E-Mails Look to Tug Heartstrings, Purse Strings

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MuseumCompany.com, sister company to the retailer of museum-related merchandise, will begin its first Valentine's Day e-mail marketing campaign next month in a bid to keep sales humming beyond the peak December period, which accounted for 50 percent of the site's revenue in its first year.

"We had a very good year in terms of sales ratio to advertising expenditures, but we recognize the best way to get ad customers is to e-mail them directly," said Dean McWhorter Johnson, president/CEO of MuseumCompany.com, Charlottesville, VA. "Ours is a gift-giving site and we need to jingle people, we need to prompt them to buy."

Johnson also hopes that the e-mail campaign will increase the site's repeat purchase rate, which is 7 percent.

Museum Company, which owns a third of MuseumCompany.com, recorded nearly $100 million in offline sales last year. Numbers for MuseumCompany.com were not disclosed.

MuseumCompany.com will e-mail 300,000 consumers in the two weeks before Feb. 14. Names will be pulled from its customer database as well as from databases of the Museum Company's 100 bricks-and-mortar stores in the United States, Canada and Israel and the Smithsonian Institution's magazine and catalog. MuseumCompany.com is the sole online retailer for the Smithsonian and its museums.

For the Valentine's Day promotion, MuseumCompany.com will push romantic products licensed from institutions such as the Smithsonian and the National Geographic Society in Washington; the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

The merchandise mix promoted via e-mail will include jewelry, home décor items, tableware, erotic statues, books, CDs, videos and toys.

"We're going to look into history for great symbols of love, for great kinds of endearment, and that's the theme we'll be using," Johnson said. "Ours is for aspirational gift-givers. People need to be a little smarter than your average bearer to give and to appreciate these things, and we need to tell the story that goes with these gifts. What's the story behind Rodin's 'The Kiss'? Why is there such a powerful emotional statement and how does it speak to you? That's the challenge."

Of course, MuseumCompany.com also wants to move overstocked products left over from the December sales period and is selling many items at half price.

"We have really been through our big, big season and that's what we'd been focused on like a laser beam, so we're really catching our breath, moving the overstocked merchandise," Johnson said.

The Valentine's Day e-mail campaign will be supported by joint promotions on Yahoo, MSN and AOL. In addition, MuseumCompany.com has placed a four-color spread in the February issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. Titled Heart's Desire, the ad focuses on timeless artistic gifts for one's "god" or "goddess."

Johnson hopes the e-mail campaign for Valentine's Day finds favor with consumers who have opted in to receive information from MuseumCompany.com.

While MuseumCompany.com claims a click-through rate of 30 percent on its e-mails, order conversion is a tad more than 1 percent. The only blip is Christmas, when the conversion rate hovers between 3 percent and 4 percent.

"[With the Valentine's effort] I would hope for a 2 percent response, conversion to order," Johnson said.

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