August 30, 2010, 1:06 PM

‘Tis the season for holiday e-mails

Responsys urges retailers to make sure their e-mails are well targeted.

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Oct. 19 was the average kickoff date for holiday e-mail marketing campaigns last year, according to a new report from e-mail marketing services vendor Responsys. Some retailers, however, start much earlier—Hallmark Cards Inc., for instance, e-mailed its first winter holidays-themed e-mail of 2010 in June, the report says.

The 2010 Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season reveals tips and best practices for holiday e-mail marketing campaigns and serves as a reminder that the holiday shopping season draws closer.

The guide suggests that retailers e-mail customers now and ask them to update their subscription preferences so they receive information on products and offers that matter most to them. Doing so before the start of the holiday shopping season will improve the relevance and open rates of e-mails sent during the fourth quarter, the report says.

E-mail will serve retailers better during the holidays if marketers improve their targeting, says Ed Henrich, senior vice president of professional services at Responsys. “Many retailers will see increases in attribution to e-mail, as marketers fine-tune frequency and the most engaged customers get a greater number of relevant messages,” he says.

The report suggests e-retailers send messages that highlight web site improvements made since the last holiday season, such as improved search, added delivery options, new product collections or brands, or new content that helps customers make purchase decisions. 

The guide recommends that marketers and retailers e-mail customers now to ask them to write product reviews, which may help other customers with their purchase decisions. The guide says offering incentives to write reviews can boost content. Last September, for example, Office Max Inc., No. 7 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, ran a sweepstakes with a $10,000 prize for customers who posted product reviews.

More than 83% of the top online retailers increased e-mail volume during the 2009 holiday season‑‑compared with nearly 90% for 2008‑‑with each retailer sending an average of 14.3 e-mails to subscribers during the months of November and December, according to Responsys. The vendor says consumers appeared to push back against those volume increases by marking more messages as spam, and by unsubscribing from e-retailer’s mailings or leaving them unopened, all of which can cause delivery problems with e-mail providers.

“Sending a high volume of less relevant content will drive down your response rates. This can cause a dramatic drop in your reputation score and result in deliverability problems,” says Heather Blank, vice president of strategic services at Responsys. “Marketers need to be strategic about increasing volume to segments of subscribers that have a higher tolerance for more volume.”

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