E-mail OverloadTake a look at your inbox. How many of the e-mails came from people you know? For that matter, how many actually came from people?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve handed over your e-mail address to dozens of websites, retailers and other companies. And you’ve likely watched in dismay as your inbox filled up with promotional e-mails, newsletters and other junk mail.
The worst offenders, of course, tend to be retailers, who send frequent promotional e-mails to customers announcing deals and sales. And it’s getting worse: A recent study by the online marketing firm Responsys found that promotional e-mails from large retailers increased by 16% in 2010. According to the study, the average retailer sent 152 e-mails per subscriber in 2010.
Retailers also try to target their customers by gathering personal information about customers. Here’s a look at what they try to find out about you.
Photo Credit: theimpulsivebuy
The “Annoy Me” ProjectOf course, every retailer does things a little differently – while some will send only the occasional promotion when there’s a special event, others will abuse their e-mail lists by bombarding subscribers with junk mail every other day. To find out which retailer is the most annoying, I set up a special e-mail account, then signed up for the e-mail lists of about 20 of the biggest retailers: Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT), Target (Stock Quote: TGT), JCPenney (Stock Quote: JCP), Urban Outfitters (Stock Quote: URBN), Macy’s (Stock Quote: M), Old Navy (Stock Quote: GPS), Borders (Stock Quote: BGP), Amazon.com (Stock Quote: AMZN), Toys ‘R’ Us, Walgreens (Stock Quote: WAG), Staples (Stock Quote: SPLS), Home Depot (Stock Quote: HD), CVS (Stock Quote: CVS), Lowe’s (Stock Quote: LOW), Sears (Stock Quote: SHLD), Safeway (Stock Quote: SWY), TJ Maxx (Stock Quote: TJX), Gap (Stock Quote: GPS), Bed Bath & Beyond (Stock Quote: BBBY) and Costco (Stock Quote: COST).
In some cases it was a simple matter of entering my e-mail address on the front page of a retailer’s website. In other cases I signed up for an account and checked off that I wanted to receive promotional e-mails; and in a few cases, I was already receiving e-mails as a result of having set up an account previously.
The obvious caveat here is that I was a willing participant in this e-mail onslaught; in most cases I explicitly authorized the retailer to send me e-mails, and every e-mail I received gave me the option to unsubscribe at any time. Still, consumers who hand over their e-mail address don’t do so because they want an avalanche of e-mails – they do so because they want to hear about the best deals and the most important news.
The following 11 retailers sent me the most promotional e-mails during a one-month period.
10. Gap (three-way tie)E-mails: 8
I signed up for the Gap’s e-mail list by entering my e-mail address on the front page of Gap.com. It promised “Style, news, and an exclusive offer when you sign up.” (For the purposes of this study, I did not include ‘welcome’ e-mails or first-time offers for new subscribers.) Upon entering my e-mail, I was given the choice of receiving information about specific product lines, as well as news from other Gap brands, which I didn’t sign up for.
E-mail Quality: In general, the e-mail deals were solid, if repetitive; I received four exclusive offers with coupons that could be redeemed in-store and online, and I received a second reminder e-mail about each deal. The discounts ranged from 25%-40% off.
10. Old Navy (three-way tie)E-mails: 8
As Old Navy is a Gap brand, the e-mail sign-up process was identical to the Gap’s.
E-mail Quality: While a few of the e-mails featured exclusive offers, the coupons weren’t as good as the Gap’s; I was offered 15%-30% off for Old Navy, but 25%-40% at the Gap. The rest of the e-mails simply alerted me to sales that were going on, and one simply told me how much I would love its khakis.
10. JCPenney (three-way tie)E-mails: 8
To sign up, I followed a link on JCPenney’s home page, then entered my e-mail address. I was promised “Advance notice of our exciting offers, new products, and events.”
E-mail Quality: Only one e-mail had a coupon code, though a few others gave me a code for free shipping; the rest just alerted me to online and in-store sales.
7. Amazon.com (three-way tie)E-mails: 9
I had already begun receiving e-mails from Amazon when I started this study, having created an account to make a purchase during the Christmas season. Despite not checking off that I wanted to receive promotional e-mails, I received nine e-mails from the retailer during the designated month of the study.
E-mail Quality: Rather than send me exclusive offers and coupon codes, Amazon mainly sent me recommendations based on my buying and browsing habits (in the same way it displays product recommendations on the front page based on what you’ve been searching for). In a few cases these recommendations were helpful – for instance, reminding me that I’d been searching for picture frames a week earlier, or recommending a DVD similar to one I’d just purchased. Overall, though, I got little use out of them.
7. Target (three-way tie)E-mails: 9
I created an account on Target.com and checked off “Yes, please send me e-mails about special offers, exclusives and promotions from Target.”
E-mail Quality: There were no coupons or exclusives. Target simply used the list to alert me to sales events.
7. Toys ‘R’ Us (three-way tie)Emails: 9
I signed up for “Updates on sales, promotions, new products and more!” and I declined to receive updates for Babies ‘R’ Us, news about recalls or toy guides for differently-abled kids.
E-mail Quality: The e-mails from Toys ‘R’ Us primarily just linked to the store’s weekly ads and told me about sales. There were no exclusive coupons or codes.
5. SearsE-mails: 12
I registered an account on Sears.com, and checked off “I would like to receive offers, updates and sale alerts from Sears.”
E-mail Quality: Sears e-mailed me every two to three days, but I was rarely impressed with what the retailer sent: a few limited time sales and an alert about a free delivery weekend. The only coupon code I got was for $20 off purchases of $200 or more, which didn’t exactly blow me away.
4. CostcoE-mails: 13
I signed up to receive “offers by e-mail” on Costco.com’s front page.
E-mail Quality: The noise-to-deal ratio on this one was fairly high. That’s not to say Costco doesn’t have great prices, but the e-mails offered little in the way of exclusives; they were basically weekly ads, only they arrived almost every other day.
3. BordersE-mails: 14
Like Amazon, I’d been receiving e-mail offers long before I started this project, having opened a Borders Rewards Card in-store, which meant they had my e-mail already. I subsequently received a barrage of notices.
E-mail Quality: Almost every e-mail I received from Borders offered me 33%-40% off any one item. That’s a great deal, but one that made me wonder how much markup was on those books to begin with. There were also a few promotions for Borders’s Kobo e-reader, and a few sale announcements. On the whole, the e-mails provided decent value, but getting an e-mail every two days didn’t exactly endear me to the company.
Incidentally, the last e-mail I received from Borders was from their CEO, informing me that the company had filed for bankruptcy.
2. Macy’sE-mails: 15
I created a Macys.com profile and checked off “We'll let you know about exclusive sales and events, both online and in-store.”
E-mail Quality: Macy’s sent the second highest number of e-mails, but the deals and sales were of decent quality. The coupon codes gave me 15%-20% discounts and free shipping, and the e-mails alerted me to one-day sales and clearance events.
The Most Annoying Retailer: WalgreensE-mails: 16
I registered for an account on Walgreens.com, and checked off “Get Walgreens online and in-store deals, Weekly Ad Sneak Peek, valuable health information, and great Photo offers by e-mail from Walgreens!”
E-mail Quality: Walgreens provided solid value in its e-mails; in addition to early looks at weekly ads, I also got frequent coupon codes (including a 40% off code for all photo products, and a 20% off code for condoms on Valentine’s Day). There was also a monthly “wellness newsletter” providing health tips.
Unfortunately, the value of the e-mails was somewhat diminished by the sheer quantity I received – one every other day, on average. Rather than including an all-or-nothing e-mail option, Walgreens would have done well to let customers pick and choose which types of e-mails they’d like to receive.
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