How to Balance Holiday Email Frequency

November sparks the year’s busiest season for email marketing. But with pressure to increase your email frequency during the holidays, how do you do so without jeopardizing your subscriber list? Read on to learn how to strike the right balance.

From promoting discounts to announcing special deals, this is the time of year for retailers to shift their email sends into overdrive. In fact, many businesses are already well into the holiday email season – according to Responsys’ Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season, retailers began their 2011 holiday email campaigns on October 18, a whopping 70 days before Christmas.

Beyond the early start, email volume skyrockets this time of year, especially in mid- to late November and through December. Also from Responsys, in 2010, 89% of top retailers increased the number of promotional emails sent in November and December by an average of 47% compared to January through October.

That’s a lot of emails.

With these numbers in mind, you’re probably starting to ask:

  • Should I increase my email frequency for the holidays?
  • How do I protect my email list from unsubscribes?
  • How much is too much?

All excellent questions – let’s try to answer them now.

1. Yes, you should increase your holiday email frequency

This one’s easy; if you want to be competitive during the busiest selling season of the year, you’ll need to ramp up all of your marketing efforts, including email. Of course, if your business isn’t seasonally affected by the holidays, you have nothing to worry about. But if it is, it’s time to start sending more often.

For some context, in 2010, top retailers sent 17.3 messages per month during October and November. And according to Bronto, total email volume for November and December increased 6-8% over October in 2011. Take a look at the daily email volume from their 2011 Holiday Wrap-Up report:

To put it simply, your competitors are increasing their email frequency during the holidays, so if you want to compete in the inbox wars, you’d better do the same.


2. Take measures to prevent unsubscribes

I can hear you already: “But wait! Won’t customers unsubscribe if I start sending more emails?”

This is a legitimate concern, but never fear, it’s all about preparation. The main takeaway, as mentioned by Email Critic, is this: don’t make drastic changes in your frequency. In other words, if your customers are used to receiving one email from you a month, jumping to 25 is a bit much.

Here are a few tips to help prevent unsubscribes:

  • Study your current frequency
    Get started by looking at your email frequency up to this point. How often did you send emails from January to October? Once a week? Once a month? Then, analyze the content of these messages – how many were promotional (offering discounts/coupons) and how many were informational (company announcements, content sharing)?
  • Segment, segment, segment
    Next, use existing email metrics to segment users based on their engagement with your sends. From there, you can adjust your frequency for each of these segments to help prevent unsubscribes. For example, create one segment for active users, or those who consistently open, click and share your emails. They’re much more likely to welcome more frequent emails. On the other hand, email subscribers that aren’t as engaged would be more likely to unsubscribe with increased email volume, so hold back on the number you send their way.
  • Keep an eye on your metrics
    As you begin to increase your email frequency, keep a hawk’s eye on your key metrics, such as open rate, click-through rate and unsubscribe rate. If you see that the open rate for a particular segment is steadily declining, recalibrate your frequency and send less. Same thing goes if your unsubscribe rate is going up.
  • Give your readers options

    Try to retain your readers by giving them a chance to specify their email preferences. For example, on your Unsubscribe page, you could ask “How do you prefer to receive emails? Daily, weekly, monthly – OR – What type of promos do you want to receive: Promos, newsletters, etc.” Giving your readers these options will not only personalize what they receive and thus make them more likely to open them, but it can also make them reconsider unsubscribing completely.


3. Focus on key dates and off-peak hours

If you’re not sure which days you should send your emails, try building your calendar around key holidays and the days right before and after those key holidays.


Key holidays

Sending an email blast on big selling days is an absolute must. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot and your customers are already in the buying mood. In addition to Cyber Monday and Black Friday, don’t forget to also hit the other most popular retail email days as outlined by the Responsys report below.


Keep in mind that while these days are the most popular, they’re also the most competitive, so place extra emphasis on high-quality email design, effective subject lines and solid messaging.


The days right before or after those key holidays

Thanks to our phones and tablets, we now spend more time than ever picking through emails on-the-go. This is especially true when we have downtime, like right before or after big holidays, when we’re chock-full of good food and holiday cheer. So consider sending an email blast during these off-peak days with phrases like “Take a sneak peek at the deals headed your way!” or “The savings continue with these big discounts!”


4. Let the message you’re sending dictate your frequency

The only true answer to “How much is too much?” lies within your email’s message. Arbitrarily sending emails with irrelevant, non-engaging content will turn off customers and hurt the overall health of your email marketing program. Take particular care to plan out your calendar around key discounts, promotions and announcements. With the amount of clutter in your customer’s inboxes during this selling season, each message matters.


This holiday season is expected to topple impressive sales records from last year, and to help you get a piece of that growing pie, email marketing counts. By strategically increasing your frequency, both to known segments and around key dates, you should be very satisfied with your email ROI come January.



Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

2 Responses to “How to Balance Holiday Email Frequency”

  1. 7 Tips to Improve Your Email Marketing for the Holidays

    […] If you’re not sure how many emails you should be sending, or how to track whether the increased frequency is effective, check out The Ecommerce Authority’s post How to Balance Holiday Email Frequency. […]

  2. Aadesh

    i really like your article. One of the best content was the organizational tips that you enlisted. And thumbs up for the metaphors that you used to add a bit of humor in it


Leave a Reply