Consumers Trash Eight in 10 Retail E-Mails

E-mails from online retailers have lower open rates than messages from the govenment, e-mails from financial services, or public service messages, according to a study released Tuesday by e-mail marketing firm Bronto.

Bronto studied delivery rates, open rates, and click-through rates for 20 million e-mails sent in the three months ending Nov. 27. Bronto looked at campaigns in 14 different industries: advertising/marketing, e-commerce, education, financial services, government, health care/insurance, legal services, manufacturing/distribution, non-profit, publishing/media, real estate, services/consulting, technology, and travel/hospitality.

Open rates ranged from a low of 17.3 percent for e-commerce and retail mailings to a high of 36.3 percent for health care and insurance mailings. Chaz Felix, vice president at Bronto, said open rates were largely driven by two "fairly common sense" best practices--making sure the content of the messages is personalized and relevant to each individual consumer, and making sure that the members of the list are interested in receiving the mailings.

According to Felix, however, the measurement of open rates is complicated by the use of e-mail clients, some of which block images from opening within the e-mail, stopping analytics tools from registering that the e-mail has been opened. "There was a lot of variance in the open rates, and there's a real challenge on the measurement side," he said. "The statistics that you see on the open rates are a very conservative minimum."

Felix attributed the low open rates on e-commerce and retail mailings to the difficulty that these sites have with establishing an ongoing relationship with their consumers. "You'll see that e-commerce that tends to be pretty low," he said. "The challenge of building a relationship with a consumer is much more challenging than building a B2B relationship."

Click-through rates on industry e-mails ranged from a high of 6.7 percent for government mailings to a low of 2.8 percent for real estate mailings, but Felix said that for the most part, click-through rates varied quite a bit within the same industry--and it was more of a company-by-company metric. "The click-throughs, that's really kind of a proxy for the quality of the call to action you have in your messages," he said. "I think you'll find that the percent click-through really comes down to individual companies and how they strategically place links within their forms and messages."

Delivery rates ranged from 97.8 for e-commerce and retail to 89.2 percent for the technology sector.

"For percent delivered, the key driver is the quality of your list," Felix said. "A couple of challenges that we found are a challenge associated with turnover--there are some industries where they have a higher turnover with their house lists--and another challenge we saw in the area of deliverability was e-mail filters." Felix cited the educational industry, which had the second-lowest delivery rates, at 91.6 percent, as an industry plagued by turnover--every year, staff and students leave colleges and high schools, either by graduating or moving on to more prestigious positions.

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