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Companies Flood Inboxes With Email Deals Amid Coronavirus Crisis

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chances are your inbox is flooded with COVID-19-related emails from dozens of companies.

Business is hurting, it could get even worse – and they're using emails to relay special discounts or changes in their stores relaying social discounts or even changes in their stores.

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas met with an expert to dissect the approach.

As one tweet puts it, "Every company I ever gave my email to in the history of the internet has sent me their position on COVID."

"Every time you open your email, you're getting another email from this company that company that company," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern who is now working at home.

He said it is a delicate balance for marketers who want not only to show concern, but to make money in uncertain times.

"So you don't want to sound like you're taking advantage of the situation," Calkins said. "At the same time though, there is a real need to keep people coming in."

Some companies are closing stores for now, as Macy's announced in an email this week.

Target said they are cutting back hours, closing all stores at 9 p.m. to deep-clean and restock.

And with no dine-in services, Potbelly said they will waive delivery fees.

"There's no question, the more people explain what they're doing and the rationale behind it, the more people are going to be receptive to the message," Calkins said.

Some of the emails you're getting don't even mention COVID-19.

Take one email from Olive Garden, offering a free appetizer or dessert for the rest of March. The coupon says dine-in only, yet the email was sent to an Illinois resident Monday night – just hours before all restaurants in the state shut down their dine-in services, and a full day after Gov. JB Pritzker announced the new rules.

"When you see a piece of marketing that maybe seems a little insensitive right now, I would say give the company a break because that was probably programmed way before this all hit," Calkins said.

But some emails are being planned right now. Calkins said one reason companies are hitting your inbox, they know more people are working from home and they have more time to check their personal emails.

In another interesting approach, some companies are encouraging people to buy gift cards right now – either to help out those in need or to use at stores when they open back up.

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