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Retail Email Volume Sets Record in May; Trajectory Unsustainable, Says White

6/12/12

By Ken Magill

After a relatively quiet couple months, retailers opened the email-marketing spigots to record-setting levels in May, particularly during the run-up to Mother’s Day, according to Chad White, research director for marketing software firm Responsys.

“So far this year, email volume is up more than 18 percent compared to the first five months of 2011,” he said. “And that pace is ahead of the 16 percent overall increase in email volume per subscriber seen in 2011 vs. 2010. That said, June and July tend to be quieter email marketing months, so we anticipate slower volume growth until we reach the core of the back-to-school season in August.”

So while email’s punditry talks incessantly about email relevance, segmentation and targeting, retailers’ answer is apparently to simply continually crank up the volume.

The tactic makes a certain amount of sense. Managing different creative approaches can be complicated and invite errors. What is more, creative talent is expensive.

Increasing email volume avoids the complications and expense of more targeted campaigns. Also, it seems increasing email volume is working well enough to justify resulting subscriber losses. Otherwise the increases would stop.

White said one explanation for increased email volume is the ongoing transition to email from other channels.

“You can’t look at it [email] in isolation,” he said. “There’s a transition going on with a lot of room to run.”

However, simply increasing volume is unsustainable, according to White.

“If we carry it [the volume trend] out, we’re very much on track for a record-setting year,” said White.

He added that retail email volume has been growing at about a 15-percent pace annually.

“Obviously, that can’t go on indefinitely,” he said.

“While email volume continues to climb there is a very definite trend toward the need for more relevance,” said White. “The ISPs are keeping email marketers honest. They’re giving consumers tools and they’re listening to feedback.

“We have to play by the ISPs’ rules and the ISPs are sending a very clear signal that if you want to get to the people on your list, a lot of them have to be positively engaging with those emails, and very few of them have to be negatively engaging with those emails” he said. “That is a trend that is only going to pick up steam.”

As evidence, White cited deliverability troubles widely experienced by email marketers in February at Gmail when Google apparently adjusted its spam filters.


“I talk about Gmail, but Yahoo! and Hotmail are clearly headed in that direction, as well,” he said. “There’s going to be a sea change where you just can’t crank up the volume on broadcast anymore. That works to a certain degree for the time being, but all the signals are that that is not the long-term path to success, and by long term, I mean two or three years from now. The trend is moving that quickly.”

In other news, White said his research revealed that 31 percent of major retailers have promoted their activity on the social media site Pinterest in their promotional emails since mid-February, with 28 percent linking to their pinboards, 7 percent promoting a Pinterest contest, and 4 percent using “pin it” sharing links in their emails, as of June 5.

“Retailers are still in the earlier phases of launching their Pinterest pages, with many just trying to build awareness of their pinboards,” said White. “While adoption has slowed significantly over the past few weeks, I expect another wave of adoption this summer before retailers gear up for the critical holiday season. Evidence is mounting that consumers engage with more retailers on Pinterest than on other social networks and are much more likely to purchase based on that interaction, so the opportunity is just too big for most retailers to ignore.”

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Mitchell Lapides
Date: 2012-06-14 16:59:47
Subject: Email volume pitted against engagement

This is a great article, Ken. What's interesting in many tests is how increasing email frequency often leads to more revenue. But, there is a limit that is frequently not analyzed adequately. It's important to watch the metric "inactive growth rate" which measures the speed at which you have more subscribers who are not opening or clicking at all. So, while you may get an initial bump in sales, you may be hurting your longer term engagement and deliverability due to engagement metrics measured by the ISPs.

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