Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study: Executive Summary

Welcome emails have historically had significantly higher open rates than regular emails. These messages are key to setting expectations with new subscribers and communicating the brand promise. Yet, only 72% of major online retailers send out welcome emails. That’s the top line finding of the Email Experience Council’s second annual Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study, which is a follow-on to our 2007 Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, which examined the subscription practices of 122 of the largest online retailers. In this Welcome Email Study, we looked at the welcome emails that were sent as a result of those subscriptions.

“Welcome emails should set the tone of the program and the expectations of the recipient from an aesthetics and content standpoint,” says Kara Trivunovic, director of strategic services at Premiere Global Services Inc., the sponsor of this study. “It is said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression—and that adage holds true to the email channel as well. Properly executed welcome messages actually create anticipation in the recipient for the next message.”

In 2006, only 66% of major online retailers sent welcome emails. With 72% sending welcome emails this year, it appears that more retailers are recognizing the value of these critical emails.

This report shows that many retailers are still missing out on the opportunity to use those emails as a selling vehicle and relationship-building vehicle.
Instead of engaging subscribers with incentives and links to products, departments, loyalty programs, catalogs and other shopping-related material, a great number of the largest online retailers simply say hello and leave it at that.

However, there was some improvement on this front over the past year. In 2007, 98% of retailers’ welcome email now containing a link to their shopping site (up from 88% last year), 33% containing store locators (up from 31%) and 14% containing links to catalog information (up from 6%).

Over the past year, more retailers have also made their welcome emails CAN-SPAM compliant. This year 58% of welcome emails were CAN-SPAM compliant in terms of including both a mailing address and unsubscribe method, versus 52% last year. While non-promotional emails are not required under the law to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act, we believe that all emails should be compliant.

This year, for the first time, we also tracked the passage of time between subscriptions and the delivery of welcome emails. The good news is that 61% of retailers deliver their welcome emails within 10 minutes of sign up, with most of those delivering within 3 minutes. The bad news is that 19% take more than 24 hours to deliver their welcome emails, with nearly a third of those taking more than a week to deliver. In the world of digital communications, that’s an eternity to wait for a welcome email.

Other key findings from the study include:
• 32% of welcome emails include a discount, reward or incentive, down from 34% last year. That’s in line with the results of our subscription study, which saw a move away from incentives during sign-up.
• 62% of welcome emails asked the subscriber to whitelist them by adding an email address to their address book, up from 49% last year.
• 79% of retailers sent out HTML welcome emails, up from 69% last. The remainder sent text-only welcome emails. That said, most of the HTML welcome emails were HTML “lite,” making extensive use of HTML text.
• 53% of welcome emails included links to the retailer’s privacy policy, up from 45% last year.
• 75% of the welcome emails include the retailer’s brand name in their subject lines, on par with last year. Including branding here helps the subscriber recognize the email as one that they requested.

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