Natural Foods Merchandiser

Reach out to customers with e-mail marketing

Spam. Your customers neither eat it nor read it.

So that?s easy. Keep potted meat off your shelves and e-mail marketing out of your business plan, and sayonara, spam. But have you also said goodbye to an easy way to increase sales? Limited your customer retention? Reduced your store?s potential for education? Deprived yourself of an inexpensive business tool?

Yep, say e-mail marketing experts.

Sure, they note, it?s wise to be wary of all types of spam. In fact, ReleMail, a Cody, Wyo.-based e-mail monitoring and collection service, found in a recent survey that 87 percent of respondents believe if they subscribe to an e-mail newsletter, they?ll be spammed. And 78 percent of those surveyed said they don?t always believe companies? e-mail privacy statements.

Add to this the fear that e-mail marketing costs thousands of dollars, and many retailers just give up on the whole idea.

But consider this, says Eric Shanfelt, vice president of e-media strategy for Penton Media, parent company of The Natural Foods Merchandiser. Not only does e-mail marketing help with customer retention by giving shoppers reasons to come back to your store, it cements loyalty by establishing another level of communication with your customers.

By encouraging people on your e-mail list to forward your store?s newsletter or online coupons to friends, or offering an e-mail special such as ?bring a buddy and get 20 percent off your next purchase,? you can turn a high-tech tool into a word-of-mouth marketing device.

?You?re growing your customers—not to use the pun—organically, through grassroots marketing efforts,? Shanfelt says.

Surprisingly, e-mail marketing isn?t much more expensive than the grassroots kind. There are e-mail services that build you a template for a newsletter or coupons, format your text into HTML, and provide tracking reports. Microsoft?s List Builder charges $29.95 a month, plus a $50 set-up fee. Emma, a Nashville, Tenn.-based e-mail service that offers much the same options as List Builder and also sends your personalized communications through its high-powered servers, charges $30 a month for 1,000 e-mails, $45 for 2,500 and $70 for 5,000, along with a set-up fee of $250.

To avoid customers mistaking your e-mails for spam, Shanfelt suggests, ?Tell them exactly what you?re going to do with their e-mail address—what you?re going to send and how often—and then honor that commitment.? Second, assure your customers that their addresses will remain strictly private.

Third, offer a clear and easy way for customers to remove their addresses from your e-mail list. Services like List Builder and Emma track bounced e-mails, automatically update your address list, and instantly and permanently remove recipients who opt out. They?ll also let you know if a customer is routinely not opening your e-mails, so you can strike him or her from your list.

?Give them a reason to read it—a demo, something educational, a special, a dollars-off coupon.?
Another way to circumvent the spam problem is to only include content you know your customers will value. ?Give them a reason to read it—a demo, something educational, a special, a dollars-off coupon,? Shanfelt says. ?The key is you?ve got to look at [your e-mail communication] as if you?re receiving it—how often would you want to receive it, and what would you want to get??

Emma Accounts Manager Sara McManigal says natural foods retailers who use her company?s e-mail service often send out newsletters when they want to promote a new product—?explaining what it?s used for, along with tips on eating healthy or good skin care or whatever goes along with the new product.?

Limiting the number of times you send e-mails is another way to keep your communications from turning into spam. ?Make your e-mails regular, so people expect them, but don?t send them more frequently than weekly,? Shanfelt says. ?In fact, you?re better off sending one or two newsletters a month. If you do it weekly, you?re becoming a publisher, not a retailer.?

Vicky Uhland writes and edits in Denver. Contact her at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 3/p. 52

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