August 20, 2010, 1:57 PM

Increased e-mail frequency and relevance bring new sales for

T-shirt retailer says e-mail-driven sales have increased 120%.

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Revenue derived from e-mail marketing messages increased 120% over the last year for after the online T-shirt retailer took such steps as sending promotions to consumers, doubling the number of marketing messages and welcoming new customers via e-mail.

Threadless sells custom T-shirts and art prints created by and voted upon by its user community. Threadless, operated by skinnyCorp LLC, uses e-mail marketing vendor ExactTarget. More than 900,000 consumers receive the retailer’s e-newsletters, which promote newly issued designs and reprints of popular past designs, says Cam Balzer, vice president of marketing at Threadless.

“The real thing that we’ve done is amp up our programs by segment and our customer relationship management through e-mail. We seek to engage our customers at all stages,” he says.

The company used to send one e-newsletter each week on Monday that featured both the new and reprinted designs that were released that day. The company now sends one e-newsletter on Monday featuring the newest designs and a second e-newsletter on Thursday featuring the reissued designs.

“It made sense to change our product release cycle. We decided to move our reprint release to Thursday to give us another chance to message our audience,” Balzer says, noting that Threadless surveyed its customers about the change prior to making it. He says feedback was positive and that unsubscribe rates are low.

“Sending a second e-mail to our existing customers definitely had a strong impact on the e-mail revenue,” he says without providing revenue figures. Open rates are above 25% and click-through rates average about 5% and have gone as high as 9%, according to the company. Threadless uses Google Analytics to automatically tag e-mails and track customer traffic from click-through to purchase.

The company also played around with how it presents designs in the e-mails to encourage viewers to click through. The e-newsletters used to feature models wearing the new designs; now e-mails feature a mix of models and the design itself.

A new welcome e-mail promotional program introduced a year ago also contributed to the e-mail-driven sales improvement. Within a month of a first purchase, a customer receives an e-mail thanking him for his purchase. The e-mail includes a coupon, typically $5 off a purchase for a U.S. customer or $10 off for an international customer. In each case, the coupon covers the cost of shipping.

Balzer says the open rate for the welcome e-mails is higher than 50%. ExactTarget sends the welcome e-mails automatically based on transactional data Threadless provides daily. “We’re leveraging their database tools to build new segments and increase the relevance of e-mails we send based on their stage in their lifecycle with us,” Balzer says.

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