Hershey: Valentine E-Mails Are a Sweet Deal

Hershey Foods Corp. broke its first Valentine's Day e-mail marketing campaign this week for online gift store HersheyGifts.com.

Three e-mail drops will promote Hershey's chocolates and gifts to 3,500 consumers who have bought or registered to receive news from HersheyGifts.com.

“I'm hoping to bring in supplemental sales overall, but from a customer's standpoint we want to be able to build one-on-one relationships,” said Criss Kerkendall, direct marketing manager at Hershey Direct, which handles the catalog and online businesses.

Consumers who click on the e-mails visit the site and can order items such as a Deluxe Valentine's Tower, Bear-y Special Jumbo Mug, Hearts and Roses Chocolate Card and a Surprise Kiss Tin.

The final Feb. 9 e-mail will promote a rose bouquet card for $34, including express shipping to guarantee delivery for Valentine's Day.

“The strategy is to go after the people who wait till the last minute and then give them an opportunity to make a quick and easy purchase,” said Carey Eisenhauer, Internet marketing manager at Hershey Direct.

ClickAction Inc., Palo Alto, CA, will handle the e-mail campaign. The company, whose clients include Nabisco, Brooks Brothers, Bestfoods, Sara Lee Corp. and Dean and Deluca, has had the HersheyGifts.com account since August.

Valentine's Day is one of the biggest seasons for gift sites. Flowers, online greeting cards and chocolate were the top gifts last Valentine's Day, according to eMarketer, New York, with online consumers placing 6.5 million orders valued at $642 million.

Hershey is not spending much on its maiden Valentine's Day push, a key plus for the company in these days of tight marketing budgets.

“[Our deal with ClickAction] costs around 5 cents an e-mail, and that would drop as our subscriber base grows,” Eisenhauer said. “Really, it's a lot cheaper than mailing a print catalog.”

Kerkendall agreed.

“From a budgetary standpoint, I need to look for cost over sales opportunities and need to see that they're based on efficiency and effectiveness,” she said. “I'm trying to put my toe in the water and do a little bit at a time.”

Launched in May 1999, HersheyGifts.com complements Hershey's 15-year-old mail-order business. The Hershey, PA, company mails catalogs for Valentine's Day and Easter, as well as for fall and the holiday season in September, October, November and early December.

“They do 80 percent of our business,” Eisenhauer said of the catalog operation, “and we [in the online division] do about 20 percent.”

Manufacturers such as Hershey in the consumer packaged goods and food products categories are slowly but steadily firming Web strategies.

However, unlike catalog buyers, online customers have yet to prove their long-term dedication to a brand.

“I know [my catalog print buyers are] loyal and they come back,” Kerkendall said. “Their purchases are much higher than Internet customers. I'm hoping with this e-mail campaign strategy we're going to build the same kind of loyalty and relationships that I have with print mail-order catalog buyers.”

Hershey is confident that its direct-to-consumer online efforts complement, rather than conflict with, the retail store channel.

“We stayed away from what we call the traditional Hershey's product line, meaning that we sell just gifts,” Eisenhauer said.

Besides candy and chocolate, HersheyGifts.com sells cards, mugs, bells, pails, tin boxes, ornaments, bears and figurines.

This year, the Hershey Direct team will focus its energies on expanding the scope of HersheyGifts.com. Attracting consumer traffic is an important item on the agenda.

“We're also using affiliate marketing through LinkShare, and we're also trying to build a good search engine strategy,” Eisenhauer said.

On the business-to-business front, selling office candy via the Web site is another priority for 2001. A tab on the HersheyGifts.com home page whisks consumers to three options of office candy: miniature bars, candy bowls and snack size.

“That is something that we started up this past fall,” Eisenhauer said, “and what we would like to do is turn this into a program where we can get recurring purchases similar to what Gevalia does for their coffee program.”

Swedish coffee retailer Gevalia allows businesses to replenish office coffees and teas at regular intervals through its site.

Hershey will work with interactive agency USi, Annapolis, MD, to adapt the auto replenishment model.

“People can sign up every one or two months, and we'll just continually replenish the supply of office candy,” Eisenhauer said. “I'm not quite sure when that will be implemented, but it's definitely in our plan.”

The Valentine's Day e-mail push and the office candy replenishment program are part of an effort by Hershey to make its Web operations, especially HersheyGifts.com, pay for themselves.

“We want to evolve it into a profitable way to sell items that are unique and could not be sold through a traditional channel,” Eisenhauer said, “because that's one of the beauties of the Internet: the ability to customize and also to be able to get into niches which otherwise would not have been able to be profitable.”

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