Studies have shown that welcome emails have significantly higher open rates than regular emails, and are key to setting expectations and communicating the brand. So it's surprising that only 72% of major retailers send out welcome emails. That's the top line finding of the Email Experience Council's second annual Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study, which will be released next week. This report is a follow-on to our Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, which examines the subscription practices of 122 of the largest online retailers, and looks at the welcome emails that were sent as a result of those subscriptions.
Based on the fact that last year only 66% of major online retailers sent welcome emails, it appears that more retailers are recognizing the value of these critical emails. However, many are still missing out on the opportunity to use those emails as a selling and relationship-building vehicle. Instead of engaging subscribers with incentives and links to products, departments, loyalty programs, catalogs and other shopping-related material, a great number of the largest online retailers simply say hello and leave it at that.
However, there was some improvement on this front over the past year, with 98% of retailers' welcome email now containing a link to their shopping site (up from 88% last year), 33% containing store locators (up from 31%) and 14% containing links to catalog information (up from 6%).
Over the past year, more retailers have also made their welcome emails CAN-SPAM-compliant. This year a full 58% of welcome emails were CAN-SPAM-compliant in terms of including both a mailing address and unsubscribe method, versus 52% last year. While non-promotional emails are not required under the law to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act, we believe that all emails should be compliant. Since we also recommend that welcome emails be more promotional, that change would also necessitate becoming CAN-SPAM-compliant.
This year, for the first time, we also tracked the passage of time between subscriptions starts and the delivery of welcome emails. The good news is that 61% of retailers deliver their welcome emails within 10 minutes of sign-up, with most of those delivering within 3 minutes. The bad news is that 19% take more than 24 hours to deliver their welcome emails, with nearly a third of those taking more than a week to deliver. In the world of digital communications, that's an eternity to wait for a welcome email.
Other key findings from the study include:
• 32% of welcome emails include a discount, reward or incentive, down from 34% last year. That's in line with the results of our subscription study, which saw a move away from incentives during sign-up.
• 62% of welcome emails asked the subscriber to whitelist them by adding an email address to their address book, up from 49% last year.
• 79% of retailers sent out HTML welcome emails, up from 69% last. The remainder sent text-only welcome emails. That said, most of the HTML welcome emails were HTML "lite," making extensive use of HTML text.
• 75% of the welcome emails include the retailer's brand name in their subject lines, on par with last year. Including branding here helps subscribers recognize the email as one that they requested.