July 28, 2004, 12:00 AM

As retailers get smarter, so does their e-mail marketing, Art.com says

Art.com’s e-mail marketing has continually resulted in a proportionately larger contribution to revenue relative to other online marketing efforts.

When Art.com started selling prints and posters online six years ago under an earlier domain name, e-mail marketing wasn’t even in the picture. Today it’s a core part of the online-only store’s strategy, as Mitech Patel, director of software and technology at Art.com, will tell attendees at eTail 2004 East. Since Art.com started e-mail marketing in 1998, its e-mail efforts have resulted in a proportionately larger contribution to revenue relative to other online marketing efforts. That’s partly because of the increased penetration rate of e-mail and consumers’ increased comfort level with e-mail, says Patel, and partly because Art.com does e-mail more effectively.

E-mail has become as important as a source of market intelligence and customer information as it has as a sales driver, Patel adds. One ongoing refinement to its e-mail marketing program is in customer segmentation. The college student looking to fill a dorm wall is seeking something different from the decorator at home, Patel points out. “There is a different value that they get out of e-mails, and different needs that they have, and we have to deliver on that need,” he says.

Measuring customer responses and how shoppers react to different offers also is critical. “Leveraging that analysis helps us to further refine our strategy, whether from a product selection perspective-deciding which marketers to enter or not to enter-as well as an investment perspective-which technology should we invest in and improve in terms of the customer experience,” says Patel.

In the past 6 to 12 months alone, Patel adds, Art.com has “substantially improved” how it uses e-mail. That includes “the quality of the messaging, the creative work that goes into an e-mail, the balance between text and graphics, how we address the e-mail, what we put in the subject line, even what time of day and what day of the week we send the e-mail. These are all aspects of our e-mail marketing that we have tested, analyzed and improved on.”

Art.com’s biggest lesson regarding e-mail has been that change is constant, Patel adds. “Consumers’ tastes continue to change–what they think about e-mail, how they use e-mail. What consumers want and need changes, and that’s by segment,” he says. “Even the tools we use for data analysis evolve. So what we have to continue to do is analyze e-mail, test new ideas, and react to those changes. That’s one of the biggest learnings we have.”

Patel will speak at 12:35 Tuesday during the Track B E-mail track.

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