Retailers still see growth in e-mail channel: Silverpop

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Though e-mail is one of the major channels in customer retention, many marketers are not taking full advantage of the possibilities of e-mail marketing, according to a new Silverpop study released yesterday at Shop.org's Annual Summit.

The new report, called "2007 Retail Email Marketing Study," reviewed opt-in practices, message content, creative design and opt-out management of the e-mail campaigns of 150 major retailers in North America and the United Kingdom. The study reviewed the registration procedures, marketing messages and opt-out practices of companies including Coldwater Creek, Hershey Direct, Marks & Spencer and American Girl.

"We're still seeing a lot of marketers who are not taking full advantage of what is available when it comes to e-mail," said Silverpop Managing Director Mike Weston. "Retailers are faced with the challenge of retaining customers and e-mail is an excellent channel to build customer relationships."

The report found that list growth continues to be a challenge for e-mail marketers, but suggested that including a registration box or link on the home page is a valuable method of adding to a company's database. Despite this fact, UK retailers are nearly twice as likely as US companies to bury opt-in requests within their Web sites.

More retailers today are asking merely for an e-mail address. In Silverpop's 2005 version of this same report, it found that nearly four out of 10 retailers asked for name and physical address along with an e-mail address. Additionally, 24 percent of retailers in 2005 required even more detailed information, such as telephone numbers, personal interests and demographic information.

However, while in 2005, 37 percent of retailers requested just an e-mail address, a full 61 percent limited their request to just the e-mail address in 2007.

With more e-mail clients blocking images, the popular postcard-style layout has fallen from favor among e-mailers. In 2005, it was the format of 44 percent of the e-mails reviewed by Silverpop. This year, styles were more varied. While 26 percent of e-mails were postcard-style, 30 percent were designed like letters or newsletters and 19 percent featured a single pane of text and art atop rows or columns below.

While the layouts of retailers' e-mails have changed, the incentives to buy have largely remained the same. In both 2005 and 2007, three out of 10 retailers offer "percent off" sales. Meanwhile, 11 percent offer free or discounted shipping.

E-mail marketers are also keeping CAN SPAM-compliant and making it easy to opt-out. In 2007, almost six out of 10 companies sent recipients wishing to opt-out to pre-populated Web forms, while only 30 percent of retailers did this in 2005.

However, the retailers still use this as a time to reconnect. This year, 32 percent of e-mail opt-out links led to a preference center allowing registrants to make changes to their subscriptions, while in 2005, only 12 percent did.

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