Free shipping gets e-mails opened: eROI

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Free shipping is the No. 1 offer that customers look for and will respond to in an e-mail, per online marketing firm eROI Inc. in its 2006 holiday e-mail marketing survey.

The study interviewed consumers and found that free shipping is important because it gives online shopping a competitive advantage.

"Online is the place to go for a bargain because it's easier to comparison shop, but the price of shipping can negate the cost of the savings," said Jeff Mills, analyst at eROI, Portland, OR. "And so many retailers offer it, that consumers expect it."

In fact, the survey shows that the majority of respondents prefer free shipping over discounts.

The study found that a discount by itself is not necessarily the most important thing in an e-mail. Also, more than one-third of those surveyed felt that if they cannot quickly see what an e-mail is about, they will delete before even getting to the offer.

Discounts are somewhat significant, though. EROI found that 31 percent of people surveyed prefer a percentage off, with only 22 percent favoring a dollar amount off.

According to Mr. Mills, this is because people are willing to trade higher savings for flexibility. Respondents favored getting 10 percent off any purchase over getting 15 percent off a purchase for a specified amount.

While nearly one-third of respondents say that e-mails are for sales, 42 percent say that improving customer relationships is the most important aspect this holiday season.

This was troubling to Mr. Mills, because he said that it made retailers seem focused only on building a customer relationship around the holidays when they are likely to spend money.

"I think that this is a reactionary thing, because retailers want consumers to spend more with them," Mr. Mills said. "We are such a society of short lifespan, where the retailer isn't thinking about the future, but wants consumers to spend their money now."

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