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  • March 11, 2009

Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study: Executive Summary

The welcome email is probably the single greatest opportunity that email marketers have to engage subscribers and drive action. They generate superior open rates, arriving ideally at a time of maximum receptivity. And done well, they create a halo effect that boosts subscribers’ engagement with subsequent promotional and trigger emails.

Given the golden opportunity that welcome emails present marketers, it’s unfortunate that so many still let the moment pass—or bungled the interaction with uninspired messaging. After examining the welcome email practices of 112 of the largest online retailers, Smith-Harmon found that only 76% of them sent out welcome emails. While that’s up from 72% in 2007 and 66% in 2006, it’s disheartening that more companies aren’t seizing this key marketing moment.

“The very first step in any email program is to acquire names to send your message to, but often in that process, we fail to set solid expectations on what the subscriber has really just agreed to receive,” says Stefan Pollard, senior strategic consultant with email service provider Responsys, which partnered with us on this 37-page study. “This gap is where the welcome email shines in its importance to start that new relationship with a wealth of information that the sign-up process may have not have had time to say. More than simply confirming that an action has been taken, the welcome email is the first chance you have to engage your new subscriber and provide immediate value from your email program.”

Unfortunately, we found plenty of room for improvement. Some retailers didn’t make the best first impressions. For instance, 23% retailers took more than 24 hours to deliver their welcome emails, greatly diminishing their effectiveness.

Others didn’t take advantage of their welcome emails to set expectations and drive engagement and sales. For example, only 76% explained the benefits of being a subscriber and only 87% included a link to their homepage.

Many retailers also failed to use their welcome email for progressive profiling—that is, asking subscribers for more information about themselves and their interests to boost the relevancy of future emails. Only 24% of retailers did this, down from 28% in 2006.

“Creating welcome series rather than a having a single welcome email is also a growing trend,” says Lisa Harmon, co-founder and principal at Smith-Harmon. “Our award-winning work on REI’s year-long welcome series for new co-op members proves that these can be very effective at driving long-term engagement.” At least 9% of retailers are currently using welcome series of two or more emails.

Other key findings from the study include:

● Text-only welcome emails are becoming increasingly antiquated. More than 89% of retailers sent HTML welcome emails, up from 78% in 2007 and 69% in 2006.

● The role that welcome emails can play in ensuring future deliverability of emails is growing. More than 68% of retailers used their welcome emails to ask new subscribers to add their address to their address book, up from about 62% in 2007 and 49% in 2006.

● The number of top online retailers making their emails CAN-SPAM compliant rose significantly. Nearly 71% included both an unsubscribe link and their mailing address, up from 58% in 2007 and 52% in 2006.

● While 15% of welcome emails include a forward-to-a-friend link, none included a share-with-your-network (SWYN) link. We expect many marketers to adopt SWYN this year, including adding it to their welcome emails.

Get the Full Report
>>Download the full 37-page “Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study” for free. (This is a direct download of the PDF. There are no forms to complete.)

Other reports available from Responsys:
Holiday Retail Email Volume Sets Record
Retail Email Year-End Trends for 2008
Cyber Monday Sees Record Retail Email Volume
…and you can find even more reports on Responsys' Downloads page.
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