June 14, 2012, 12:10 PM

Hancock’s' targeted e-mails spur shoppers to take a look

The retailer reengaged 28% of its customers.

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When quilting supplies retailer Hancock’s of Paducah noticed that about 40% of its e-mail list had not opened the last 20 messages it had sent, the retailer turned to its e-mail service provider, Bronto Software Inc., for help. Together they were able to trim dead weight—unengaged customers—from the list with a four-part e-mail campaign in January that reduced the list by about 18%. The campaign also reengaged 28% of unresponsive customers, and garnered an average of $5.42 per click, with the third message in the series leading to almost $9 per click.

The results surprised Emily Keye, Bronto’s marketing strategist, who oversaw the campaign. “It wasn’t meant to drive revenue, that wasn’t the purpose,” she says, yet “it paid for itself over and over and over.” Blann Hancock, e-commerce director and a member of the family that owns Hancock’s, says the campaign cost around $2,500.

Sometimes retailers see a small lift in revenue from re-engagement campaigns, Keye says, but almost never a lift as dramatic as Hancock’s. She thinks part of the reason might be that Hancock’s doesn’t typically include incentives in its biweekly e-mails, but this campaign did. The series of messages was:

-          Message 1: $30 off $100

-          Message 2: 20% off total order

-          Message 3: 20% off and free shipping

-          Message 4: “Make up or Break up,” which Keye says is the message that asks subscribers directly whether they would like to remain on the list or not. Shoppers who  did not open the messages by the end the campaign were automatically unsubscribed.

“It was very easy, I just gave them the codes and let it go,” Hancock says. E-mail marketing is integral to Hancock’s, which makes about three-quarters of its revenue from online sales, he says. Before the re-engagement campaign, the retailer was regularly adding customers to its 130,000-subscriber list, but the open rates were not increasing.

For retailers, not reacting to a significant volume of non-openers can have a negative effect. That’s because the companies like Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN that offer consumers e-mail services often adjust their their ratings of a sender’s reputation to reflect the collective open rates of everyone who receives e-mails from that sender, not just whether a single customer opens or not, Keye says. Google Inc.’s Gmail e-mail service, for instance, may move Hancock’s e-mails to a consumer’s spam or bulk mail folder if the percentage of consumers not opening Hancock’s e-mail messages reaches a certain threshold.

“If 50% of your list is unengaged and you continue to send and send, then what happens to the 50% that are engaged if suddenly the messages start going to bulk—then you have zero visibility,” Keye says. If only to avoid losing active readers, she says, regularly monitoring open rates and cleaning out or re-engaging non-readers is an e-mail marketing necessity, she says.

Since the re-engagement campaign, Hancock’s has since begun three other mini-campaigns that have sent e-mails to segmented groups of shoppers, for instance, based on a consumer’s birthday.

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