March 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Welcome e-mails aren’t always so welcoming, a marketing agency study shows

In a survey of 112 of the largest online retailers, e-mail marketing company Smith-Harmon found that only 76% sent out welcome e-mails. While that’s up from 72% in 2007 and 66% in 2006, Smith-Harmon says it’s still not very good.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

Many online retailers are missing the chance to cement the relationship with customers when those customers sign up for e-mail messages from the retailer, says the third annual study of retailers’ e-mail welcoming practices from Smith-Harmon Inc., an e-mail marketing company.

In a survey of the welcome e-mail practices of 112 of the largest online retailers, Smith-Harmon found that only 76% sent out welcome e-mails. While that’s up from 72% in 2007 and 66% in 2006, Smith-Harmon says it’s still not very good.

“More than simply confirming that an action has been taken, the welcome e-mail is the first chance you have to engage your new subscriber and provide immediate value from your e-mail program,” says Stefan Pollard, senior strategic consultant with e-mail service provider Responsys, which partnered with Smith-Harmon on the study. Welcome e-mails are particularly important, Pollard notes, in providing information that the sign-up process may not have had time to communicate.

Other shortcomings that the study highlighted:

  • 23% of retailers took more than 24 hours to deliver their welcome e-mails, “greatly diminishing their effectiveness,” Smith-Harmon notes.
  • Only 76% explained the benefits of being a subscriber.
  • Only 87% included a link to their home page.
  • Only 24% used their welcome e-mail to ask subscribers for more information about themselves and their interests to boost the relevancy of future e-mails. That figure is down from 28% in 2006.

The study also found:

  • Text-only welcome e-mails are becoming increasingly antiquated. More than 89% of retailers sent HTML welcome e-mails, up from 78% in 2007 and 69% in 2006.
  • The role that welcome e-mails can play in ensuring future deliverability of e-mails is growing. More than 68% of retailers used welcome e-mails to ask new subscribers to add the sender to their address book, up from 62% in 2007 and 49% in 2006.
  • The number of top online retailers making their emails CAN-Spam compliant rose significantly. Nearly 71% included both an unsubscribe link and their mailing address, up from 58% in 2007 and 52% in 2006.
  • While 15% of welcome e-mails include a forward-to-a-friend link, none of those studied included a share-with-your-network link.

“The welcome e-mail is probably the single greatest opportunity that e-mail marketers have to engage subscribers and drive action,” says Lisa Harmon, co-founder and principal at Smith-Harmon. “Welcome messages generate superior open rates and, done well, create a halo effect that boosts subscribers’ engagement with subsequent promotional and trigger e-mails.”

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