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Pre-Holiday Email Frequency: Too Much Or Too Little?



Customers will always be more forgiving of promotional messages when they’re in the mood to shop, especially when it comes to their favorite brands.

The Christmas season causes bulging inboxes for most, but does the increase in email turn customers off? If so, what does that mean for email reputation and deliverability?

To compare email programs, we examined the engagement data from last October through December across Internet Retailer’s Hot 100 e-retailers of 2013.

We looked at how much promotional mail was read, ignored, sent to spam, marked as spam, and rescued from the spam folder. We also calculated each brand’s average Sender Score (a measure of sending reputation).

The Top ( Bottom) Of The Top Retailers

J.Crew and the Gilt Groupe stood at the top of the pack. Both retailers had the highest Sender Score (95 and 94, respectively), and not surprisingly, the highest inbox placement rates with both achieving near perfect rates of 99%.

The losers during the retail season, the bottom four, had an average Sender Score of 62 and an inbox placement rates of 70%.

Why? Some of this has to do with things outside of the inbox, like brand affinity and brand loyalty. Brands that offer an exceptional customer journey through all channels will likely perform better in the inbox than those that don’t.

Too Much Email Or Too Little?too-hot-too-cold-just-right-ss-crop


Just like with Goldilocks, it appears that subscribers didn’t enjoy receiving too many emails nor did they enjoy receiving too little, but there did seem to be a frequency that was “just right.”

Those retailers sending an average of 3 messages per week during the holidays fared the best. This group had nearly the highest “this is not spam” rate, but also the lowest “this is spam rate.” This frequency group also had the highest Sender Score (89), and the highest inbox placement rate (98%).

The bottom four sent the highest number of messages, averaging 10 messages per week, but this group actually had the lowest “this is spam” rates, and the retailers sending 1 message per week had the highest “this is spam” rate.

This is most likely because little email was making it to the inbox of the bottom four, meaning subscribers had no reason to mark messages as spam since they were already in the spam folder.


Beware Of Increasing Frequency Suddenly

While 3 emails per week appears to be the frequency that subscribers can tolerate from their favorite brands, beware of turning up email frequency suddenly.

Every retailer in the bottom four went from sending an average of 1 message per week to an average of 10 almost overnight. These senders saw a spike in complaints and a decrease in engagement.

Meanwhile, the best performing retailers increased their frequency slightly from just 2 per week to 3, a change most subscribers can stomach for a few months.

How Frequency Can Cause Blacklistings

A sender’s reputation is comprised of things mentioned before like subscriber complaints, subscribers rescuing emails from the spam folder, how subscribers engage with a campaign, and also spam traps.

Spam traps are addresses that aren’t owned by real people and are used by spam filters to verify how clean an email list is.

An increase in email frequency can cause spam traps to see an increase in email received. The result? Brands get blacklisted. This is exactly what we saw last year, too. As I’ve written in this column previously, spam traps exponentially increase over the holidays here.

Before you increase your frequency, holiday time or not, check to see if you are having any spam trap issues, clean your list if you do, implement checks to make sure new addresses are verified, and then (and only then) you can increase frequency without worrying about spam traps affecting your results.

While most senders will see challenges reaching the inbox this holiday season, don’t be afraid to send more promotional emails to your subscribers. Sending too little can be just as harmful as sending too much.

Additionally, email can help with branding as seeing a brand frequently in the inbox will likely cause the consumer to recall that brand over the competitors.

To follow the top retailers’ lead, measure and constantly improve your subscriber engagement against things like subscriber engagement segments and frequency to see what your customers think is “just right.”

What The Metrics Mean

Below is an explanation of the engagement data examined from Internet Retailer’s Hot 100 e-retailers of 2013.

  • Read Rate: the percentage of messages read compared to all messages sent
  • Spam Rate: the percentage of messages delivered to the spam folder compared to all messages sent
  • This Is Spam Rate: the percentage of email delivered to the inbox that drew complaints
  • This Is Not Spam Rate: the percentage of messages rescued from the spam folder
  • Delete Without Reading Rate: the percentage of ignored emails; deleted without being read
  • Sender Score: a proxy for mailbox providers’ evaluation of a sender’s reputation, represented on a scale from 1-100
 (Stock images via Used under license.)

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from

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