While they are definitely savvy marketers, retailers have a reputation for being skittish when it comes to adopting new technologies. That said, major retailers are increasingly making use of Web 2.0 tools like video, blogs, RSS, social content sites and wireless delivery for its email campaigns.
Video. Of all the Web 2.0 inventions, video has been the most enthusiastically adopted by major retailers for its email marketing. Bluefly, Saks Fifth Avenue, REI, Gap, Bass Pro Shops, Abercrombie & Fitch and many more have been using video links in its email campaigns for a range of purpose -- which I'll talk about in more detail in my column next week.
Blogs. Several retailers have mentioned its blogs in its email campaigns in recent months. One of them was Petco, which launched its PETCONews.com blog on Jan. 18, alerting subscribers to its presence in a Feb. 18 edition of its Petco Post newsletter. Petco has since used its email newsletter and blog in tandem to keep people updated on the pet food recall, sending out a March 24 email that explained what action Petco had taken to protect customers and its pets and directed subscribers to its blog for continuing updates. Petco only sends about one email each week on average, so referring subscribers to its blog for more up-to-date news on the topic is a smart use of its blog.
Alibris has also mentioned its blog, Cuppa Joad, launched in April 2006, in its emails a few times. For instance, in a Feb. 13 email, it promoted four Oscar-inspiring books and then referred subscribers to its blog for more on this topic. While blogs are clearly not long-form, they definitely give you a much higher word count than an email to talk about a topic, so starting a conversation in an email and then finishing it in a blog is another strong use of the duo.
AbeBooks has mentioned its Reading Copy blog, which also launched in April 2006, in several emails over the last six months, although it's been pretty much an aside, and not well integrated into the message of the emails. And while TigerDirect has tried to recruit bloggers for its TigerDirect News blog, which it launched last July, I'm not aware of the company ever tying its blog content to its email campaigns. Similarly, Bluefly, which launched its Flypaper blog way back in May 2005, also doesn't mention its blog in its emails as far as I've seen.
RSS. EBags and TigerDirect are the only RSS users that I'm aware of. At the bottom of its emails, eBags entices readers to subscribe to its brand alert RSS feeds so they can "See new styles as inventory is updated." Meanwhile, TigerDirect offers Deal Alerts via RSS and promotes it in the upper righthand corner of all of its emails.
Social content sites. Buy.com is the first major retailer to use social content sites. In a March 12 email, the company added Digg and Del.icio.us links alongside products it was promoting, in the hope that subscribers will click on the links to essentially recommend the products to the Digg and Del.icio.us communities. Retailers that attract young, tech-savvy shoppers may find worthwhile success with these sites.
Wireless. Crate & Barrel is the only major retailer to my knowledge to try to extend its email campaigns to cell phone users -- or at least they're the only one to reach out to existing newsletter subscribers about it. The retailer's CB2 brand has a service called CB2 Go that allows subscribers to "Get CB2 flash news, sales, ideas and happenings on your cell." The company promoted the service in a banner at the bottom of an April 2 email and several earlier emails.
If you're curious about any of these technologies, now you know whom to watch. But I wouldn't wait too long before giving these a try yourself. Just as there's a cost for jumping in too soon, there's an opportunity cost for waiting too long on the sideline.