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Top 500 Survey Shows Retailers Have Room to Improve

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
22 June 2011

How do Internet Retailer's Top 500 ecommerce companies perform on some fundamental email marketing concepts? Silverpop's newest research report, "2011 Top Retailers Study: Benchmarks, Trends and Tactics for Better Marketing" shows a mix of encouraging signs and clear indications that many marketers still need to step up their efforts.

Below you'll find five of the key findings I shared during a lively session at IRCE, Internet Retailer's annual conference and expo in San Diego (see links below to download my presentation and the complete white paper).

1. Opt-In Process Needs Visibility, Options

Link location: Nearly all marketers (92 percent) give their Web visitors ample opportunity to sign up for email by featuring opt-in boxes throughout their websites, not just on the home page. But where's the link on the home page?

  • 47 percent place it at the bottom of the home page, where it’s below the fold and typically hard to find.
  • 36 percent place it in prime real estate at or near the top of the page.
  • 18 percent slide it in somewhere in the middle.

Did testing show one location drew more opt-ins than the others? Or did the email marketing team lose the battle of real estate and the opt-in box was relegated to less valuable real estate?

Tip: Insist that all elements of the home page align with your marketing program, and present data that bolster your claim. Test opt-in email field location, surrounding language for value proposition, and follow-on preference center fields and layout.

Opt-in Options: One-third (33 percent) of Top 500 retailers allow subscribers to customize their email messages, including shopping preferences such as category, style, gender/age options (56 percent), communication channel choices (35 percent) or frequency (33 percent).

This percentage appears to be plateauing. Why? Perhaps marketers are opting for a simpler process that gets more addresses into the database more quickly, rather than a more complicated one that yields a richer vein of data.

Tips: Offer a two-stage process. Stage one adds the address to the database upon confirmation, while stage two moves the subscriber to a second page seeking critical segmentation data (gender, location, preferences, etc.) Even if the subscriber declines to add information, you've still got the address.

Also, think beyond the website for opt-ins, including:

  • Enabling consumers to opt in at the point of sale by texting a message
  • Adding opt-in forms on your Facebook brand page.
  • Promoting your email program via your Twitter stream.
  • Dynamically populating transactional messages with opt-in language for those customers that have not yet subscribed to your promotional messages.

2. Where's the Welcome Mat?

The welcome email can be the most critical message you send. It creates that all-important good first impression and is your first stop toward converting an enthusiastic newcomer into a loyal shopper.

But guess what? Thirty-two percent of the Top 500 retailers don’t send a welcome message. Not much of a good start to the relationship, is it?

Tip: Just do it! Create a welcome message that explains your program, manages expectations, directs subscribers back to your website to set preferences, begin shopping and/or deliver any incentive you might offer.

Tip (Advanced): Expand your basic message to a welcome series that uses multiple messages to increase engagement, obtain additional data and incentive early conversion.

Tafford Uniforms uses a three-message format, where each message has a clearly defined purpose:

Email 1: Welcome to the Tafford community.

Email 2: Thanks for joining (with incentive).

Email 3: Personalize your Tafford experience (invitation to set preferences)

Tafford's results have been phenomenal, with the series generating a combined revenue 10 times its standard broadcast mailing.

The Future: The next step is moving away from one-size-fits-all welcome series to an "onboarding" program that puts new subscribers into specific programs based on initial Web behavior before opt-in and/or registration preferences. These out-of-the-gate messages not only welcome the new subscriber, but immediately deliver extremely relevant content and offers.

3. Another Untapped Resource: Abandoned Carts

For many retailers, cart abandonment recovery emails are their highest revenue-generating messages. These triggered, highly targeted emails often generate revenue per email of up to 100 times higher than broadcast messages.

Despite these off-the-charts results, only 17 percent of Top 500 retailers are deploying cart emails. A common misperception is that though these messages perform highly, they are of low volume and don't generate substantial revenue. This perception is only half right.

In my presentation, I cited one case study showing a client that generates nearly 19 percent of its email revenue from only 0.3 percent of its total annual email volume.

Tip: The majority (76%) of retailers (Top 500 plus 130 others that didn't make Internet Retailer's cut) that send cart recovery emails send just a single reminder. You'll gain an even greater competitive edge if you move to a series of multiple emails over the course of a week, beginning within an hour of abandonment.

4. Retailers Up the Ante on Social Sharing

Adding social links to email messages has become a standard practice for Top 500 retailers, with 78 percent doing so, up from 60 percent in the 2009 study.

But here's the big shift. While most social links a few years ago were for sharing content into social streams, now 71 percent of retailers include only Like/Follow links. An additional 18 percent include both sharing and Like/Follow links.

Tips: Give your readers a reason to commit themselves to a "like" or “follow.” Offer a relevant incentive or promote the benefits in a dedicated email.

You can't create a "viral" email, but you can redesign your messages to make them more shareworthy—see this Email Insider column for tips.

5. Unsubscribe Process Needs a Revamp, Too

Are you among the two-thirds of retailers who still give subscribers only two opt-out choices: stay or go? That either-or approach can cost you good subscribers who just want to change an address, frequency or preferences.

Tip: Instead, you could potentially retain 20 percent to 30 percent of your opting-out subscribers by adding an unsubscribe management center that offers alternatives, such as changing an email address, preferences, interests or marketing channels, as well as the unsubscribe.

Link to this unsubscribe alternative page in each email message when subscribers click on your "unsubscribe" link.

Study Methodology and Links

Silverpop's research team subscribed to the email programs of Internet Retailer's 2010 Top 500 (plus 130 other retailers that didn't make the top 500 cut) and evaluated each company on 10 factors, including opt-in and opt-out processes, frequency, use of incentives and cart-abandonment emails.

More resources:



Email Practices of Internet Retailer 500 2011


View more presentations from Silverpop



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