Winery Uses E-Mail to Spur Online Sales

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A Napa Valley winery ran an e-mail promotion that yielded $36,000 in online sales during three weeks last month.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, a 32-year-old family-run winery in northern California's wine country, ran the campaign in June to push big-bottle wines for Father's Day and July 4 celebrations. Messages went to the 5,000 people who have joined its e-mail list. The e-mail marketed the winery's 2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons with a free shipping offer. The e-mails pushed customers to place wine orders on Stag's Leap's store.

The campaign received a 45.6 percent open rate and a 10.4 percent click rate. Both metrics easily beat the 38.2 percent open rate and 8.4 percent click rate reported for the industry as a whole in DoubleClick's first-quarter e-mail trends report. Stag's Leap recorded 43 orders in response to the campaign.

Stag's Leap has used e-mail marketing since March 2001. Instead of rented lists, the company built its database the old-fashioned way, asking visitors for their information when they visit the winery. But collecting e-mail addresses in person has drawbacks. One problem is that many visitors fill out barely legible response cards after sampling the wines.

"We're pretty good decipherers of hieroglyphics," said Nancy Burton, manager of e-mail marketing at Stag's Leap.

The winery uses Vertical Response, San Francisco, an outsourced e-mail marketing provider, to create and send campaigns through its iBuilder self-service e-mail publishing tool.

Burton said trust emerged as a major issue for people providing their e-mail addresses, with many wary that the information would be sold. Stag's Leap makes clear to customers that it will not share or sell their information, which Burton said helped build its list more quickly.

"We ended up capturing more people," she said. "They're tired of receiving so much junk and spam. I want to ensure them that the only information they're getting from me is wine specials. That's it."

A complication for Stag's Leap's e-mail strategy involves state regulations prohibiting wine shipments. Stag's Leap can take online orders for shipping only to 16 states, though it e-mails residents in all states in case they wish to buy for a relative or friend in a state allowing online wine shipments.

Stag's Leap sends its list members one e-mail per month. The low frequency helps keep unsubscribe requests low, Burton said, with the big-bottle campaign generating just a dozen. The targeted mailing also helps keep Stag's Leap out of the trap of spam filters by generating a limited number of spam complaints.

"I don't want to inundate them with junk from me that doesn't mean much," she said. "We try to consolidate our e-mail so people aren't tired to see us."

Since it views mailing list customers as highly qualified, Stag's Leap goes to great lengths to retain them. For the 2 percent of e-mails that bounce, the winery calls to find out whether they have a new e-mail address.

"If they signed up in the first place, we know they're interested," she said. "We don't want to throw them by the wayside."

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