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Feb 17, 2005
Case Study

How to Reduce Email Unsubscribes by 35% & Boost Holiday Sales

SUMMARY: This brief-but-useful Case Study features three practical lessons:
#1. How to reduce unsubs (especially if you plan to increase promo or newsletter frequency).
#2. What happens when you put your CEO's photo and personal email address on the company home page.
#3. How to beat eretail holiday clutter and get the sales you deserve with a simple text letter.
Yes, includes a sample of the email promo that won by breaking all the eretail rules.

How do you stand out in an ultra-cluttered inbox?

Many eretailers increase frequency during the worst times of year, when they stand to get the best sales if they can grab your attention for just a second. For example, according to the eretailing group, Barnes & Noble sent four emails a week to its house list during holiday season 2003, Overstock sent 3.3, and sent 2.6.

Unfortunately, as online apparel retailer Junonia discovered when they doubled frequency from once to twice weekly last year, your list becomes less responsive.

What's too much frequency? It's in the eye of the beholder. (In other words your email recipient decides, not your marketing department.)

Junonia needed a way to gain 2004 holiday sales without risking dampened house list results for 2005.


The company had long positioned itself as the larger-size women's retailer with a personal face.

The site's home page (as well as sibling print catalogs) featured a photo of President Anne Kelly, along with a quick note from Anne, and her personal contact information. Yes, including her email address.

She explains, "A lot of the other plus sizes retailers just don't get it. For her [the consumer] it's a very personal issue. Knowing there's someone else out there like me is important."

She adds, "It's really not an ego thing, I want to speak directly to our customers."

She pledged to answer every incoming email (that wasn't spam) herself in a timely fashion. When she's out of town, an assistant helped out, answering some and flagging the most critical for her.

This gave ecommerce Director Tom Lindmeier an idea -- instead of sending yet another HTML promo blast, why not send a special holiday "letter from Anne" to everyone on the house list?

"The hard part was getting me to sit down to write it," admits Kelly. But Lindmeier nailed her to her desk, and the resulting letter was born. Unlike typical promos featuring product shots, the letter appeared to be in text-only (it had one bit of invisible HTML just to count the open rate).

Copy also was completely unlike a typical email promo.

Although there was a 10% offer, you had to read (or scroll down) four paragraphs -- some of them pretty long and wordy -- to get to the offer hotlink.

Instead, the primary focus of the letter was a story about one of Kelly's friends, a woman she hoped would inspire Junonia's ultra-busy customers who rarely take time out to pamper themselves.

After the letter was sent, the email team reviewed results and made two changes to 2005 plans:

Change #1. Regularly scheduling a letter from Anne. Now about once a month they send a text-only-looking note from Kelly instead of their regular promo.

Change #2. Adding a frequency opt-out option to the standard "fine print" at the bottom of every mailing. Instead of just seeing an unsubscribe link, recipients can take their choice between that and an option to reduce frequency, which reads:

"If you would like us to decrease the frequency of the emails sent to you, click here. This will reduce the number of mailings by 50%." (Note: We think this may be the smartest idea from this entire Case Study, and you should consider implementing it yourself.)


At 28%, the holiday letter's open rate was only slightly higher than general retail house list averages for that time of year. This makes sense because recipients couldn't tell the letter was "special" from the subject line alone.

However, the response rate in terms of paid orders was "on the high end for us," with .52% of the total names sent (equals 1.86% of opens) actually clicking *and* buying something right on the spot.

Plus, Kelly received almost two dozen personal notes in response from customers. "The Web's kind of ironic. It's used as a mass medium, but it should be more personal. It's a fairly intimate medium."

The frequency opt-out option has also proved a resounding success. "Putting this just above the opt-out option on every email has decreased opt-outs by 35%," notes Lindmeier.

For those of you wondering if your CEO could cope with email flooding in to his or her personal inbox from your Web site, Kelly says it's not that bad. You definitely need a stronger spam filter because you'll be on every list you never wanted to be on.

Aside from that, only .1% of site traffic email her in a typical week. This equals about 10-20 emails per day from every 100,000 visitors per week.

Kelly notes, "Only 1/3 are problems with orders. The other 2/3 are compliments and suggestions. It's useful feedback, wonderful communication."

Useful links related to this article

Sample from Junonia's Holiday 2004 campaign:


See Also:

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