As I give away in the title, the 2008 holiday season saw record retail email volumes. The Retail Email Index, which is a measure of the promotional email volume generated by 100 of the top online retailers, hit an all-time record of 391 during the week ending Dec. 19. That means that retailers were sending about 3.9 emails each that week. This was an increase in volume of 76% vs. the pre-holiday norm. Last year the peak weekly volume was up only 71% over the pre-holiday norm.
However, overall retailers ratcheted up their send volumes by 43% during the holiday email season vs. the pre-holiday norm. (We define the holiday email season as the 6-week period of Nov. 8 to Dec. 19 and the pre-holiday baseline as the 12-week period of Aug. 16 to Nov. 7.)
While that increase was 2 percentage points lower than the increase in 2007, the Retail Email Index was up 15% year-over-year during the holiday email season, so on that basis retail email volume was considerably higher than during the 2007 holiday season.
The most disturbing development during the holiday season was the deliverability problems that some major retailers experienced during the first week of December. The Retail Email Index was essentially flat that week, when it typically would have been up more than 10% week-over-week. This is a clear sign that for the 2009 holiday season retailers need to do a better job of segmenting their list and serving those segments with more targeted messaging with a cadence that's appropriate to each segment.
One encouraging sign is that holiday volume increases are gravitating more toward the 50% mark. This year 57% of retailers increased their volume by 50% or less, a bit more than the 52% that did so during the 2007 holiday season. That increase was matched by a similar decrease in the percentage of retailers that increased their email volume by more than 100%. This holiday season only 15% of retailers more than doubled their email output, compared to the 23% that did so during the 2007 holiday season. So more retailers are trending toward the average.
However, there were still some retailers that were far off from the norm. There was still a small percentage of retailers that more than tripled their holiday email volume. During the 2008 holiday season, retailers that increased their email volume by more than 200% included Toys "R" Us, RedEnvelope, Finish Line and Harry & David, which increased its volume by nearly 700%.
The question to be asked at the end of all of this is: Was it worth it? Did the increase in sales from higher frequencies outweigh all the potential downsides, such as:
As the dust settles on the 2008 holiday season, every marketer should be trying to answer those questions and determine if they maximized the value of their lists or squandered significant lifetime value in exchange for a smaller short-term boost in sales.
I hope these stats and insights help you benchmark your 2008 holiday campaigns and prepare for a responsible and merry 2009 holiday season.