August 12, 2002, 12:00 AM

E-Mail Marketing

The growing importance of e-mail to online and offline sales.

E-mail marketing is in full force as retailers look to further segment their target audiences. Retailers are fine-tuning how they use this communication tool to open dialog with customers, from using specific subject lines and customer names to attract attention to utilizing purchase history to determine which offers to present to different customers.

And as the payoffs come in, e-mail is becoming a bigger part of retail marketing. New York-based marketing company DoubleClick Inc. reports that companies are increasing spending on e-mail marketing. Of 200 retail marketers surveyed, 61% of respondents expect their budgets for e-mail to grow over the next year, with average growth of 17% over last year’s levels.

In terms of e-mail style and approach, getting the right deal to the right customer with online personalization is the new order of business, especially for multi-channel retailers aiming to integrate their shopping channels. E-mail list broker Worlddata/WebConnect, says 90% of e-mail tests that include a recipient’s name increased response rates. And retailers are learning their lesson: Shoe retailer Nine West Group Inc., which has been sending personalized e-mails to target customers who shop online and at its 700 retail stores, has had success in enticing customers to shop the stores with e-mail offers.

Driving offline sales

Nine West sends monthly e-mails by name to 180,000 customers based on their shoe size, preferences and location, as well as other factors. As much as 70% of customers responding to Nine West’s e-mail offers buy offline, proving that, for Nine West, e-mail is a great strategy for multi-channel integration. The company also says personalized e-mail has become the top driver of traffic and conversion at its web site. Personalized e-mails generate click-through responses of 20% to 30%. Nine West also experiences 20% to 40% increases in sales within seven days following a consumer e-mail campaign. At 180,000 opt-in e-mail addresses, the company’s database has grown 40% since it started its e-mail campaign.

Today, retailers are still looking for ways to collect e-mail addresses from customers as well as fine tuning messages to get higher open and click-through rates. Regina Brady, president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, says it’s not hard to get addresses; in many cases, all a retailer has to do is ask. Retailers also are recruiting store sales staff to help with the e-mail collection effort.

Nine West plans to work on collecting more e-mail addresses from customers at its stores by encouraging clerks to prompt customers and by explaining the benefits of receiving the e-mails. The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. also primes its customer service representatives to ask customers for their e-mail addresses when they call the catalog operations. While retailers may be hesitant about soliciting customers, 50% of customer service callers gave e-mail addresses to the Vermont Teddy Bear Co., according to Brady.

Pop-ups work

Most retailers request e-mail addresses at their web sites, but there are ways to make that collection method more successful, with screen location being the most important factor. The best location for an e-mail address collection box is in the upper right corner of the screen because it is one of the first places consumers look on a page, according to Brady. To prove the theory, The Popcorn Factory tested different screen positions and doubled the number of e-mail sign-ups when it moved the e-mail capture box to the upper right corner.

Another effective way to collect e-mail addresses is to use a pop up window on a web site. While consumers say they don’t like pop-up ads, they apparently are not resistant to pop-up windows to collect data. One automotive company increased its customer e-mail address database from 76,000 to 800,000 with this method.

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