Swimming in Data: Retail

I've become an Excel Pivot Table junkie over the last few days. I've been using the newly released version of our e-mail competitive intelligence tool, E-mail Analyst, with its ability to export the data into a spreadsheet. Excel's Pivot Table feature then allows me to really see our data in a completely new way, so much so that I plan on writing a regular feature in this column called "Swimming in Data," where I pick a different sector or topic and delve into the data surrounding it.

Today, for instance, I've taken a look at the e-mails being sent by the retail sector to see what we can learn about the top e-mails in the space and how they distribute their e-mail sends from quarter to quarter and month to month.

The first thing I did was to cull out the top 10 e-mailers in retail space. The list consists of those retailers who have a physical store presence and does not include companies whose main channel is mail order, such as L.L. Bean or Lands' End.

For the purpose of this case study, I restricted data to 2005 e-mails. Within those limits, the top 10 retailers who e-mail are: Neiman Marcus, Circuit City, Bloomingdale's, Kmart, JC Penney's, Kohl's, Saks, Nordstrom, Talbot's, and Wal-Mart.

If you consider the total of all the unique e-mails we gathered from these top retailers as 100 percent, then the breakdown of the retailers by percentage of that total is the following:

Circuit City: 12.41 percent
Bloomingdale's: 13.49 percent
Kmart: 5.18 percent
JC Penney's: 5.96 percent
Kohl's: 9.97 percent
Neiman Marcus: 25.61 percent
Saks: 6.74 percent
Nordstrom: 5.77 percent
Talbots: 7.92 percent
Wal-Mart: 6.94 percent

Of course the interesting thing here is just how much Neiman Marcus has embraced e-mail as a marketing tool, and how cautious Wal-Mart has been so far, at least as far as 2005 numbers are concerned.

Breaking things down further, I thought it would be interesting to look quarter by quarter to see how the top retailers balance their e-mail sends. As expected, the 4th quarter contains the highest volume of e-mail sends for most of the retailers, but not all. For this breakdown, imagine the e-mails sent in the 4th quarter represent a baseline number that we will compare the other quarters to.

It probably comes as no surprise that retailers' e-mails increase quarter to quarter throughout the year. The exception was Circuit City, from whom we actually received 8 percent more e-mails 3rd quarter than 4th. More typical was Bloomingdale's, from whom we received 23 percent fewer e-mails in 2nd and 3rd quarter vs. 4th quarter, and whose 1st quarter numbers were 40 percent less than Q4.

Here is a breakdown of the 3rd quarter sends as a percentage difference to Q4 2005 :

Circuit City: +8.82 percent
Bloomingdale's: -22.73 percent
Kmart: -53.13 percent
JC Penney: -28.57 percent
Kohl's: -6.25 percent
Neiman Marcus: -16.47 percent
Saks: -83.05 percent
Nordstrom: -12.90 percent
Talbots: -11.11 percent
Wal-Mart: -36 percent

So that we have an average to go by, I took a look at the average quarter by quarter difference for all brands in the retail sector, including third-party lists as well as in-house lists. The average is: 30.15 percent fewer e-mails sent Q3 than Q4, 36.78 percent fewer e-mails sent Q2 than Q4, and 56.10 percent fewer e-mails sent Q1 than Q4.

Obviously we are just scratching the surface here. A complete analysis would also include a subject line analysis and a study of Web site traffic patterns that match e-mail sends. I'm hoping you data hounds out there will enjoy seeing these numbers once a month or so. If you are a marketer wondering if I have data on your sector, drop me a line at bill@emaildatasource.com.