Email in Q4 2012: Open Rates Up Y-O-Y, but Click Rates Fall

Epsilon-email-open-rates-and-click-through-rates-q42009-q42012-mar2013The average email open rate rose to 27.4% in Q4, a slight increase from 27.2% in Q3, and a significant 10.5% gain from Q4 2011′s 24.8%, according to [download page] a new report from Epsilon. But click rates continued to lag, unchanged from Q3′s 4.5%, but down 13.5 from Q4 2011′s 5.2%. A recent report from Experian CheetahMail also found open and click rates to be moving in opposite directions.

Further data from the Epsilon report reveals that triggered emails, deployed as a result of an action, such as Welcome or Abandoned Shopping Cart – continued to vastly outperform business as usual (BAU) emails. Open rates for triggered emails stood at an average of 46.7% in Q4, down from 47.7% in Q2, but still 70.5% higher than the BAU rate. Click rates on triggered emails dropped for the 5th consecutive quarter, to 9%, far lower than Q4 2011′s rate (11.5%). Even so, the average click rate for triggered emails was more than double the rate for BAU emails.

Triggered email non-bounce rates continued to be healthy in Q3, at 95.6%, only slightly below BAU emails’ rate of 96%. Triggered message volume also continued to grow, accounting for 5% of total volume in Q4, up 73% year-over-year.

Almost All Industries See A Decline in Click-to-Open Rates

Breaking the BAU emails down by 11 industry segments, Epsilon reveals that click-to-open rates (CTORs) fell by more than 5% year-over-year in all but 2 segments (financial services general and retail specialty). Consumer products CPG again boasted the highest CTOR (39.5%), while financial services CC/Banks (11.6%) saw the lowest.

In terms of open rates, financial services CC/Banks (39.3%) and retail general (36.5%) topped the list, while business publishing/media general (16.9%) occupied the bottom spot. Consumer products CPG boasted easily the highest click rate (8.6%), followed by consumer publishing/media general (7.4%).

Most New Subscribers Inactive

Epsilon-New-Email-Subscriber-Behavior-in-Q4-Mar2013Further details from Epsilon’s “Q4 2012 Email Trends and Benchmarks” report indicate that almost exactly half of an average email list was active in Q4 – either by opening or clicking on emails. Among new subscribers, though, who comprised 10.3% of the average list, 63.4% were considered inactive (down from 66% in Q3). Only 11.1% were dubbed “new clickers” (who had opened and clicked), and 25.6% “new openers” (who had opened).

The figures were better once again among “mature” subscribers – who had been on a list for longer than 3 months. In Q4, 51.4% of these subscribers had engaged in some way in the previous 12 months, including 26.8% who had either opened or clicked recently.

Breaking down the overall performance of an average list by subscriber behavior, the report finds that in Q4, 24.5% were “super stars” who had opened or clicked emails within the most recent 3 months, an additional 21.5% were “nappers” (who had opened or clicked more than 3 months prior), and 43.6% were “dormant” (inactive for the previous 12 months). Neither of these figures represent much change from the prior quarter.

The retail apparel industry had the highest proportion of super stars (36.1%), as in Q3 and Q2, followed by the travel/hospitality services (34%), and retail general (33.8%) segments. By contrast, the consumer services general (54.8%) had the highest average proportion of dormants, followed by the consumer services pharmaceutical (53.1%) vertical.

The analysis of subscriber behavior is based on 710 million non-bounced out and opted in email addresses. These addresses were contacted from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012, across multiple industries and from approximately 150 clients.

Other Findings:

  • When factoring out triggered and real-time messages, average volume per client was up by a significant 17.7% quarter-over-quarter, but down 24.2% year-over-year, a finding that contrasts with Experian data showing volume to be up by 5% year-over-year (methodological differences likely the cause). The Epsilon report suggests this indicates a move by marketers to more triggered and real-time messages rather than business-as-usual (BAU) emails.
  • In Q4, almost 62% of emails deployed through Epsilon’s email platform were characterized as marketing messages, down from 64% in Q3. The open rate for these emails in Q4 was 22.5% (compared to 21/8% in Q3 and 20.2% in Q2), significantly behind the rates for legal (53.2%) and service (36.2%) messages. Click rates also lagged at 3% (compared to 2.9% in Q3 and 2.6% in Q2), also trailing legal (14.9%) and service (4.5%) emails. CTOR for marketing messages in Q4 was 13.5%, up slightly from 13.3% in Q3 and 12.7% in Q2. So while marketing emails trailed other categories in effectiveness, they did see improvement from previous quarters.
  • Marketing message CTORs continued to be highest in the retail general (18.7%) category, and were lowest in the consumer services telecom (5.3%) category.
  • The highest triggered email open rates were in the financial services CC/banks (64.8%) and retail general (64.2%) categories. The highest triggered email click rates were in the consumer products CPG (18.5%), and retail apparel (14.7%) categories.
  • Consumer products CPG (+167%) and retail apparel (+145%) showed the largest disparities in open rates between triggered and BAU emails, for the fourth consecutive quarter.
  • The retail apparel (+266.6%) and consumer products pharmaceutical (+249.5%) categories demonstrated the most significant differences in click rates between triggered and BAU emails.

About the Data: Epsilon’s Q4 2012 Email Trends and Benchmarks analyze performance trends by both industry and message type to provide an understanding of how the average company in each category performs. The study is compiled from 7.3 billion emails sent in Q4 (October, November and December) 2012, across multiple industries and approximately 170 participating clients.