March 2, 2010, 12:00 AM

Footwear Etc. boosts sales by using site search data to personalize e-mails

The merchant’s site search technology populates e-mail marketing messages with products and brands that an individual consumer previously searched for, making messages more relevant and boosting click-throughs, conversion and sales.

Consumers today receive myriad marketing messages in their e-mail inboxes, which poses a challenge for e-retailers: how to stand out in the crowd.

The key, marketing experts say, is relevance. Make an e-mail message as relevant to the individual consumer as possible and he is more likely to click through to the e-commerce site.

In the quest for relevance, some merchants are trying innovative new techniques. A major area of innovation is tying e-mail to other systems, such as site search and order management, to make e-mails more personalized and valuable for the customer.

For instance, many retailers send e-mails promoting popular products. But Footwear Etc. has found a way to select products that are almost certainly of interest to the individual consumer receiving the e-mail. The retailer’s site search vendor, SLI Systems Inc., created an automated system that populates e-mails with items that the individual consumer recently searched for as well as related items, such as shoes from the same brand or style.

SLI worked with Footwear’s e-mail marketing service provider, ClickMail, to create an interface that enables what is known as an HTTP Get Call. Footwear selects an attribute, such as a particular brand, for which SLI enables searches on Footwear’s site. Immediately before each e-mail is sent, the ClickMail system calls the SLI system, which examines the customer profile looking for which brands the customer searched.

SLI does a quick site search for that brand and populates 12 spots in the e-mail with the most popular shoes from the customer’s favored brand. SLI caches the search and uses it again whenever that brand pops up for other customers, so there are only as many site searches as there are searched brands; Footwear Etc. carries about 30 brands of shoes. If a customer does not have a favored brand, then the system populates that e-mail with the most popular shoe brands.

Footwear Etc. declines to reveal the cost of the integration, but says that ongoing campaign costs are nominal because the site searches for the e-mails are included in a bundled fee to SLI. And the program is easy to operate. Marketing and merchandising staff need only pick the site search attribute for which they want to send a message, and e-commerce staff and SLI select that attribute in the integrated system. Everything else is automated.

“Every time we do a send with a brand preference, the people who have a brand preference always convert, open and click much higher,” says Mike Baranov, director of online operations at Footwear Etc.

The merchant conducted a site search-based campaign right after Christmas telling customers to come to Footwear Etc. to get what they really wanted for Christmas. It featured a hero shot of one of its most popular brands, Ugg, then populated the 12 spots underneath with customers’ brand preferences.

For customers with an Ugg brand preference, the open rate was 15.5%, click-through 6.5% and conversion 5.2%. For customers with other brand preferences, the open rate was 10.2%, click-through 3.5% and conversion 3%. And for customers without a brand preference, seeing a grid of the most popular products, the open rate was 5.7%, click-through 1.2% and conversion 0.9%.

“The numbers for e-mails before the site search system were half of what they were after,” Baranov says.

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