Blog: How many emails are too many emails?

I’m going to answer that headline right here at the top and say it’s about three. Any more than that and, well, I might just have to write a column about it.

A little over a week ago, I was scanning my emails when I came across this subject line from West Elm: “Confirmed hot: introducing our favorite sunny styles.” It looked enticing and pretty interesting. I scrolled down and something caught my eye, a nice-looking mid-century modern brown leather chair with an exposed wood frame. No price listed (annoying thing No. 1) so I clicked for a closer look … and the price ($799-$2,398).

I get a boatload of marketing emails like this from retailers every week. It’s my choice; I sign up for them to keep up with what they’re doing, so I’m not going to pretend I was surprised to see this one from Williams-Sonoma’s hottest home furnishings chain. I rarely click through, though, so I was a little surprised by what happened next — actually, not so much by what happened next as what kept happening next.

I got another email. “You have good taste!” West Elm said later that same day.  “We like your style,” it said, referring to the Mid-Century Leather Show Wood chair I had just clicked on. And there was that nice chair again, this time at the top of an email that also featured other mid-century options available. Plus, the retailer told me, there is “FREE shipping on bedding & more!”

I didn’t check to see if my chair was considered “& more,” but ok, I thought to myself, this is a really good follow-up on West Elm’s part. Pretty smart. It’s serving up other things for me to browse in the same general style. Very smart! Nicely done. I bet a lot of retailers in the furniture industry could learn a thing or two from this.

“Go on, have another look,” West Elm said in another follow-up email the next day. “Good choice (we love it too!). And there’s the free shipping on bedding and more, again.

Later that same day (Monday a week ago): “Take another look at this style.” And again, my chair is at top, followed by other modern styles — the very same items from the day before. 

That’s ok, West Elm. I’m good for now, but thank you for your attention.

“Going fast: That style you were eyeing,” the retailer emailed on Tuesday. And again with the free shipping on bedding.

West Elm rested on Wednesday, sort of. I still got an email. It sent me another email that day, “Hello, Chairs!” but my Mid-Century Show Wood was nowhere to be found. I guess it did go fast.

“Yes!  Sofas that are versatile AND comfortable,” came Thursday, and right at the top: “Take another look at this style.” My chair was back, just in case I was suffering from FOMO.

Nothing Friday, but West Elm made up for it on Saturday with THREE “take another looks” and “you’ve got great tastes.” (Yes, somewhere along the line, my taste was updated from the initial “good” to “great.”) 

By now I’m hating that stupid chair, and West Elm may have guessed it because it waits a day before sneaking this out at 2:30 Monday morning: a winky-face emoji and “Seriously, we’ve got the perfect chair for you.”

Count ‘em. That’s nine follow-up emails in a little more than a week’s time, not including the subliminal “Hello, Chairs!” email

Now I’m not a marketing expert, but this sure seems like annoying overkill to me. Just to make sure, I asked a marketing expert, Kevin Doran of R&A Marketing to weigh in (by email, of course). He says there’s a line in email frequency between “helpful and annoying, timely and spammy, converting and unsubscribed,” and you’ve got to be careful not to cross it.

“Email frequency affects your campaign in a variety of ways. First of all, it influences the open rate. Then, it determines the click-through and unsubscribe rates.” R&A, he said, tends to use an approach that combines what the data is saying with how the consumer might be feeling. I suppose this is to balance staying on the radar with staying off that unsubscribe list.

“Email frequency does not get much credit for campaign success or failure, and it should,” Doran said. “Sending too often or not often enough can destroy all your email marketing efforts, no matter how good your content, offer, or service is.”

He offered some best practices and research to help keep campaign KPI’s high:

Try to hit the customer’s inbox just once a week. And based on R&A’s data,  Thursdays and Fridays are the best days, especially if the emails land after noon. And consistency is key, he added. “The more consistent the email frequency is, the less opt-outs you will get and your click-throughs will increase.”

Doubling down on a click-thru or opens with additional emails or segmentation doesn’t increase the likelihood of success. “It only increases the potential for opt-out, ignoring messages or reflection of a preferred brand to buy from in the future,” he said.

Where a consumer subscribes to your email marketing also has an impact on the success or, at least, the open rates. R&A sees better average open rates for email lists gained solely through the website (18%-20%) vs. for lists developed from a blend of in-store and website collection (about 13%).

Let your subscribers control the frequency and opt-out. That one’s pretty self-explanatory.

All that said, data shows the more emails R&A sends, the higher number of orders/conversions it gets for clients that have e-commerce options on their websites. These could be reminders about an abandoned cart or targeted emails, like the ones I’ve been receiving this past week from West Elm, or “re-targeting emails based on visits to a retailer’s website (R&A’s Growth Suite would be an example of the latter, and you can read about it here). 

But, “You need to be careful with the additional emails you send based off an open,” Doran warns. “Doubling down on a click-thru or open with additional emails or segmentation doesn’t increase the likelihood of success. It only increases the potential for opt-out, ignoring messages or reflection of a preferred brand to buy from in the future. 

“Case in point: why you’re writing this blog. You liked the chair. You clicked on the email. West Elm won. Then they got too greedy and now lost you as an email subscriber.”

Well, they didn’t really lose me. I still have to keep an eye on them so I won’t unsubscribe. And there’s also the issue of its success. West Elm’s fiscal fourth-quarter revenue grew by about 25% YOY to $511 million (for the period ended Jan. 31), according to parent Williams-Sonoma’s latest results. Williams-Sonoma, meanwhile, posted a full-year profit of $680.7 million.

I’m not going to argue with that success, but, come on, nine emails? Each one showing me a chair I clicked on just once? Take it from me, somebody with good to great taste, that’s way too many. 

Not convinced? Neither is West Elm. No. 10 just arrived:

Clint Engel

Clint Engel is a veteran home furnishings industry journalist and executive editor of Home News Now. Please share your feedback with him at

View all posts by Clint Engel →

One thought on “Blog: How many emails are too many emails?

  1. Excellent article, Clint. I think eMail is the one thing that many people and companies have a tough time grasping. I’m no e-marketing expert either but I am a consumer and if someone sends me too many, too often I’m unsubscribing real quick.

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