Supermarket Specials

I've been spending time examining supermarket e-mail newsletters as part of my research for the latest white paper I'm working on. It has been interesting to see how the e-mail marketing channel has been embraced by supermarket chains over the past year, and the impact those e-mails have had on driving traffic to the store's Web properties.

Albertsons' nicely designed weekly newsletter is personalized and contains a clearly marked "Update Your Profile" link at the top of the page, right above an "E-mail to a friend" link. Included are recipes, online specials, and links to weekly ads and in-store coupons. The company also sets up expectation for the next newsletter by announcing the focus at the bottom of the current e-mail. For instance, this week's newsletters includes this teaser: "Next week: Delicious dinners in under 30 minutes." The strategy seems to be working; comparing the timing of their newsletters with Alexa Web site traffic shows a close correlation between e-mails being sent and noticeable spikes in traffic to the web site.



Wegmans also has produced a full featured HTML newsletter called FRESHnews. Included in the latest issue is food news (about pan frying pork), cheese of the week Health and Nutrition News (a feature on granola nut bars), Natural & Organic News (Wegmans Whole Wheat Cookies) and Diabetes News. Also included is Consumer news (about Wegmans' president joining the board of GS1 Global, a group dedicated to simplifying commerce). This dedication to detail has paid off for Wegmans: again we see a close connection between the newsletter being sent and significant traffic to the site. Wegmans uses ExactTarget to send out its e-mail.

Whole Foods also produces a full newsletter using a technology called TailoredMail from TailoredNews. Whole Foods uses a special key to distinguish Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, and Vegan recipes. The company uses its newsletter to promote in-store appearances by food experts and include a list of the store specials. To my eye, the Whole Foods newsletter is a tad busy and less focused than other e-mail newsletters in the category. I also was not able to detect any lift at the site after the delivery of the newsletter, at least as far as the Alexa data shows.

Wild Oats, on the other hand, shows a significant lift connected to its e-mail sends. ExactTarget is used again, and as is common with ExactTarget templated e-mails, they are well designed and clear. Send to a Friend is included, downloadable coupons and trip giveaways. A work of art for the natural foods crowd.

On the other end of the design spectrum is the winner of the ugliest newsletter--from Aldi Food Stores. Aldi doesn't even try to coat its discount offers with a hint of any kind of aesthetic sense. And yet it still seems to drive traffic. Who says design means anything?

Winn-Dixie puts out a cute little newsletter that is nothing more than the image of their weekly newspaper circular. But it does seem to drive traffic. Again, specials trump special editorial features when it comes to supermarket traffic. Winn-Dixie uses WhatCounts to enable its newsletter campaign. Pathmark uses a design firm called to put together its weekly e-mail flyer. And that is what it really is: the e-mail equivalent of a supermarket coupon flyer. Again, spikes in traffic are registered that correspond to the e-mail drop. You won't find anything so new-age as a recipe coming from Pathmark. The company knows what its customers want: coupons, coupons, and more coupons.

Thank goodness Pittsburgh's Giant Eagle doesn't feel the same way: the CheetahMail-enabled newsletter is beautiful to look at and drives traffic as well. Giant Eagle shows Pathmark that they aren't afraid of no stinking recipes. Special healthy recipes for Halloween party treats are featured this week, along with a PSA about saving electricity.

And finally, Safeway-owned Vons, a local Los Angeles supermarket. shows what style is all about in its newsletter also enabled by CheetahMail. Simple and elegant, the Vons e-mail doesn't try to beat you over the head with too much content over circular-style graphics.

But good or bad design, one thing is clear: these newsletters are driving a bushel load of traffic to their respective companies' Web sites. Look for supermarket e-mail marketing to be the next big wave in out-bound marketing communications.

The 2006 Email Marketing in Retail White Paper is now available for download at

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