Subscription Study: Transparency Making Uneven Improvements

"You only get one chance to make a good first impression." The adage is true for any relationship, including email marketing relationships. And for email marketers, that relationship begins with their subscriptions practices.

Thankfully, there's a clear trend among retailers toward subscription processes that are quick and easy, and increasingly transparent--although there's plenty of room for further improvements. That was the overall finding of my 2007 Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, which was released yesterday. The study is based on data collected during the email subscription processes of 118 of the top online retailers tracked via RetailEmail.Blogspot.

Along with this shift toward greater ease of subscribing, the confirmation page is rising in importance. Rather than making customers complete long subscription forms, many retailers are now allowing people to subscribe with just an email address, then allowing them to express delivery and content preferences on the subscription confirmation page. The confirmation page is also increasingly being used to pitch catalog and direct-mail subscriptions, which 14% of retailers did.



Regarding transparency, it's a bit of a mixed bag. But retailers are beginning to embrace the fact that subscribers are more satisfied when they know what they're getting up front. And having satisfied subscribers--who don't opt out as often and who don't hit the "spam" button--is becoming more mission critical as a good reputation becomes key to deliverability.

On that note, addressing privacy concerns is a best practice that's seeing adoption approach the 50% mark, and providing a sample newsletters is a clear emerging best practice that should help reduce opt-outs, with nearly 12% or major online retailers doing that.

When it comes to transparency on frequency, however, retailers do a poor job. Not even 7% of retailers give subscribers any kind of idea how many emails to expect. And only one retailer, Coldwater Creek, allows subscribers to opt to receive a monthly-only email. While offering once-a-month emails is a bit radical for retailers, who on average send 1.7 emails each week, giving subscribers a once-a-week email option seems reasonable. It's only a matter of time before subscribers demand more control over how often they're emailed.

Here are other findings from the study:

 · Only 3% of major online retailers use a double opt-in subscription process.

 · Nearly 12% of retailers offer plain-text versions of their newsletters during the sign-up process.

 · Only 92% of retailers have an email sign-up form or link on their homepage.

 · More than 43% of retailers allow customers to sign up for email with one click from their homepage.

 · The subscriber's name (31%) and Zip code (18%) were the two most often required pieces of information.

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