September 20, 2007, 12:00 AM

Retailers improving on e-mail, but still have room to improve, study finds

Growing lists, using the right creative format and managing opt-in and opt-out programs with the customer base remain challenges, according to a Silverpop study.

E-mail marketers have made progress in optimizing their use of this channel, but they still have a ways to go, according to the 2007 Retail E-Mail Marketing Study released at the Shop.org Annual Summit by e-mail services provider Silverpop Systems Inc.

The study, which updates one the vendor conducted in 2005, looked at opt-in and opt-out practices, message content and creative design in the e-mail campaigns of 150 major retailers in North America and the United Kingdom. Reviewed in the study were retailers such as Coldwater Creek, American Girl and Marks & Spencer.

The study found that growing lists remains a challenge for all e-mail marketers, and that including a registration box or link on the home page for sign-up is a valuable way to add to the list database. U.K. retailers, the study found, are nearly twice as likely as U.S. companies to bury opt-in requests deep within their web sites.

Over the past two years, Silverpop found a big increase in the number of companies that require nothing more than an e-mail address to register. In 2005, nearly four out of 10 retailers asked for name and offline address along with an e-mail address, while 24% required even more detailed information such as phone numbers. Only 37% required nothing more than an email address to register in 2005, compared to 61% in this year’s study.

Marketers are making it easier to opt out of receiving marketing e-mail as well as making it easier to opt in. In this year’s study, nearly six out of 10 companies sent recipients wishing to opt out to pre-populated web forms to do so. That compares to only 30% that offered this opt-out option 2005.

At the same time, more marketers are recognizing that offering consumers choices on e-mail registration can make the difference between losing them altogether and keeping them in the database. This year, 32% of the opt-out links of the retailers surveyed led to a preference center that allows consumers to make changes in their preferences; but in 2005, only 12% did so.

In other findings, the study determined that the post-card style layout for e-mails is losing popularity due to more e-mail recipients blocking images. In 2005, it was the format of 44% of e-mails reviewed; but this year, only 26% were in the postcard style. 30% of emails reviewed this year were designed to resemble newsletters.

“Silverpop’s study reveals that e-mail marketers have made significant strides in the past two years, but more can be done,” says managing director Mike Weston. “Clearly, there’s value in fine-tuning e-mail marketing programs to generate higher response rates and greater financial returns.”

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