Posted March 12, 2012 9:04 am by with 1 comment

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E-mail inboxes can be a source of great frustration for many. There is the ever growing number of unread e-mails that start to pile up followed by the time set aside to clean up the mess then the realization that a lot the e-mail was junk. Much of this could be cut by e-mail users utilizing filters better but most don’t take the time to set them up. Instead they wrestle with their inbox and grow increasingly aggravated.

Retailers are starting to feel some of the backlash of this e-mail overkill and have decided that rather than add to the problem and be cast as one that is causing it they would get a bit more strategic about e-mail marketing efforts. The Wall Street Journal reports

Amid signs that the sheer volume of email is starting to turn customers off, some retailers have begun pulling back, reducing their mailings and fine-tuning their marketing tactics.

“You get into this mind-set that the more emails you send, the more sales you generate,” said Bud Konheim, chief executive of fashion retailer Nicole Miller Inc. “But that can really start to annoy people.”

The new era of Internet marketing is most defined by the idea of content marketing. What has developed is a mindset, whether it is right or wrong truly depends on the industry it is being applied to, that says the more content you can create the better the chances are of having success online.

There is enough experience to back up that theory. One of our sponsors, HubSpot, has created a lead generation lifeblood system that is predicated on creating a serious volume of content. It works for them for sure. The reason that may be could be the vertical they are in because they are selling to businesses.

The retail sector, however, appears to be running the risk of wearing out its welcome in their customers’ inboxes. The WSJ article continues

Last May, Nicole Miller—which says emails generate most of its online sales—cut back on the volume of email it sends from about three mailings a week to just one, and is trying to better tailor the messages.

Other companies are taking similar measures. J.C. Penney Co. cut back the number of mailings it sends from one a day to an average of three a week, according to a spokeswoman.

This is a difficult pill to swallow for retailers because much of the appeal of e-mail is the flexibility and relatively low cost of the option. Oh and people do buy things when they are reminded via the inbox.

So why the change of heart?

But there are signs of customer burnout. A study of its retail clients by email marketing firm Harte-Hanks found that since 2007, the rates at which recipients open retail emails and click on links have declined. In the first six months of 2007, consumers opened 19% of the retail emails they received and clicked through to the website 3.9% of the time. By the first half of 2011, those numbers shrank to 12.5% and 2.8%, respectively.

Are theses signs a trend? Are open rates lower because of burnout or because there are now so many more avenues with which to reach the consumer on their terms like Twitter and Facebook? It’s likely that the rapid growth of social media is playing a role and that is not necessarily bad news for e-mail marketing. In fact, it could be the best news possible because now e-mail has another conversion metric to offer which to help recipients get engaged with a brand in the social realm thus helping cement the brand in the consumer’s mind and possibly selling something in the process as well.

This is not to say that all retailers are cutting back. Some have even increased their e-mail output while they are simply getting smarter about what they send. Honestly, when I read the next section I was a bit shocked that this seemed like something new for an e-mail marketer to try even in 2010.

In 2010, Neiman began using customer data to tailor its emails. It uses online purchase history, in-store purchase history linked to its credit card, and online cookies that track behavior on its website to learn what brands, categories and types of deals customers favor. It can then target email about a Marc Jacobs launch to customers who tend to buy Marc Jacobs purses, for instance.

Open rates and click through rates have increased by 10% to 20% since the chain started customizing its emails, Mr. Shockey said. “We keep a close eye on unsubscribe rates,” he added. “If they were to climb, we would investigate.”

To be sure, e-mail marketing isn’t heading for the Internet graveyard just yet. It’s just going through maturation pains. It has been around longer than most Internet marketing techniques and people have grown accustomed to it. You’ve heard the expression “Familiarity breeds contempt”, right? Maybe that’s all we are seeing here. If e-mail marketers can make themselves a little less familiar maybe the level of contempt about the inbox will fade.

Your take?

  • I think getting smarter is more important than increasing or decreasing the volume of emails sent. Maybe your target audience doesn’t mind hearing from you three times a week. Maybe they only want an email once a month. The more you can understand how often they want to hear from you AND what they want to hear from you the better.