5 ways to avoid customer fatigue in e-marketing

Tom Bacon takes a look how exposure works in traditional marketing and explores ways to keep the customer engaged

In traditional marketing, we measure exposures; in general, more exposure – to an offer, to a product, to a promotion – translates into greater awareness and greater propensity to purchase. Thus, TV commercials are recurring, repeatedly advising us of the benefits of a certain product. In general, since such ‘exposures’ can be costly, merchandisers are more concerned about not enough exposures rather than too many. They balance the normally declining value of incremental exposures with the cost.

In e-marketing the cost of sending one or more offers, or sending a standard offer to one more person, is low.  So potential customers are barraged with email communication from certain e-retailers.  In fact, some e-tailers send daily messages to their distribution lists.  But, even more than with traditional marketing exposures, e-merchandisers can more easily measure the impact of an incremental e-exposure to an individual customer. 

Certainly, as with other marketing, greater exposures generally translate into more sales.  The second exposure may not be as valuable as the first but it is still highly positive.  And the third is also positive.  However, for many e-merchandisers, there is a point when an incremental exposure may be extremely negative, actually undoing the benefit of the previous exposures.  Customer fatigue - a normal response to too-many e-mail offers - is deadly for e-merchandisers!  Customers may opt out of all future communications or simply begin to associate the merchandiser with an annoyance.

Thus, e-merchandisers need to determine how to avoid customer fatigue. Here are some examples of how to do this:

1.  Monitor/manage # of exposures

E-merchandisers need to monitor and manage the number of offers they send out.  They need to carefully measure the incremental value of an offer and seek to identify the threshold for fatigue.  Segmentation can be useful here - the threshold for fatigue likely varies across types of customers; with certain segments, the tenth contact may still be very positive while for other segments the tenth exposure is way beyond ‘fatigue’.

2.  Put more control in customer’s hands

‘Opt-in; Opt-out’ is binary – and highly susceptible to fatigue (‘Opt in’ can suddenly become ‘Opt out’.) A more nuanced approach can help reduce fatigue. Thus, if someone opts-in, he should also be able to vary the number of messages he receives.  Many sites let customers limit messages by time period – daily, weekly, monthly. Alternatively, a site could allow the customer to only receive messages on Friday or Saturday mornings. Another approach is to allow the customer to specify the type of message he receives, for example, only fare sales, or only fare sales to a specific location. Content selection can be highly granular: Offers for Tampa? Offers for Europe? Offers for summer travel. Or family travel? Or vacation bundles? Or bucket list offers?

3.  Target more effectively

Rather than rely on broad, mass emails, target more narrowly.  Greater personalisation – or segmentation – is an effective way to reduce emails to any individual – and to ensure the emails are more pointed and thus more effective.  Segmentation opportunities now include basic demographics but also historic purchase behaviour and previous responses to e-offers.  Potentially, e-merchandisers can still send daily (or even more frequently) offers or emails but any one individual may receive only one out of 20.

4.  Test continuously

Rigorous testing can help avoid fatigue.  How does a small subset of customers respond – before sending to a larger group?  An e-merchandiser managing extensive e-campaigns should have continuous testing built into the process.  Potentially, broader distribution lists should only occur after rigorous testing with smaller groups.

5.  Combine offers 

Rather than send multiple promotions to an individual – even if each of them effectively targets the segment he is in – one combined promotion may prove more effective. InterContinental Hotels Group speaks of the benefit of combining offers in one piece.  If analysis suggests three or four unique offers could each be of value to an individual, bundle them together in one email rather than risk fatigue.  Of course, this has the side-benefit of providing the customer with additional choice.

For example:


Customer-specific Filter




Not for this segment


Not for this segment


Combine with #5


Combine with #4




Not for this segment


Not for this segment

In this example, this customer receives only three communications despite the launch of 8 offers.

To sum up, although e-merchandising can be a very cost-efficient medium, there is a real danger in over-merchandising.  Travel suppliers need to monitor and anticipate customer ‘fatigue’ and manage e-communications to maximize sales without risking tiring the customer out.

Tom Bacon is 25-year airline veteran and industry consultant in revenue optimisation. 

Questions? Email Tom at or visit his website

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