Welcome Email Usability Tips for Online Retailers

The Second Annual Retail Welcome Benchmark Study put out by Premiere Global Services and the Email Experience Council recently examined the subscription practices of 118 of the largest etailers. The study reports that 72% of the major online retailers send welcome emails immediately after a customer signs up for an email subscription. Being curious, I decided to conduct my own welcome-email research using the 100-some retailers on our Shopping Cart Buttons List. I wanted to test how many welcome emails I’d get and examine their content. But rather than signing up for email subscriptions, I registered for a customer account on each site. I also specifically opted-out of email promotions to make sure each welcome email was in response to the registration. The registration process itself was quite enlightening, and I will be reporting my usability observations in an upcoming post. I was able to successfully register for 89 accounts and received 33 welcome emails within 24 hours, or 37%. After reading each one I took a tally of how many emails used different tactics such as: 1. Branding in Headline: 88% It’s a good idea to include your company name in the sender field, the subject line or both. If the customer wants to spot your email among all the rest, you want to help them find it faster. Because some customers may scan either the “Sender ID” or “Subject,” it’s best to include your name in both. Be sure to configure your outgoing email so “Your Name” appears instead of customerservice@yourname.com as this also makes for easiest scanning. I don’t see any reason not to put a company name in the subject line, and found I Delia’s “It’s time to log in” subject a bit bizarre… screenshot of email subject lines 2. Used the Word “Welcome” in Headline or Body: 61% 3. Used the Words “Thank You” in Headline or Body: 66% 4. Included Multiple Links Back to E-Store: 52% Most often these were direct links to the account, FAQ, wish lists or customer service. A number of HTML emails actually had the site’s navigation right in the email including Macy’s, Sephora, OfficeMax and Ralph Lauren. screenshot of Macy 5. Included Login Details: 52% It’s always handy to do a search within your email account to retrieve login information, but many emails provided either username and password, not both — perhaps for security reasons. A handful included “lost your password” links to a page where customers could view their password security question. I found J.Crew’s stating of the obvious a bit humorous… screenshot of jcrew welcome email 6. Used HTML Layout: 42% 7. Provided Customer Service Contact Information: 42% 8. Reminder of Membership Benefits: 39% A great way to reinforce the customer’s good decision to do business with you and earn their confidence. A bulleted list stands out and is easy to scan. home depot screenshot of benefits of membership 9. Personalized With My Name: 33% Granted, not every site required a first or last name which made for fast and easy registrations that many customers appreciate. Although using my first name is a nice touch, personally I’m not more impressed by this – hey, I know it’s just pulled from a database. If I get an email that says “Linda, loved that last post on GetElastic and thanks for signing up with XYZStore!” then I’d be impressed. 10. Provided Link to Privacy Statement: 33% 11. Used Self-Promotional Language: 24% Any copywriting guru will tell you to avoid “I, us, we” and use “you” as much as possible. Customers want to know what’s in it for them. Here’s an example of a real welcome email (italics mine) fromthat should check its own inventory for something by Robert Bly:

Thank you for creating an account with (store). We’re your online connection to over 60 million from our own warehouses and from thousands of independent sellers around the world. Whether you’re looking to collect, give gifts, or simply find something to enjoy, I think we’ll have what you’re looking for (and at a great discount!). Our selection of is the best in the business — online or off. In addition, we carry over 500,000 new , making (store) a wonderful one stop Web site. We guarantee the condition of every item with our money back promise, and our top-rated customer service team is always available through to answer your questions. Every day, I hear stories about the kinds of connections that people find at (store). Connecting people with the they’re looking for is what our team gets passionate about — it’s why we’re in the business! I hope that you’ll be pleased with all of your orders at (store), and with our service. If you have any suggestions on how we can do better, please send me a note at (email). Again, thank you, and welcome to (store)!

12. Asked for Subscription to Newsletter or Special Offers: 21% chadwick email screenshot 13. Linked Back to Homepage (As Only Link) : 21% 14. Offered Incentives: 15% Ralph Lauren surprises you with free shipping on your next order, FTD offers 10% off next order, Vista Print and Blue Nile offer incentives for referring a friend and Palm gives a free download: screenshot of palm email incentive 15. Asked for Sale / Merchandising: 15% Five emails asked for an upsell of a gift card, credit card, catalog order or link directly to sale items. 16. Asked to Save to Address Book: 12% I checked my spam filter and it was clean, but white-listing email addresses ensures that future promotions with words like “free,” “on sale,” “buy now” or “special offer” don’t get trapped by filters. 17. Provided Unsubscribe Option: 9% In today’s age of CAN-SPAM compliance, I’m surprised it’s this low. But again, this is a welcome email for registration. It’s possible that there won’t be many follow-up emails if you opt out of the mailing list. 18. Personalized Signature: 9% Vista Print, Alibris and Abe Books were signed by actual employees. But I would recommend that you avoid using an employee name as a Sender ID, as customers won’t recognize or remember their names when scanning for your email. 19. Explain How To Use the Site: 6% 20. Double Opt-In (Account Confirmation Link): 3%Palm was the only site to send two emails, one in HTML format and another a simple “click to confirm account” message. This surprised me as for many other types of registrations (signing up for Flickr, Facebook or a newsletter) double-opt in registration is the norm.

Why Welcome New Site Members?

  • Confirming the account reassures the customer that the registration was successful. Imagine waiting for a confirmation and it never comes?
  • “Welcome” and “Thank You” are positive words that set the tone for the rest of your customer relationship.
  • Sending a timely welcome email may suggest you do business quickly and can be trusted for fast order fulfillment too.
  • Confirmation emails can help customers quickly retrieve username and password information via email search without having to use a “forgot password” function on your site.
  • You create an opportunity for instant customer feedback by including telephone numbers for, direct links to or email addresses for customer service.
  • They serve as an opportunity to reinforce the benefits of being a member which may motivate the customer to make a purchase sooner.
  • You can use confirmation emails to remind customers that they can subscribe to special offers and other email communications, order a catalog or join a special program you offer.
  • Offering incentives like free shipping also helps encourage that first sale.
  • If you offer an incentive or other call-to-action in your welcome email, you can segment those that respond for better targeting in the future. Keep in mind that this should only be applied to registrants that have also opted in to receive special offers from you.

List of Online Retailers in Sample

Retailers in bold sent welcome emails.

1800 Contacts 1800 Flowers Abe Books Abercrombie Alibris American Eagle Art.com B&N BassPro Bed Bath Bodyworks Bed Bath Beyond Best Buy Blair.com Bloomingdales Blue Nile Buy.com Cabelas CafePress CDW Chadwicks Circuit City CompUSA Crate and BarrellCrutchfield CVS Delias Dell Disney Domestications Drs Foster Smith Drugstore.com eBags eCost Eddie Bauer Etronics Efollet Foot Locker FTD Furniture.com GAP Gateway Harry and David Hallmark HomeClick Home Depot J CrewJC Whitney Land’s End Lillian Vernon Liz Claiborne Linens N Things LLBean Macy’s MLB.com Musician’s Friend Nieman Marcus Nordstrom Northern Tool OfficeMax Omaha Steaks Overstock Palm PC Connection PCMALL Petsmart ProFlowers Radio Shack Ralph Lauren REIScholastic Saks Fifth* Schwan’s Sears Sephora Staples Sony Style Spiegel Talbots Target The Sharper Image Tiger Direct Toys R Us Urban Outfitters Victoria’s Secret Wal-Mart VistaPrint Walgreens Williams-Sonoma Zappos

*Saks Fifth Avenue sent a “welcome” message about 30 hours after a “thank you” message. The second message is not included in this study. It was in HTML, provided an unsubscribe button, offered 10% off my next purchase and listed the benefits of registration. Looking for more ecommerce tips? Check out our video ecommerce tips (updated weekly) or our Twitter stream @elasticpath (updated daily). Based on this information, we want YOU to give your recommendations for good welcome email usability – either as a marketer or as an email recipient. Don’t be shy! We’ll give you link back to your site for your contribution. You can download your own copy of the Email Experience Council white paper for $179. More free statistics from the benchmark study can be found here and here.

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35 Responses to “Welcome Email Usability Tips for Online Retailers”

  1. Update: I just received a welcome from Circuit City (+48 hrs later). For the record, it came as HTML with branding in subject line, used “Welcome,” “Thank You” and stated benefits of membership. Included were links to important areas of the site, customer service and privacy policy. There was also a request to sign up for more email offers, an unsubscribe link and a reminder to add them to my address book. I wonder if they read the post this morning?

    In other news, just received a phone call (recorded voice spam) saying that “someone” registered me for a free vacation to somewhere warm at a kiosk in either Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s or one other store. Hmmm, wonder how they got this little Canadian’s address and phone number? NOT impressed.

  2. Linda, that’s great data. I’m glad my study was able to inspire you to do this report. I’ll definitely let my readers know about this.

    Pretty much across the board it looks like registration welcome emails are significantly lagging newsletter subscription welcome emails. To me it looks like the ecommerce teams and the email marketing teams are not collaborating enough. The email marketing teams probably don’t get much (if any) credit for getting a customer registration off on the right foot. Companies need to do a better job of giving email teams credit for success in other departments where they play a role and incentivizing them to make those contributions a priority.

  3. @ Chad,

    Thanks for your insight, that makes a lot of sense. This may be an area where smaller retailers actually have an advantage if there is one point person for all the marketing activities.

  4. Well done Linda! I found this to be a great reference, and really interesting. Cudos!

  5. Adam H says:

    I am a bit surprised more sites don’t include log-in and password information. The biggest deterrent to me using a site is lost log-in information (or difficulty in retrieving that information). Relatively often, I’m inclined to make an impulse purchase at some online site, but I can’t find my log-in information.

  6. @ Adam

    I agree. That would make so much sense. Personally I always use a search function to retrieve logins.

  7. Adam H says:

    Yup. And now the commercial email account that you send your log-in to possess good search functions. I do find it slightly annoying to have to sift through 8 emails to find it, though.

    While I’m on the subject of log-in peccadillos, one other thing that I find bothersome are sites that make you remember a “hint” before retrieving lost password. Inevitably, I can’t remember what answer I gave to the question “What is your favorite dessert?”

  8. @ Adam,

    I also found the sites that asked for passwords but didn’t mention that they had to have at least one number in the password until after it gives you an error message (ahem… Dell and Nieman Marcus).

    But I was more irritated by the sites that required Visa/Mastercard info to complete registration (iBuyDigital and Office Depot, hence they were left out of the survey).

  9. Adam H says:

    I am usually a little sketched out when sites ask for credit card info, but for the reputable sites that I end up supplying it to, I am happy about it in the long run. Nothing worse than pecking out those sixteen digits!

  10. Great post. I’d never really considered how important the welcome email really is. It gives a first (and hopefully not last) impression of your brand to your customers.

  11. [...] to Our Site” emails. Below is the summary of the 20 items she observed as top features, but you’ll want to read the full post here, which is [...]

  12. [...] Les usages les plus fréquents en e-mailings : Un article en anglais mais qui a l’avantage de déterminer les pratiques les plus utilisées en e-mailing tout en donnant des conseils avisés sur la réalisation de ceux-ci [...]

  13. Update: 6 days after the fact, J.Crew sends an HTML formatted welcome email with a free shipping offer (that expires in 2 days). Even though I had opted out of promo messages, there was an unsubscribe link, which may just be part of the template.

  14. [...] Dos and Donts Posted October 23, 2007 by Linda Bustos / var addthis_pub = ‘hotwheel’; While reviewing the registration process of 87 of the top online retailers, I observed 66% of these sites took advantage of the registration [...]

  15. [...] / var addthis_pub = ‘hotwheel’; Following up on previous posts about permission marketing and welcome emails for ecommerce websites, I’d like to share my personal experience registering for 87 accounts [...]

  16. [...] Example: “Email Exclusive – Free Shipping Offer” (BODY SHOP) The “from” line is far more important now than it used to be as customers skim from lines to weed out spammers. (I recommend you use your brand name). [...]

  17. Rob Campbell says:

    @Adam H & Linda Bustos:

    Continuing this slightly off-topic thread:

    Like many people, I use a small set of common username and password combinations, usually driven by the requirements of the site itself. It can be hard to remember which combination when returning to a site. The more hoops a site makes you jump through to create a valid username and password, the more helpful it should be in remembering them _on the first login attempt_. In most cases, I would not need to resort to the “Lost Username” or “Lost Password” rigmarole if the login page would simply tell me, “In most cases, your username is your e-mail address”, “Your username is not your e-mail address”, or “Passwords are a minium of eight characters with at least two digits”. Sites have lost my business because of this.

    Similarly, instead of telling me, “Either the username or the password you entered is incorrect”, tell me:

    - “Username doesn’t exist” if the username doesn’t exist

    - Or “Username doesn’t match password on file” if it exists but I entered the wrong password .

    Thanks for the interesting read.

  18. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment.

    I agree, being specific about the username or the password being the problem is a great idea.

  19. [...] very low. The post also analyzed how many pre-checked opt-in email: 57% did so. Finally, the post examined welcome emails–the ones that you get after you register. All three posts are very interesting [...]

  20. [...] When you look at triggered emails, you’ve suddenly got something that’s both proactive and reactive (reactive in the good sense of the word). The proactive part of the equation is easy since you must still have a plan to set up the triggers – yes, they do require a strategy. They can be as simple as the welcome/thanks for signing up email that gets automatically triggered to everyone who successfully opt-ins. (Sadly this isn’t always happening – in fact  Linda Bustos over at Elastic Path took it upon herself to run a little study on how retailers take advantage of the welcome email. To her horror, she discovered that only 1 in 3 triggered the much anticipated welcome email within 24 hours. That’s just the beginning. You should read Linda’s full post titled: Welcome Email Usability Tips for Online Retailers) [...]

  21. Benson says:

    A bid reason why sites don’t indicate which field is incorrect is to prevent hackers from “guessing” your account details. For example, if they know your email — and the site indicates that your password is wrong, then they know they can guess your password. Personally, I don’t see this as a problem as you could just lock out users if they guess the password incorrectly five times or something.

    I agree with using emails as usernames though…

  22. Hi Benson, that’s interesting. Thank you for sharing that with us, it makes sense.

  23. [...] – a complicated and suspicious domain. I compared this to the welcome email from Musician’s Friend in my Yahoo account and the email came from [...]

  24. [...] The Bronto Blog has a neat video podcast called Brontofire. This week’s episode looks at 4 top online retailers’ email signup landing pages: Apple, Zappos, Best Buy and Overstock. 3 were losers and 1 was a winner, I’ll let you take a guess at which one was the star before checking out the link. There are also 5 tips on how to improve email signup. I’ll spoil the last tip: it’s sending welcome emails. [...]

  25. [...] Marketing Manager for Bronto Software to chat about trigger-based email campaigns. Think sending welcome emails, reminders to repurchase or hey, “you haven’t been interacting with us for a while and [...]

  26. Very nice stats and it’s very useful for any companies.

  27. [...] Emails Look Good With Images Off Tips for Writing Welcome Emails Do Your Email Subject Lines Deliver? Check out all our email marketing [...]

  28. Cheryl says:

    Great post with some really useful information. I was about to do exactly what you did and create a bunch of accounts to gather my own research, but you saved me the trouble!

  29. [...] Welcome Email Usability Tips for Online RetailersAn excellent and thorough analysis of the subscription practices of 118 of the largest etailers. (42% used… This entry was written by admin, posted on November 24, 2008 at 2:09 pm, filed under affiliate marketing, entrepreneur, make money, online, small business. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment. « Branson Busts Borders Advanced Google Analytics: Conversion Goals (Part Four) » [...]

  30. [...] Originally Posted by ashtonuk For now i just need to know the structure for writing your first newsletter. the introductory letter to people who signed up Looks like you don’t talk about the newsletter itself but about the welcome email. Then read this study that may help you: Tips for Writing Welcome Emails | Get Elastic [...]

  31. [...] you send welcome emails when customers create an account with you? Here are some tips for welcome emails based on the behavior of 100 of the top online retailers. Yes I signed up for each one of them [...]

  32. [...] Welcome emails are fine, and encouraged. Send your welcome email within 24 hours, if possible. The longer you wait, the less relevant your welcome message. [...]

  33. Nigel says:

    wow who’d of thought i’d have gained so much knowledge from this one blog

  34. [...] to sign up. They liked you enough to give you their e-mail address, so why not give them a warm welcome e-mail to cheer them up a little. If you sell products that are more complicated to sell, you could use an [...]

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