April 30, 2001, 12:00 AM

How richer e-mail graphics make for richer e-retail sales

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About.com’s Biesel says the only real costs associated with graphic e-mails are developing the creative message and then paying for the bandwidth to deliver those messages. Biesel concurs that the costs overall are minimal because retailers are making up for it with better consumer responses to the HTML e-mails.

Brand control

While graphic-rich e-mails provide excellent response rates and return on investment, they also deliver another important benefit to retailers: They allow the retailer to control the look of the brand. Now, marketers can use the same colors, logos and product shots from stores, catalogs and web sites in their e-mail campaigns. “The big reason we use graphic-rich e-mails is that it allows us to be much more about our brand,” RedEnvelope’s McLanan says. “We want to present products online as close to what they look like in print and HTML messages perform better-consumers react to them.”

Graphic-rich messages make e-mail marketing perform more like television brand advertising, says Paul Sotloff, chairman and CEO of DirectNet Advertising, an online marketing agency that works with such retailers as Booksonline.com and Dirt Devil. “Rich media increases the space and amount of information that can be presented to a consumer, more so than text e-mails or even flat Internet banner ads,” he says. “Rich media matches needs with wants and provides the benefit of a product. You can create an overview of a brand or make an offer for a specific brand by providing that graphic information. The consumer can see the value of it by seeing it in use, seeing the color, size and other features of the product.”

Even bigger pictures

But pictures alone aren’t enough to boost response rates. Marketers must also pay close attention to getting the message right. The content must be compelling and simple, according to Eddie Bauer. “We think about it like we think about picking a cover for a catalog,” says Bridget Budreau, e-mail marketing manager for EddieBauer.com. “Imagery does a lot more to entice the customer, which in e-mail, means clicking through to the site.” But, she notes, “You can’t necessarily put all your top selections in one e-mail.” Thus the message must be clear as to why the retailer is sending that particular promotional piece-whether it’s a sale, a clearance or promoting new season items.

As with any application on the Internet, a vendor community has arisen to help retailers handle the technology. Vendors provide management of databases, e-mail delivery, sniffer technologies, creative and technical support to develop campaigns, as well as analytics that give results. “We can track impressions, click-throughs and successful actions from the e-mails we deliver and we can go back to the retailer and tell them which creative elements caused a product to be sold,” Sotloff of DirectNet says. DirectNet is licensing sniffer technology and combining that with an analytics service that will be able to sort customers by type of e-mail they can receive, he says. Other vendors are DoubleClick, which About.com uses, e-Dialog, CyBuy and Digital Impact, which Red Envelope and Eddie Bauer use.

As bandwidth increases, some e-mail marketers believe bigger graphics can mean bigger sales. About.com’s Bargaindog and StyleSpeak e-mail newsletters have started to use larger pictures. “We’ve moved to e-mails with larger pictures and by doing so we can even double the response rates if we put together a creative message with larger pictures that really feature the product in a prominent way,” says Biesel. “The more images you can use to show what a customer can buy, the better you are merchandising your products.”

And some market participants expect the technological advances to allow for even more grabbing presentations. “Almost all of our clients are using graphic-rich HTML e-mails now and we expect to see even richer media in the future, such as streaming video and flash technology,” says Domenic DiMascia, CEO of CyBuy. “Combining entertainment with commerce will allow e-mail marketers to sell more.”


Forget the web site-let ‘em shop via e-mail

Even as more retailers adopt graphic-rich e-mails, which blow text e-mails away in consumer response rates, marketers are taking e-mails to a whole new level-allowing the customer to buy directly from the e-mail. Because it saves time clicking through to a retailers’ web page and navigating to find and buy items, response rates so far are significant.

New York-based CyBuy, working with CheetahMail e-mail service and online jewelry retailer Ice.com, is reporting huge increases in conversion rates versus non commerce-enabled e-mails. Results from the most recent e-mail marketing campaign with 200,000 of Ice.com’s

1 million customer based show that commerce-enabled e-mails generated a better than fivefold increase in conversions and reduced the transaction process by 75%, from an average of 18 minutes to 4 minutes, according to Domenic DiMascia, CEO of CyBuy.

For the ice.com campaign, CyBuy set up the graphic-rich messages and provided the technology to allow for purchase via the e-mail browser, while CheetahMail managed the message deployment and reporting and tracking technology to monitor results.

CyBuy’s proprietary commerce-enabling technology has two versions: one e-mail message opens a pop-up window, called a daughter browser, when a customer opens a commerce-enabled message, and the other version embeds the order form right into the e-mail message box. “By giving consumers the option to order right from the e-mail, which is connected to the retailer’s supply chain and transaction systems, we shorten the distance between the offer and the sale and make it easier for the consumer to make a purchase,” says DiMascia. Although he did not disclose pricing, he says this service offering adds only about 15% to the average costs for sending graphic e-mail messages to a customer base.

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