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Return Path Holiday Email Consumer Survey Results: Holiday Email Works Well, But Over Mailing & Unclear Permission Practices Put Some Retailers at Risk


DENVER, CO -- Jan. 25, 2005 -- Despite email inbox overflow this past holiday season, nearly 75 percent of respondents to a late December survey reported that email influenced their purchase decisions. Retailers who benefited most were those recognized and trusted by consumers, suggesting a need to build a solid email reputation and relationship well before the holiday season begins.

The survey, conducted by email performance company Return Path using the “Double Opt-In” SurveyDirect panel, aimed to understand consumer perceptions and reactions to the use of email by retailers during the holiday season.

“Since email works so well as a sales-driving tool, it’s tempting to believe that more email will automatically drive more sales during the holiday season,” says Return Path Chairman and CEO Matt Blumberg. “However, email overload is a real burden for many consumers, and may significantly dilute response.”

Key Findings:

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-- Consumers Take Action Against Too Much Mail

-- Extra Holiday Email Gets Varied Reviews

-- Consumers Report Value in Most Messages Received

-- Brand and Prior Relationship are Key Drivers of Holiday Time Response

-- Sending Volumes Generally As Expected

Select Findings Detail and Analysis:

Email Increased Over Holidays: According to the survey results, nearly every (98.6 percent) consumer surveyed felt they received an increase in email volume this holiday season, with nearly one third (31.1 percent) feeling the increase was just more spam and not emails they were interested in. Almost one tenth (9.8 percent) reported the excess as “overwhelming.”

Most consumers (60.1 percent) said they just deleted the additional emails unread. However, more than half reported taking some action - 27.1 percent unsubscribed to emails that came too often and 23.4 percent hit their ISP “this is spam” button.

“Deliverability and response are closely tied to frequency, with the majority of respondents reporting they simply ignored the extra emails,” says Stephanie Miller, Vice President of Strategic Services for Return Path. "Especially around the holidays with all the additional clutter, some retailers may be better served by sending fewer emails, but making each more targeted and relevant. By employing intelligent segmentation, you may end up sending more messages overall, but targeting each to smaller lists.

“In fact, 10 percent of respondents said that the fact that they don’t get too much mail from a company encourages them to open the message,” Miller said.

Reputation and Trust Drives Response: By a factor of 1.5 over any other selection, nearly two thirds (59.2 percent) of respondents said the reason they opened and read particular messages this holiday season was because it came from a company they know and trust. The next highest contributing factors were attention-grabbing subject lines (41.1 percent) and prior relationship with the sender (33.6 percent).

“Success at the holidays is inextricably linked to the success of your email program all year long,” Miller says. “We always recommend that marketers develop a content strategy that balances promotional emails with information of interest to your subscribers, in order to become a trusted and welcome sender of email.”

Retailers who increase the frequency of emails without increasing the value to the subscriber were not likely to see increases in open or click-through rates this season, Miller says.

Mixed Reviews on Additional Holiday Emails: 18.9 percent of respondents reported they welcomed the extra mail and were glad to have heard about all the holiday special deals. Nearly half (49.1 percent) of consumers said they were indifferent to the excess email, claiming no impact on their email habits (they just deleted more email). Yet, almost a third (29.9 percent) said that receiving excess holiday emails makes them wary of signing up for permission programs.

“The great news is that consumers still love email and really want to hear from retailers and other companies they do business with,” Miller says. “But the bottom line is that consumers define as ’spam’ anything that they don’t find interesting. So even permission-based marketers with an opt-in list can appear spammy if they do not send relevant and enticing messages.”

Survey Methodology

The Holiday Email Survey was conducted on December 28, 2004 using the SurveyDirect consumer panel. The survey includes responses from 723 U.S. consumers, ages 18-54. The survey was written and analyzed by Return Path Strategic Services and aimed to understand consumer perceptions and reactions to the use of email by retailers during the 2004 holiday season (defined as the period between Halloween and Christmas).

About Return Path, Inc.

Return Path is an e-mail performance management company dedicated to improving the reach, delivery performance and overall success of permission-based e-mail programs. More than 1,500 companies use Return Path’s services to generate superior results from their e-mail programs, taking advantage of Return Path’s pioneering innovation in deliverability, ECOA, list hygiene, double-opt-in list acquisition and best practices strategy. Solutions include list maintenance, deliverability, data acquisition, online sampling, marketing technology and e-mail strategy. Return Path Delivery Assurance Solutions are the industry’s original and premier e-mail deliverability tools and services, and remain the only full-circle solution for solving e-mail deliverability issues. The company’s investors include Sutter Hill Ventures, Mobius Venture Capital, Flatiron Partners, and JP Morgan Partners. For more information, please visit, e-mail, or call toll-free 866-362-4577.

About Survey Direct

Online sampling pioneer SurveyDirect serves the global market research community with a highly responsive, diverse and fast-growing Double Opt-In panel of more than 2.5 million consumers and business professionals. SurveyDirect is a division of email performance company Return Path, Inc. To become a member of the SurveyDirect Panel and be invited to future online surveys, visit


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