Zagat Tests Transactional E-Mail to Push Restaurant Guides

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Just in time for the last-minute holiday shopping rush this month, Zagat Survey LLC, New York, a publisher of restaurant guidebooks, began testing a transactional e-mail system that enables customers to purchase special guidebook bundles through the e-mail message promoting the guides.

Unlike traditional e-mail pitches, which usually contain links to a Web site that the user has to click through to complete a purchase, the transactional service that Zagat is using enables customers to purchase the restaurant guides without leaving the e-mail message. They can choose from four special gift packs, called ZagatPacks, and purchase them with just four mouse clicks.

Zagat is offering special restaurant guide and map packages, including the Bi-Coastal Pack, which offers restaurant guides for New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles; the Continental Pack, for New York, Paris and London; the Big Apple Pack, which features New York restaurants and a night-life guide; and Map & Book Packs, for Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and London.

Mike Sheinfield, a spokesman for Zagat Survey, said the new system was tested using a combination of names from the company's inhouse database and a list it purchased. Half the list received a traditional HTML message while the other half received the transactional e-mail, which uses RadicalMail, from Radical Communications, Marina Del Rey, CA.

He would not specify how well the transactional e-mail was received nor the number of people it went to, but Sheinfield said the company has received good feedback on the new service.

"We're still trying to figure out the hard numbers," he said. "But so far we're pretty encouraged."

He did note, however, that there has been some initial resistance to the RadicalMail version of the campaign. Possibly, he said, because not many people are familiar with the interactive e-mail.

"A lot of people wouldn't open it fearing it might be a virus," Sheinfield said. "We may just be too cutting edge right now."

One of the advantages of the transactional e-mail that Zagat Survey is sending out is its ease of use, said Kate Leahy, marketing director at Bigfoot Interactive, New York. The interactive marketing agency is working with Zagat Survey and Radical Communications on the campaign.

What makes this transactional e-mail unique, Leahy said, is that it contains a shopping cart. The consumer never has to go to a Web site to complete the transaction. Other similar systems utilize pop-up windows or links to Web sites, she said.

"This is, I think, the first time a complete transaction is doable inside an e-mail," Leahy said. "We're turning buying on the Web on its head."

She said that about 65 percent of all online shopping cart purchases are never completed.

"We are looking to significantly reduce that," she said. "At no time do you leave the e-mail. It's faster and more secure."

Another feature of the Zagat Survey e-mail is its viral component. The e-mail contains a section where users can include up to three e-mail addresses.

"One out of five people are sending it along to a friend," Sheinfield said. "With an HTML piece, we can't tell if there's a viral component."

He said one thing that helps with the RadicalMail version of the e-mail is the "wow" factor. Many people, he said, are intrigued by the interactivity available in the message.

"HTML is yesterday's news," he said. "People don't pass along an HTML page and say, 'Wow, look at this.' "

Blades Board & Skate, New York, a retailer of skateboards and in-line skating equipment, is using a similar transactional e-mail service with technology developed by Cybuy, New York.

The Blades e-mail, which features four products for sale, differs from the one Zagat Survey is sending out in that when a customer selects the "click to buy" button, a pop-up window opens. Cybuy said the transaction can be completed in just three mouse clicks.

"We shorten the distance between buying and transaction," said Dom DiMascia, CEO of Cybuy. "Buy throughs are definitely occurring."

Neither Cybuy nor Blades Board & Skate would provide solid numbers because they said the service is still being tested. But the retailer is using a database culled from registered users of its Web site.

"This transaction-enabled e-mail campaign is a first step to redefine impulse purchasing for the electronic age by offering high-end impulse items," DiMascia said.

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