January 5, 2017, 5:05 PM

Retailers sent a lot more post-Christmas emails than they usually do

The number of email campaigns Target sent between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 rose nearly 87%.

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Consumers’ inboxes didn’t get a reprieve from retailers’ marketing emails in the week after Christmas.

Six out of eight large retailers (Amazon.com Inc., Toys R Us Inc., Macy’s Inc., Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and Target Corp.) boosted the number of emails they sent from Dec. 26-Jan. 2 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to data released today by digital marketing vendor eDataSource, which gathers email marketing data from a panel of about 1.4 million consumers around the globe.

Wal-Mart, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, and Kohl’s (No. 19) were the only retailers that sent fewer emails this year than they did a year earlier. Wal-Mart sent 219 million emails the week after Christmas, down 18.0% from 267 million a year ago, and Kohl’s sent 111 million emails, down 6.7% from 119 million, according to eDataSource estimates.

Even while overall message volume declined, both retailers boosted the number of email campaigns they sent—Wal-Mart sent 198 email campaigns, 26.1% more than the 157 it sent a year earlier, and Kohl’s sent 50 email campaigns, up 42.9% from 35 a year earlier. That suggests that both merchants focused on delivering emails aimed at shoppers’ interests rather than broadly focused messages that are typically less likely to drive shoppers to open and read a message, says John Landsman, eDataSource’s director of strategy. And, in fact, both retailers boosted their email open rates; Wal-Mart’s rose to 15.9% from 13.5%, while Kohl’s reached 14.9% from 14.3%.

Dick’s Sporting Goods (No. 62) posted the most dramatic increase during the post-Christmas week, sending a total of 127 million emails, 388.5% more than the 26 million it sent in 2015. It also doubled the number of campaigns it sent during the period to 46 from 23 a year earlier.

The large growth in post-Christmas email volumes fit within the confines of a broader trend in which retailers are sending a lot more email campaigns than they used to—even compared to a year ago. Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1), for instance, sent 1.6 billion emails from Dec. 11-25, up 23.1% from 1.3 billion in 2015. Those emails were part of 1,970 email campaigns, a 42.2% jump from 1,385 campaigns in 2015. From Dec. 26-Jan. 2, it sent 519 million emails, a 15.1% increase from 451 million in 2015. Those emails were part of 1,039 email campaigns, a 59.8% increase from 650 in 2015.

In sending more emails that are more finely tuned to shoppers’ interests, Amazon’s open rate the week after Christmas reached 33.0%, up from 26.7% a year earlier. Its read rate the previous two weeks was 25.1%, up from 22.3%.

Amazon, however, is an anomaly in that respect, says Landsman. “Amazon is as sophisticated an emailer as I’ve ever seen,” he says. “Amazon puts more out there and consumers will open it up because it’s the right stuff. People have higher tolerance for emails during holidays but if add relevance and timing, you increase the tolerance even more.” However, most retailers that increase their email volumes don’t have the expertise that Amazon does, which is why just about every other retailer—save Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Target—saw their open rates fall. “When you send more emails, you need to be smart about it,” he says. “Those that are smart, get better results.”

Here is the email data for the week after Christmas:

EDataSource data shows that many of the best-performing emails during the post-Christmas week were either tailored to a shopper’s specific interests—a Target email on Dec. 31, for example, featured the subject line “We picked some things just for you” that had a 29.4% open rate—or were explicitly promotional. For instance, Best Buy sent an email on Jan. 1 with the subject line, “Treat yourself for the new year --- OPEN NOW for your coupons while they last” that had a 21.6% open rate.

Email volumes continue to rise because email is a cheap way to drive consumers to visit a site and buy; the average cost per order from an email is $5, according to Forrester Research Inc.’s report “The State of Retailing Online 2016: Marketing and Merchandising.” That’s far less than other tactics such as paid social media marketing ($16), paid search ($24) and remarketing ($26). Moreover, it’s incredibly effective. For instance, Adobe Digital Insights says email drove 15.4% of online sales from Nov. 1-Dec. 5, behind only search (39.5%) and direct traffic (26.9%), and ahead of referral sites (15.8%), display (1.6%) and social media (0.9%).

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