April 4, 2012, 4:15 PM

E-mail marketing increases 21% in the first quarter

And Responsys anticipates more eco-themed messages as Earth Day approaches.

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Online consumers received 21% more e-mail marketing messages from retailers in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year, says a new report from Responsys. The e-mail services provider, however, says that e-mail marketing was relatively slow in March, which had a 10% increase in volume compared with the same month a year ago.

“Last month, many retailers decided their e-mail volume was running ahead of the level of subscriber interest and engagement, so they pulled back some,” says Chad White, research director at Responsys.

Responsys based its figures on a survey of 100 top online retailers such as 1-800-Flowers.com Inc., No. 45 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide Macy’s Inc., No. 17; Best Buy Co. Inc., No. 11; and Drugstore.com, No. 46.

The 21% year-over-year growth in Q1 e-mail outpaced the 16% growth recorded last year in Q1, Responsys says. In March, retailers in the study sent on average 15.1 e-mails to each of their subscribers, up about 10% from March 2011; Responsys did not provide average e-mail levels for February and January.

Heading into April, marketers wasted no time in e-mailing under the first theme of the new quarter. More than 24% of promotional e-mails sent on April 1 played up April Fools’ Day, a Sunday, up from 19% a year ago when the day for practical jokes fell on a Friday.

While some retailers ran with traditional April Fools’ Day promotional messages like “No Fooling—Free Shipping All Day,” a number of retailers produced more innovative e-mail promotions, White says. Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc., he notes, stood out with a “What’s New—NOT!” promotion that featured an image of a couple in dated fashions and provided links to see what was really new at UrbanOutfitters.com. A separate link to the retailer’s Facebook page let e-mail recipients satisfy their curiosity if they wanted to see more “nostalgic UO styles from way back when” with “more awesome classic pics!” Urban Outfitters is No. 48 in the Top 500 Guide.

Responsys adds that, with the Easter holiday coming relatively early this year on April 8, more marketers will focus on Earth Day, April 22, as a separate marketing theme. Responsys notes that last year, when Easter fell on April 24, Easter dominated e-mail marketing in the two weeks leading up to Earth Day, which as usual was on April 22. In the 14-day period leading up to Earth Day last year, Earth Day themes appeared in 6% of marketing e-mails, compared with more than 8% during the same period in 2010, when Easter came unusually early on April 4.

But with an early Easter nor not, April has become a strong month for e-mail marketing with an environmentally friendly theme, White says. “While eco-friendly messaging has become more common year-round in recent years, there’s still a noticeable spike in such messaging in mid-April,” he says. “In addition to promoting eco-friendly products, retailers have touted the greening of their facilities and charity work around conservation and other environmental issues.”

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