How Mobile Is Making Us Rethink Email Marketing

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, email marketing has fundamentally changed. Best practices surrounding design and when to send are seeing some of the first major shifts since webmail clients were the dominant email platform.

The good news for marketers is that people consume more email now. The bad news is that without the right analytics, most marketers are in real danger of being left behind.

Top 100 Retailers’ Email Opens By Platform

Tom Sather_Chart_Retailers Mobile Email Opens

Return Path looked at the mobile email patterns of the top 100 Internet retailers in the last quarter of 2012 and found mobile, for the first time, to be the dominant platform. In fact, more people were opening emails on smartphones than on desktop clients (like Outlook) and webmail providers (like Gmail and Hotmail) combined.

The trend shows that mobile email usage is still increasing, making it a hugely important channel for marketers. There are three things every marker should track to identify fundamental shifts in their customers’ behavior.

1. Platform – Know what device your subscribers are reading your emails on. This matters because it will determine your mobile strategy and how your email looks; and, it will influence whether and how subscribers engage.

For example, Return Path looked at email opens by platform across a variety of industries. The banking industry had extremely low mobile open rates and high opens on desktop email clients like Outlook. One can assume that people prefer to do their banking on their desktops during banking hours, and/or they prefer the extra level of security and transparency on their desktops. (It’s easier to tell on a desktop than on a mobile device whether an email is phishing.)

Additionally, people will read emails on multiple devices throughout the day. Knowing your subscribers’ preferences for various platforms can inform whether you should design for mobile first or adopt responsive email design, for instance.

2. Day of Week – Many benchmark studies show that the best time to send an email is midweek: Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

If you look at retailers’ opening patterns in the chart, you’ll notice the mobile peaks and troughs: The peaks are Saturdays. One can assume, then, that people are checking email more frequently on their mobile phones — especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas — to see which stores have the best deals.

So, we then looked to see when retailers were sending their emails and found that Fridays were the most popular; few campaigns were actually being sent on Saturdays.

3. Time of Day – Time of day is important because it can place the context of your subscriber. According to Google research, people mainly use their tablets while on the couch or in bed (35% for both).

What was surprising to me was that more people (6%) used their tablets to shop in bed than to shop from the couch (3%). So, more people are likely to be surfing and researching while on the couch than they are to actually buy anything. Smart email marketers could try sending product information in the evening, and then try to close the sale in the morning with a different email and an offer.

Your customers are unique, though, so it’s vital to look at these patterns of email and website usage for your own program.

This is really only the beginning for mobile email. As smartphones become even more widely adopted, consumer behaviors can shift in ways we probably wouldn’t imagine. But, having the right mobile email analytics and competitive intelligence at your fingertips is the only way to adapt and survive.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Marketing Metrics


About The Author: is Return Path’s senior director of email research. Tom uses his knowledge of ISPs, spam filters and deliverability rules to advise marketers on how to get their email delivered to the inbox. He began his Return Path career as an email deliverability consultant working with top-brand clients like eBay, MySpace, IBM and Twitter.


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  • Emily Brackett

    Great data to share. We recently reviewed and compared some of the email client usage to get a sense of how big the reach of mobile is. The difference between the e-newsletter going out to a restaurant’s customers compared to an e-newsletter targeted at people working in the insurance industry was dramatic. The restaurant usually has between 25-30% of the recipients using an iOS device. The B2B client had a similar percentage, but their outlook users greatly surpassed that capturing 57% of the opens! You can see more detail in this blog post:

  • Tim Watson

    Whilst there is no question about the massive move to reading emails on mobile, the need to urgently re-design templates and use responsive design everywhere is overstated by many design agencies – nice to see Tom you don’t fall into this.

    The following analysis looks at 377 million emails to show how emails are working on mobile platforms:


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