In the last year, I’ve received an average of 175 emails per day excluding what ends up in my spam folder. Assuming I spent an average of 30 seconds per email, that’s 90 minutes per day, 10.5 hours per week, and 22 days of my year. Give or take, this means I spent about 6% of my year on email.
While I only have the data to understand my email experience, pulling apart this number yields some anecdotal nuggets that might be useful in improving that 6% of my life that’s spent on email. If my email is at all representative, I’d propose we need a solution that both helps the receivers (who are consuming the email) and the senders (who are using email to send notifications, newsletters, etc).
My Year in Email: The Numbers
To start, let me share more detail about the emails I’ve gotten over the past year. If I ignore replies and forwards (and a few oddities like email I sent to myself), I’m down to 108 emails per day.
My first step was to categorize my emails as follows:
- Work is any message I received from an individual about Klaviyo (the intelligent email marketing platform I co-founded)
- Business is any email I received from a business or organization (LinkedIn, Meetup, Threadless, alumni associations, etc),
- Family and Friends are any personal messages from individuals
- Politics is anything Barack Obama or Mitt Romney sent me
A few things jump out:
- Friends, Work and Business emails dwarf everything else.
- The number of work/Klaviyo related emails is actually much lower than I thought it was – I think because of how often we rely on chat and skype internally.
- My family doesn’t do email that much – we mainly rely on phone or skype chat.
- The contribution from politics, even in an election year, wasn’t that high of a percentage of overall email.
The Typical Email Week
Now let’s look at this over time. Here’s what a typical week looks like:
Two things jump out:
- The weekends really are quieter
- Monday and Friday are intense workdays email-wise (with Wednesday following shortly after)
3,000 Emails a Year from Linkedin
From the week breakdown, I focused on the business segment. I counted this as anything I get from a company (that I don’t work for). Facebook friend requests, Meetup announcements, newsletters from stores I shop at – it’s all in this bucket.
Here’s what it looks like for me:
By far the biggest surprise here was that 25% of these emails come from LinkedIn (in my case, almost 3,000 emails a year). I’m sure I’m an anomaly (these emails consisted primarily of connection requests and group notifications), but it was amazing that I hadn’t really noticed how bad it was. I remember feeling general annoyance, but hadn’t reached a tipping point where I’d waded through their settings to adjust what I received.
Conclusions from this:
- The big tech companies (LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook and Amazon) account for nearly 50% of the emails I get from businesses.
- Notifications (x needs your attention, y meetup is happening this week, z commented on your blog post, etc) are the next major contribution
- Ecommerce comes in third (actually significantly lower than I expected). My biggest surprise with these emails is how consistent they are – they’re basically a modern equivalent of those inserts that used to come in the Sunday paper.
4 Email Frustrations
As I synthesize my feelings about email based on my experience and the data above, a couple notes:
- I don’t really have any complaints about emails I get from friends and family.
- Most of the completely spammy or unwanted email are already getting pulled into Gmail’s spam folder (Already excluded from this analysis)
This leaves the 80% of email I get that is for Work or from Businesses. My frustrations with this 80%:
- There’s too much of it: I get nearly 100 of these emails a day. That’s a lot – and I’m guessing I get less than some people.
- Lots of different types of message but one format: An email can be a direct message to me, a notification, a cc to keep me updated or a to do list item. I could just look at a list of 50 notifications and pick out what matters, which is very different from 3 emails directly to me.
- It doesn’t adapt. Even if I never read emails from linkedin groups, they don’t stop coming or come less often – I have to go and dig through setting to unsubscribe.
- The Emails aren’t that relevant. Nearly every Ecommerce email is the same regularly scheduled newsletter. If you sell backpacking equipment, it’s pretty easy to get me to buy if you hit me with an offer as its warming up in Boston. Same goes for down coats in the winter. Even if I get only 1/10 as many emails from you as usual, I’m 10 times more likely to buy.
Email is 2-sided: Improving Emails for Receivers and Senders
Focusing on these frustrations, it’s clear to me that fixes need to come for both email senders and email receivers.
Tools for receivers are ideal for making it easy to deal with different types of messages and the volume of email. Whether it’s the priority inbox in gmail or smart ways to separate notifications from emails requiring response, better tools for consuming email can significantly reduce the time burden required for email.
Tools for senders are well positioned to make emails adaptive and relevant – and it’s in their interest. If companies can link emails directly to outcomes and use that data to continually improve and tailor what’s sent automatically, there’s no reason that the interests of companies and customers can’t be aligned – giving us all better, more relevant email.
The Case for Focusing on Senders
As Des Traynor pointed out in the “The Future of Email Products“, the last great innovation in email was threaded conversation and unlimited storage in Gmail 8 years ago. I’ve read countless articles on how to improve my email client since then, but I’m still using Gmail. Why? It turns out getting people to switch is hard – and maybe it’s not as easy a problem to solve as we thought to build a significantly better email client that’s worth switching to.
That said, from the senders side it’s a different situation. Email senders can use different tools for different emails, and many tools are easy to try out with a small group of customers and a test email. Furthermore, senders are strongly financially incentivized to invest in new email systems if they really can drive better outcomes. Finally, senders have the data needed to know which emails are driving real results since this data lives in their own web apps and purchase databases.
In short, driving real improvements in the “email experience” is much easier by providing better tools for senders: they have money, they have data, and they have the ability to easily try improvements.
As Dave Girouard pointed out on Techcrunch in “In Defense of Email”, the email problem probably isn’t as bad as we like to make it out to be; however, this covers up the fact that our approach to email is still closer to an instant version of snail mail than it is to a highly-linked and intelligent web app. It’s time for more innovation for senders and receivers – but senders might be the right starting point.
Building tools to empower Web Apps and Ecommerce stores to send better, smarter and more automated email is our complete focus at Klaviyo. Sign up for a trial today.