October 17th, 2007 | 7 MIN READ

Welcome Email Usability Tips for Online Retailers

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

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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