Your E-mail In-Box Is About to Be Swamped. Happy Holidays!

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Warm up your “delete” button. A new study about retailer e-mail trends shows that stores are sending messages to subscribers earlier in the season—well before the season even begins, actually, in many shoppers’ eyes. The e-mails are also being spewed out at a more rapid clip, averaging close to one per day during peak weeks, and they’re especially more likely to come on Black Friday, and the day before. Hmmm … what’s that day called again?

Among the more interesting revelations in the new “2012 Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season” study, from the researchers at Responsys:

Most retailers send holiday season messages by Halloween. Six in ten retailers hit subscribers with Christmas and winter holiday shopping e-mails before November 1 last year, with the average first message going out on October 18. What with “Christmas in July” promos, some stores begin much earlier: “This year we’re off to the fastest start in years—at least as of late August,” the report notes.

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There are a slew of other early season e-mails. After sending out an initial message to get holiday shopping in subscribers’ minds, retailers follow up with “Holiday-Supportive Messaging.” These e-mails run the gamut from “update your preferences” requests (so that future e-mails will suit your needs better, increasing the chances you’ll buy), to enticements to sign up for store-affiliated credit cards and loyalty programs (which also increase the chance you’ll buy), to requests to fill out surveys or review products and services.

The true e-flood begins in November. Retailer e-mail volume last November increased 20% compared to the year before. The average retailer sent out about four e-mails weekly for the first half of the month, and then between around 4.5 and 5.5 e-mails weekly from Thanksgiving week through Christmas.

Thanksgiving is no holiday for e-marketing. In 2011, 76% of major retailers sent out at least one e-mail to subscribers on Thanksgiving Day itself—a day that, in the recent past, offered a break from shopping for most. By comparison, 60% of retailers sent out such e-mails on Turkey Day 2010, and just 45% did so on Thanksgiving 2009. The study’s authors expect even more Thanksgiving emails this year:

While some may bemoan the creep of commercialism into the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle at this point. We expect Thanksgiving to remain among the top 5 email marketing days of the year again this year.

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Unsurprisingly, the top overall day for shopping e-mails is Cyber Monday, when 88% of retailers sent out messages last year. That’s up from 77% on Cyber Monday 2010. Black Friday was the second-most popular day, with 82% in 2011, and just 69% in 2010.

But back to Thanksgiving itself: Shoppers are not only getting more messages, but they seem to be pretty receptive to them. Resonsys cites data indicating a 39% increase in online sales when comparing Thanksgiving Day 2011 to 2010, though other sources say the increase was “only” 18%.

Loads of “last chance” notices coming too. Playing to the idea that shoppers hate missing out on something—anything, really—retailers send out a steady stream of updates on the final opportunities to get customized products, international shipping, free “super saver” shipping, expedited shipping, overnight shipping, and … you get the idea. Starting around mid-December, e-mail in-boxes will be filled with subjects including phrases like “Final Hours,” “Last Chance,” “Last Day!” and “Don’t Panic.” What such phrases are probably likely to do, however, is make consumers panic and place a last-minute order, no matter how crowded it’ll already be under the Christmas tree.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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