Consumers Want the Good Stuff: Our Third Annual Holiday Survey

Return Path has just released our Third Annual Holiday Email Consumer Survey. For the third year in a row, consumers tell us that they love the kind of email that helps them shop, gives them new ideas and comes when it was promised (and not more often).

The good news is that nearly all respondents selected at least one response indicating the importance of email to their online shopping this season. In fact, half (49.1%) claimed they took advantage of several email offers this year. But the bad news, at least for some marketers, is that half report receiving high volumes of “junk” email this year (“email from companies I know but that is just not interesting to me.”), and one-third say marketers email them more frequently than promised.

What makes consumers open one email and not another? For the third year in a row, the top reason was “prior value with the email program.” This was the only influencing element to grow in importance, up 7% from last year to 51.2%. Brand, subject line and discounts/free shipping also help, but the influence of these elements diminished this year. Consumers consistently tell us in this study that if they found value in a previous email, they were more likely to open the next email from that sender. While marketers have benefited from consumers’ love affair with email, the bar keeps moving higher. This is a relationship medium — the relevancy of today’s email counts when consumers consider tomorrow’s.

Consumers are also much savvier than ever when it comes to managing their inbox during the busy holiday season. They are paying attention to things like a working unsubscribe, frequency and the “from” line. In terms of how they specifically deal with extra holiday email, more than half (54.5%) of respondents tell us they just delete unwanted or uninteresting messages unread, a quarter of them unsubscribe and another 26.6% click the “this is spam” button. While fewer respondents selected those measures this year than last year, many more (31.3%, up 40% from last year) selected “there was no impact on my regular habits” category.

Before you celebrate, consider that “regular habits” are not so favorable to marketers who don’t work hard to create relevant experiences throughout the year. A quarter (26%) of subscribers routinely report as spam any message they do not recall requesting. Half (51.1%) just delete any message they don’t recognize. What we found this year is that the increase in holiday season email didn’t change consumer habits around deciding which emails to open and read – consumers are already savvy about selecting only those emails that they expect and find relevant.

There is lots of good news around email – it works! The ROI from the holiday season and all year with Return Path clients is again very high from this channel. We anticipate some exciting multi-channel success stories using email in tandem with postal, in-store and online advertising will be coming out of Q4 2006.

But the spoils of this medium will increasingly go only to those marketers who consistently create compelling subscriber experiences.

Check out the full Research Brief now. Email us to have one of our strategists help you analyze the survey results in context with your own Q4 performance.

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