Roundtable examines strategies, challenges of sending e-mails

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PALM DESERT, CA - Clean lists and data integration among channels are key challenges that retailers like L.L. Bean, Circuit City and Warner Brothers Home Video face when trying to send segmented and targeted e-mails to customers.

At a roundtable at e-Tail's e-mail marketing day, executives from top retailers discussed strategies and challenges to creating e-mail marketing campaigns. Warner Home Video does not actively promote the sales of its DVDs, so as not to compete with retailers Amazon.com and BestBuy, who sell its product. However, according to Lisa Nicklin, e-marketing director at Warner Home Video, it is important to acquire the customer and follow them through a lifecycle.

"We don't promote heavily, so we try and take advantage of e-mail, because our view is that these customers have come to us, and they want to find out about something that only the studio can offer them," she said.

Warner Brothers sends a general e-mail to all of the names on its list, and then sends segmented e-mails based on a customer's preferences. Weekly e-mail goes out to fans of comedy, family or horror films. Based on what a customer opens more frequently, Warner Home Video will send relevant e-mails such as special offers or news.

To increase its list, the movie studio recently made it easier to sign up for its e-mail list by asking for only five data fields - name, date of birth, ZIP code, country and e-mail address. E -mail is then sent to new customers with the option to enter more information about themselves like film preferences and movie viewing behavior.

L.L. Bean also sends targeted e-mails but is careful not to be too segmented, in order not to alienate the customer from other product categories.

"We are struggling with doing too much segmenting, because if we only send e-mails about men's clothes to someone who has purchased 60 percent men's clothes, then we lose the sale on other categories they have bought from," said Nancy Fishman, director of customer acquisition and planning, who works on both the e-mail and catalog side.

The multichannel retailer tracks all of its customer behavior from e-commerce, catalog and brick-and-mortar store in one centralized location, in order to build a stronger database.

"We are concerned about the leaky bucket syndrome," said Denise Sarkis, e-mail marketing associate at Circuit City. "We are currently trying to tie our customer databases from online and store together in one central location."

Ms. Nicklin gave Ms. Sarkis some advice. Warner Home Video collects in the theatrical department and with the DVD sales department and shares information across divisions. In addition, Warner Home Video does not send to names of people who have not opened an e-mail in a year. However, they keep the names on the list and mark them as inactive and mail to them when doing testing for customer retention. Warner Brothers Home Video currently has 650,000 active names and 2 million in total.

CostPlus World Market also was sitting in on the roundtable. Kimberley Patton, e-commerce manager at the housewares retailer, said that she collects e-mail addresses at the point-of-sale by offering discounts at the time of purchase.

"We have gotten a very big list by offering in-store promotions of 20 percent or 40 percent off coupons at the time of purchase," she said. "And our customers are very loyal."

Ms. Fishman was unsure of this strategy and was troubled by the fact that sales associates could not tell if the names were already in the database.

"We don't want to collect names that we already have," she said. "We collect names in the store, but e-mail a coupon out later, to confirm that the e-mail address they give is real and to bring the customer back for another purchase."

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