Nov 29, 2012

Cyber Monday and Email Fatigue

The Thanksgiving holiday is traditionally the start of an insane ramp up in email volume at MailChimp, so we’ve been watching our servers closely the last few days. We like to keep the server hamsters well fed and all. Like any self-respecting data geeks, we’ve generated some charts to take a look at the numbers. Here’s a graph of email send volume from last week up to Monday:

You see an interesting trend where email volume dipped a bit on the 22nd (Thanksgiving), then picked back up to their pre-turkey levels on Black Friday. As an aside, Instagram says that pictures of turkeys spiked that Thursday. The dip you see on the weekend is normal.

That brings us to Cyber Monday, where we had yet another MailChimp record for number of emails sent per day which is illustrated in the graph above (over 190 million emails). Take a look at the growth rates when we compare Cyber Monday to the previous Monday (aka Regular Monday).

While email volume increased by up to 40%, we didn’t see a similar increase in open rates. Clicks increase from the previous week leading to more sales, but the most alarming increase there is in unsubscribes. When we started talking about the growth in holiday volume, we wondered where the largest jump would occur.

This is what we think is happening: As marketers send more and more email for the holidays, people get tired of that influx and decide to unsubscribe. When ISPs hate the email, you’d generally see bounce rates go up. When people hate email, you’ll see abuse complaints go up. When people politely want to excuse themselves from your list, they unsubscribe.

Maybe the lesson here is that sending on Cyber Monday is a mixed bag. You’ll get more clicks from engaged subscribers, but you’ll also get more unsubs from users experiencing inbox overload. See Ben’s post about reducing irrelevance for more on that.