March 31, 2011, 12:00 AM

On Target

(Page 2 of 2)

In January, after doing the requisite in-house coding and development, Vintage Tub & Bath Inc. launched its own automated marketing campaign using technology from e-mail marketing firm Listrak. The goal was to capture sales from shoppers who left items in their shopping carts, says Dawn Bobeck, the retailer's vice president of sales and marketing. To do so, the web merchant changed its checkout system so it would capture a consumer's e-mail address a step earlier in the process, before the shopper got cold feet.

Via Listrak, Vintage now sends automatic reminder e-mails 12, 24 and 36 hours after a shopper abandons a cart. Vintage doesn't want to send an e-mail any earlier than a half day after a potential purchase because its relatively high-priced items—the average order value at Vintage is $474—means a consumer often needs more time to think about a purchase than does a shopper buying a shirt or mobile phone case. A link in the e-mail reminders guides shoppers back to the abandoned cart.

Six weeks into the effort, Bobeck says, the retailer had sent 4,571 reminder e-mails, which had an open rate of 37%. The e-mails brought in about $10,000 in what she thinks are mostly incremental sales, and which is more than what Vintage is paying Listrak for the program.

She adds that Vintage works with Listrak to make sure that customers who end up placing phone orders don't also receive reminder e-mails. That requires Vintage, on a daily basis, to submit to Listrak a feed from the retailer's billing system, though Vintage has to perform no special coding on that feed, which is simply imported into Listrak's data system.

"We don't want to annoy customers," Bobeck says. The concern about pestering consumers with too many reminders, either via e-mail or retargeted display ads, is a common one among retailers using automated tools. At Charming Shoppes, Mowry says he worries about a backlash from consumers who might feel the breath of a retailer Big Brother from automated efforts that are too aggressive.

Looping back

Vintage also is using retargeted display ads to gain sales, paying about $3,000 for an effort that began late last year, with assistance from personalization and product recommendation technology vendor MyBuys. The vendor works with ad networks to make sure that a consumer who might browse a slipper-shaped cast iron bathtub at the Vintage e-commerce site sees related ads on other web sites.

Codes inserted on the Vintage e-commerce site capture information about what products a visitor views. Since Vintage sells about 14,000 SKUs, the retailer declined to put codes on every product page because it was too much work, which means ads are not always going to feature the exact types of products the consumer was looking at. "It hasn't been hugely successful, but we've been testing it for only three months," Bobeck says.

Charming Shoppes is another retailer hoping for big things from retargeting. Using the Lane Bryant site as a guinea pig, the retailer late last year began offering up a rotating series of a dozen retargeting ads to shoppers who had browsed the women's apparel site but did not buy anything; the ads appear on other sites not operated by Charming Shoppes but which the shoppers visit. So far, returns from automation are encouraging enough—up to $7 in revenue for every marketing dollar spent—that the retailer will continue evaluating vendors of such retargeting services, Mowry says.

Smaller e-retailers also are seeing promise from automated marketing tools. Ryan Gruss, a drummer, founded TheLoopLoft.com about a year ago to meet demand from musicians for recorded drum loops, which are samples of music used in larger compositions. He still runs the site on his own, and envisions it becoming the iTunes of drum loops, but without a technical staff he decided to outsource the automated marketing efforts to e-mail marketing firm MailChimp.

Gruss offers all visitors to his site who register their e-mail addresses a free sample pack of loops, then sends automated e-mails to those consumers who request the samples, redeemed via a link in the e-mails. Anyone who makes a purchase from the site also gets an automated e-mail, this one with a percentage-off offer that increases with the purchase amount. 60% of customers who receive the offers redeem the discounts on additional purchases, he says.

And like Prendes at PureFormulas, Gruss also uses automation to help him refine his paid search campaign. Last year, he noticed that an increasing number of consumers were visiting his site after searching for "brushed drum loops," a soft percussion sound. He decided to craft some keyword phrases around that consumer demand, and after doing so turned to AdGrok, his paid search services vendor, for help in coming up with keywords in an automated way.

An AdGrok tool suggests keywords based on Gruss' phrase, keywords that include all the variations that consumers might use. Besides misspellings, the tool suggests keywords of different levels of specificity or word combinations—for instance, the technology suggested that to sell more of the brush drum loops, Gruss could bid on such phrases as "snare drum brush loops" and "drums loop brush" or "drum brush loops."

The tool also showed the competition for such keyword phrases, helping Gruss manage costs by giving him a fuller picture of bidding trends for those phrases. "It was pretty much all automatic," he says. "The tool suggests a keyword, and all I have to do is say 'yes'." Gruss says he pays $50 a month for the service, which has increased his returns from paid search by 25%.

Those are the kinds of results that can justify e-retailers taking a close look at the marketing automation tools vendors are introducing.

thad@verticalwebmedia.com

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