PETCO � Where the E-Mail Marketing Goes a Long Way

By James Maguire | Posted July 14, 2005

If anyone deserves the title "e-mail guru," it's Heather Blank. As the director of e-commerce marketing for pet-related products and services giant PETCO, Blank is well steeped in the all-important skill of growing an e-mail list — and using that list as effectively as possible.

PETCO, as one of the country's largest animal food and supplies retailers, has a well-developed e-tail presence. The site opened for business in 2000 and now sells everything from t-shirts for dogs to care kits for pet Gecko lizards.

With this wide a selection — which means all kinds of pet owners — PETCO could use a broad-brush approach in building its e-mail list, but Blank said she believes in a carefully targeted effort to harvest new e-mail addresses. "We're not, for instance, going on large ad networks and running contests to win a Ford Explorer, because that could be just anybody," she says. "We're trying to target niche pet sites, or partner with organizations around pet ownership."

"We don't go after quantity, we go after quality — we make sure our sources are pre-qualified to deliver a qualified pet owner."

One of the key techniques the site uses to build its e-mail list is a coupon offer. Every user who gives his or her e-mail address is awarded a $10 coupon for PETCO products. This works at three levels:

  • It builds the e-mail list
  • It ensures that only qualified buyers give their e-mail
  • It prompts these people to start shopping at PETCO.com.
The technique, "makes it pretty easy to try to get that first purchase," Blank notes.

Make It a Customer Service
Blank concedes that many consumers are reluctant to give their e-mail address. "Giving your e-mail is very private thing to do," she says. "The key to overcoming that resistance is to offer a very good value upon doing that."

"So if it's a discount, or a free bag of food, or special content about your pet, all of those are values, so that people don't see it as such an imposition — it's really presenting them with a benefit."

The site makes it clear that pet-related information, not just sales offers, will be included in company mailings. Throughout the PETCO site are solicitations to sign up for a specialized newsletter, "with animal care information, exclusive offers and more."

Making It Personal
Many shoppers don't give their e-mail address because they're afraid they'll get a blizzard of ads from the company that don't relate to their individual desires. PETCO handles this by personalizing its mailings.

"We send very few generic newsletters to our subscribers, we do a lot of one-to-one personalized communication," Blank says.

PETCO has created e-mail templates, which are filled with different offers — personalized — based on factors like each consumer's purchase history. "Any time the items that you've purchased on our site are on sale, we send you an e-mail."

The site uses an e-mail personalization system that sends countless different individualized e-mails. E-mails are personalized based on a list of variables ranging from pet type, combination of pet type, purchase frequency, and five possible shopping offers. "We send out an enormous number of versions," Blank says.

Additionally, the company personalizes e-mails with informative pet-related content based on purchase history or a questionnaire that customers fill out. Adding a sentimental touch, "We send an e-mail reminding you of your pet's birthday, with an offer to buy him or her a toy on our site."

To help administer its e-mail marketing, PETCO uses Responsys. In terms of vendors that offer an ASP model for this service, with a WYSIWYG interface, "they're the only one we found that have that capability, for this level of dynamic content," Blank says.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of internet.com Small Business Channel.

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