Let’s face it: Consumers get a lot of emails. According to data by The Radicati Group, people across the globe are expected to send and receive 104.9 billion consumer emails per day next year.
I decided to take a closer look at the types of promotional emails I receive on a daily basis and see if I could decipher any patterns. So, I’m baring it all. Here’s a list of all of the emails that landed underneath my Gmail “promotions” tab before noon this past Tuesday.
1:12 A.M.: My email inbox activity started early. At 1:12 A.M. I received an email from Michaels offering a “LIMITED TIME” 20%-off coupon on my next purchase. Michaels then aligned this coupon next to other promotions it was running, such as 50% off certain frames plus the 20%-off coupon or 50% off beads plus the 20% off coupon. But because the brand was essentially re-showing the same coupon, just in a different context, the email felt a little bit repetitive. It also felt lengthy—especially on my mobile phone where I seemed to be endlessly scrolling.
4:04 A.M.: Just a few hours later I received an email from William-Sonoma offering 20%-off pasta makers and other Italian cooking essentials, like sauces, cookware, and oil and vinegar containers. The email even contained a recipe for fresh fettuccine with mushrooms, walnuts, and thyme (which sounds delicious) to provide inspiration for how I might put all of these discounted products to good use. What a delectable idea. I didn’t end up buying anything, especially considering it was just after four o’clock in the morning, but I did pin the William-Sonoma recipe to my Pinterest board. Again, the email felt a bit lengthy on a mobile device.
4:19 A.M.: Fifteen minutes later I received an email from flash-sale boutique brand GroopDealz promoting a button hoodie in seven colors. The never-ending email also shows images of kids and baby clothes, vintage travel posters, reclaimed bathroom shelves, a men’s t-shirt, and more. I think some segmentation would serve them well.
6:39 A.M.: At 6:39 A.M. Aldo told me to “Run. Don’t Walk” to get 50% off clearance items. I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet—there’s definitely no running happening here.
6:45 A.M.: Six minutes later I receive a message from Groupon New York City. The localized deal hunter shows me discounts for several restaurants, Yankees tickets, a music festival, solar-powered lights, men’s watches, shower speakers, and a pet Adirondack chair. While I appreciate the cute image of the dog sitting in the chair, I don’t have any pets—nor do I have any needs for a men’s watch. So again, some better segmentation could be applied.
7:17 A.M.: West Elm tells me that I can get “FREE SHIPPING” today only. It also shows me discounts on rugs and seating. The free shipping offer is nice, but brands provide it so frequently (hello, Amazon Prime) that I’m finding its appeal is less and less alluring.
West Elm also featured a few personalized recommendations underneath its “Picks for You” section. But this information was so far down the email that I didn’t even notice it at first glance. Marketers only have consumers attention for a few seconds—if they manage to capture it at all. So, it’s important for them to prioritize their content and put the information that’s going to drive the most conversions near the top.
7:21 A.M.: In its subject line, Jcrew alerts me that it has 249 new pieces in stock and gives me a brief preview of them by including “lots of leopard, pretty ruffles, new earrings” in there, too. It also informs me that it’s offering free shipping. That’s quite a lot of information to pack into one subject line, but Jcrew does it concisely. It’s what a subject line should be: informative, intriguing, and to-the-point. But, to be fair, the subject line was too lengthy for me to read entirely on my mobile device—an important tidbit to keep in mind.
8:08 A.M.: Shortly after eight o’clock, I get hit with a doubleheader. At this time, I receive an email from Amazon.com. It’s a complimentary newsletter from The Washington Post brought to my inbox by Amazon—an online marketplace “working to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” according to the email.
The newsletter contains several unfavorable articles about presidential candidate Donald Trump, including one about fact-checking his speech on the Islamic State, one about how his campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson is saying “some very strange things”, and one that questions whether Trump is “destroying the GOP” considering that a recent poll revealed only 20% of Americans 35 and under identify or lean toward the Republican party.
The newsletter from the online marketplace seems like a gutsy move to me. After all, brands often follow the dinner party rule—don’t ever bring up religion or politics—to avoid offending or isolating customers. Then again, Amazon is such a behemoth that it probably doesn’t fear turning away too many customers.
At this time, I also received an email from The Knot Offers. I’m getting married this year, and I frequently receive emails from the wedding authority. This one was offering an $8,000 “dream wedding” giveaway. Seeing as my fiancé and I are two months away from the big day, and therefore far along in the planning process, this giveaway was not for me. However, I did appreciate the level of segmentation. To enter the giveaway, I had to sign up for a newsletter offered by Zilli Hospitality Group—a catering company in Southeast Wisconsin, where my fiancé and I are getting married.
This promotion would have been completely useless to a couple living in another state. But because The Knot paid close attention to data I provided them upon creating an account, including my geographic information, the brand was able to deliver relevancy. Too bad the company didn’t pay closer attention to my wedding date. It could have targeted brides that were still in the early wedding planning stages and generated higher engagement.
8:17 A.M.: Lord & Taylor was the next email in my inbox. The retailer’s message highlights pieces from its exclusive collection and notifies me of an in-store-only promotion—one that gives me the opportunity to earn up to $40 in credits. To make e-commerce shoppers happy, Lord & Taylor notifies me that it’s also offering 25% off clearance items and 15% off regularly priced and sales items both in-store and online. It presents me with separate promotional codes for in-store and online.
While I can understand that Lord & Taylor may be trying to keep track of in-store and online purchases with separate promotional codes, in my opinion, it just creates more work for the customer. Buyers shop across a number of channels, and brand marketers should make it easy for them to purchase wherever they please.
8:23 A.M.: I receive another email from The Knot Offers. This one is for a deal on cosmetic dentistry at a practice located in New York. Again, I’m impressed by the level of segmentation. Even though I’m getting married in Wisconsin, I live in New York. So, it makes sense that The Knot would target me with Wisconsin-based services that I could use for the actual wedding day (like a caterer) but also serve up New York-based offers for things I could do ahead of time.
At the same time, I just received an offer from The Knot 15 minutes ago, and no one likes to be in a clingy relationship. Put simply: I would have appreciated a little bit more time in between messages.
9:08 A.M.: This next email is from Pure Yoga, inviting me to sign up for a yoga retreat along the Mexican Riviera. Here’s the thing: I actually never signed up for Pure Yoga’s emails. Because I’m a ClassPass customer, the network of fitness studios passes along my contact information whenever I sign up for a class at a studio within its network.
I’ve only been to Pure Yoga once, so I’m not that interested in its emails. I decide to pull the plug and unsubscribe. Plus, the email was text heavy and very difficult to read on a mobile device without zooming in.
9:43 A.M.: I receive an email from Victoria’s Secret Pink promoting its new floral, lace, high-neck bralette. The email also promotes its $35 boyfriend pant and informs me that I get a free baseball cap when I spend $50.
The message is O.K., but it’s just kind of meh. There’s nothing that really grabs my attention or draws me to engage—or, therefore, buy.
10:04 A.M.: Next, I receive an email from Gilt City NYC—a somewhat fancier version of Groupon that offers discounts at local businesses, like fitness studios or restaurants, as well as nationwide products, like beauty supplies.
This email has a cute Olympics theme. It lists nine local offers that are Gilt’s “gold medal winners.” It even has a “gold medal trivia” game in which I can answer a trivia question. Subscribers who answers all of the daily questions correctly are entered to win a $1,000 credit.
Nine deals may sound like a lot to pack into one email, especially when you consider opening it on a smartphone, but Gilt does a great job by using visual imagery. Instead of telling me why I should buy a deal for up to 35% off a meal at restaurant Bagatelle, it lists the deal alongside a beautiful image of perfectly cooked scallops. Using images allows Gilt to convey its deals’ worth without heavily relying on text.
10:05 A.M.: Travelzoo’s email is the next one to hit my inbox. Full disclosure: I’ve never booked a trip or hotel through a travel deal publisher, like Travelzoo or Groupon Getaways. I have a bit of a fear and skepticism hurdle that I need to overcome, and I often just rely on familiar online travel agencies. Until I do overcome this hurdle, I only receive these emails for travel inspiration. For instance, knowing that I can pay $999 for a three-night stay in Iceland including airfare—according to one Travelzoo deal—gives me context for when I might be overpaying on other sites.
I’ve subscribed to Travelzoo’s emails since May—when one of my fellow book club members tried to convince us all to take a spontaneous trip to Thailand—but I never received an educational email on how Travelzoo works. It would be nice for the brand to provide some context on how the service actually runs and verifies its deals for those who are hesitant to use the service like me. The company could even develop a series for subscribers who are new to the brand or appear inactive.
10:08 A.M.: Bed Bath & Beyond was the next brand to pay my inbox a visit. The home goods retailer alerted me that the home decor brand One Kings Lane was now a triple B “family member.” However, I had to Google both companies to understand what exactly that meant. Was Bed Bath & Beyond now carrying One Kings Lane’s products in its stores? Did it acquire the brand? It turned out to be the latter.
The email notified me that if I signed up for One Kings Lane’s email program, then I would receive 10% off my first purchase—a clear call-to-action. It also provided nice images of One Kings Lane’s products and offered me different ways to shop, such as by exclusives, vintage finds, or by room. But I don’t need another email in my inbox. So, I passed.
10:29 A.M.: After receiving a message from Bed Bath & Beyond, I received another email from Groupon—this time from the non localized address. I was actually tentative to open their email because I thought that its subjective line was creepy: “These Deals Asked to Meet You.”
What? No they didn’t. That’s just weird. And it’s wide array of product and service offerings was just as odd. On to the next email.
10:55 A.M.: JetBlue Getaways hit me up next with the following offer—$100 off any three night or more vacation package. Unfortunately for me, this wedding has limited my vacation funds and days, so I don’t even tempt myself. I also couldn’t decide if this line of text was a pun or a typo: “Plane and simple—get $100 off any 3+ night JetBlue Getaways vacation package…”
I think it’s a pun, but it’s not the best. That’s O.K., JetBlue. I’m guilty of bad puns, too.
Again, the copy is difficult to read on a mobile device without zooming in.
10:56 A.M.: I receive an email from Global Citizen—a social action platform in which people can perform tasks, like signing a petition or reading an article, to earn rewards, like a ticket to its celebrity-filled festival. The email tells me about the latest action Global Citizen members and celebrities have taken and invites me to do the same. It has a clear call-to-action “take action” button, which I appreciate. But admittedly, I don’t follow through.
11:02 A.M.: Joss & Main enters my inbox next. I love looking at Joss & Main’s emails for home décor inspiration—their product images are so good—and I usually click-through to look at specific items. Sometimes I even add items to my cart. But here’s the thing: I never buy anything. I’m like a marketer’s worst nightmare.
Joss & Main hosts flash sales on its site for its home décor products. Because I tend to think about potential apartment purchases for days—I’m usually determined to find a better deal—I generally end up convincing myself that I don’t actually need the item of interest and abandon the purchase altogether.
So, this email will go like any other: I’ll engage, but I won’t buy. Perhaps if Joss & Main picked up on my behavioral patterns, its marketers would be inclined to send me an extra discount to seal the deal—not that I’m dropping any hints or anything.
Also, I appreciate that Joss & Main includes a clear “shop” button next to each of its flash sales, but featuring 16 sales in one email leads to a lengthy message.
11:03 A.M.: JAM Paper follows my Joss & Main message. The company, which specializes in paper and envelopes, offers me 50% off eco folders as part of its back-to-school sale. My fiancé and I purchased wedding invitation envelopes about a month ago, and I don’t have much use for the brand’s services now. I’m tempted to unsubscribe, but they offer discounts so frequently that I decide to keep them in my inbox. Hey, there’s always thank you notes and Christmas cards, right?
11:28 A.M.: The last email I receive this morning is from the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival. My fiancé and I went to the festival two years ago for a Bloody Mary competition, which was awesome. But prices for the event have gone up since 2014 and my fiancé actually doesn’t like Bloody Marys. So, while I click through to check out an event or two, I know that my cocktail consumption event will remain a distant memory.
This email also contained a lot of text to describe the festival events highlighted in the email. This resulted in me zooming in and squinting on my mobile device. Like a chef does with his cooking, it’s important for marketers to edit their work. They should only incorporate what they need and leave out the superfluous stuff.
So, what have I learned from combing through my inbox?
- I subscribe to way too many emails. And I know I’m not alone. If a marketer doesn’t have something meaningful to say, then he shouldn’t send anything at all. Consumers will appreciate them not clogging up their inbox and they’ll stand out more on the unique occasion that they actually send a message, versus if they send one every day.
- Timing is everything. Why marketers send emails at 1:00 A.M. or 4:00 A.M. is beyond me. While I’m sure there’s a method to the madness, I would much rather receive an email when I’m awake. Plus, it doesn’t run the risk of being buried at the bottom of my inbox and never being opened. It’s also important to be conscious of when brands, especially competitors, send their emails. This can be determined by subscribing to their messages. For instance, I received seven promotional emails between 10:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Being cognoscente of popular send times can help marketers avoid sending a message during a congested hour. Think of this way: It’s better to be late to the party and make an impression than show up with everyone else and float into the background. What’s more, marketers need to make sure that they’re not emailing their customers too frequently. For instance, receiving two messages from The Knot Offers in a number of minutes was overkill. Give customers room to breathe.
- I’m price sensitive. As you may have noticed in my analysis, I often reference prices or discounts. That’s because I’m a price-sensitive shopper, and finding a good deal is important to me. However, cost may not be as important to every consumer. Some consumers may place a higher emphasis on quality or convenience. It’s important for marketers to identify what matters most to their customers and address each segment accordingly. For instance, maybe they send those price sensitive shoppers an extra coupon but offer customers more focused on quality early access to a new product launch. Not sure what customers value more? It never hurts to ask them. Preference centers can be an effective way to do so.
- Design with the device in mind. To have emails that aren’t optimized for mobile simply isn’t acceptable in 2016—especially considering that 53% of emails are opened on mobile devices, according to a 2015 study by email marketing analytics and testing company Litmus. Being mobile friendly doesn’t just include having rendered images. It also requires marketers to be less text heavy and make the most of their limited real estate, such as by prioritizing and only including items they want consumers to take action on. Dynamic content can help marketers deliver the most contextually relevant information, too, such as by serving different content based on whether the email is opened on a mobile device or desktop.
- Being ordinary is no longer an option. I received more than 20 emails before noon. That’s more than 20 different brands vying for my attention and dollars. It’s no longer enough for marketers to simply showcase their products (as was the case in the Victoria’s Secret Pink email). They need to provide value (such as in the form of the William-Sonoma recipe) to ensure that consumers engage (and hopefully convert). They also need to ensure that the entire email experience is seamless. From crafting clever and informative subject lines to ensuring that the links in the emails lead to the right destination, there are a lot of steps and testing opportunities marketers need to take to ensure that their email is sublime. Marketers who send anything less than optimal might as well save their resources and not send anything at all.
Update 8/18/16: The Radicati Group statistic references the number of consumer emails expected to be sent and received in 2017. This has been clarified.