Consumer Courtship

Every reader of this column knows that e-mail works when it is done right. Yet the data shows that precious few make that happen in their e-mail programs. Consumers want your e-mail, will open your e-mail, and will buy from you via e-mail--if you build a relationship and keep that relationship relevant. Think of it as a courtship--with better odds.

A recent Return Path survey analyzing consumer use of e-mail during the holiday shopping season showed that consumers respond to e-mail when they have an ongoing positive experience with the sender and have received value from their e-mail program in the past. While that should be a no-brainer, the same survey also showed that most consumers feel that less and less of the e-mail they get is relevant or wanted--so clearly we're all doing something wrong when it comes to executing e-mail campaigns.

More than 60 percent of consumers opened e-mail from senders they knew and trusted. Even more impressive, 47.7 percent actually looked for the e-mails that they liked in the past. Retailers have to expend serious time and energy to end up in that camp.



Too often, tight deadlines and merchandising schedules take precedence over what customers want to receive, or interfere with an otherwise blossoming relationship. If you stopped trying after the first date--or worse, if you decided to propose marriage on the first date--your love life wouldn't get very far. And neither will your e-mail program if you stop paying attention to what customers want after they get onto your list. Instead, actively seek ways to make your e-mail mean something to those who receive it. How? Listen to what consumers say about the e-mail they received this holiday season, and use the data to improve your own consumer relationships before they turn on you.

The following are some basic reminders--as reported by consumers themselves--to help reinforce what you already know about doing e-mail right.

Looks and charm matter. Next time someone tells you not to bother polishing an e-mail campaign, consider these consumer stats:

  • 42.9 percent open based on subject line
  • 25 percent open for discounts
  • 22.9 percent open based on preview window contents
  • 20.9 percent are motivated by free shipping

    Substance leads to results. As you pay attention to what your audience wants and needs, you'll see your response rates climb. Our survey showed:

  • 50.2 percent took advantage of e-mail offers
  • 40.9 percent comparison shopped with e-mail
  • 30.9 percent used e-mail for gift ideas
  • 29.3 percent used e-mail to get to familiar web sites

    It is worth noting that 42.2 percent said e-mail had no influence whatsoever--they must be the ones who receive too much worthless e-mail in their inboxes.

    Breakups are painful. When consumers decide they don't like you anymore, it isn't always pretty. Not getting a second chance is the least of your worries.

  • 68 percent delete unwanted e-mail
  • 33.6 percent report senders as spammers to their ISPs
  • 30.5 percent unsubscribe

    That middle statistic is worth noting. Once they hit the "this is spam" button, even those who pine for you can't see your offer because the disgruntled have gotten you blocked at key ISPs. Talk about a buzz kill.

    As we move from the holiday season into Valentine's Day, remember to make e-mail relevance a higher priority in 2006. From our survey, it's easy to see that while e-mail works, most consumers see little value from the majority of e-mail they receive. Show consumers the love they deserve, and you will reap the rewards

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