Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap to it

A friend of mine, who I’ve known for more than 20 years, is convinced my birthday is 29th February. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him my birthday is in January, the notion has taken on a tradition status, that I now look forward to the leap year to receive birthday greetings from him.

Email marketers have also cottoned on to the fact that an extra day is sort of special and have been sending me offers to ensure I spent my “spare” day shopping with them. I tallied a dozen emails in the past few days promoting leap year deals. And some were executed much better than others.

Lingerie etailer sent me an email with a 29 percent off discount code, making it the most generous marketer of the bunch. Similarly, Presents for Men also offered 29 percent off, but customers had to shop from a special “leap year” range. Other offers included “up to” 29 percent off, with an additional 10 percent discount code from Asos, while apparel and maternitywear specialist Isabella Oliver included a free mystery gift to leap year shoppers. 

Presents for Men

As well as the best offers, Isabella Oliver and Figleaves also stood out in my selection of 12 as having the most enticing subject lines. Isabella Oliver went for “Fashion for free, TODAY ONLY! Receive a special gift with every order” while Figleaves went straight for my wallet with “Because it only happens every 4 years! 29% off - Email Exclusive!”


Beauty and cosmetics etailer CheapSmells, seemed, well, cheap in comparison. The subject line was punchy enough: “One Day Only Leap Year Saver - 5 Percent Off Everything Voucher Code”. But upon opening the email, the code only applied on orders of £50 or more. As it only happens every four years, perhaps CheapSmells could have pushed the boat out a little more.

Clearly keen to capitalise on the leap year concept, QVC also sent a themed email. But I felt it missed the mark: “Miri, spread the cost of your favourite brands with QVC this Leap Day”. My first thought was “what, no special offer?” The email copy went on to say: “Leap Year only happens once every four years so to help you celebrate in style we are offering all on-air items and selected online items in 4 Easy Pay instalments. Enjoy a full day of your favourite shows and brands, including beauty from Laura Geller, home electronics from Bose and much more”. Is it just me, or does this email leave you feel a bit deflated?  Have we all become “too trained” to expect money off?


Another marketer I wanted to see more from was The Last Detail, which sells wedding favours and table decorations. Its email was definitely on the right tracks—with plenty of calls to action for subscribers to get involved in its debate as to whether women should propose to men (well, it is a leap year tradition). There were links to The Last Detail’s Facebook page, where subscribers could take the quiz to see if they’d found Mr Right (I have, it says), videos including “Our top 5 Wedding Proposals” and a blog post on the “Top 10 places to pop the question to your man...” Plenty going on in the email, but it wasn’t selling me anything. I would have liked to see at least a couple of product offers—after all, we have a whole four years to wait until the next leap year.--MT

Friday, 24 February 2012

Dart’s data--weekly stats roundup

As the upcoming issue of Direct Commerce magazine looks at the developments in m-commerce, the first Dart’s data--weekly stats roundup focuses on some of the latest published m-commerce and social media research studies, just to give you a little taster of what to expect.
  • Retailers need to work harder to improve their mobile offering according to strategic information management company Stibo Systems. In its UK Online Shopping Trends 2011 whitepaper, only 27 percent of consumers said they were satisfied with their mobile retail experience. Not surprising when you consider that in separate research, Stibo discovered that 58 percent of retailers didn’t have the budget to make rich-media improvements to their site and 37 percent suffered due to legacy technology systems.  On the bright side, the study of executives at 100 top UK retail organisations revealed that around half (48 percent) of retailers are planning to enhance their mobile offering by the end of 2012; of those, 53 percent are looking to optimise their  websites for mobile, with 44 percent planning to facilitate mobile transactions.
  • Another survey, this time by Strongmail, notes that more than a third of businesses plan to increase their investment in mobile marketing programmes such as mobile apps (29 percent) and SMS alerts (20 percent). But when it comes to email, integrating social media is more important. It found that more than two-thirds of businesses plan to integrate social media and email in 2012, versus 44 percent integrating mobile and email.
  • By failing to maximise the potential from mobile, marketers are missing a trick. According to a YouGov survey commissioned by mobile business and marketing services firm 2ergo, 56 percent of consumers would use a personalised loyalty scheme on their mobile and just over a fifth (21 percent) state they would spend more if a brand had a proactive scheme which provided relevant and timely offers. And yet, 2ergo found that just 6 percent of high street retailers currently have a mobile-based loyalty scheme.
The March issue will be published on 8th March—to subscribe and receive your copy, click here.

Send your report, study or whitepaper to

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What we learned from 48 Valentine’s Day emails

It’s the most romantic day of the year and for marketers, Valentine’s Day is certainly about seduction. Now one of the most important sales periods of the retail calendar, Valentine’s Day has become the perfect opportunity for email marketers to try and tempt consumers into treating themselves and their loved ones. I took a sample of 48 Valentine’s Day-themed emails that landed in my inbox between 1st and 14th February to see if I could see any trends, similarities or stark differences among the messages.

People Tree

The most obvious finding was that free delivery was the most popular “chat-up line” in Valentine’s emails.  Of the sample of 48, free delivery was featured in 20, or almost 42 percent of emails. With some retailers, the offer of free delivery was unrelated to Valentine’s. That is, the retailer already offered free shipping as standard—as in the case of homewares marketer Bodie & Fou, which promotes free p&p on orders of £80 or more, or ethical apparel etailer People Tree, where customers spending £70 or more are rewarded with free shipping.


Others, like apparel retailers Toast and White Stuff and homewares etailer Mydeco, offered free delivery on every order but for a very limited period. Some emails, especially those sent out near delivery cut-off times, promoted “free upgrades” to express shipping. Capitalising on the last-minute shopper, gifts cataloguer/etailer The Handpicked Collection sent an email on Saturday, 11th February offering next-day delivery (worth £8.50) for the same price as standard delivery (£4.95). The Handpicked Collection was really feeling the love this Valentine’s as not only did it offer premium shipping at almost half the price, it also took 15 percent off Valentine’s gifts for the last two remaining shopping days.

The Handpicked Collection

Speaking of discounts, The Handpicked Collection was one of 18, or 38 percent, of emails that promoted a sale or discount. On Valentine’s Day itself, kitchenware brand Emma Bridgewater sent its customer database the offer of 14 percent off an order if placed by midnight. Debenhams was one of the early birds, sending an email on 1st February that promoted 10 percent off all fragrances and gift sets for two weeks.  Themed as a countdown to Valentine’s Day, I rather liked Debenhams’ new take on the 12 days of Christmas: it ran a daily deal programme with a different promotion on offer every day in the run-up to 14th February. The final offer was for 20 percent off women’s dresses. I don’t know about you, but I got bored of the 12 days of Christmas promotion very quickly last year and while I like what Debenhams has done, if adopted by everyone else, it will soon lose its novelty.  And while we’re on the subject of novel, we all know a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Seems that The Fish Society, a mail order and online fishmonger, believes it too; it was offering 10 percent off caviar.

The Fish Society

The next most popular promotion was a competition or prize draw. Perfume etailer went for a Valentine’s themed competition asking subscribers to describe what love means to them to be in with a chance of winning £300 worth of goodies. The ran a competition centred around the film One Day, with the prize of a trip to Paris. Cookware retailer Procook went for a more modest prize of a silicon bakeware set worth £36.

What surprised me most was that a quarter of the emails I analysed featured no special offer at all. With each one of the emails in my sample mentioning the word Valentine somewhere in the body copy, what were these emails saying if it wasn’t an urgent message to order now?  At environmentally aware brand Love Eco, the Valentine theme meant promoting the company’s new bird boxes—for lovebirds. Cath Kidston had the suitably quaint subject line of “It's all roses and romance with our new kitchen accessories”, and while it was supposedly a “Valentine’s special”, there were no “special” offers. The best no-offer email came from Net-a-Porter’s sister (brother?) site Mr Porter. With the subject line: “Valentine’s Day covered: what to buy, wear and do”, this email won me over straight away. Going on a date? Here’s what you need to wear. Got to get her something? Choose from this range. Wondering what drink to order at the bar? Mr Porter has it all under control.

Mr Porter

At the other end of the satisfaction scale was was sporting goods website Kitbag, whose email I met with a resounding “huh?” I’m not sure what list Kitbag has me on but I am definitely not based in Asia. To receive an email in a foreign language in the UK is, as the kids say, an “epic fail”. For the landing page to also direct me to the company’s Asian site is wrong too.

Kitbag Asia

But let’s not end this date on a sour note. All the retailers in the sample directed email subscribers to particular sections of their websites. Some had dedicated Valentine’s gift centres, others a particular range or seasonal theme. Among my favourites was Velvet Brown’s “Because we love you...” email. Written in a warm and friendly tone, the email promoted new stock arrival for spring and Valentine’s Day gift ideas. A nice touch (aside from the typo in the copy) was directing recipients to the “homely hearts” range on the website. Although it seemed like it was just for Valentine’s, I later realised “homely hearts” is a staple product line of heart-shaped and love-themed items for the home. What a simple but effective way to draw attention to an existing range and make it seasonal and topical. --MT

Love is in the air, so here are five of my favourite Valentine’s subject lines of 2012:
Cath Kidston: It's all roses and romance with our new kitchen accessories Valentine’s Date Night Essentials from
The Linen Works:
Breakfast in Bed - 15% Off our Bedlinen until Valentine's Day
Mr Porter: Valentine’s Day covered: what to buy, wear and do
River Island: Look hot this Valentine’s, gifts of love + great savings

Monday, 13 February 2012

This month's must-reads

By now, subscribers should have received their copy of the February issue of Direct Commerce. If you don’t subscribe, here’s what you’re missing out on:

As seen on TV: Could TV be right for your business?
A guide to avoiding big mistakes on the small screen, with an insight into what advertising on TV involves as well as advice on how you can make sure your TV test has the best chance of success.

Social Selling: Facebook for small businesses
Top tips as to how small businesses can make the most out of their social presence on Facebook.


Explaining the complex world of the cloud, we a look at to avoid a cloud disaster.

Plus...Q & A with Lulu O’Sullivan, a review of the Groomers website and much, much more.


As a subscriber to Direct Commerce you get all this included in your annual subscription:
  • 11 issues of Direct Commerce
  • All our bonus supplements
  • Exclusive access to subscriber-only content on
  • Month after month of strategic tactical guidance on operate in the direct commerce sector
All this for just £65 a year for UK subscribers. Or you can choose the online-only option for just £45, worldwide. Click here to subscribe today!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The January Catalogue Log

Catalogue volume plummeted in January. We logged just 61 catalogues last month, compared with 110 in December and 150 in January 2011. There are a number of theories for why this is the case. First, keen to maximise marketing spend, cataloguers are cleaning their lists and removing unprofitable names—such as ours. As we don’t buy from most of the catalogues we receive, it’s easy to see why we may not receive every mailing. The second reason could be internal changes; staff holidays have meant there were fewer Catalogue Log researchers active in January. Another likely reason is that because we received so many catalogues in the last week of December, heralding the start of the sale period, all the “usual suspects” had already mailed their January editions, albeit a week or so earlier than we would normally receive them.

January Offers Chart

Sixty-one catalogues is the lowest figure since August 2010, which saw an equal number of catalogues cross my desk. However, this year we can’t blame postal strikes or bad weather for a decline in volume. We’ll never know for sure why January was so different to previous years—or even previous months—but it will be interesting to compare February’s volume next month to see whether the negative trend continues.

But enough cogitating; back to the stats. Traditionally the month for sales, more than half of the catalogues we tracked in January (52.5 percent) featured some sort of special offer on the front cover. Not surprising, the most popular offer was a sale or a discount at 45.9 percent of covers. That’s roughly equal to January 2011, when 44.0 percent of covers featured a price-based promotion and marginally ahead of January 2010, which saw 43.5 percent of catalogues promote discounted prices on the cover. Business-to-business mailers led the way with discounts this January, with Nisbets, 4imprint and Furniture @ Work all offering cut prices. In the consumer sector, The White Company, Crew Clothing and Saltwater all gave us money off our order.

Showing a steady decline in popularity, free delivery was promoted on only nine of the 61 catalogues we received, or 14.8 percent. This is down from 16 percent in January 2011 and 21.4 percent in the same month 2010. What’s more, of those nine catalogues, each one teamed free delivery up with a discount as well. For example, the Tulchan winter sale catalogue promised up to 60 percent off plus free postage when customers spent £50 or more. Meanwhile, Charles Tyrwhitt’s 44-page sale catalogue delivered savings of up to 73 percent, “plus free delivery on prompt orders”.

Free gifts were promoted on only four catalogue covers last month: Viking offered us free business cards, Coopers of Stortford and Serious Readers both promoted a free book light, while a free fleece to protect our garden during winter was promised by Harrod Horticultural.

As a final point, while the Catalogue Log only tracks offers made on the front page, it’s worth noting that many mailers choose to promote special offers on separate inserts or address sheets, keeping their covers free from promotions. Verdict, Long Tall Sally and Sarah Raven Kitchen & Garden are among those cataloguers choosing to do so in January. This tactic then allows them to test special offers to different parts of the database. This idea got me thinking, so I took a look at some of the hardest working carrier sheets we’ve come across, and one of the laziest, in another post: Carry on addressing.--MT

Monday, 6 February 2012

Carry on addressing

We think we’ve found the hardest working carrier sheets out there—and possibly the laziest.

A catalogue from Agriframes landed on our doormat in mid-January with a carrier sheet featuring no fewer than three different offers. The first was a £10 gift voucher awarded if we spent £200, the second was a monthly draw to win a £100 voucher by sending in photos of our garden and the third offer was a thermometer, “worth £10.99” if we placed our order before 30th April.

Agriframes' carrier sheet
But while the carrier sheet worked hard to persuade us to spend, the catalogue’s cover was unassuming: an image of a woman and child walking under a gothic pergola that linked to its “Guaranteed for a Generation” tagline. We’d have liked to see at least one of the offers promoted on the cover. We’d also have liked a bit of colour on the carrier sheet too.

Making even more of the carrier sheet is the Happy Puzzle Company. Whereas Agriframes printed its address sheet in mono, the Happy Puzzle Company opted for full-colour. Received in time for Christmas, this festive example was packed with special offers and useful information. There was a choice of free gift—with illustrations. There were also details of last-order deadlines for guaranteed Christmas delivery and a reassuring note that the Happy Puzzle Company are product experts here to help us make the best purchasing decision.

The Happy Puzzle Company's carrier sheet

In the b-to-b sector, we liked this example from retail supplies cataloguer Morplan. Technically this isn’t a carrier sheet; the address is printed on the cover and a separate sheet is overlaid with a cutout for the address to show through, but it serves the same purpose. Again, a promotion is the most prominent feature—in this case a prize draw to win £1,000 to spend at Morplan.

Morplan's carrier sheet

Another b-to-b marketer, ESE Direct, uses the carrier sheet to display its award-winning status, its high customer satisfaction score and its low prices.

ESE Direct's carrier sheet

The carrier sheet is a premium spot to make some last-minute promotions or encourage impulse buying. It’s another chance to help your catalogue stand out from the rest of the mail. It’s also a useful way of segmenting offers for different buyers, and can save money on potentially costly personalised catalogue covers. There’s really no excuse not to make the most of this prime real estate. So isn’t is just slightly ironic that a manufacturer of flags and customised signage displays no creativity on its carrier sheet at all?--MT

 Doublet carrier sheet