Last-minute sales pitches helped e-mail volume reach a new high.

If consumers thought they received more promotional e-mail messages from e-retailers last week, they were right. Retail e-mail volume hit a new record high during the week ended Dec. 23, according to e-mail marketing services provider Responsys Inc.. The company, which tracks the e-mail activity of more than 100 retailers, says retailers distributed an average of 5.7 promotional e-mail messages to subscribers last week, up slightly from the 5.6 average from a week earlier and up 35% from the comparable week a year ago.

Responsys says the late-season e-mail peak differs from previous holiday season highs. “In recent years holiday e-mail volume has peaked two weeks before Christmas,” says Chad White, research director at Responsys. “But this year retailers pushed hard for holiday sales up until the last minute, offering free or discounted express shipping, directing subscribers to their stores, and promoting gift cards and e-cards.”

It’s too soon to tell whether the heavy sell late in the season benefited retailers, but if it turns out that it did, White says consumers may see similar activity next holiday season. “This may very well be the new norm depending on how much churn retailers suffer by pushing so hard so late in the holiday season,” White says.

Wednesday, Dec. 21 was the most popular day last week for e-retailers to send promotional e-mail messages. 74% of the retailers Responsys tracks sent at least one promotional e-mail to subscribers Wednesday, which coincided with many retailers’ express shipping deadlines.