March 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

Marketing is no longer an online/offline decision, Bombay learns

When it decided last fall to mix a little more science with the art of e-mail marketing, placing coupon codes on e-mailed coupons to track their redemption, it discovered an unexpectedly strong preference among e-mail recipients for its stores over its web site.

Merchants can never get too comfortable with the way they run their marketing campaigns, particularly if they operate in a multi-channel environment. Campaigns targeting customers through one channel may be surprisingly more or less effective in a different channel.

Just ask home furnishings retailer Bombay Co., which sells through stores, catalog and Bombayco.com. When it decided last fall to mix a little more science with the art of e-mail marketing, placing coupon codes on e-mailed coupons to track their redemption, it discovered an unexpectedly strong preference among e-mail recipients for its stores over its web site.

Bombay realizes that many customers prefer to sit in its plush leather chairs and touch the woodwork on its coffee tables before purchasing them—it just didn’t realize how much this in-store experience could drive sales when combined with e-mail marketing.

For years, Bombay promoted only its web site in e-mailed marketing promotions. But last November, it started tracking e-mail coupons and discovered over the first two months that e-mail marketing worked better than it had expected in promoting store as well as web sales. “For every $1 that e-mail drives in online sales, it drives $10 in store sales,” says Matt Corey, vice president of e-commerce and marketing. “We expected to get a cross-channel boost, but we didn’t expect stores to get 10 times online sales. And as we continue to bolster our e-mail database with new customers, it will help our stores that much more.”

Bombay’s promotional e-mail messages list stores first as a place to use e-mailed coupons, with instructions on how to print them out and redeem them in stores, followed by instructions on how to redeem them at Bombayco.com. Bombay started with barcodes in the e-mail, but customers had problems printing them out correctly, so it switched to coupon code numbers. “A year and a half ago, our e-mail promotions only drove people to our web site; it wasn’t a multi-channel approach,” Corey says. “Now we tell people to use the coupons in all of our channels: stores, online and catalog call centers.”

Moreover, by tracking the redemption of coupons with codes, Bombay is able to see how well certain promotions do in different geographic areas.

Corey says Bombay is also learning to better use e-mail marketing to drive seasonal sales, such as with promotions of jewelry boxes for Valentine’s Day, and to drive sales at its new and growing Bombay Kids stores and web site. “We’ll drive more personalization in e-mail this year,” he says. “If a customer tells us they have girls or boys at home, we’ll e-mail them promotions about Bombay Kids as well as Bombay.”

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