March 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Taste Test

(Page 2 of 2)

Using a shopper's on-site behaviors to guide its messaging helps ensure the consumer receives appropriate e-mails and at an appropriate frequency, Butlein says. For example, a shopper the retailer can identify who has browsed the site several times without buying will receive more e-mails than a shopper who hasn't visited the site in several months. "Everything we do stems from shoppers' actions," he says.

The few, the loyal

At Bonobos Inc., the latest turn in its e-mail marketing program is aimed at rewarding consumers who have demonstrated an affinity for the retailer of men's apparel. It's those loyal customers that the retailer is targeting with its new e-mail-based loyalty program, called Great Apes, which it quietly rolled out in late January.

The program takes a page from flash sale e-commerce sites by offering a select group of customers access to private sales of marked-down inventory. The program, which Bonobos offers to the shoppers who make purchases most often, aims to provide additional value to customers who have shown enthusiasm for the brand while also helping the retailer move excess and out-of-season items, says Richard Mumby, vice president of marketing.

Bonobos sent the majority of the Great Apes e-mails to customers who were already accustomed to regular e-mail blasts from the retailer. When a shopper signs up for the men's apparel retailer's e-mail list, he can elect to receive messages daily or one to three times a week. Bonobos isn't concerned about e-mail fatigue with the new program because the Great Apes e-mails have a clear value proposition—each e-mail will offer shoppers access to exclusive discounts, Mumby says. Moreover, recipients won't be inundated with Great Apes messages because the e-mails will be irregularly sent to make each message somewhat of an event.

While the retailer had sent only two Great Apes e-mails as of mid-February, those e-mails showed "favorable purchase behaviors" that correlate with e-mail frequency. "We don't want to oversaturate consumers," Mumby says. "But we haven't seen the number of e-mails have an effect on revenue."

That may be because of the tone of Bonobos' messages. The e-mails aim to capture the conversational tone that "guys use when they talk," Mumby says. For instance, a pre-Valentine's Day e-mail that Bonobos sent out in partnership with cosmetics e-retailer BeautyBar.com urged shoppers to "Stay out of the dog house" by buying gifts in line with their level of commitment, which ranged from "Very promising fourth date" to "Practically a Nicholas Sparks novel, you two!" Sparks is a best-selling novelist who typically writes love stories.

"We're relevant to shoppers because we know how to talk to them," he says. "We're not overly transactional. We spend a lot of time putting context around our messages and we try to make our e-mails fun."

Getting results

As the Great Apes program evolves it will likely feature a point system that will encourage shoppers to increase their purchase frequency to gain membership into the program, Mumby says. "Ultimately we'd like to have as many customers in the program as possible," he says.

But limiting its Great Apes e-mails to shoppers deeply engaged with the Bonobos brand is essential because otherwise another message from the retailer will likely be tuned out as more noise in a consumer's inbox, Mumby says. And that could make all of its e-mail communications less effective. That's one of the reasons that the retailer only sent the e-mails to a small percentage—somewhere between 10% and 50% of its e-mail list—of its shoppers who regularly buy from Bonobos.com. "It's not about numbers, it's about having an engaged base of customers who want to hear from us," Mumby says.

It's the same story at American Apparel, where last year Holiday established a protocol in which every message sent to its customer segments has to have a clear call to action, clear objectives and fleshed out revenue and sales goals.

"We're trying to make events out of our e-mails to help us break through the noise," Holiday says. With more retailers sending more e-mails than ever before, it has never been more important for e-mails to be gripping. "Otherwise," he says, "you get lost in the shuffle."

zak@verticalwebmedia.com

@ZakStamborIR

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