How many e-mails are too much?

Discussion
Sources: J.Crew, Macy's, Sears, Amazon, Gap
Jun 07, 2018
Tom Ryan

According to a study from Brand Keys, 88 percent of consumers feel they receive too many emails too frequently from retail brands. And Amazon, often ranking first among retailers in brand reputation studies, was seen as the worst offender.

When Brand Keys asked consumers, “Which retailers send you too many emails?”, the top 15 retailers mentioned were:

1. Amazon

2. Groupon

3. Gap

4. CVS

5. Gilt

6. Overstock

7. Victoria’s Secret

8. Old Navy

9. Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s (tied)

10. Home Depot

11. Apple

12. Walmart, Best Buy (tied)

13. Target

The study didn’t address SPAM or unsolicited e-mails consumers had not signed up to receive.

Brand Keys then explored whether sending out excessive e-mails was “necessarily a bad thing” as most advertising mediums hear complaints about going overboard on outreach.

For 11 of the retailers in the top-15 list, the e-mail rate was found to have become fatiguing and engagement decreased. However, for four — Amazon, Groupon, Old Navy and Apple — engagement increased because the e-mails reinforced the retailer’s brand values.

Brand Keys wrote in its study, “Amazon’s emails supported the category expectation related to ‘community,’ Groupon emphasized expectations related to ‘geo-centric variety,’ Old Navy bolstered ‘price-value,’ and Apple amplified consumer desires and expectations for category values related to ‘personal outreach.’”

A louder call from the marketing community around e-mail marketing has been the need for more tailored messages as e-mail volume continually increases.

According to survey earlier this year from Liveclicker and The Relevancy Group, the most important aspect of e-mail marketing was including “products that are relevant to me,” at 55 percent. Also ranking high was being recognized as a loyalty member, including products in the e-mail viewed or saved to a wish list in the past, and including products that can be picked up at their local store.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are retailers sending out too many e-mails or is the level of complaints analogous to those about TV ads, display ads and other ad media? Is better personalization the key to making e-mail outreach feel less excessive or do retailers need to take other actions?

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Braintrust
"The question “Do retailers need to take other actions”? Yes! The younger part of Generation Z does not use email, ever!"
"Email is very much like all advertising: consumers hate it, but it works."
"Brand trust and loyalty are increasingly being redefined as data and privacy appropriately demand. "

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23 Comments on "How many e-mails are too much?"


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Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Emails are a nuisance unless they have something of value to offer. Too often they do not, so that little win of brain penetration that the emailing brand scores is lost by the imposition on consumers’ time and attention. Poor promotion is surely the sign of thoughtless marketing, if not a desperate and too revenue-focused brand. Emails become background noise too easily.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

For me, Gap and its sibling brands are the most guilty. I get bombarded by emails, always offering this discount or that discount — sometimes marketed as a very special exclusive offer just for me (and, presumably, millions of others). I mostly delete them. Their model is clearly high volume, low conversion. I wish they’d change it to something more sensitive and targeted.

I find Target’s emails pretty good, mainly because they are relevant and focused. I also like the story-telling emails of skincare brand Aesop; they are always interesting to read and I will usually engage with them.

Gib Bassett
BrainTrust
I think this is a complex question with a few dimensions. I do think it’s more analogous to complaints about advertising. The fact is many retailers use email as a revenue channel that works in spite of what sometimes appears as too much volume. I think it’s basically an attempt to be present when the consumer is ready to buy. The challenge happens when it comes to engagement and gaining the consumer’s attention and mindshare – over time, I believe most consumers like me stop looking closely at these communications due to fatigue. At the same time, when that consumer is ready to buy, having an email there handy from the past few days with a discount certainly helps drive a sale. That then places the value of this channel as a “discount and offer” communication mechanism at the expense of developing a closer relationship with the customer. Most retailers want to move away from discounts and toward value-based customer relationships — which does depend on greater personalization and relevance. Back out the lens further… Read more »
Art Suriano
BrainTrust
Many retailers send out way too many emails to their customers. It’s free, and marketers figure, “why not?” But it frustrates customers, and all they do is delete them, so very little gets accomplished. Retailers would be best served to send an email no more than once a week or twice a month and personalize emails to customers needs and preferences. The technology is there, it just requires a little effort on the part of the retailers. Also, use variety and creativity. Textbook standards state that a consumer must see an ad three times before responding. That may be true today with TV ads and even radio, but with an email, you have the luxury of being more creative to make the emails appear different and more interesting. Also, don’t always make them “sell” ads but consider offering useful information that the customer might take the time to read. Content that the customer will enjoy learning about will be helpful to keep the customer interested in future emails you send. Be creative, don’t send too… Read more »
Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

I don’t open the vast majority of retail emails that I receive. And these are brands that I like. But if every day you’re having the “biggest sale ever” it’s exhausting and I just don’t believe you. The fewer emails I receive from a brand, the more likely I am to open them. It’s kind of like when your quiet friend speaks up and says something. Everyone listens because you assume it’s important. At least for me, the same idea applies to emails.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Sending a daily email to consumers only reinforces the notion that retailers are talking AT customers instead of WITH them. We as an industry have to get a lot more savvy about detecting purchasing patterns, then making targeted recommendations (a la Netflix) that recipients will respect and act upon.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Email still works, but just a few seconds is what you get to grab the customer’s attention. That few seconds includes initial attraction and interest to the message, which will die quickly if it is all copy. We must have pictures/graphics. That being said, be careful, younger generations seem to be strolling away from email. Sending emails too often is deadly. Focus group participants tell us that receiving emails once every twelve to twenty days is plenty!

Sky Rota
BrainTrust
10 months 16 days ago

The question “Do retailers need to take other actions”? Yes! The younger part of Generation Z does not use email, ever! The older Gen Zers only use it for school, college, etc, but never for personal use. So, it’s safe to say email will become a thing of the past in years to come. We aren’t signing up to receive “text alerts” either. The only opportunity retailers will have to advertise to us is through social media.

It’s my 8th grade graduation today, very excited! I know u don’t let me put emojis on here but maybe just this once!

Trevor Sumner
Guest

Oy. We have been hearing the death of email drumbeat forever. It’s not happening. It’s a permission based personal channel that remains low cost and highly effective. This is not about advertising, this is about marketing. With all due respect, you are speaking from a very limited demographic that doesn’t use email. Catch me in 10 years when you are in the workplace and let me know how much email you use….

Sky Rota
BrainTrust
10 months 16 days ago

I guess you think we will be using FB too.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Generic emails announcing another sale are interchangeable and sound alike. Since most all retailers do this it certainly appears to be too many. If the emails are about something else or are personalized, they do stand out. If the emails actually provide value, then they may even be appreciated.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
Oh my goodness, where to begin! One, after moderating a panel of Millennials at a conference, I took the advice of one: create an email rule that dumps all promotional emails into a folder, and then when you decide you might want something, go to the folder, search it, and see if you can find a deal. You do have to purge the folder every once in awhile, but otherwise, you get a cleaner, stress-free inbox, without losing access to all the promotions retailers insist on sending out. Some of the best advice I ever took. I have since learned the other value of this approach: it actually helps you see just how inane some retailers’ strategies are. I fielded a question from a reporter about whether #metoo was having an impact on Valentine’s Day, like were retailers for whom V-day is important changing their messaging. I went to my handy “ads” folder, and found that 1-800-Flowers had sent me a ridiculous number of emails in a two-week period. I didn’t count them, but it… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust
I read this and asked myself “which of those on the list do I receive and open?” I do receive emails from Amazon. I would think anyone who ever ordered from them receives them regularly. I find I open and look at what they think will interest me; based on my past buying and browsing habits. I am not offended or put off. Then there is a retailer not on the list that sends daily emails that are pure ads and have no relevance to anything either my wife or I have purchased. So I have stopped looking at the emails, and now find I rarely consider shopping there. That retailer is over burdening us with pure ads of little substance. They are taking the “shotgun approach”: bombard them with a lot of “stuff.” Maybe they will see something they like and will buy. Not exactly the best approach. But it must be something they think works. My guess is Amazon has a much higher “hit” percentage than this retailer. That should be the target… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
10 months 16 days ago
This is an important question — I just wouldn’t trust this study’s full conclusions. As they start to “dig deeper” it looks too me like the analysts enter into the realm of assumptions and guesses — not research. Perhaps interesting suggested theories about email but not “conclusions based on research.” I’d challenge, for example, Amazon’s best ranking for brand reputation — that’s probably a false positive from Amazon’s ubiquitous presence, not because everyone loves them. That said, how much email is too much? Figuring that out is an art, not a science. If you’re not getting some complaints, you’re not emailing enough. If those complaints show your brand values damaged, then you’re emailing too much. A great deal of this has to do with whether the emails are useful to consumers or not. Amazon’s emails to me are worthless — some are even worse as they are in-your-face reminders that they’re tracking my behavior. We all need to develop a good ear for what information is most useful to consumers – even if they don’t… Read more »
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Email is definitely overused by some retailers. Some send messages multiple times each day, generally with just changed subject lines. The offers aren’t that much different from day to day and I am tired of ONE DAY SALE or 40% off the entire store, followed the next day by 50% off the entire store. It’s exhausting.

If email is to remain the favored way to connect with consumers, retailers are going to have to zero in on real personalization, because subject lines that read, “Hey, Bender!” isn’t it.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

This is a way too subjective a study from which to make any serious, strategic decisions. The point is, people THINK they get too many emails if those emails are irrelevant. If they are spot on for that shopper, then they are more than welcomed.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Oh, my! I am really out of it. Of the 13 retailers in the list, the only one that sends me emails is Amazon and I welcome that. I get emails from airlines and hotels (are they considered retail for this purpose?), and I welcome them.

Of course, once GDPR-like rules takes effect in the U.S., everything changes.

Trevor Sumner
Guest

While we are all experiencing email overload, the reality is that email continues to be a low-cost, high volume and highly effective channel for marketing. Many abuse this permission with too much frequency, but what people mean by too much frequency is that too many of the emails are not valuable enough. If each email was valuable, it wouldn’t matter if it was weekly or daily.

Value is about relevance and aligning with customers’ consumption. Personalized content is a good start to weed out the noise, but you also have to personalize frequency.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I don’t have time for the retail emails I receive and — as a result — I unsubscribe whenever possible with very limited exceptions. So, for me, the answer to the first question is a resounding, “Yes.” As to personalization, too much of it is like the old mass mailing that had your name in the greetings line. Truly personalized? Maybe, but I haven’t seen a lot of it.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Until a study comes along that shows over-emailing is counter-productive — presumably because it either ends up being deleted, unread or actually alienates (would be) customers — I don’t think there will be any changes. If even then. It’s largely seen as a hit-or-miss proposition, dependent on volume, and someone who sends less will simply get fewer hits.

More personalization is a mixed blessing, to the extent that it means fewer but better solicitations, it would seem welcome. But because that “better” comes at the price of intrusive data collection, it ups the “creepy” factor.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
10 months 16 days ago

There is too much data and too little relevance and that’s why the majority of the brands on this list are eroding the value of their customer relationships with excessive email. As pointed out in this discussion, too many retailers believe that email is simply a revenue channel and that more sends means more revenue. Our own research (and Jeff Bezos in this year’s Amazon letter to shareholders) reveals that consumers have increasingly higher expectations in terms of their customer experience and this fundamentally means relevance.

Brand trust and loyalty are increasingly being redefined as data and privacy appropriately demand. Retailers need to get on board just like brands in other categories or risk irrelevance along with their customers opting out.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

It’s only too much email if they unsubscribe or never buy! OK, that’s a bit facetious. When an email is unwanted or irrelevant — regardless of actual amount — it seems like too much. The old spray and pray method of weekly or sale related emails corresponds to retailers’ needs, not shoppers. Retailers need to get on board with today’s email technology and CRM platforms to best understand demand and response to ensure optimal timing and cadence to their emails.

Mark Price
BrainTrust
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
10 months 15 days ago

Retailers are sending out too many emails — bad emails, that is. Emails that scream offer, offer, deal, deal, buy now, buy now with little branding, personalization or added value to them. The best emails incorporate storytelling (content-based marketing) as well as value-driven offers to make the combination more compelling and drive open and click-thru rates. Consumers want to read stories and especially stories that relate to their lives and needs. That is a lot of work to put into a little email, but well worth the effort.

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Braintrust
"The question “Do retailers need to take other actions”? Yes! The younger part of Generation Z does not use email, ever!"
"Email is very much like all advertising: consumers hate it, but it works."
"Brand trust and loyalty are increasingly being redefined as data and privacy appropriately demand. "

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