- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

E-mail addresses — a vital part of a retailer’s marketing strategy — have become the new phone number at the checkout.

Instead of asking customers for their digits, salespeople are going after e-mail addresses.

Retailers are aggressively trying to collect e-mail addresses to build a database of loyal customers who they hope will keep coming back to their stores.

Some stores even are offering incentives to get customers on board.

Illuminations, a candle-store chain, offers 5 percent off a shopper’s purchase at the counter for giving up an e-mail address. Other retailers such as Eddie Bauer promise store promotions and special events.

“E-mail is playing a stronger role [in retail],” said Tom Holliday, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association. “They want to make you a loyal customer, and it’s easier to reach you through e-mail.”

It’s also inexpensive and effective. Direct mail costs five times more than e-mail, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). E-mail has the second-highest return on investment, behind telephone marketing, the DMA says.

Illuminations started collecting e-mail addresses in 2000.

“The intention is twofold: to drive store traffic and develop a multichannel customer,” said Clay Lingo, vice president, direct to consumer for Illuminations.

The Petaluma, Calif., candle company began an incentive program in late 2002 in return for a customer’s e-mail. Shoppers were directed to the company Web site to plug in their names and e-mail addresses. They then received an instant store offer in return.

In mid-2003 the company’s salespeople started giving rewards to those customers who gave their e-mail addresses at the register.

The latest incentive is a 5 percent discount off the total purchase. Shoppers then receive a bigger offer via e-mail.

When the company started asking for e-mails, it didn’t need an incentive to entice the customers, Mr. Lingo said.

“As e-mail space has gotten much more competitive and people get spammed, we needed to add value,” he said.

Eddie Bauer is revamping its e-mail collecting process. About eight months ago, the retailer began displaying cards for customers to fill out that include their e-mail addresses. The display promises information about store promotions and events.

“We use e-mail to reward our customers for shopping Eddie Bauer,” said spokeswoman Lisa Erickson.

But the Redmond, Wash., retailer, with 434 stores in the United States and Canada, plans to add “a better value proposition for our customers” with a new e-mail program beginning in the spring, Ms. Erickson said.

Pier 1 Imports stores for the past two years have displayed cards for customers to fill out with their e-mail addresses. The home-furnishings company sends three to four e-mails a month detailing store promotions, upcoming sales, new merchandise, store opening and design tips.

The e-mail program is so popular that the company sometimes has received as many as 12,000 e-mail addresses a week, said spokeswoman Misty Otto.

Borders Books and Music trains all of its employees to ask customers for their e-mail addresses at the time of their purchases. Beginning in 2001, the bookstore made an aggressive push to collect the data.

“It’s been an effective acquisition tool for us,” said Amy Contrera, manager of direct marketing.

About 80 percent of the company’s e-mail database has come from the point of sale.

The company sends an e-mail to the recipient, who can opt in to receive e-mails including store alerts, a monthly newsletter about what’s happening in the stores and subject-specific newsletters about topics such as romance, fiction and mystery novels.

“Our e-mails are content driven,” Ms. Contrera said. “We’re keeping one-to-one communication with these customers.”a

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