December 1, 2011, 4:44 PM

Retailer holiday e-mail volume hits a record

87% of top retailers sent at least one promotional e-mail on Monday, Responsys says.

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Retailers inundated consumers’ inboxes with a record number of promotional e-mails over the holiday weekend, according to research from e-mail marketing software company Responsys Inc.

The company says it tracked e-mails from more than 100 top retailers from Thanksgiving Day through Monday and found that 87% sent at least one promotional e-mail on Monday, up from 77% last year, making it the largest e-mail marketing day for retailers. This past Monday, also referred to as Cyber Monday and a day when e-retailers frequently offer sales and discounts, also generated a record-breaking $1.25 billion in sales, according to comScore Inc., which tracks web sales.

75% of the tracked retailers sent promotional e-mail messages to subscribers on Thanksgiving, up from 60% last year. 81% sent messages the following day, also referred to as Black Friday and regarded as the major kickoff day for holiday gift buying, up from 69% a year ago. Responsys research director Chad White says retailers with stores promoted online shopping deals in Friday’s messages more strongly than in previous years. Black Friday has traditionally been a big day for retailers to drive store sales. “Large, store-based retailers like J.C. Penney and Office Depot promoted their online sales just as prominently as their in-store sales,” White says. “Avoiding crowds and skipping lines were common messaging themes.” Online sales increased 26% year over year on Black Friday, according to comScore.

The overall volume of retailers’ promotional e-mail activity increased 27% during the five-day period, Responsys says. How many of those promotional e-mails landed in non-active e-mail accounts or were never looked at by consumers isn’t known. Research released earlier this month by Responsys shows that more than half (54%) of retailers continue to send promotional e-mails to inactive subscribers. The company says that when retailers continue to send e-mails to consumers who don’t open them, they run the risk of having all their e-mail messages shunted to spam folders where consumers, including the ones who normally open promotional e-mails, are less likely to see them.

To obtain the data about inactive subscribers, Responsys subscribed to the e-mail distribution lists of more than 100 retailers, including Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Costco, OfficeMax and Red Envelope, and stopped opening messages 40 months ago. Macy’s is No. 17 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, Victoria’s Secret No. 18, Costco No. 16 and Office Max No. 9. is a unit of No. 8-ranked Liberty Media Interactive.

According to the company’s “E-mail Engagement & Deliverability Study,” 31% of the studied retailers continued to send promotional e-mail messages to inactive account holders with the same frequency as they did to consumers who actively engaged with the messages by doing such things as opening the messages or clicking through to the web site. 23% of retailers continued to send messages to the inactive subscribers but reduced the frequency of the messages, 32% first reduced the message frequency and later stopped sending messages, and 14% simply stopped sending messages after a period of inactivity.

A study released in September from e-mail marketing vendor Return Path Inc. showed that 13.5% of all e-mail messages sent to U.S. consumers never arrive in an inbox because they go missing or are diverted into a spam or junk mail folder.

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