Amy Barto has never claimed to be a technology whiz.
But three months ago, the co-owner of Barto Pool & Spa in Phoenixville, Pa., decided it was time to take her promotional efforts into cyberspace. So she signed onto Constant Contact, a customizable e-mail marketing program that has helped her connect more effectively with customers.
“I find it’s an inexpensive way to keep in touch,” Barto said. “It’s great because it allows me to send out an unlimited number of e-mails for the same monthly fee.”
Like Barto, a number of retailers in recent months have embraced programs such as Constant Contact, AWeber, Emma and WhatCounts for their online marketing campaigns. Many of them swear by their preferred software’s ease-of-use, flexible platforms and, most of all, cost-cutting capabilities.
“It’s saving us a ton in postage,” said Ginnie Vaughan, sales and marketing associate with National Pools of Roanoke in Roanoke, Va., who started using Constant Contact last year.
“We still send out direct mail, but trying to do that monthly, the costs were getting astronomical,” she added. “This is so much more cost-effective.”
For her e-mailings, Vaughan divides her customers into categories — she has separate distribution lists for residential pool owners, commercial pool managers, outdoor furniture customers and hot tub owners. So she’s able to send her commercial audience information on CPO classes, while at the same time informing her spa owners of an upcoming sale.
Vaughan estimates some 25 percent of her customers are currently on at least one list. She’s working to grow that number by offering exclusive specials to shoppers who present a voucher that she only includes in her online sale ads.
“We tell customers we’re doing things through e-mail that we don’t do for everyone,” she said. “They have to have that e-mail coupon.”
At Aqua Quip in Seattle, David Everhart has been using WhatCounts since August 2010, after switching from another software provider. He prefers the greater control it offers over details such as creating tables and customizing text.
In addition to sending out promotional pieces, Everhart, the company’s creative coordinator, uses the program to conduct customer surveys, offer Web-only discounts, or feature an article on how to properly open a pool.
“The way the industry is going, people are moving away from direct mail and into e-mail,” said Everhart, who estimates that about a third of Aqua Quip’s customers appear on an e-mail list.
“Plus, we hold in-store contests to try to get that database filled out,” Everhart said, adding that encouraging participation sometimes just boils down to the methodology.
“It depends on the delivery,” he said. “You actually make it part of the process of collecting their information, and we let them know we do a lot of electronic communication.”
In Elizabethtown, Ky., Kelly Berry alerts Pools Plus customers to sales and special hot tub financing offers via AWeber.
In-season, she sends messages every two- to three weeks, and may also include information on pool opening and closing schedules. The company’s marketing director said she scales it back in winter, however, to once every six months or so.
Among the system’s benefits, Berry points to a tiered payment system, a solid delivery rate and “awesome customer service.”
“I think it’s definitely growing,” she said of the trend. “It may be a little scary for folks just getting into it because they aren’t sure exactly what they’re doing. But once you get going, it’s really very easy.”