August 17, 2005, 12:00 AM

E-mail practices a rich field for retailer differentiation, study finds

Silverpop’s review of 175 retailers suggests it would take most retailers only slight adjustments to their e-mail marketing programs to leap ahead of the competition.

A new study of e-mail marketing practices by e-mail services provider Silverpop suggests that most marketers would need to make only a few changes to leap ahead of competitors. The project reviewed the registration procedures, marketing messages and opt-out practices of 175 retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Neiman Marcus, CompUSA and others.


The study sponsors the capture of an e-mail address as a critical way to begin or maintain a dialogue with customers. Yet a surprisingly large percentage of companies reviewed didn’t place a prominent call to action seeking registration on the home page, and those that did in many cases didn’t promote the value proposition of signing up to visitors. 23% of the companies failed to include e-mail registration request on their home page. One-quarter didn’t offer any explanation of benefits. When companies did state a value proposition for registering, 45% offered notice of sales and promotions, 14% offered news, and 11% offered a catalog or other direct mail piece. Only 2% offered incentives such as a sweepstakes of discount.

The study found that the collection of basic customer profile information is now commonplace, suggesting that it`s a good time for retailers who only go so far as to collect e-mail addresses to beef up their registration process so as to improve effort at targeted marketing. 37% of the companies reviewed asked only for an e-mail address, while 39% asked registrants to complete a short profile that included a request for a postal address. 25% of the retailers also asked for phone numbers and demographic information.

Giving e-mail registrants a choice of what kid of material they’d like to receive also improves targeted marketing, and it can reduce opt-outs, but only a small percentage, -- just over 20% -- offered a choice of message type or content. The study also found that eight out of 10 retailers reviewed use opt-in registration, noting that retailers still using opt-out practices constitute “a small and increasingly unpopular minority.”

Confirmation messages, the study noted, are an e-mail recipient’s first exposure to a retailer’s e-mail marketing practices, but they’re often an afterthought in developing communications. Only 43% of companies studied send a registration confirmation message. Of those, eight of 10 sent confirmations the same day, and 76% displayed product or brand names in their messages. But only 22% asked to be added to recipients` address books, and only 25% of the messages were addressed to the recipient by name.

“By making a few small changes, such as consistent use of brand and simple personalization retailers can provide a more positive kickoff to their relationship with their new recipients,” according to the study report.

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