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Oct 18, 2001
Case Study

How Click and Mortar Sur La Table Doubled Online Sales with Low-Cost Integrated Marketing

SUMMARY: When Carly Glassmeyer accepted the job of ecommerce marketing manager for Sur La Table a year ago, the Web wasn't even remotely a top priority for the gourmet cookware retailer, which operates 22 stores across America and sends direct mail catalogs to nine million people worldwide.

For example, although the company's site, which launched in 1999, did collect opt-in email names, nobody paid any attention to the list, or even knew where it was housed. Glassmeyer says, "I had to go around and ask people. I knew the names were going somewhere, but nobody knew where." Hear how she turned...

However, Glassmeyer, who had previously worked for an Internet pure-play (i.e. a retailer that was online only), was psyched about the site's potential. She says, "We are so blessed. It's just so easy when you have stores and a catalog. You have business coming to you naturally. When I came, they hadn't had anyone in this position for a couple of months and they still had a lot of online business! It's a natural transition for people who don't want to make phone calls and don't want to deal with the store to order online."

Glassmeyer had two goals. The first was to dust off the site and spiff it up to maximize sales from incoming traffic. The second was to generate traffic without spending lots of money, and by coordinating with Sur La Table's offline activities. Of the two, she knew the latter would prove the biggest challenge.


While Glassmeyer had some suspicions about what site changes might improve sales, she didn't implement anything without testing it first. She also didn't want to burden Sur La Table's already-busy IT team with constant site changes or traffic report requests, so she sought outside vendors that could help her make changes and track ROI by using "little pixels."

After a great deal of research (Glassmeyer is one of those marketers who exhaustively researches ten or more vendors before making a selection), she hired usability firm NetConversions to suggest and implement site design tests, and online measurement firm Hanrick to deliver daily ROI reports.

Over a period of three months, she tested more than 20 different design changes, including shopping cart design and "buy" buttons, to learn what would make a difference. Each design change was measured over a period of four days before Glassmeyer made any final decisions.

Glassmeyer is a big believer in using email communications to customers and registered visitors to grow eretail sales. After locating the email list (and again exhaustively researching vendors), she chose to work with Responsys to house her list and send out emails. Next, she focused on growing that list as much as possible -- and that meant coordinating with Sur La Table's offline marketing departments in three ways:

1. Retail Store Email Collection
Glassmeyer bought "really beautiful" acrylic boxes with attached pens and stacks of entry cards and asked the merchandising manager of each Sur La Table store to place one in a visible location. She sends managers a new sign every six weeks featuring a different giveaway for opt-ins, such as a set of kitchen knives.

She also gave a rousing speech at the Company's annual store manager retreat, inspiring everyone to begin asking customers for permission to send email. In exchange, she promised managers that the list would be selectable by zip code, so they'd be able to use it occasionally to drive foot traffic for sales and special events -- such as a famous chef in-store appearance.

2. Call Center Email Collection
Glassmeyer's boss runs the catalog division, so it was easy to coordinate with the in-bound call center. Now the reps ask for email addresses while carefully telling customers their address will be used to send them news about special promotions.

3. PR & Corporate Events Coordination
Sur La Table's PR team already had a strong co-promotional relationship with Bon Appetite magazine. Glassmeyer brainstormed with them to invent ways they could use that relationship to promote the site and gather emails. For example, Bon Appetite and Sur La Table co-launched a promotion for the independent "foodie" film, Tortilla Soup. Sur La Table hosted a Web site for the film that included a link to Bon Appetite and an email opt-in form for Sur La Table promotions. The magazine ran print ads pushing traffic to that special site. Meanwhile the film's marketers added the special Web address to all of their marketing materials as well.

In addition to mentioning the Web address in the Sur La Table catalog, Glassmeyer added a new check box to the opt-in email form at the site which said, "Marketing Partners: Check this box if you would like to receive emails about products and promotions from our marketing partners."

She does not intend to rent this list, she intends to use it to swap with cataloguers who have related demographics. All emails to this list will still come from Sur La Table, because that's who the visitor gave permission to. Glassmeyer is strongly considering joining the Abacus Direct system (link below), which enables cataloguers and eretailers to swap names more easily, while maintaining appropriate practices in privacy and permission.

Last, but not least, Glassmeyer invested in one key online marketing tactic to drive site traffic -- search engine optimization and positioning. Like many eretail sites, is dynamically generated, so search engines have an almost impossible time finding content within the site. Also, carries literally hundreds of items, and Glassmeyer wanted to make sure search engines noted each and every one of them just in case a searcher was looking for something particular.

After yet more research, she decided to work with Media DNA's eLuminator system. They created a special static page for each product in the site, and submitted each to top search engines.

Glassmeyer began sending emailed promotions to her opt-in list as soon as she could. She's tested sales announcements and content such as recipes, and watches open rates and clicks like a hawk to see what works. Interestingly, she varies the timing of email promotions depending on the time of year, instead of sending a steady stream on an every week or two-week basis like many marketers. She got this idea after learning what timing works best for the Company’s print catalog. In the summer she may send email every few weeks. As the winter holiday cooking season grows closer, she increases email frequency.


Sur La Table's site sales grown by more than 100% in the past year, and continue to rise steadily. The site now represents approximately 4% of total company income. Glassmeyer notes that 4% may not seem like a lot to some people, but most of it is incremental income, and "that's as much as our most successful store makes." She adds, "We are really excited."

The other divisions share this excitement. Store managers, PR and the catalog team have rallied round the Web cause happily.

Here are some of the things she learned from tests:

o The "buy now" graphic next to each product was changed from a colorful circle to a button that resembled other eretailers'. Glassmeyer says, "People were confused about how to buy. We were used to the circle because we saw it all the time, but for first time customers it was terribly confusing."

o Shoppers added more items to their shopping carts, and were less likely to abandon them, after Glassmeyer made the "Continue Shopping" and "Check out now" buttons different colors, so it was easier to figure out which was which.

o In-store promotions to gather email names were tremendously successful, "We got tons of names." Glassmeyer adds, "The feedback was really positive. Customers really liked doing that type of stuff. They got excited about it."

o Although 30-40% of total click throughs on links in Glassmeyer's emails are on sale items ("Everyone wants a sale") she's learned to keep non-sale content such as recipes in her emails to get people to open them consistently. She explains, "People do like content. They want a value-add. They don't just want to look at products and specials."

o Search engine optimization with the eLuminator system now brings an average of 15,000-20,000 pageviews a week. Glassmeyer says, "I think that's incredible, going from nothing to that." These visitors generated $20,000 in sales in September alone. (In fact while we were interviewing Glassmeyer a search engine sale came in that was so large -- over 100 items -- that she had to check if it was real. It was.)

The customer service department regularly forwards her copies of emails from new customers saying, "I found your site through a search engine." She says that these new customers are generally searching for a fairly esoteric kitchen implement and are thrilled to find it.

While Glassmeyer's efforts have been successful so far, she is careful to note, "Like everybody, we are still trying to figure out how to handle the third channel and how to integrate it into our other business. We're going to be on a sharp learning curve for the next five years. You just have to keep experimenting -- testing, testing, testing -- to see what works."

She adds, "It's so fun to be a marketer in this field!"

Useful links related to this article

Sur La Table

Atlas NetConversions


See Also:

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