Email Read Rates In Times Of A Pandemic

Brands are turning to email during the COVID-19 crisis, and consumers are reading their messages, but not always in the areas that seem most logical, according to a new study by SparkPost.

Weekly volume rose from about 3,600 campaigns to over 40,000, based on client activity, SparkPost’s John Landsman writes in a blog post.

The highest messaging volume is from the social network sector, where network members receive notification emails related to Tweets, newsfeed items and various shares. 

High volumes are also being seen in the health and wellness information sector, dental and healthcare and travel services and tourism. 

Credit card marketers, financial institutions, sports and teams and airlines are sending lighter volumes. 

And people are reading these emails — to a degree. The average read rate is 24% — strong email engagement. 



The transportation/airline sector has the highest read rate — 35.1%, perhaps due to concern over cancellations. Next are transportation cruises (34.8%) and food delivery and meal kits (31.6%). 

Lower, but still impressive, read rates are being generated by the museum and galleries sector (28.6%), insurance (27.9%), personal care and hygiene (25.9%) financial institutions (25.8%) and performing arts (25.6%). 

The lowest read rate is for credit card campaigns (11.4%). Social networking is second to last, with 15.3%.

The study also reports what it says are surprisingly low read rates for health and wellness information (17.7%) and drugs and vaccines (17.4%).

Subject-line themes include:

  • Preparedness/planning
  • Response and safety plans
  • How to avoid/protect
  • Symptoms 
  • Travel safety/restrictions/advisories
  • “What you should know”
  • CEO/President messages
  • Openings/closings/cancellations/postponements
  • FAQs
  • Do’s and Don’ts

Many subject lines also feature themes specific to the sector. We quote:

  • Supply chain impacts; store closings (Apparel)
  • Gift matching (Charities)
  • Delivery options (Food Delivery)
  • Diagnostics availability; educational videos (Government)
  • Effect on kids; health care workers; test accuracy (Health Information)
  • Actions taken; risk mitigation; loyalty status (Hotels and Resorts)
  • Coverage updates; isolation bed info (Insurance)
  • Effect on clinical trials; flawed test results; clinical characteristics; disinfecting surfaces; hospital preparation (Medical and Healthcare)
  • Drive-thru meals; pick-up options (Restaurants; Bars)
  • Message(s) from President/Deans; schedule impacts; travel guidance (Schools and Universities)
  • Banning fans/spectators; Olympics status (Sports and Teams)
  • Shortages/policies; supply chain issues; diet tips; caring for crew members/customers (Supermarkets and Drug Stores)
  • Destination/route advisories; exception/waiver policies; flight restrictions (Airlines)
  • Risks; booking policies (Cruises)
  • Border closings; where to travel during: updates by region; facts about travel safety; financial impact on world tourism; event and flight cancellations (Travel and Tourism)

How should you handle email campaigns during this critical time? 

SparkPost’s Laura Rose suggests that you first put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and decide whether a communication is necessary.

Also, nail the content down — be clear about the purpose of the message, and don’t make it look promotional. And make sure your emails are getting delivered, and how recipients are responding.

Twilio SendGrid’s Kelsey Bernius makes these suggestions in a blog post:

First, send COVID-19 emails only when you really need to — consumers are becoming overwhelmed with them.

And if you do send one, make sure the sender and subject line are clear about what’s inside.

Next, adjust your brand voice and tone to the circumstances. Connect with your reader. And focus on action — the measures you are taking and what your readers should do. 

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