Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
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At Land’s End, the format of its promotional newsletter is more geared to what’s new on the site and in the stockroom than what’s on sale, he adds. The company puts its customers in charge from the start. More than 200,000 who have opted into the retailer’s e-mail database choose what content they want in their newsletter and how often they want to receive it: weekly, bimonthly or monthly. “That’s important,” says Hauser, “because customers don’t want someone knocking on their door every 15 minutes announcing a big sale.”
Still, there’s plenty of selling going on. The company, which racked up $61 million in online sales last year, uses click-throughs in the newsletter to take customers directly to featured products on the Web page.
Other retailers look for a more direct return on investment. Omaha Steaks, for example, compares the sales resulting from its bimonthly e-mail newsletter against the cost of creating it. The newsletter, circulated to more than 400,000 customers, is a mix of special offers and information.
The direct marketing company uses sweepstakes and offers for free steaks to lure customers to its e-mailing list, then entices them to open messages with recipes and cooking tips. With help from e-mail promo-tions, the company’s online sales have grown 100% in the last year. “We try to provide a service and value to customers on our e-mail list,” says Stephanie Healy, interactive sales manager at Omaha Steaks. “And it’s a good way to increase sales.”
An e-mail response rate in the teens also helps boost sales at VictoriasSecret.com, Columbus, Ohio. To stay above the e-mail traffic jam, the intimate apparel retailer follows no set schedule in sending e-mail promotions to more than 1 million registered customers in its database.
The next step in improving the program is to tailor content to each customer, says Kenneth Weil, vice president for new media. For now, Victoria’s Secret bases e-mail promotions on gender and other basics. Male e-mail recipients receive gift suggestion newsletters, while females receive information on new merchandise and sale items.
The switch to one-to-one e-mail marketing will take time to pull off, Weil adds. “The more focused we get, the more versions we have. To make sure the content is on brand and the message is consistent requires a lot of attention.”
Web merchants agree that the trick is finding the right balance of incentives and information. Burgoyne advises against too much emphasis on price discounts. “That’s a bad direction for the industry,” she says. “You don’t want customers to stop going to your site because they know everything in your e-mail is discounted.”
Merchants build up their brands-and future sales potential-by acting on the information they gather from customers, says Brondmo. That means targeting e-mails to previous purchases and buying habits. “A customer is more willing to come back and engage further when some-body listens,” he says. “As you serve your customer better and build trust, you convert traffic into a complete loyal relationship over time.”
In fact, Burgoyne considers e-mail another opportunity to use technology, graphics and content to give customers an experience that builds rapport. “There will come a point where more and more people won’t look at e-mails because they’re getting so many,” she says. “So the right offer at the right time with the right look will be imperative.” •
Heed this advice culled from e-mail experts
- First things first: Motivate customers to open and read e-mail, not just respond.
- Don’t send “heavy” e-mail. If it takes too long to upload, it’s probably headed for the trash.
- Use coupons and discounts sparingly. Customers will wait for your e-mails-and stop coming to your site on their own.
- Get personal. Study your customers’ click-throughs and past purchases to give them the impression they’re getting offers sent to no one else.
- Treat e-mail as a relationship builder, not just selling tool.
- Think technique: Carefully consider who’s getting the e-mail, what it says and how you say it.
- Build your brand. Serve your customer with tips and product information you later can use to make emotional appeals.
- Find ways to supplement your database with information relevant to e-mail campaigns. And integrate inbound customer service e-mail with their outbound marketing.
- Hone your copywriting and graphics to e-mail.
Sources: Digital Impact and Jupiter Communications, 2000.