Commerce is killing the inbox

Smith-Harmon has released a study of American retail email trends for last year. Unsurprisingly, 2009 saw record volumes distributed.

It states that the 100 largest retailers sent an average of 132 promotional emails to each of their subscribers. That’s an average of 11 emails a month and 2.5 per week, per subscriber (peaking at 15.4 in December). Overall, top online retailers sent 12% more promotional emails in 2009 than they did the year before—and 39% more than during 2007.

You’ve got to wonder if we’re going to kill the golden goose here. The overwhelming number of emails threatens to neuter your subscribers’ inbox. I’d argue consumers are becoming numb to special offers and super savings.

This is about perfecting frequency, not necessarily content. It’s a nexus that lies between maximum engagement (revenue in most cases) and maximum disengagement (unsubscribers). Think about consumers’ distain for physical junk mail promotional mail shots. It’s not too much of a leap to imagine that feeling about your inbox –  even if you did volunteer your address.

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2 Responses to “Commerce is killing the inbox”

  1. Mark Thomas March 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    Nick – great article.

    Snail mail is likely to hit a delivery address which, in all likelihood, is the address of the decision-maker (in business) and the home address (in the consumer market). As such, post has to be actively ignored, in that the recipient picks it up and scans it in order to be sure it’s ‘junk mail’.

    The issue for retailers is twofold. The presence of the consumer in the virtual world is very different: (1) consumers have presence via multiple email addresses, and (2) are far more guarded against unsolicited and unexpected mailings for fear of the potential harm that unwanted emails might do. Thus the sender name needs to be familiar, and the subject line or preview pane needs to carry something which grabs the attention of the reader and anchors them to the brand identity and the opportunities that lie ahead.

    The likes of Amazon, Nectar and Sky – all major players with huge marketing budgets – pepper my mailbox with promotions, all of which are now regularly categorised as ‘Ignored entirely’. And as all of these likely have significant records of what might attract my attention and what might not, I’m saddened by how poorly targeted some of their mailshots are – both as a consumer and as someone with a marketing viewpoint!

  2. nick March 24, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Thanks for the feedback, Mark. We’re on the same page with your ‘Ignored entirely’ point. I think the volume is becoming so noisy that there’s a danger we’ll ignore all such mail shots.

    FYI Amazon sent me 16 promotional emails in December. Relevance was variable but when you’re getting your forth in a week, do you honestly care?

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