According to a report released last week, the 100 top online retailers in the US sent an average of 132 promotional emails to each of their subscribers.

Perhaps this is a tactic that is working for some of these retailers, but surely by sending so many emails, retailers run the risk of damaging the relationship built up with a customer…

The 2009 Email Trends Report from found a 12% increase in email volumes over 2008, and 39% over 2007, while the report also suggests that we will start to see segmentation and analytics start to reducing the frequency of email contact,

The 132 emails per year figure averages out to 11 emails per month and 2.5 emails per week for each recipient, and its hard to imagine that subscribers want to see that many emails.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and this increased frequency of email contact is producing ever greater ROI, but though  sending more can increase profits, but there is a point when too many emails will have the opposite effect.

For a quick, and not very scientific, comparison, I had a look at my own inbox to see how often I had received emails from UK retailers, none sent anywhere near as many emails as the US average:

Comet: 22 emails

Tesco: 46

Marks & Spencer: 12 (though I think I opted for less frequent emails as an alternative to unsubscribing)

Currys: 21

Next: 34

As Matthew Kelleher pointed out in a post last week on the rules of email engagement, email marketers can only influence people when they are engaged, and the aim is to keep them engaged, rather than  as Matthew puts it, ‘battering the poor
recipient into a state of disengagement, with too frequent irrelevant
and valueless email.’

If retailers are lucky, and if they are making it easy for people to unsubscribe,
then people that become bored of emails will simply opt out or ignore them, but there
is the risk that emails are reported as spam, which will have an
adverse impact on the sender reputation with ISPs.

Finding the correct amount of emails to send to customers is not an exact science, but it is important to monitor unsubscribe rates, as this may provide an indication that too many emails are being sent out, and will allow marketers to adjust frequencies. 

Better still, give customers the choice when they subscribe in the first place in the first place, while using the information you have on customer interests, purchase histories etc will allow you to segment effectively, and keep emails relevant.