An Inverse Relationship Between Email Volume and Response Rates?

Experian-Email-Performance-by-Time-of-Day-During-Q4-Mar2014Perhaps it’s a case of standing out from the crowd. For the second consecutive year, a report from Experian Marketing Services [download page] covering Q4 email activity has found that emails sent during off-peak hours – when the volume of emails was lowest – enjoyed the best response rates. Put simply, according to Experian’s report, “volume definitely plays its role in performance metrics by time of day.” There are all sorts of disclaimers here, but the results still warrant a close look.

First the disclaimers: as Experian cautions, this data is retrospective and does not represent a controlled study. And as with all timing data, individual results will vary! (This publication doesn’t necessarily agree that volume definitely plays a role, although the data certainly points to that.) Finally, note that this data regards aggregate email volume rather than frequency, for which there’s some debate about the backlash from an increase.

With those basic considerations out of the way, it’s interesting to see that the results of the Q4 2013 email report are similar to the patterns uncovered in Experian’s Q4 2012 report, covered here. Those results continue to suggest that there is some type of inverse relationship between email volume and performance.

Looking at the time of day data, the study shows that a plurality 35% of emails sent by brands during Q4 2013 were deployed between 8AM and 11:59AM, with that time period accounting for 33% share of total transactions. The next-highest share of emails sent came during the 4AM-7:59AM time slot (27% share), with this period also accounting for 33% share of total transactions.

When it came to response rates, though, those two time periods lagged all others. The 4-hour time slot beginning at 4AM had the lowest unique open rate (16.8%), with the period beginning at 8AM having the next-lowest (17.2%). Both had equally low unique click rates of 2.3%. Moreover, the 8AM-11:59AM time slot – which had the highest volume of emails – had the lowest transaction rate (0.07%) and revenue per email ($0.09). (To be fair, it did have the highest average order value, of $192.)

Which emails had the highest response rates? By a clear margin, that distinction went to those deployed during the 8PM-11:59PM and 12AM-3:59AM time periods, which had the lowest volume of emails. The former – which accounted for only 3% of emails deployed – enjoyed the highest unique open rate (22.7%), unique click rate (3.6%), transaction rate (0.22%), and revenue per email ($0.23). As with last year’s results, then, while the fewest emails were deployed in the evening, these emails achieved the best results in each metric save for average order value. Not to be outdone, the 12AM-3:59AM slot was the next-best performer in unique click rate, transaction rate, and revenue per email.

Experian-Email-Performancy-by-Day-of-Week-in-Q4-Mar2014The pattern of an inverse relationship between email volume and response rates extended to days of the week, though not to quite the same degree. While Saturdays (10% of volume) and Sundays (12% share) had the lowest volume of emails, Saturdays led in unique open rate (18.3%) while Sundays led in unique click rate (2.7%). Both days shared the lead with regards to transaction rate (0.09%), while also taking the top two spots for revenue-per-email.

Experian’s data is the latest to suggest that off-peak emails get the best open rates. An overview of various email timing data releases last year by this publication found some agreement between disparate sources on open rates by time of day (rising after work hours), although there was less consensus when it came to days of the week.

Of course, comments in that article remain pertinent today:

“It’s always important to consider the results as useful (particularly on a directional basis) and meaningful bases for discussion, but not necessarily prescriptive… While [the studies] provide useful starting points from which to evaluate marketers’ own data, they cannot be expected to substitute for brands’ own testing.”

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