Retail Email Volume Hits All-Time High During 2009

Every January I spend a lot of time reviewing and reflecting upon the prior year. In the weeks ahead, I'll be inducting the 2009 classes into my popular Subject Line, Design and Oopsy Halls of Fame. But before I get to those qualitative exercises, I always dig into the cold, hard stats from the previous year.

We'll be releasing a full array of stats later this week, but here's a sneak peek at some of the big-picture numbers:


  •       During 2009, the retailers I track on the Retail Email Blog each sent an average of 132 emails to each of their subscribers. That averages out to 11.0 emails a month and 2.5 emails per week per subscriber.

  •       During December, which was the busiest month of the year, retailers sent each subscriber 15.4 emails on average.

  •       Overall, top online retailers sent 12% more promotional emails in 2009 than they did the year before-and 39% more than they sent in 2007.



  •       Comparing monthly retail email volume year-over-year, increases ranged from 5.2% to 18.3%.

  •       There was not a single week all year when year-over-year retail email volume fell.

     The trend is pretty clear: Retailers sent considerably more email to each subscriber than they did during 2008.

    It's also an unsustainable trend. While Epsilon's Email Trends & Benchmark Report for Q3 2009 showed an encouraging trend in click and open rates, particularly for retailers, it likely did not continue during the holiday season deluge. Also, there were strong signs that high-volume days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday caused ISPs to block and delay more email. ISPs are likely to become even less friendly toward marketers that send more email without a corresponding rise in engagement as measured by opens, clicks, replies and forwards.

     It's my hope that, instead of cranking out ever more broadcast promotional emails, retailers will put more emphasis on targeted emails in 2010. There are many avenues to explore:

  •       Launch a preference center or hone the one you have. According to some research I'll be releasing next month, less than 22% of retailers appear to have a preference center. That leaves plenty of room for improvement.

  •       Build out your triggered email program. Birthday and anniversary emails are underutilized, and browse-based emails and shopping card abandonment emails can be big performers if done right.

  •       Use dynamic content to add personalized content and promotions to your broadcast emails to make them more relevant to individual subscribers.

  •       Create a loyalty program with a detailed customer profile so messages can be uber-targeted. I consider Sephora's Beauty Insider program to be a fantastic example of offering hyper-relevant product recommendations in exchange for detailed information from customers.

    Last year, consumers were deal-hungry because of the dire economic conditions, but there are signs that the economy is turning around. By December, consumers could be in a significantly different mindset and considerably less tolerant of receiving emails every other day or more. ISPs might be less tolerant as well, as they continue to tweak their filter triggers.

    It's time to stop turning up the volume and focus more on turning up the relevance.

  • 3 comments about "Retail Email Volume Hits All-Time High During 2009".
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    1. pat jacona, January 5, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

      The data in this report was expected so thank you for confirming what I believed was happening in the retail world. Can you provide commentary of this type for b2b?

    2. Chad White from Litmus, January 5, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.

      Sorry, Pat. My data only focuses on B2C.

    3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 5, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.

      Something to think about: I receive emails from Nordstroms, Saks and Neimans. Although I have purchased products from them, the thought of spending $900 on a pair of shoes not only spins the dollar to the first of never and they should be aware of that from my history, they still send promos for them. Are they relevant when I delete before opening them? Do they keep those stores on the front burner for other items? How deep does an advertiser go for relevance?

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