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.

Graham Charlton

Published 18 January, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (2)

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

I'm firmly of the view, based on click and unsubscribe trends that some marketers are indeed sending too many emails and damaging their long term ability to develop relationships with customers.

The main point I'd like to pick up on from Graham is this, "Finding the correct amount of emails to send to customers is not an exact science".

The risk to increased frequency is long term emotionally unsubscribed readers, unsubscribes and spam complaints. The scientific way to measure the impact and thus determine an optimum frequency is to keep a long term control group at a set frequency and over a 3 to 6 month period measure their response against a group which are sent too more frequently.

Just measuring without a control over a long period is fought with environmental factors that could damage the experiment. Its not easy.

Short term frequency increase can give a return. The lack of quantification of negative impact long term due to frequency increase, is the reason why too often the gas pedal is being pushed.

I'd be very interest to hear about anyone who has quantified the impact of increasing frequency over the long term.

What other ways have people found effective to determine the right frequency?

over 8 years ago



It's a real shame how email marketing is abused by so many retailers and often they seem to have little regard for customers.

It's a wonderful tool and the incredible systems available in the market today make automation and targeting incredibly straightforward to do.

I can't count the times I've heard friends and family question me why shops send totally unrelated emails to what they've bought or want to buy.

Amazon is one company who actually do it well.

about 6 years ago

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