Some Retailers Realizing That Spamming Current Customers Might Turn Them Into Former Customers

In 2011, the nation’s 100 largest online retailers sent out an average to 177 e-mails per recipient, with some companies blasting more than 500 e-mails per recipient. But a handful of businesses are coming to the realization that it may not be the best idea to flood their customers’ inboxes.

For example, fashion retailer Nicole Miller has gone from sending out three e-mail ads each week to one.

And as part of JCPenney’s attempt to re-position itself as a retailer that doesn’t want to bash you over the head with endless sales, the company has scaled back from daily e-mails to three per week.

“You get into this mind-set that the more emails you send, the more sales you generate,” the CEO of Nicole Miller Inc. tells the Wall Street Journal. “But that can really start to annoy people.”

One study shows that even though the number of e-mails per recipient has jumped 87% since 2007, people aren’t clicking the links as frequently. E-mail recipients in 2007 opened 19% of the retail e-mails in their inbox, and 3.9% actually went to the site. In 2011, only 12.5% of e-mails were read and the number of people clicking through had dropped to 2.8%.

But the folks at Nicole Miller tell WSJ they’ve been able to fight that trend by sending fewer, but better, e-mails:

Since cutting back its volume, Nicole Miller has seen the rate at which customers “unsubscribe”–or request to stop receiving emails–drop, and the percentage of recipients who open the emails has grown from 15% to 40%… Meanwhile, the percentage of online sales that began with an email has grown to 17% from 10%.

Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus sent out 534 emails to its subscribers in 2011 but claims that the percentage of customers who “unsubscribe” hasn’t grown, and that the number of people opening and clicking through has actually increased. The company attributes this success to more-customized e-mails that use customers’ buying and browsing history to show offers that they are more likely to be interested in.

Stores Smarten Up, Send Less Spam []


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    So companies that don’t bother their customers tend to keep more of them? Did this information come from an institution using federal grant money?

  2. mauispiderweb says:

    Gee, ya think?

  3. May contain snark says:

    I’m surprised it has taken this long. I generally choose not to use a company that spams the hell out of me.

    • Charmander says:

      Me too. I have to say that I signed up for the Jo-ann Fabric emails, because I want their coupons, but I had no idea they were going to send me so many emails – at least 3 per week.

      I thought I’d get one maybe once a month. Why in the world would anyone want to hear from retailer 3 times a week? I’ve got other things to do!

    • jesusofcool says:

      I agree. What really gets my goat lately is how difficult it is to unsubscribe from these companies. Many of them (probably because they’ve finally caught on to the fact that the spamming is annoying) offer on their unsubscribe page to send you less email, between 1-4 per month. I always try that option at first because I actually do use the coupons sometimes, but then I find myself spammed just as much as before.
      Though I really feel like email marketing spam is just a new extension of an old problem. I have vendors at work that call at least once a week “to check in.” Eventually marketers need to learn that customers value information relevant to their needs and interests, and touches only make sense if they’re providing that.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    It’s really kind of sad how often companies are completely oblivious to what really drives customer interest.

    Customers want relevent communications that aren’t just a veiled form of advertising. They want pertinent information at infrequent intervals.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Further, I think the problem stems from companies thinking “I don’t what the customer likes, we need to do what we think will maximise our profits.” I guess I can understand that thinking, they are a business after all.

      But I think the disconnect comes from their inability to realize that if you give the customer what he/she wants, you make more money.

  5. AngryK9 says:

    I hate it when I go into a store to buy something, and before they will ring up the sale they expect me to give them my name, address, phone number, and email address. I’m looking at you, Radio Shack.

    • Nidoking says:

      I just bought something at the Shack yesterday, and I don’t recall being asked for any personal information.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        that’s just because they have facial recognition software now and just match you up to your drivers license photo

      • George4478 says:

        That would be a shocker. I’ve bought things off and on since the 70’s at Radio Shack (Battery Club, whoo-hoo!). Every single purchase for the past 40 years has begun with “May I have your phone number?”.

    • balderdashed says:

      You’re right. And what’s also frustrating — with Radio Shack and other merchants — is that you might firmly refuse to provide any personal info when you buy a product. But if it turns out to be defective and you choose to return it (with a receipt, and consistent with their stated return policy) they‚Äôll again try to get your personal info. A while ago, a Radio Shack employee refused to provide a refund unless I gave out my phone number — “company policy,” he said. I declined, and had a brief discussion with a manager. Eventually I prevailed, but the experience left me inclined to use Radio Shack only a last resort.

    • hahatanka says:

      When asked for my phone number I have 3 options.
      1- Give them a phone number I haven’t had for 6 years
      2- Give them the house phone number. We never answer it. Only have it for the alarm
      3- Take one of the bills I was going to pay with & read of the serial number.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Ha. It was like when I looked at a car and the salesman was trying to get my information. He took time to show us the car so I figured I would give him my home phone number to allow him to follow up. He also asked for my work and cell phone numbers. I declined and said I don’t think any information you’ll have for me will require you to reach me immediately.

  6. Cat says:

    If you send me more than one email every week or two, I will send you to the spam folder for good.

    It is a dark, hellish black hole of marketing despair from which your spam shall never escape.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      No wonder they’re spamming us. How the heck would the company know that you’ve marked their e-mail as spam? I know that you shouldn’t click on the “unsubscribe” link in spam because that actually makes your address more valuable to spammers, but if it’s a legitimate company and you signed up for their e-mails, call me crazy, but maybe you should unsubscribe, so they know you’re unhappy?

      • Buckus says:

        For legitimate companies, the unsubscribe email really works. I tried this on my junk email account and, for the most part, unsubscribe worked as advertised.

        Also, I used to work for a company that sent out emails for other companies and the unsubscribe was a huge part of setting up new clients. We basically couldn’t send email out until the unsubscribe function worked.

      • JF says:

        Only works if the company cares. I unsubscribe and then spam it if the keep sending me stuff….. I’m looking at you Guess.

      • Not Given says:

        If I unsubscribe 3 times and I still get them, they go in the junk folder. If their unsubscribe link doesn’t work they go straight to junk.

  7. D007H says:

    Reminds me of Kmart ,who would send you email reminders if you put things in your cart but don’t buy or log out of your account for a certain amount of time. I try unsubscribing multiple times. When that failed, I stop buying from them online altogether.Emails like those sound desperate and stalkerish.

    • elangomatt says:

      I just remembered that a while back I think I was looking at printer ink or something online. I had added some ink to my cart and then started checking out so I could check the shipping charges. I decided I didn’t want to pay the high shipping charges and cancelled out. A few hours later I got an email asking why I hadn’t finished the check out process. I told them it was because of their exorbitant shipping charges, and their follow up email guaranteed I would never buy from them.

  8. GMFish says:

    Never buy anything from Haynes online. They’re worse than Nigerian spammers. Not only will your in boxes be filled with crap, you’ll get several snail mail catalogs a month.

    I’ll never buy from them again. (Fortunately I used my junk email account!)

  9. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I buy sometimes from Amazon’s emails, especially the $5 album downloads. I also enjoy looking at Webstaurant’s emails even if I’m not going to buy anything. But yeah, this is true. I won’t support organizations that spam the hell out of me on Facebook or in email either. More than once I’ve liked or joined something that turned me off completely with incessant postings or clogged my inbox.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      aside from the creepy stalker factor, i kind of like when amazon sends me “you were looking at product x last week and we just dropped the price on it, thought you’d like to know”
      but i don’t like “you were bought product x and now similar product y is on sale, would you like to buy it?” no, i JUST bought product x, why would you think i’d need something similar right away?

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Yeah that one bugs me too. The price drop one is nice.

        I don’t spam them because I do like them. If I’m not interested in one, I just delete it.

      • Buckus says:

        Yeah, the “You bought some anal lube last month. Thought we’d let you know butt plugs are on sale this week” emails get annoying after awhile.

  10. Bort says:

    this reminds me of so many businesses with quotas such as must upsell 70% of customers, or sign up 1 in 10 for our credit card or your fired

  11. BeerFox says:

    I tend to see some of these retailers like a not-yet-housebroken puppy. You give them a little bit of attention (a sale), and suddenly, they’re going all over your inbox.

    So yes, you send me an email every day, you’re getting put out in the yard (spam folder) til you can control yourself.

  12. sendmoney2me says:

    I actually enjoy seeing the emails from places like newegg where I’ve ASKED them to send me email and I actually BUY from those emails. however just because I buy from someplace ONCE that doesn’t mean I will again if you send me even ONE email a week that I didn’t ask for.

    • scoosdad says:

      I got my first-ever marketing email from Newegg today, offering me a discount code on certain Western Digital products. I can’t ever recall in the time I’ve done business with them (years) that I’ve ever gotten marketing email from them before.

      Given that I was there a few weeks ago browsing hard drives, I don’t think that was a coincidence. Gotta remember to tighten up my settings on my ‘don’t track me’ add-on in Firefox I guess.

      • scottd34 says:

        They used to stop sending after a while if you dont click their emails.. wonder if they still do that. More retails should. The newegg emails are about the only ones I look at since they have some decent specials from time to time.

  13. Kuri says:

    You don’t say! /sarc

  14. Gorbachev says:

    Ah, yes, Neiman Marcus. I’ve trained Gmail to automatically send their spam to the spam folder. I never even see it. It’s awesome.

  15. Bluth_Cornballer says:

    I hope the people at Kohls see this.

  16. swarrior216 says:

    Khol’s did that to me. I’d get at least 2 to 3 emails a day from them. Had to unsubscribe.

  17. DrLumen says:


    If I was getting 2 per day (not counting weekends) they would be in my spam block on about day 2 or 3.

  18. Bagels says:

    Amazon seems like the worst, sometimes it feels like they send 177 emails a day. Especially now with this “Amazon Local”

    • polishhillbilly says:

      “…will you review your purchases..”
      I get that email daily. No I will not review my purchases, unless I feel the need.

    • CrankyOwl says:

      I have yet to see a single offer from Amazon Local that interests me. Just because I live in Portland doesn’t mean I do yoga or wear Birkenstocks >:(

  19. Guppy06 says:

    “only 12.5% of e-mails were read”

    Less “read,” more “viewed the included images.”

  20. Lyn Torden says:

    Weren’t we supposed to have a law to outlaw spam? Oh wait, one of the political parties blocked it.

    • George4478 says:

      There was a law to outlaw spam from companies that you had done business with?

      I recall a law about unsubscribe options, but never a “I just bought something from Amazon and its a crime for them to ever email me” law.

    • Buckus says:

      The CAN-SPAM act mandated things like the “Unsubscribe” link, but didn’t bar email entirely.


      • Difdi says:

        Also known as the Yes You Can Spam Act, due to the way it was completely neutered of the most important parts for protecting consumers from spammers.

  21. mistyfire says:

    I know it annoys me.

  22. Nighthawke says:

    Optics Planet also gets into that mindset to send out daily traffic and sometimes really gets obnoxious around the holiday season with 3 messages a day. I’ve warned them about that as a courtesy, but they have replied with a blunt “if you don’t like it, unsubscribe”. Very poor manners!

  23. Rick Sphinx says:

    ONE PER MONTH is enough. Anymore than that, I unsubcribe, unless I choose to get more. So many companies just bombard you with emails, its too much. It just looks desperate, and it also makes be afraid to buy anything, as they are always having a sale.

  24. oldtaku says:

    Once a week, yeah, I am interested in knowing the current specials for a store I shop at. More than one a week and it gets unsubscribed (and if that doesn’t work, marked as spam). Too clingy!

  25. Dallas_shopper says:

    Between Banana Republic, Bath & Body Works, Target, and LOFT, my inbox gets pretty full sometimes.

  26. RandomHookup says:

    Mostly, it just teaches my email filter to treat their messages a spam.

  27. oldtaku says:

    Also, I believe Google uses weighted spam flagging globally for gmail – so if you mark something as spam it’s not immediately spam for other people, but if enough people mark it as spam further messages are more likely to go right in the spam basket for everyone.

    Definitely in your best interest not to have people mark your stuff as spam even beyond the one customer you just annoyed.

  28. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I have unsubscribed to most companies b/c they are so annoying about the frequency of e-mails. I wouldn’t say they have lost my business, but they have annoyed me enough so that I won’t even take their e-mails anymore.

  29. Booboobunnygirl says:

    I get an email every other day from Joann’s Fabrics! I don’t know how they have so many things to tell me!

  30. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I made the mistake of ordering a few sundresses from an Amerimark ad from the coupons in the local paper last summer. They were cheap, and I wanted them to wear around the house when it’s hot.

    HUGE mistake. I soon was deluged with emails and phone calls, and catalogs from companies I’d never heard of.

    I’ll never order from them again.

  31. Netstar says:

    I had to unsubscribe from Amazon’s e-mails because of this. I was ordering items and they would send me e-mails based on the items I just ordered. Duh! I just ordered the item(s) so why would I be interested in the product after the fact?

    I hope corporations also realize that this also pertains to TV commercials. The less the better!

    I’m amazed that corporate management still has no clue on what the customer wants even with all of the marketing, data mining, and data collection that is conducted on a daily basis. I guess there is one extremely valuable tool that management never will have or use and it’s called common sense. They traded common sense in for a college degree.

  32. scoosdad says:

    Gaa, my 80-something mom signed up to receive email from Bealls Florida (a department store chain). I have access to her email account to help her out from time to time, and I was shocked to see how many emails a day she gets from Bealls. I asked her if she wanted to opt-out and she said no, but I finally installed a filter to automatically put them in a separate folder for her so they weren’t clogging up her inbox, and she can go there from time to time and look at them if she wants.

    And I’ve emptied out maybe a thousand of those old messages in the last year that she never bothered to even read.

    • ellemdee says:

      My 80-year-old neighbor signed me up for a catalog without asking me, so now I get old lady clothes catalogs sent to my house. I’m not even middle aged yet, so I think it will be a while before I’ll be interested in purchasing sweatsuits decorated with cats or floral mumus with matching visors. She might have thought she was being nice, but I’m so glad she doesn’t have my email address or I’d probably be getting spammed with emails selling commemorative plates and cat statues.

    • BBBB says:

      I also sort adds into folders. I also have a couple of throwaway accounts I use for retailers and newsletters.

      A new one I just encountered was at Staples (office supplies) – the ad just stated there was a special daily sale and to click to see it – the item comes up and the price box states “See price in shopping cart.”

      I also found that other office supply stores are doing the same thing.

      I guess the strategy is to hope you will continue shopping and forget to remove the item.

  33. CubeRat says:

    New Balance is the best. They e-mail me once a month?? or maybe once every 2 months. I usually buy 3x a year, so their e-mails with the current offer is good.

    24-hour fitness isnt’ too bad, but they do send a lot of ads for their vitamin/supliments stuff.

    Amazon got kicked to the curb, but every time I buy something, it gets re-instated. I only check my home e-mail once a week – at most – so anyone that has sent lots of e-mails get sent to blocked sender and unsubscribed.

    • Not Given says:

      I don’t get it. I order from Amazon from time to time and also get several products by subscription. I don’t get anything from Amazon that doesn’t pertain to my orders or subscriptions.

  34. Starfury says:

    Micro Center and Newegg are bad on the e-mails. I’ve had to unsubscribe from both since I was getting daily e-mail from them. When I’m in the market for a technology item I’ll keep both companies in mind when it comes time to make a purchase….but if they’ve both spammed me then I can (and will) take my purchase elsewhere.

    • drjayphd says:

      Just experienced the warmth and glow of Micro Center’s warming glow over the weekend (they don’t exist in CT, as far as I know, and they had a pretty decent deal on stuff I needed) and they got absolutely none of my personal information. Serves them right for advertising a sale on a 100-disc spindle of CD-Rs for $11.99… when the spindles themselves are labeled as $9.99. Action fans with the Consumerist app! Help us!

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Come on. Newegg is like once every couple days and it is for a legit sale that has different items.

      Sign up for the Brookstone mailing list and you can see bad.

    • GrayMatter says:

      Harbor Freight is amazing in what they send

  35. richcreamerybutter says:

    A lot of retailers also blatantly ignore standards-compliant rules in html emails. If my images don’t load automatically and I just see a broken image icon and some legal copy, I’m not going to bother even if I’m normally interested in the product (I can be really, really lazy!).

    Gilt, Ideeli, and JetBlue are good examples of retail emails. The headlines are always specific, and they include formatted html text in the body of the email so you see information immediately. You can even see them in Outlook 2007 and 2010, which renders code using the MSWord engine (yuck).

  36. Bibliovore says:

    This is an issue that charity organizations need to look at, too.

    • EllenRose says:

      I don’t get many e-mails from charities, but the phone calls around dinnertime are driving me up the wall. E-mails don’t call me away from whatever I’m doing.

  37. ancientone567 says:

    It took a bunch of high paid idiots in an office how long to figure this shit out? lol

  38. framitz says:

    Posted as a reply, but it might be helpful to others:
    If they keep spamming after opting out, I report them to the FTC formally…. they seem to stop a short while later, not sure if FTC actually has anything to do with it.

    Sending it straight to spam won’t stop them, you have to report them.
    If you’re paying for data on your phone, you are paying for the spam… so get it stopped instead, it helps us all.

  39. ellemdee says:

    When companies send emails too often, I just stop opening them and/or unsubscribe out of annoyance. One campany has been emailing me almost every day since I made a purchase. Too many emails = white noise.

  40. Nunov Yerbizness says:

    >>>Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus sent out 534 emails to its subscribers in 2011 but claims that the percentage of customers who “unsubscribe” hasn’t grown, and that the number of people opening and clicking through has actually increased.

    Neiman Marcus’ customer base hasn’t unsubscribed from these emails in large part because their customers were around when the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog featured the Titanic as the year’s fantasy gift.

  41. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    Saying that the percentage of people who unsubscribe hasn’t grown doesn’t take into account the number who probably just slap a new filter rule on their incoming email to automatically delete it.

  42. Silverhawk says:

    Great, now for those of us who actually unchecked the ‘send me spam’ button while registering and completing our purchase at Retailer X’s site, can we please stop getting spammed? I always uncheck or otherwise opt out of any extraneous communications, and the bastards end up spamming me with deal-of-the-day crap anyway. Great way to ensure I just go back to Amazon.

  43. wackydan says:

    If Home depot keeps up the volume of email… I will print them all and snail mail them back.. postage due.

  44. emilymarion333 says:

    Lands End is the worst…I have actually stopped shopping with them due to all of the email.

  45. Doomdark says:

    (excluding food shopping) does your average customer really shop with you three times a week or more? If not why on earth would you need to email them more than once a week at most.

  46. BurtReynolds says:

    The worst I’ve experienced is Brookstone. During the Christmas shopping season, I was getting about 4 emails a day from them.

    Now I don’t mind emails that provide me with useful information. You can send me a daily email if it has a rundown of the day’s sale items or something “fresh”. Yet Brookstone would just send useless marketing crap “Buy one of these!”, and then “Reminder: Buy one of these!”. Even now, in the doldrums of the shopping year, I think I get one email a day from Brookstone. I’m not sure though because their communcations are directed to my junk email these days.

  47. Aking0667 says:

    Who in the hell can afford stuff from Neiman Marcus in this economy?!

  48. Difdi says:

    I’ve always been astounded by the massive numbers of people online who think the best way to get someone to do them a favor is to mortally offend that person. As if someone hating you and fantasizing about your death will want to help you at all.

  49. legolex says:

    I realize this is about JCP, but Kohl’s needs to stop its cashiers from spamming me in my face with 4+ attempts to get me to sign up for their credit card when all I bought were trouser socks. No means no!

  50. Weekilter says:

    “”You get into this mind-set that the more emails you send, the more sales you generate,” the CEO of Nicole Miller Inc. tells the Wall Street Journal. “But that can really start to annoy people.””

    Gees, ya really think? Once a week would be just plenty.