure out they can purchase everything at your store? It’s a big gamble to do that, especially with all that data in your warehouse.

Every class of marketer is trying to benchmark e-mail campaign performance. Are there metrics that can be used to determine how well a campaign is doing against the competitive set or an industry-wide standard? Our metrics should be very focused on sales and profits. Take a snapshot of what your customers purchased in Q4 last year and (as this year’s goal) beat it.

There are an incredible number of ways for you to strengthen relationships with your customers this holiday season. Here are just a couple of ideas to jumpstart communications with each customer segment by leveraging last year’s data and the customer’s e-mail address:

  • Shop early, and save time and money. “Dear customer, we know the holiday season can be a very hectic time of year. Because you’re a loyal and valuable customer, we’re giving you this opportunity to shop early for some of the best values and selections in our store. We can either ship the merchandise immediately or hold it for later delivery. Avoid hassles and last-minute disappointments. Shop early and get the best selection and service for your holiday.”
  • Send us your shopping list. “Looking for the right gift for Uncle Ralph or Aunt Kitty? No problem. Because you’re one of our best customers, we’d like to take the hassle out of your holiday shopping experience. Simply e-mail the attached form with some details on the folks on your shopping list, and we’ll send you our gift suggestions.”
  • Consumer electronics buyer alert. Since you’ve mined your database to understand the products your customers purchased last year, you can make some logical assumptions about what they’ll buy this year. Try this: “Because you’re one of our best customers, we’d like to provide you with early access to some of the coolest new gadgets available this holiday season. Click here for our best customer holiday specials.”
  • Lock in free shipping today. “We’re glad you’ve made our store your holiday shopping headquarters. To reward you for being an early shopper, we’d like to give you the opportunity to lock in free shipping for this year’s holiday purchases. Shop now for the widest selection of gift items for those you love. We’ll hold your purchases and ship them at a later date, free of charge. All as a great thank you for being such a loyal customer.”

E-mail technology offers incredible opportunities to build the message streams listed here. It’s your choice. You can decide (and it may be too late) to sit around hoping your customers will return and buy the same, if not more, from you this year. You can watch your competitor grab the goodies out of your stocking. Or, you can take the aggressive approach and put theory into practice. Get your e-mail messaging right now, and get the shopping season off to the right start.

Dare mighty things.

Al D.

Meet Al at E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 16 through close of business (EST) on October 24. Final voting begins on October 30.

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

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