Inbox overload? Increasing email volumes? Here’s the truth.

Users complain about inbox overload. Email marketing evangelists on the other hand pride themselves with new record heights every year. So advertisers are to “blame”, aren’t they? Well, not so fast.

At least they are not with regards to my little “laboratory inbox”. It’s an email address, which I just use to analyze email sending patterns in Germany from time to time.

Let’s have a graphical look on some recent volume trends.

Promotions per sender


The following two charts show, how many emails a selection of 77 companies — many of which among the top online retailers — sent me from Q1 in 2012 to Q1 in 2013. Most of it is regular commercial communication.

Explanation: The figures are sorted by send volume. Line colors represent the overall relative change from Q1/2013 to Q1/2012. Marketers, who sent significantly more emails, are colored orange to dark red. Those, who sent less, are colored green.

The above chart uses one scale for all figures. You can easily compare different levels of email volume: e.g., Groupon contacted me much more frequently than Tiffany & Co.

The next one visualizes the exact same data. But is uses different breaks and ranges on the vertical y-axis for each figure. Thus, it draws attention to volatility during the time period. Take for instance airberlin. They used the same mailing frequency in Q1/2012 and in Q1/2013, as well as in Q2, Q3, and Q4 of 2012. This gives an interesting shape:

As you can see, there are only a few big senders, who sent me more in Q1/2013 compared to the same time a year ago. Take for example the retailers Tchibo (last column, 3rd row) and OTTO (middle column, 3rd row). Tchibo doubled its volume. They started with a weekly newsletter, today they contact me twice as much — the red line marks this high increase.

Take GMX on the other hand (1st row, 6th column). It is the most popular webmail service provider here in Germany. They already sent many emails in Q1/2012. Nevertheless, volumes increased again by a whole lot until Q1/2013. However, this increase is mainly due to spam notifications (“new email in your spam folder”), which arrive much more frequently today. This is something that the figures don’t tell — you have to drill down into the subject lines and friendly names:

Other companies, like Schlecker (row 1, column 2) or Neckermann (row 2, column 6), declared insolvency. Thus, their volumes dropped.

Promotions at a whole

If you look at the whole picture that those sorted red (=sent more) and green (=sent less) lines paint, my inbox received even less emails in Q1/2013 than a year ago:


However, at this point I’ve got to make two side notes. First, it is possible that some senders put my address on a low-volume reactivation track, because it seemed inactive to them. I don’t know about that. My laboratory email address produced not many clicks, opens, or any other measurable responses, so it’s a possibility.

And second, one should keep in mind that Germany has a strict opt-in law and that the email inbox is legally part of the users’ private sphere. I guess that subscribers are more sensitive to changes in frequency when compared to the United States because of this. Thus, it’s harder to email more and other countries may see a completely different development. (E.g., Experian reports +11.6% email volume.)

Social notifications


When talking about inbox overload, we can’t just look at my laboratory inbox, which catches mostly promotional emails. These results would tell us only half the truth. Let’s also take a look into some productive email accounts.

The following charts represent the sum of what’s going on in my two Gmail inboxes (“social” label in the new inbox) that I use on a daily basis:


There you go. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and their companions are the “bad boys”. 😉 No wonder that Facebook & Co. are reported to have a bad email reputation, as well as many bounces and unsubscribes. Most of it is graymail to me, which clutters up my inboxes and which I am too lazy to unsubscribe from.

The trend line shows that the volumes of social notifications and social newsletters grow and grow. Their total volume went up by 78% from 90 emails to 160 emails in one year. Wow. And I would not even consider myself to be a guy, who socializes that much on the internet…

Consequently, and Gmail try to save us by sorting out the notifications automatically. And I like it:


What about you? Do you have a similar experience?

Enjoyed this one? Subscribe for my hand-picked list of the best email marketing tips. Get inspiring ideas from international email experts, every Friday: (archive♞)
Yes, I accept the Privacy Policy
Delivery on Fridays, 5 pm CET. You can always unsubscribe.
It's valuable, I promise. Subscribers rate it >8 out of 10 (!) on average.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.