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Important tips for Catalogers Seeking e-mail success

Catalogers have an ideal way to boost sales – but not all catalogers are using it. The method is sending e-mails to announce the arrival of a catalog. In a famous case study, a few years ago, cataloger Miles Kimball performed the ideal test. They took 40,000 customers who had purchased online – so they had legitimately received the customer’s e-mail address.

Vicki Updike, VP of Marketing at Miles Kimball divided these customers into two exactly equal groups. She sent 20,000 three Exposures spring catalogs along with an e-mail timed to arrive with the catalogs. The e-mails said, in effect, “Look in your mailbox for our new catalog” with some highlights for what was inside. The other 20,000 just got the same catalogs with no accompanying e-mail. Result: adding the e-mail increased sales by 18% per household. Subsequent experience proved the value of this technique.

Many catalogers now use e-mails to boost catalog sales. By 2007, 82% of 434 catalogers surveyed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) were using e-mail promotions. Today, more than 44% of all paper catalog sales are made on the Web, as opposed to phone or mail.

These results are reported in a new book that I wrote together with Arthur Sweetser, CMO of e-Dialog called Successful E-mail Marketing Strategies: from Hunting to Farming (RACOM 2009). The book has just been published and is available from It includes hundreds of tips and case studies of interest to catalogers.

Among these are the following:

1) Make sure your e-mails are relevant to those who receive them. Too many marketers blast identical copy to all their e-mail subscribers. Catalogers do not have to do this. Most of your e-mail subscribers are customers – so you know what they bought and what they clicked on in your website. Create categories of product interest for each subscriber and feature these products in your e-mails – rather than pushing the “product of the month”. In 2006, JupiterResearch reported the average untargeted e-mail campaign had an open rate of about 20%, a CTR of about 9.5%, and a conversion rate of only about 1%. On the other hand, targeted (relevant) e-mail campaigns had a 33% open rate on average, a 14% CTR, and a 3.9%conversion rate.

2) Personalize your e-mails. You know the subscriber’s name. Use it in the text of your e-mails. Williams-Sonoma tested personalized images and saw conversions increase 50%. Golfsmith saw revenue jump 167% when it used personalization.

3) Use promotions in your transaction e-mails. Transaction e-mails (“Your product was shipped today”) are opened and read at about double the rates of promotional e-mails. So while they are reading about the transaction, use HTML to promote a related product below the fold. The problem with most commercial e-mails is that about 80% of them do not get opened! That is not a problem with transactional e-mails.

Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group,click here.

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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