THE BLOG

Why Is Email So Terrible?

04/09/2015 10:39 BST | Updated 03/09/2016 10:59 BST

In the past seven days I have received 56 emails from companies whose newsletters I have subscribed to. I love newsletters. I like being able to stay in touch with what a company does in my own time, and at my own leisure.

Last week however, I received emails about offers for womens' clothing, Amazon has nudged me three times about re-buying the bedding and toys I bought for my dog a year ago and I was told I'd abandoned a shopping cart but failed to recognise what I had actually left. Why is email so terrible?

We already know about how time consuming email is. According to McKinsey, high-skill knowledge workers spend 28% of their workweek managing e-mail. If we all spent less time on email, we could contribute anything between $900billion to $1.3trillion in annual value across commercial sectors in the U.S alone. So if email senders, in particular e-commerce ones know all this, why are they so poor?

The problem isn't just their ubiquity. It's just how dumb emails are when compared to the rest of my digital world. I have an alarm clock that works out the best time to wake me up so I don't destroy it, I have a program running on my desktop that automatically adjusts the redness in my screen to prevent glare at night. Yet I have an inbox stuffed full of messages that haven't changed since the days of Hotmail and AOL.

The best I can expect from customisation is my name in the subheading, and perhaps a 'recommendations' box - which is essentially anything one degree of separation away from what I bought previously.

But to prove how strange the logic of that algorithm is consider this, why does Amazon recommend things for cats when I've only ever bought things for dogs? Why does it tell suggest Peruvian Cacao powder - no idea why - an Xbox 360 HDMI controller - never owned an Xbox, a battery organiser (?) and nine different types of cover for an iPhone.

Now, you could argue that's not email's fault, it's just replicating what it thinks I've taken an interest in on the various sites I visit on my day-to-day travels across the world wide web. But if this is e-commerce's great white hope - email is supposedly 40 times more effective at getting us to spend money than Facebook or Twitter - we have a long, long way to go.

Considering there are dozens of sources - well 75 million according to Google - advocating tailoring emails to users and services offering to do this for you I'm slightly amazed the vast majority of emails I receive on a daily basis don't do this.

When it comes to abandoning our shopping mid shop, we leave behind a whopping 68% of everything we put in our digital baskets, according to the Baymard Institute. However, the likes of Macy's, Apple, Nordstrom, and the Gap all fail to come back to remind customers they have goods waiting.

So, email this is a warning call - either modernise yourself or kindly get out of my inbox.

Yours, Matt Hussey.