DIGITAL IMPACT REWRITES RULES ON COMPILING LISTS: EMAIL EXCHANGE LETS MARKETERS SHARE NAMES, IF CONSUMERS ARE WILLING

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Although e-commerce is growing rapidly, those doing the selling want to increase their customer bases even faster. Since the pool of people willing to type in a credit card number and purchase a product online is still small, the best potential e-commerce customer is one who's already done it.

But privacy concerns often hinder online merchants from sharing names. Digital Impact believes it has a solution.

The e-mail marketing company's new Email Exchange allows its e-commerce clients to swap customer names in a way that lets the consumer decide which merchants can contact him. The cooperative service launches this week with seven marketers, including Omaha Steaks, Sharper Image and Tower Records.

THE WAY TO GO

"E-mail marketing is direct marketing on the Web, and Email Exchange is the best option for growing your existing customers," said Ray Kaupp, VP-marketing at Digital Impact, San Mateo, Calif.

The new service goes one step beyond permission-based e-mail marketing by providing a wider base of interested consumers without having to rent outside lists.

An e-mail is sent to a customer by Omaha Steaks, for example, with an Email Exchange link embedded in the message. A customer choosing to click through to Email Exchange can sign up to receive information about another company within the cooperative.

The distinction from garden variety e-mail marketing is lists remain highly qualified and are limited to a small number of merchants, Mr. Kaupp said.

In addition, the merchants control which Email Exchange companies appear in their own customers' e-mail messages.

"Omaha Steaks is personally endorsing the other companies participating in the e-mail exchange," said Stephanie Healy, interactive sales manager for OmahaSteaks.com, the online division of Omaha Steaks International.

And the other companies boost Omaha's credentials with new customers, she said.

REAPING THE BENEFITS OF GOOD EXPERIENCES

"When someone has had a positive experience with another leading online merchant, they'll be more like to give Omaha a try," Ms. Healy said.

The payoff for the online merchants comes when the customer clicks through to a specific merchant from the link.

"These vendors end up owning the names," Mr. Kaupp said.

"The No. 1 request from vendors and partners is that they want to grow their house file e-mail list," he said.

And access to other merchants' databases is the latest Holy Grail in Internet marketing.

Internal e-mail lists have a greater response rate than any other tools online, including banner ads, rented e-mail lists and site sponsorships, Mr. Kaupp said.Digital Impact executives hope to have all the company's 35 clients in the Email Exchange program by this fall.

Clients include both traditional retailers venturing into online, such as The

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