June 7, 2001, 12:00 AM

E-mail promotions are first choice for retailers, but be careful

E-mail has quickly become e-retailers` preferred means of marketing a web site and establishing a relationship with shoppers, but it can be a nightmare if done improperly, according to Jay Schwedelson, vice president of Worldata & Web Connect.

E-mail has quickly become the Internet retailer’s preferred means of marketing a web site and establishing a relationship with web shoppers, but it can also be a nightmare if done improperly, according to Jay Schwedelson, vice president of Worldata & Web Connect. Speaking at the 18th Annual Catalog Conference, Schwedelson advised conference attendees on the do’s and don’ts of e-mail marketing.

His recommendations include the following:

--Never send promotional bulk e-mail to recipients who have never consented to a marketing relationship with you. Such spamming has long had a negative image, but Schwedelson warns that repeated spamming could result in nearly half of the nation’s Internet Service Providers deleting all of your future e-mail messages to their e-mail clients.

--Request (do not require) visitors to your web site to supply their e-mail addresses on any registration screens. E-mail addresses given at the option of the web-site visitor are likely to be more accurate and response rates to promotions to e-mail lists developed in this manner are likely to be greater.

--Always send out personalized confirmation notices when e-mail addresses are provided via opt-in programs in order to verify the accuracy of the address, to confirm that the address was provided freely by the addressee and to start the e-mail marketing relationship on a trusted footing.

--Always provide an “opt-out” feature with every promotional e-mail, including the initial confirmation message. Confirm the receipt of the opt-out e-mail, and avoid sending a promotional message with such opt-out confirmations.

--Explain the key points of your privacy policy on the opt-in page of your web site that is used to obtain a visitor’s e-mail address. Do not bury the policy on another page, nor mislead consumers about what you will do with the e-mail addresses. Schwedelson points to Dell.com’s registration screen as an excellent example. Above the e-mail sign-up panel is the following phrase: “Please enter your e-mail address if you would like to receive special offers and product information via electronic mail. You may unsubscribe from any e-mail communications you receive from us at anytime.” Under the submit button, Dell’s site contains the following acknowledgment: “By filling out and submitting this form, you are being added to the Dell mailing list. The Dell mailing list is private and not sold to other merchants.”

--What you put on the subject line of an e-mail promotion may determine whether it is opened or trashed. Schwedelson warns to avoid such promotional come-ons as: “Important Message!!!,” “SUPER SAVER,” “Guaranteed” and “RE: How are you?” Such teasers may still work for junk mail, but e-mail messages are held to a higher standard. Schwedelson recommends subject wording that includes your company or product name or the recipient’s first name, along the brief notation of the offer included in the e-mail. Brevity is key: subject phrases should be limited to 35 characters.

--HTML e-mail formats are increasingly favored by e-mail marketers because of their ability to display images in addition to text. But since some e-mail systems cannot decode the HTML format, opt-in screens should ask web site visitors if they want to receive HTML or text-only messages.

--Segment AOL members for separate e-mails if your e-mail promotions contain HTML and web-site links. That is because AOL (except for the current Version 6) does not read HTML messages. Even text messages with web-links will not show up as hot links on AOL unless the URLs are preceded by a so-called HREF tag. For instance: a href = http://www.internetretailer.com. This modification may be critical, since AOL recipients can constitute up to 30% of some consumer mailings.

--E-mail prospect lists are nearly twice as expensive to rent than postal addresses, ranging from $150/M to $300/M for B-to-C lists and a third more for B-to-B lists. But, says Schwedelson, those ranges are published rates that were set a year ago when the e-commerce sector was hot. The market has cooled considerably since then and quoted prices are “very negotiable.”

--Sponsoring e-mail newsletters can be a cheaper and effective alternative to a one-time rental of e-mail lists, since recipients of such letters are generally opt-in subscribers. They also are highly targeted lists, and the costs range from $20/M for consumer letters up to $70/M for opt-in business letters. Schwedelson estimates there are more than 20,000 such e-mail newsletters that offer sponsorships.


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