Holiday E-mail Campaigns Receive Mixed Report

A new consumer survey conducted by Return Path issues a mixed report on the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns in the 2004 holiday season.

The survey polled 723 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18 and 54 on December 28, 2004. Respondents were asked to characterize their perceptions and reactions to the use of email by retailers during the period between Halloween and Christmas.

First, the bad news: approximately 60 percent of respondents said they simply deleted the additional email they received during the holiday shopping season; 27 percent said they unsubscribed from email lists that sent them messages too frequently; and 23 percent reported regular use of their ISP’s or email program’s “this is spam” button in response to the spate of holiday retailing messages.

“The biggest warning is the number of people who just deleted email marketing messages,” said Stephanie Miller, VP of strategic services at Return Path. “A lot of marketers still abide by the old approach that sending extra email provides an added benefit. In fact, it could hurt your program.”

Negative reactions aside, roughly 75 percent of respondents said that email promotions nonetheless exerted influence on their purchasing decisions: 35 percent said that email had some impact on their shopping habits, while an additional 30 percent said email provided useful gift ideas. An unusually responsive 8 percent said they only shopped through retailers who emailed them.

Among influences that prompted consumers to open and read an email, the leading factor identified by 59 percent of respondents was knowing and trusting the company sending the message. The second leading factor was attention-grabbing email subject lines (selected by 41 percent of respondents). Roughly one third of respondents said they only opened emails from companies with which they had a prior relationship. An additional 19 percent said their email program’s preview window caught their attention.

Factors Influencing Consumers’ Choice of E-Mail to Open and Read
Influencing Factors Percentage
Looked like the catalog I received at home 9.4
Company doesn’t send me much email 10.9
Free shipping offer 15.1
Discount 17.5
Preview window caught my attention 19.0
Previously opened and thought valuable 30.1
I only opened the emails I normally read 33.6
Subject line 41.1
Know and trust the sender 59.2
Note: Respondents could select more than one answer.
Source: Return Path, Inc.

The Return Path report follows a handful of recent studies presenting a similarly complicated email picture. Osterman Research found that the proliferation of spam was sufficient to prompt 44 percent of a survey group to reduce their overall use of email in the last 12 months.

For its part, a December ReleMail survey found that without third-party certification of trustworthiness, companies may have difficulty getting their emails opened due to paranoia surrounding newsletter spam.

Meanwhile, DoubleClick’s December email report found that overall click-through rates declined in 2004, while conversion rates improved.

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