June 11, 2012, 3:36 PM

IRCE 2012 Report: There are many ways to segment e-mail lists

Personalize e-mail in every way possible, including based on the device the shopper uses.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

Retailers hoping to reach more consumers via e-mail marketing messages should do a better job of knowing all their subscribers, not just the best customers, according to speakers last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in Chicago.

That means retailers sometimes should use e-mails to target consumers based on their interests and locations rather than just purchasing history, and include relevant and entertaining content, such as fun facts or updates about events like contests. Although messages may not be product-focused, they can have significant impact on site traffic. “Let's face it, not everyone shops after they get an e-mail,” said Alaa Hassan, general manager of music, movies and video retailer iNetVideo.com, during a session entitled “Fresh ideas for amping up your e-mail marketing.”

Hassan and Loren McDonald—the vice president, industry relations, at e-mail marketing provider Silverpop, who spoke during a session entitled “What the Internet Retailer Top 500 do well in e-mail marketing”—offered the following insights in their presentations:

• Test and track all campaigns. Hasaan says he runs A/B tests for e-mail subject lines for small segments of his e-mail list over four hours, then uses the subject line for the most-opened message in sending to the rest of the list. He also uses subject lines tailored to different customer segments for one promotional campaign. For example, customers who like Blu-ray discs will see Blu-rays mentioned in the subject line, while someone who likes music will see an album title there.

McDonald prefers simultaneous testing of multiple list segments over a week to find the best message frequency—two e-mails a week versus four or six, for instance. “The more you send, the more revenue you generate, but there's a cap,” he says. At some point, people will unsubscribe or messages will become flagged as spam, so finding a balance is key. He found that, during December and January, 27% of Top 500 retailers sent one to four e-mails every week, 44% sent two to five per week and 14% sent nearly one a day—but 15% sent none at all.

• Do your research. McDonald and Hassan both signed up to receive e-mails from all retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; McDonald to compare and quantify their many facets from opt-in style to sending frequency for his study, and Hassan to find features and designs he likes. He also suggests that marketers buy something from a competitor. E-mails sent to purchasers are often different than those sent to subscribers that have not purchased, he says.

• Allow consumers to sign up for e-meals via social networks. 77% of the 630 retailers that McDonald studied in the Top 500 and Second 500 guides provided a social opt-in, he says, and two-thirds of their customers preferred to use their social identities rather than creating new profiles. He says this is probably because they find that more convenient. “It's basically a one-click thing,” he says. “There are upsides and downsides to that.” For example, Twitter does not share e-mail addresses, and to sign up usually requires a second step for consumers to enter an e-mail address themselves, which may be a deterrent. But Facebook provides retailers with valuable extra information such as birthday, location and gender, which can define effective e-mail list segments; the social network automatically shares a consumer's whole profile during social sign ins, according to Silverpop.

• Personalize e-mails from the start. By monitoring site behavior and the device a customer is using—mobile phone, desktop PC or tablet—retailers can begin targeting and providing relevant e-mail content from the initial welcome messages they send. This will help build a relationship with long-lasting value, McDonald says.

• Adjust e-mails based on consumer engagement. Send more e-mails to consumers who click and interact and less to the ones who never open an e-mail, McDonald says. For the totally disengaged, rather than waiting for them to unsubscribe, he suggests offering an “opt-down” choice to receive fewer e-mails or a “snooze” option. With the snooze option a customer can choose to not receive marketing e-mails for between one and six months but still remains on the list. Hassan suggests frequently cleaning out e-mail lists, which he often does by sending a “wake-up” campaign to non-openers, blasting their inboxes for a week to see if they will respond, then taking those who remain unresponsive off the list.

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