Email in China: Just How Healthy Is It?

Email marketing in China may not be as robust as it looks. Webpower released a survey this week showing companies sent 11.9 billion emails to Chinese domains in 2016, and 2.6 billion to foreign domains—impressive numbers, right?

But these stats look tepid when placed into context.

In the prior year’s study, Webpower reported it had sent 11.6 billion emails, 91% to Chinese domains, in 2015. The 2016 figures seem to indicate growth. But they may reflect salesmanship on the part of Webpower, not that the market is exploding.

The open and clickthrough rates were flat at best. The average open rate was 6.8% in 2015. But it fell to 6.5% in 2016. So there was a slight decrease from year to year. The clickthrough rate grew modestly, from 1.01% to 1.02%.

Webpower acknowledges email marketing has gone through growing pains in China. But it claims companies are improving.

“During the past decade, the usage of email in China has been even higher, but not quality at all,” wrote Teresa Marin, international marketing manager for Webpower, in an email. “It was a common practice to take promotional emails as spam.

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“However, in the last three-to-five years, the trends are less sending but more relevant content. Email, as well as SMS, have changed from blast communication to real one-to-one messages. This became possible also thanks to the integration of CRMs (where you aggregate and segregate relevant information from your data base) and diversified communication channels.”

That seems to confirm what marketing author and educator Ruth Stevens said of the Chinese market: “The principles of direct marketing are little understood,” she said this week. “They’re reinventing the wheel and learning by the seat of their pants, and thus, their efforts are sub-optimized.”

Regarding the average 6.5% open rate, Stevens observed: “If it’s existing customers, that’s low. If it’s cold prospects, that’s high.”

When asked about that, Marin responded emails “went to the database,” and included both prospects and customers. The senders were both local and foreign companies doing communications within China.

In 2015, the highest email volumes were sent by the ecommerce, retailing, hospitality, exhibition and other services industries.

As we reported on Tuesday, There was a slightly different order in 2016—the leaders in volume were retail, ecommerce and IT.

Webpower also covered SMS growth in the country.

“Talking about SMS, we are witness to their increase among Chinese companies. Relevant and fashion timely messages are highly likely to be via SMS due to the instant reception of it,” Marin wrote. “For example: a change in your boarding gate in the airport or a shipping confirmation.”

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