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After long-running signs that mobile and desktop click-to-open rates were converging, a new report [download page] from Yes Lifecycle Marketing (YLM) reveals that mobiles finally reached parity with desktops in 2017. In fact, among brands who sent only responsive emails last year, the click-to-open (CTO) rate on mobile edged that on desktop (13.2% and 13.1%, respectively).

Surprisingly, even among those brands who sent no responsive emails, the CTO rate on mobile matched that on desktop (9.7% each).

The overall CTO rate for emails on mobile devices last year was 11.7%, per the Yesmail analysis, slightly higher than the comparable rate for those on desktops (11.2%).

It’s worth noting that responsive design had quite an impact on click-to-open rates: while open rates were similar for brands sending all responsive emails versus those not sending any, click rates were far higher for the former (1.4%) than the latter (1.1%).

The trouble is that responsive email hasn’t yet reached widespread adoption: only 24% of Yes Lifecycle Marketing’s client brands optimized all of their messages to be responsive, with the rest sending some (61%) or no (15%) responsive messages.

Mobiles Also Match Desktops in Email-Driven Orders, Conversions

The study reveals that email adoption on mobile devices may have reached a plateau: mobile opens and clicks represented 53% of such events in Q4 2017, but that figure has remained largely unchanged over the past few fourth quarters.

And yet, mobile’s share of email-driven orders last year crossed the majority threshold for the first time, jumping from 44.6% to 54.5% of orders. Smartphones alone accounted for as many orders (45.9% share, up from 34.6% in 2016) as desktops (45.5%, down from 55.4%).

So what changed? The conversion rate – here measured as orders per click. Last year, at 3.3%, the mobile conversion rate gained parity with the desktop conversion rate for the first time.

While that’s encouraging news for marketers, who have long battled lagging conversion rates on mobile devices, it’s also worth noting that consumers are still spending less money on their mobile devices than on their desktops. Last year, the average order value for email-driven orders on mobile devices was $58, compared to $96 for such orders on desktops. That $38 gap is down slightly from 2016 ($41 gap) and 2015 ($43), but still broadly consistent with those years.

As such, while consumers are demonstrating greater comfort with making purchases on their mobile devices, there appears to still be a reluctance to make larger ticket purchases on those devices. That may be something for marketers to address this year, with Yes Lifecycle Marketing recommending continued improvements in the mobile shopping experience.

Engagement Not Keeping Up With Volume

It makes sense that marketers are continuing to send more email: it’s an extremely effective channel that youth expect to use more in the future – and global email users and traffic are both forecast to keep growing.

And yet the 18% year-over-year increase in email volume (in Q4 2017) among YLM’s clients isn’t being matched by comparable increases in subscriber engagement. This is a potential indicator of email overload, or of irrelevant email activity.

Opens per opener, for example, grew by a relatively small 8.4%, while clicks per clicker improved by just 3.3%.

Marketers’ databases are also being increasingly populated by inactive subscribers: during Q4, more than 1 in 5 mailable subscribers had last opened an email more than a year earlier. That represented a 22.5% year-over-year increase in inactive subscribers.

Moreover, fewer people are opting in: new subscribers (who had opted in within the prior 90 days) comprised just 3.5% of marketers’ databases in Q4, down from 6.1% in Q1.

Improving Engagement: Triggered Emails Do the Trick

One way to drive greater engagement is through the deployment of triggered messages, which tend to have above-average response rates.

Indeed triggered emails in Q4 generated open rates twice as high as standard emails (27.3% and 13.4%, respectively), with unique click rates almost 4 times higher (4% and 1.1%, respectively) and click-to-open rates almost twice as high (14.6% and 8.3%, respectively).

But marketers seem to be largely ignoring triggered messages: just 2% of email volume in 2017 came from triggers, per the YLM report. That’s in line with other estimates from Epsilon.

Which Triggered Messages Worked Best?

The largest share of triggered messages sent last year were Welcome messages. These achieved high open rates relative to the average, along with an impressively high unique click rate (4.7%) and click-to-open rate (16.2%).

For marketers optimizing for conversions, though, Welcome emails fell behind some other triggered message types. Instead, Anniversary (8.5%) and Birthday (8.2%) emails featured the highest number of orders per click.

Meanwhile, among remarketing triggers, Abandoned Cart emails outperformed Browse No Buy emails across open, unique click, click-to-open, and conversion rates.

That’s supported by research from Monetate, which has found that marketers looking to re-engage e-commerce site visitors will gain more conversions by targeting those who abandoned a cart than those who browsed without adding something to a cart.

Other Findings:

In other highlights from YLM’s report:

  • Emails with “$ Off” in the subject line had lower response rates than those with “% Off” in the subject line, but higher conversion rates;
  • Standard emails with no offers in the subject line had considerably higher engagement rates than those with offers, but suffered from much lower conversion rates;
  • Emails with names personalized in the subject line generated 50% higher open rates than those without any type of subject line personalization; and
  • Emails with seasonal themes produced lower engagement rates but higher conversion rates than non-themed emails.

The full report is available for download here.

About the Data: The report is based on an analysis of almost 9 billion emails sent in Q4 2017 and over 30 billion sent in 2017.

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