Borders E-Mails Drive Store Sales, Overcome Data Gap

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NEW YORK -- Borders Group Inc., the nation's No. 2 bookseller, recently reported 56 percent open rates in June for its customized Borders Rewards e-mail program at a recent CheetahMail client summit.

The Borders Rewards program is a free customer service that encourages store loyalty, drives in-store sales and provides the Ann Arbor, MI, company with online customer data for the first time.

"Books are a commodity; you can buy them anywhere," said Kevin Ertell, director of interactive marketing for loyalty and CRM at Borders. "Our relationship with customers is what we work hard to maintain. I love the fact that we are able to prove that e-mails are driving traffic to the stores."

Because of an e-commerce partnership with Amazon.com, Borders lacks access to any customer data for people buying books via www.borders.com. Hence, Borders Rewards focuses on driving in-store sales and collecting customer data as well as the informational site at www.borderstores.com.

"Before data rewards came out, we didn't have a lot of information on our customers," Mr. Ertell said.

The program asks customers for an e-mail address when they buy products in stores. It provides weekly coupons by e-mail: 5 percent off toward a holiday spending account and 10 percent savings in a month when customers spend $50 or more.

In addition to encouraging brand loyalty, the program has an e-mail marketing element, set up and deployed by CheetahMail, a New York-based subsidiary of database giant Experian.

Borders Rewards members can opt to receive the Borders Weekly Shortlist, an update on new books, music and DVDs with links to excerpts, audio and video. They also can receive My Borders Weekly, a customized e-mail that lets customers select from 31 options.

CheetahMail sends an e-mail on Thursdays to drive traffic to stores on the weekend. These weekly Thursday e-mails increase weekend sales and help the company predict best sellers, Mr. Ertell said.

Borders measures the e-mail's open and click-through rates and store sales tracked by coupon numbers. The company also monitors a metric it calls the "engagement rate," which compares the number of e-mails sent to the number of e-mails opened over a period of time.

"People are getting what they want: something that is really relevant and specific to them," Mr. Ertell said. "When we really got to relevance, we flat out asked people what they wanted to hear about. We're getting to the point [where] we have eagerly anticipated customer service."

Pull quote: Borders lacks access to customer data for people buying books via borders.com. Hence, the Borders rewards program focuses on driving in-store sales and collecting customer data.

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