November 9, 2012, 3:56 PM

Retailers sent record amounts of holiday e-mails in October

But Hurricane Sandy may have delayed some festive messages, a study says.

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October proved to be an e-mail heavy month, according to marketing software company Responsys Inc. In October, retailers sent an average of 18.5 e-mails to subscribers, up 22% year over year for October. E-mail volume has increased about 20% year over year for 2012 through October, Responsys reports.  It bases its finding on its tracking of e-mail marketing for more than 100 retailers.

“At this pace, the total number of promotional e-mails sent in 2012 will surpass the number sent in 2011 before Thanksgiving arrives,” says Chad White, the company’s research director.

However, although 63% of the more than 100 retailers tracked sent at least one holiday-related e-mail in October—the highest percentage Responsys has recorded in six years of e-mail tracking—the number of total promotional e-mails mentioning the holidays is smaller than usual,  the company says. That decline was especially notable in the last few days of October when retailers typically begin to send messages with holiday themes. Responsys did not give figures that described the decline but said weather played a role.

Hurricane Sandy likely caused some retailers, especially those headquartered in states most affected by the super-storm, to hold off on Christmas messaging for both logistical reasons and in an effort to be sensitive to those impacted,” White says. “As power is restored and recovery efforts get into full swing, I expect holiday messaging to return to normal levels.”

Meanwhile, another e-mail study by Experian Marketing Services reports that 28% of all e-mails sent in the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 3 included an offer such as a promotion or discount in the subject line, nearly the same as the 27% from the same period last year. Experian tracked more than 87,000 e-mail messages across many industries, including retail.

Among those offers, 40% involved for dollars-off promotions, with 28% teasing a percentage-off sales. 17% of those offers were for free shipping, 7% for points or rewards, 5% for coupons, while the rest focused on free gifts, flash sales and gift cards.

“The increase in dollars-off offers shows that brands believe price is currently a key motivator,” an Experian spokesman says. “However, free gifts and coupons, while less used, may be more effective in generating sales.”

Additionally this year, retailers included 4% fewer free shipping offers in e-mail subject lines than last year, Experian says. While studies show that free shipping strongly motivates consumers, the company suggests that perhaps by now consumers expect it as a standard more than a special deal.

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