March 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Welcome e-mails aren’t always so welcoming, a marketing agency study shows

In a survey of 112 of the largest online retailers, e-mail marketing company Smith-Harmon found that only 76% sent out welcome e-mails. While that’s up from 72% in 2007 and 66% in 2006, Smith-Harmon says it’s still not very good.

Many online retailers are missing the chance to cement the relationship with customers when those customers sign up for e-mail messages from the retailer, says the third annual study of retailers’ e-mail welcoming practices from Smith-Harmon Inc., an e-mail marketing company.

In a survey of the welcome e-mail practices of 112 of the largest online retailers, Smith-Harmon found that only 76% sent out welcome e-mails. While that’s up from 72% in 2007 and 66% in 2006, Smith-Harmon says it’s still not very good.

“More than simply confirming that an action has been taken, the welcome e-mail is the first chance you have to engage your new subscriber and provide immediate value from your e-mail program,” says Stefan Pollard, senior strategic consultant with e-mail service provider Responsys, which partnered with Smith-Harmon on the study. Welcome e-mails are particularly important, Pollard notes, in providing information that the sign-up process may not have had time to communicate.

Other shortcomings that the study highlighted:

  • 23% of retailers took more than 24 hours to deliver their welcome e-mails, “greatly diminishing their effectiveness,” Smith-Harmon notes.
  • Only 76% explained the benefits of being a subscriber.
  • Only 87% included a link to their home page.
  • Only 24% used their welcome e-mail to ask subscribers for more information about themselves and their interests to boost the relevancy of future e-mails. That figure is down from 28% in 2006.

The study also found:

  • Text-only welcome e-mails are becoming increasingly antiquated. More than 89% of retailers sent HTML welcome e-mails, up from 78% in 2007 and 69% in 2006.
  • The role that welcome e-mails can play in ensuring future deliverability of e-mails is growing. More than 68% of retailers used welcome e-mails to ask new subscribers to add the sender to their address book, up from 62% in 2007 and 49% in 2006.
  • The number of top online retailers making their emails CAN-Spam compliant rose significantly. Nearly 71% included both an unsubscribe link and their mailing address, up from 58% in 2007 and 52% in 2006.
  • While 15% of welcome e-mails include a forward-to-a-friend link, none of those studied included a share-with-your-network link.

“The welcome e-mail is probably the single greatest opportunity that e-mail marketers have to engage subscribers and drive action,” says Lisa Harmon, co-founder and principal at Smith-Harmon. “Welcome messages generate superior open rates and, done well, create a halo effect that boosts subscribers’ engagement with subsequent promotional and trigger e-mails.”

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