November 20, 2003, 12:00 AM

Smart e-mail marketing in the age of spam

Volumes of e-mail messages – even those that are permission-based – are being deleted by consumers seeking to shed spam. makes sure its e-mails are welcomed by customers by making sure they’re useful.


Every online retailer wants customers to return, but at a company like that depends on customers not just to come back, but to do so frequently to replenish consumable items, it’s especially critical. Yet in an age of spam, no smart retailer is unconcerned about how often it contacts its customers via e-mail, even with great offers. solves the problem by being highly selective about how it reaches out to customers with e-mail marketing. “We are extremely careful about when we talk to our customers and what is sent in that e-mail,” says CEO Kal Raman.

To ensure that its e-mails are perceived as useful, when Drugstore does send them to registered customers, it makes sure they count. For example, from stored purchase history, the web site determines when a customer is about to run out of a prescription filled at and it automatically generates an e-mail to remind the customer to refill 10 days before the supply of medication is depleted. “Just click a button and your refill is on its way,” Raman says.

Drugstore does the same thing with OTC purchases, generating an e-mail to remind the customer of what supplies he or she is about to run out of on a monthly basis, or however often the shopper requests, and letting the customer reorder those items. Alternatively, it will calculate the frequency of those reminders for the customer. Drugstore takes those opportunities, involving permission-based e-mails, to let its customers know about new products and features.

“The last thing we want to do is spam our customers just because they do business with us,” Raman says.


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