Effective Email Campaigns for a Pure Retail Operation

How Our Test Site Boosted Sales by 49%


At MarketingExperiments.com, we have repeatedly stressed this point: The best publishers are good retailers; the best retailers are good publishers.

However, many pure retail operations lack the in-house talent or the strategic relationships to create valuable content for their customers. Their email marketing is sporadic and ineffectual. As a result, they fail to build relationships with their site visitors and they end up paying repeatedly for the same traffic.

The problem is simple to state, if difficult to solve: Most retailers lack valuable content, so they send straight advertising copy with lists of products and prices.

The results are predictably anemic. Click-throughs are low, and so are sales.

But what if you could leverage the online marketing resources you’re already using to create a perception of value in the eyes of your customers? Is there a more effective way to design your email messaging?

Researchers are MEC have been testing a new approach. Here is what we discovered.

We selected an online retailer who specialized in tech products and whose email campaigns had yielded very little sales.

The first thing we did was evaluate their existing messaging. Here is an example of the typical email messages that this research partner was sending to its list of 60,000+ names:

Christmas Blowout!

coupon code GIFT

5% off any purchase

Offer expires December 31st

Not valid with any other offer



Click here to send this to a friend:



The presentation of the above email was heavy on HTML/graphics and low on content.

We recommended a dramatic change in both the tone and the content of their email. We also opted for either lite-HTML or simple plain-text.

Here are the improvements we made to the copy for our test campaign:

This e-bulletin is strictly for customers that have shopped with us or who have requested to be notified of special clearances.


We are liquidating post-Christmas inventory, and to make sure our pricing is attractive, we have SURVEYED the top four resellers on the Net.

As of Thursday, March 4, 2 PM EST, these are the LOWEST prices on the Internet. (Sources: Pricewatch.com, Nextag.com, Pricegrabber.com, and Bizrate.com)

(PRODUCT LIST AND TRACKING URLS – Products 1-5 in the results below)

+++ Special Note: Spend over $250 and receive FREE Ground shipping. Simply enter coupon code FREEGROUND on the checkout page.

Your time is valuable; thanks for shopping with us!




In crafting this email message and testing this campaign, we kept in mind the following key points:

  1. Focus on value. Make sure the email offers a very clear benefit to the customer.
  2. Avoid sales hype. Use a “personal” tone in your email messages without going overboard.
  3. Use a strong subject line. Use something definitive, with helpful information.
  4. Show your customers your authentic concern. Relationship is the key to repeat sales. “Letters” are much more effective at establishing relationships than “ads” or sales copy. The stronger your relationships with your customers, the less price-sensitive your market will be.
  5. Avoid the “illusion” of customization. People know when their name is just a mail-merge field. Careful use of customization/personalization is okay.
  6. You need to look at what is selling and you need to feature those items. And consider that the featured product is more than an offering — it is a proof of your value proposition.
  7. Specificity is the key to successful marketing. If your offer is specific to the needs of your customers, you will see a much higher conversion ratio.
  8. Describe your customer service. People are concerned about getting WHAT they ordered, and getting it ON TIME. Try to successfully address the needs and concerns of your customers.
  9. Use an incentive. Give customers a reason to click through to your website. Or give them a reason to increase the size of their order.
  10. Consider that the goal of an email is not to sell an item. It is to get a click. Structure every word to get them to click-through to the page that is optimized for conversion. Optimize the email to get the click; optimize the landing page to get the sale.

We mailed this message to nearly 60,000 recipients who had either purchased with our research partner before, or who had signed up to receive special offers from the company. Our email campaign generated the following results:

Email Campaign Click-Through Results Based on a Single Message Sent to 58,777 Customers
Product 1 652 1.11%
Product 2 163 0.28%
Product 3 424 0.72%
Product 4 1172 1.99%
Product 5 366 0.62%
TOTAL 2777 4.72%


What You Need To UNDERSTAND: We can assume that some recipients of this email clicked on multiple items, so the click-through rate of 4.72% is high. The true response in unique visitors was somewhere between 1.99% (1172 unique click-throughs on Item 4, the most popular item) and 4.72% (total clicks generated for all items).

KEY POINT: We recommend tracking click-throughs for each individual item. This will allow you to gauge which of your products interest your customers the most.

The true indicator of the success of this campaign was the actual increase in sales that it generated:

Increase in Orders over a Four-Day Period Compared to the Same Four Days in the Previous Week
Day 1 121 106 14.15%
Day 2 133 81 64.20%
Day 3 73 55 32.73%
Day 4 65 45 44.44%
TOTAL 392 287 49.72% (*1)


What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Day 1 was a partial day. The average order generated (due in no small part to the free shipping incentive) was $200. The additional 105 orders amounted to approximately $21,000 in increased sales over the four-day period, compared to the same period for the prior week.

We believe that an intelligent approach to email can generate a significant return for retailers. If you lack the ability to create original content, focus on other ways to create value for your customers.

(1) The total percent increase was determined using Days 2-4 only because Day 1 was a partial day.

Related MEC Reports:


Editor – Flint McGlaughlin

Writer — Brian Alt

HTML Designer – Cliff Rainer

Contributor – Jimmy Ellis
Aaron Rosenthal


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