Email Delivery Up, Open Down

According to the Harte-Hanks Postfuture Index 2009-2010, email open rates declined to an average of 17% last year, down from 26% in 2009. The report examined metrics for over 2.8 billion email messages sent by about 100 companies in nine vertical industries. The company says that "... changing patterns in use of text and imagery... is having an impact on open rates, without necessarily having an impact on response."

The study indicates that:

  • Delivery rates increased to 95% last year, up from 93% in 2009
  • Click rates were steady at 3%
  • Unsubscribe rates dropped from 0.32% to 0.19%
  • Bounce rates declined from 7% to 5%
  • The pharmaceutical and government sectors had the highest open rates, with both topping 25%
  • The technology industry had the lowest open rate at just above 5%

Retail continues to enjoy one of the highest delivery rates, says the report, with over 98% in 2010. Automotive has the lowest delivery rate at 90% in 2010, affected primarily by list quality. Since consumers are usually in market for a new vehicle after a number of years, automotive manufacturers and dealers are often sending to email addresses acquired one to three years ago, many of which have changed, observes the report.

Insurance open rates dropped from 68% to 25% in 2010. The report indicates that this is because initial email programs from insurance companies tended to be customer-service oriented to current clients regarding their current policies. Now insurance companies are branching out to more promotional messaging with cross-sell and up-sell offers. While this drop in open rate appears dramatic, in reality, the current open rate of 25% is considered very good. This industry sector also continues to see great click rates with nearly 8% in 2010, says the report.

In general, there was an improvement in bounce and unsubscribe rates from 2009 to 2010 as marketers improved the quality of their mailing lists. Marketers recognize the significant return on investment offered by the email marketing channel and are willing to invest the time and resources required to maintain a clean mailing list. Spam continues to be an issue for ISPs as they continue to raise the bar on acceptable list quality and delivery.

The report notes, looking at nine industry sectors:

  • Overall delivery rates across all industry sectors averaged 95% for 2010, with both Retail and Travel/Hospitality performing the best at just above 98%. This is an increase of two percentage points over 2009 performance.
  • Open rates averaged 17% for 2010, down from a 2009 average of 26%, likely due to recipients' continued hesitation to view images that would record the open action.
  • Click rates averaged 3% for 2010, flat from 2009. As competition for attention in the inbox continues to rise, marketers must pay close attention to their subject lines.

Concluding, the report says that this fall in Retail email response metrics is likely due to a number of factors, including:

  • Stepped up competition in the inbox for the reader's attention
  •  Increased use of mobile phones to view email, some of which may not record the reader's activity
  • Recipients remain hesitant to load images, causing the open rate to appear lower
  • Marketers are continuing to mail to non-responders, distorting their actual open and click rates

And, says the report, for all marketers, regardless of industry sector, recipient response metrics are more important than ever. Engagement levels (usually thought of as a combination of open and click rates) have always been indicative of the success or failure of a program. Now engagement levels are becoming an important component in the delivery rate. ISPs are beginning to watch what their customers are doing, or not doing, with their email. Hotmail and Gmail are both using engagement metrics today to determine where to ultimately place the message.

For more information, including access to the PDF file, please visit here.

Tags: email, research
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1 comment about "Email Delivery Up, Open Down".
  1. Brian Mcfadden from Xtenit , July 13, 2011 at 4:39 p.m.

    What is referred to here as an Open Rate appears to actually be the Render Rate. What is needed is a Read Rate. Render rates as percent of actual Read Rate can very from 20 to 50% depending on the newsletter. So Render Rates can be meaningless when comparing across newsletters. Also focusing solely on Click Rates as measure of interaction is misleading as not every email needs a click through to be successful.