Pier 1 to Test Third-Party E-Mail Lists for New Store Openings

Home furnishings retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. will test third-party opt-in e-mail lists next month to determine their effectiveness in driving prospects to new stores.

The Fort Worth, TX, company is in negotiations with three undisclosed major providers whose databases contain as many as 12 million consumers who have opted in to receive information on a range of interests.

Plans for the test, which will involve two new stores, call for the rental of 5,000 to 10,000 home e-mail addresses per store. These consumers will be offered a discount coupon that can be printed off the pier1.com site and presented in the new store for a limited period.

“Our plan right now is to announce the new store opening and tell them the location of it,” said Steve Woodward, senior manager of Internet marketing operations at Pier 1.

The retailer will use e-mail addresses of consumers who are within a 10- to 20-mile radius of the new store. Pier 1 will dissect the names in the e-mail files for consumers whose profiles match those of Pier 1's customer base.

“We're going to do a small test and see how it works for two stores,” Woodward said, “and based on the results, then make a determination whether we're going to move forward and do this for every new store opening.”

Pier 1 plans to open about 85 new stores during the next year.

The test will come just one month after Pier 1 broke its first e-mail campaign. Three e-mails were sent to 40,000 consumers who have signed up to receive news on pier1.com or have bought on the site since it added e-commerce capabilities in June 2000.

Pier1.com offers an estimated 2,500 items — half the SKUs of a regular bricks-and-mortar Pier 1 store. E-commerce accounts for less than 1 percent of company sales across both offline and online channels, the equivalent of annual sales for five Pier 1 retail stores.

But Pier 1 will not tap its inhouse database to herald new stores.

“That database is such a small size,” Woodward said. “Really, 40,000 sounds like a lot of people, but when you're talking about e-mailing people all over the country, it's really very small or spread out. So, we might end up with two people we could e-mail [living in a new store's vicinity].”

Pier 1 will be able to track the number of people who walk into new stores with online coupons as well as monitor e-mail click throughs and downloads of the coupons.

Woodward admitted that sending e-mails to consumers not on Pier 1 lists was sailing into uncharted waters. But the company hopes for positive results, based in part on its recent success with e-mail.

The first e-mail, which went out May 2 to consumers in Pier 1's online house file, has yielded a 12 percent click-through rate so far, Woodward said. Two other e-mails that dropped since then, one touting an outdoors sale and the other for Mother's Day specials, had an 8 percent click-through rate.

“Our biggest goal is building our database as large as we can,” Woodward said. “Within 12 months from now, I'd like to see a quarter of a million people [on the inhouse list].

“The whole strategy is driving traffic,” he said. “It's about getting more people into our stores, and whether it's our online store or offline, it doesn't really matter to us. But that's what we're looking at, getting ourselves in front of our customers more often.”

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