• August 1, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Best Practices: Subscribing To Smooth Email Marketing

Retailers have long believed that consumers responded well to rewards for subscribing to an email newsletter. But that custom apparently no longer holds for the in-crowd's inboxes, according to a recently released study by the Email Experience Council (EEC), an arm of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) that focuses on the email marketing industry. The "2007 Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study"--based on email newsletter subscription practices of 118 online retailers tracked through RetailEmail.Blogspot--contends that the number of retailers offering consumers a subscription incentive or post-subscription reward has slipped drastically from 27 percent last year to a mere 9 percent this year. A cluster of factors may have led to diminished interest in subscription rewards, according to the 37-page report. Some retailers may have decided that using sign-up incentives for emails that also include incentives was redundant; others may believe that incentives do, in fact, yield more subscribers--but often those subscribers turn out to be less responsive ones more likely to unsubscribe or report the emails as spam, according to the report. "In general you want to avoid sweepstakes where the prize will attract freebie-seekers who don't really want your newsletter but are signing up for a shot at the prize," states the report, authored by Chad White, the EEC's director of retail insights. (White is also editor-at-large and founder of RetailEmail.Blogspot.) "These subscribers are likely to unsubscribe after receiving a few emails from you--or worse, will hit the 'spam' button when your emails show up in their inbox," White writes. "If you are going to offer sign-up incentives, it's best to offer product discounts or free shipping--things that spur shopping and interaction with your brand." The second annual study also details established and budding email subscription best practices, including the following established procedures:
  • Have a sign-up box or link on the homepage;
  • keep sign-ups simple;
  • make benefits clear;
  • offer ample content options;
  • assure privacy;
  • confirm that the subscription was successful;
  • optimize the confirmation page; and
  • include 'add us to your address book.'
The report also suggests more retailers should make the sign-up process quick, simple, and more transparent. For example, only 43 percent of major online retailers let customers sign up to receive emails with one click from their homepage, a decrease from 50 percent in 2006, according to the report. Still, 92 percent of retailers surveyed said they provide some manner of email sign-up form or link on their homepage, a year-over-year spurt of three percentage points. Meanwhile, the report notes that just 3 percent of major online retailers have a double opt-in subscription process. Tackling privacy concerns is another weighty best practice; the EEC reports seeing adoption approach the 50 percent mark. However, retailers are lagging when it comes to keeping consumers informed on email incidence: the report states that "not even 7 percent of retailers give subscribers any kind of idea how many emails to expect." As for the emerging best practices highlighted by the study, they are:
  • Providing short and long roads to subscribe (let consumers choose between single-click sign-up forms or clicking through to a more detailed form with more information, like benefits of signing up);
  • making a sample newsletter available;
  • JavaScript signup forms;
  • multifield one-click sign-up;
  • preempting email overload;
  • creating Web 2.0 subscription centers.
"Email is rapidly emerging as one of marketers' most powerful marketing channels," said Ramesh Lakshmi-Ratan, PhD, DMA's executive vice president and COO, in a statement. "In fact, according to DMA research, commercial email in 2007 is forecast to generate $21.9 billion in U.S. sales. And, impressively, each dollar spent on commercial email is projected to generate more than $48 in sales." "The old adage, 'You only get one chance to make a good first impression,' transcends to an email marketer's efforts in creating a good opt-in experience," said Elie Ashery, president and CEO of study sponsor Gold Lasso, a provider of email marketing software and services. "The opt-in process sets the tone of how a future email relationship between a company and customer will unfold." Related articles: Total Recall Email marketing turns out to be highly effective at connecting with and gaining mind share with small businesses, second only to magazine ads; marketers must tailor tactics to the B2B target. Retailers Get Higher Marks in Answering Emails Firms have begun to respond to customer demand for quicker replies, strengthening brands and relationships in the process. 8 Email Marketing Tips Experts provide commonsense advice about 'one of the most powerful and yet one of the most dangerous mediums of communication.'
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