August 23, 2012, 11:56 AM

How Wine Country hones e-mail for the holidays

The retailer tests for message effectiveness in preparation for its peak period.

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With the fourth quarter accounting for most of its annual sales, Wine Country Gift Baskets prepares all year to perfect its holiday e-mail campaigns, says Bill Shea, general manager of the web and catalog retailer of gift baskets.

“Nobody is as peaky as we are,” he says. “We have to get it right during the holiday season.”

With ample time to prepare for the holidays, the retailer has the luxury of time to prepare its e-mail marketing campaigns, he adds. To search for the most effective e-mail headlines and offers, for example, the web and catalog retailer will test multiple versions throughout the year, and monitor more than 20 marketing e-mails every day from its rivals. “We’ll look at the e-mail from all of our competitors, and see what grabs our attention, which headlines work and which don’t work,” he says.

The single e-mail subject line pitch that has proven to work the best, he says, is free shipping. In a test Wine Country conducted of two offers for the same gift basket at the same total order price—say, $40—it found that consumers would convert to buy more often when the basket was priced at $40 with free shipping than when the basket was $30 and shipping cost $10.

While it’s common for retailers to send more e-mail to increase e-commerce sales during the holiday season, Shea says he also tests how consumers respond to changes in how often they receive e-mail. “You can get to a saturation point where consumers will just move your e-mail into their spam filter,” he says. He declines to say how often Wine Country sends e-mail before or during the holidays.

Wine Country, No. 656 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide, also tests how well consumers are responding to the content of e-mailed offers. One common mistake retailers make, he says, is sending e-mails with misleading subject lines. “You don’t want to send an e-mail offering ‘70% off’, and then let customers find out that only one item is available at that discount,” he says.

Wine Country has produced better conversion rates, he adds, when an e-mail subject line offers a discount of, say, 40% off, and then the content of the message offers discounts of 40% and higher on multiple products.

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