July 10, 2009
Case Study

Going Green: How to Transition Catalog Users to Email & Lift Conversions 19%

SUMMARY: Marketers looking to save money on print costs can take advantage the growing trend toward “green” marketing by transitioning customers from a paper catalog to digital communications.

In this Case Study from our archives, see how a marketer redesigned their email program to make it a green alternative to their printed catalogs. The test worked: They reduced their print run and lifted email conversions 19%.
When Brian Mehler, Ecommerce Manager, Chiasso, came onboard seven months ago, he was charged with the hefty task of improving the open, clickthrough and conversion rates for their email program.

That was only the beginning. Through their own sales data and from customer surveys, Mehler's bosses knew their upscale, educated, mostly-female demographic was increasingly migrating away from paper catalogs in favor of greener channels.

While they didn’t think customers would abandon catalogs immediately, it was Mehler’s job to get the brand ahead of the curve. Significant email design changes needed to be made to increase conversions and to incorporate the most-current catalog into the look and feel of the emails -- from product images to the subject line.

Mehler and his team wondered if they could get their increasingly green audience to envision email and the Web site as a replacement for the catalog.

"Because of paper waste, our customers were going to be asking for catalogs less and less," Mehler says. "If people in the future opt to only receive emails, then that would be our only way to introduce them to the new season. We had to see if email could provide the same type of rich experience that our catalog has for years."

At least, Mehler didn’t have to build the email list. They already had an email address for practically every customer and prospect who received a catalog in the mail. Here are the four steps they took to test the greener initiative:

-> Step #1. Offer green options

Mehler wanted their green enthusiasts to be able to take action after clicking through the emails. Therefore, they added a "catalog" link above the fold on the homepage. From there, viewers were taken to a page where they could either shop from their virtual catalog application or manage their paper subscription by choosing either:

o "Get the Chiasso catalog"
o "Stop getting the Chiasso catalog"

Those who clicked on the second link could fill out a form to be taken off the list. They were also able to specify if they simply wanted to withhold permission for Chiasso to rent their names.

The copy for the permission page read:

"...we know, your mailbox is always full, your mail person’s back is ready to give out, and you’re really concerned about deforestation and the situation we are facing with landfills. And believe it or not, we would like to help. The last thing we want to do is send people unwanted mail."

-> Step #2. Redesign email program

Because Mehler knew customers would be opting out of catalogs, they had to increase email conversions fast. More than anything, he wanted the email design to better reflect the catalog’s glossy, high-end aesthetic.

To achieve this, they:
- Shifted to a more photo-laden and colorful three-dimensional layout.
- Featured the same products in the emails as were on the catalog cover -- a zoom sofa-sleeper and an in-motion table. The items were also showcased on the homepage.
- Showed the products multiple times in the message to give a different perspective on how they might look in customers' homes.
- Used less copy around photos.

"We didn’t want to bore them with a long phrase. We wanted to excite them with things they could do with their homes by showcasing designs and abstract shapes."

-> Step #3. Announcement message

Next, it was time to launch the new email design. They sent the first email three days before the fall catalog was scheduled to arrive in home.

The subject line:
"Inspiration is in the mail...fall’s first look."

-> Step #4. Remail to non-opens

48 hours later, they segmented the non-opens from the customer list for a remail. This new email used the same design and product offers, but they also included a limited-time discount to create urgency and offer an incentive to open.

They sent this email three days after the catalog in-home date to ensure that their West Coast addresses had, indeed, received the paper book in the mail.

The subject line read:
"Inspiration is in the mail...save 10% on your next order."

"In the unsolicited commentary we’ve received, people have been thrilled that we incorporated the green option," Mehler says. "It’s all part of the process as we move forward with our audience."

Of course, if their catalog readers want to migrate away from paper, Mehler and his team would prefer to see a gradual transition. Thankfully, that was the reaction: catalog unsubscribes that were tracked back to the email campaign were less than 1%, but he expects that number to increase as their savvier email design gains traction with customers.

There’s no question that the new email design worked: conversion rates for the test increased 19%. Mehler credits the remail tactic as an important part of that success. The limited-time discount really motivated shoppers.

"We even saw a bigger-than-normal spike in our call center after the remail went out. And there have been other great results overall. For instance, we saw gross dollars for the email increase by 20% and a net gain of plus-30% compared to usual."

Here are the statistics:
o Announcement message - 19% open, 7.7% clickthrough rate
o Remail - 21% open, 3% clickthrough rate

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Chiasso:

Bronto Software - Chiasso’s email service provider:


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