Unique Subscription Practices Among Retailers

This week I’m putting the final touches on the 2007 Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, which looks at the email subscription practices of 118 of the largest online retailers. The report won’t be available until next week, but I wanted to share some of the unique subscription practices that I found used by only one retailer in each case. In most cases these unique practices were interesting and noteworthy, but others induced a bit of head-scratching:


·         Only the Gap Inc. brands -- Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Piperlime --give you the chance to subscribe to sister brands when you sign up for email from of the individual brands. If you have complementary brands -- like Banana Republic and Piperlime -- it makes sense to allow consumers to sign up for email from both brands at the same time. This is smart cross-marketing.




·         Amazon was the only retailer to offer podcast email newsletters in its email subscriptions center. In fact, when we subscribed, all three of its featured subscriptions were podcasts. Going forward, there’s an opportunity to use email subscription centers as communication hubs, offering RSS and podcast subscriptions in addition to email.


·         Omaha Steaks was the only retailer to say how many subscribers it has -- over 2 million. For a consumer’s point of view, that’s a pretty powerful endorsement. It tells me that a lot of people see value in their emails, so I probably will, too. And from a marketer’s point of view, it’s just cool to know approximately how many subscribers it has.


·         Hanna Andersson was the only retailer to offer its newsletter in a language (Japanese) other than English. When you can justify the translation costs, it makes sense to produce newsletters in consumers’ native languages. While a few retailers, including Office Depot and Crutchfield, offer a Spanish-language version of their Web site, they haven’t made a Spanish version of their newsletter available yet. Considering the growth of this demographic, it’s worth considering.


·         Coldwater Creek is the only retailer that gives subscribers the option of receiving a once-a-month email. Over time, more subscribers will demand more control over how frequently they are being emailed, I think.


·         When signing up for Office Depot’s newsletter, you have to click a box to receive emails in HTML. Considering that HTML emails are more effective in most cases than plain text emails, it’s not really clear why Office Depot presents it as the default. One explanation is that many of its consumers use BlackBerries and other mobile devices to read their Office Depot email.


· offers three email formats: HTML (default), text and AOL. It was the only retailer in the study to offer “AOL” as a separate email format that consumers were able to choose. While some retailers segment their AOL users because of CSS support and other issues, I’m not sure why you would rely on consumers to self-identify, when you could filter out the AOL addresses yourself. 


·         J. Jill was the only retailer to check its catalog sign-up box by default while you were subscribing to its email. Considering all the costs of printing and mailing, I don’t know why you’d want to send a catalog to people that didn’t necessarily want it.

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