Email Marketing Benchmarks: COVID-19 Edition

by Campaign Monitor

The world is rapidly changing. Rather, the world has rapidly changed, and many marketers are working at breakneck speed to learn where we stand.

And, during a period of history where email is relied on more than ever, it’s crucial to know how email marketing has changed in the wake of COVID-19.

We’ve published a handful of email marketing benchmarks reports in recent years, typically encapsulating an entire year. But this unique time calls for unique reporting.

Scope of this COVID-19 email benchmarks report

Even though some countries have seen businesses and livelihoods impacted by COVID-19 as far back as October, the world didn’t see the widespread restrictions come into effect until March 2020.

As the ramifications of a global lockdown begin to bake out in email metrics, this report aims to analyze how metrics have changed year over year in March and April 2020. This report will also provide more recent comparisons to see what is a result of changes in marketing trends over the past year versus due solely to the coronavirus.

As with historic email benchmarks reports, we compile this data by analyzing emails sent out of Campaign Monitor within a specific date range. In this special edition report, we analyze over six billion emails to determine benchmarks.

You can see how each metric is determined in the wrap up notes.

Key findings

01 | March send volumes weren’t far off from normal.

Comparing March 2019 to March 2020, there was a near 0% change in send volume (0.06%). Granted, this comes as some industries are sending more emails than ever before, and others are locking down and have less information to share with customers. And, when comparing to Black Friday and holiday send volumes, March volume is typically around four percent below that. March 2020 was 3.75% below send volumes of November 20 to December 20, 2019.

All this adds up to a fairly normal March, despite popular attention on inbox crowding. There are, however, other factors that may play into this sense of email fatigue.

02 | More people are opening email during the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before.

Average opens are up across the board for March and April, despite the marked rise in send volume between February and March (email sends were up 19% from February 2020 to March 2020). As email sends calmed for the month of February, not only did March sends increase, but opens increased in tandem.

Month over month, March saw a rise in nearly three points over February. And both March and April kept opens strong year over year, with nearly four point increases for both months from 2019 to 2020—an increase more than 20%.

While open rates are up year over year in general, the 16% change in opens from February to March indicates audience interest in what businesses have to say. They want to know how the brands they follow are changing their business plans or responding to the crisis, and the increase in opens shows that email is still where consumers go to hear from brands.

03 | Best days to send are non-peak days, but still depend on a brand’s audience.

Our past email benchmarks reports consistently show that there’s no clear winner for which day is the best to send. Brands should test and see what their audience acclimates to. However, as the days with highest engagement shift from month to month, the best days to send consistently land between the heaviest and lightest send days. In March 2020, we saw the highest engagement metrics on days other than Tuesday (highest volume for that month) and weekends (lowest volume).

04 | Essential industries send more and get landmark opens, fewer unsubscribes.

Vital industries during a pandemic like Healthcare, Government, Financial Services, and Nonprofits are sending more than in the past, while seeing open rates increase alongside busier cadences. For some of these industries, like Government, unsubscribe rates are dropping as well—unsubscribe rates lowered 38% year over year for Government senders, showing subscribers’ needs to keep track of news in this industry

Email benchmarks by industry

As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, the most dramatic measures have, so far, taken place during March and April. This report will cover the changes during this time, providing a year-over-year comparison.

Email benchmarks during COVID-19 outbreaks: March and April 2020

Here’s how March emails performed by industry.

The column to the right of each benchmark shows the point change year over year: March 2019 versus March 2020.

Particularly for March, it’s important to note not only that opens are clicks are up across the board, but also that send volumes were up 18% over February 2020. And, while it’s fairly typical for March to have higher send volumes than February historically, the rise in opens is not necessarily typical.

Bottom line: Subscribers are more interested than ever in what brands are communicating via email during COVID-19.

Average email benchmarks for all industries during March 2020

  • Average open rate: 21.7%
  • Average click-through rate: 2.78%
  • Average click-to-open rate: 12.8%
  • Average unsubscribe rate: 0.13%
  • Average bounce rate: 0.71%

And here’s how April emails performed by industry.

April continues March’s trend, seeing increases in opens and clicks year over year.

Average email benchmarks for all industries during April 2020

  • Average open rate: 21.2%
  • Average click-through rate: 3.10%
  • Average click-to-open rate: 14.6%
  • Average unsubscribe rate: 0.14%
  • Average bounce rate: 0.86%

How email has changed for key industries during the COVID-19 pandemic

Since glancing between charts isn’t easy on anyone, we’ll break down the year-over-year changes for a few highlight industries. And, since we’re publishing this report right at the close of April, the analysis will only track changes between March 2019 and March 2020.

You can see the 2019 data for all of these findings in the next section.

Government

In March, lockdown restrictions changed nearly daily in some countries, and outbreaks seemed to occur at any moment. Because of such uncertainty, many citizens around the world have been eager to hear what their governments have to say. And the data shows it.

The government industry sent 25% more emails in March 2020 versus March 2019. As stated in the key findings above, the lift in emails didn’t scare subscribers off. Government senders saw a 30% increase in open rates year over year, rising nine points to an average of 41.5% throughout the month of March.

An interesting metric to look at for the government sector is the tie between click-through rates and unsubscribes. Even though click-throughs only rose slightly year over year, the unsubscribe rate for government industries lowered.

Bottom line: Subscribers to government senders are eager to see the latest news, even when there isn’t necessarily something for them to click or act on.

Media and Publishing

Along the lines of news, media and publishing companies have inspired interesting headlines, as many are more interested in the news than ever before—yet advertising revenue is down for many news and media companies.

Email engagement is up across the board for the media and publishing sector.

Open rates are up over three points at a nearly 19% year-over-year increase. Click-through rates are up 23% and click-to-open rates are up nearly a point year over year.

Media audiences are engaged and eager to consume news, entertainment, and media. If brands in this sector can lean on revenue streams outside of advertising, they certainly have an audience to help them stay afloat.

Nonprofits

Faced with a variety of obstacles, many nonprofits struggle to stay afloat. Since so many of these organizations are built around in-person meetings or volunteering, COVID-19 has placed a burden on a sector that, due to precise mission statements and scopes of work, may have a harder time pivoting services.

But subscribers show that they’re eager to see the good in the world. Year over year, there’s been a rise in nearly 40% send volume for this sector, an almost 17% increase in opens, and 11.5% additional clicks in March 2020. Traditionally one of the best-performing industries, nonprofits continue to show that they have captive audiences.

And with a more engaged audience during this time, we remain hopeful that nonprofits utilize best practices to gather support for their cause during this trying time.

Travel and Hospitality

Arguably one of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19, businesses in the travel and hospitality sector face a completely world-altering situation. With global guidelines to shelter in place and keep one’s distance, traveling via any method of transportation is off the table for most.

Surprisingly, however, email metrics reflect other sectors and remain high during this time. While send volume has decreased, we’ve found it’s only decreased 3.7% year over year, which makes sense when these companies have fewer marketing opportunities. Yet what’s surprising is a three-point rise in open rates year over year.

There may have been fewer offerings in March 2020, but subscribers are still interested in seeing what travel and hospitality brands have to say, and smart marketers can think about how to make the most of an audience pining for the day travel opens back up.

Healthcare

As the group most depended on during this global pandemic, organizations in the healthcare sector have a unique place in a subscriber’s inbox.

As the WHO announced pandemic status in March, so followed a staggering 36% increase in send volume for this sector year over year. However, open rates rose only 12% and click-through rates almost not at all.

While many recipients may be viewing these emails for news and updates more than to take action, healthcare brands have an opportunity to improve their open rates by making the email content relevant, distinct, and important. Efforts to decrease redundancy could give certain healthcare organizations a leg up in the inbox.

Financial Services

Perhaps not the most negatively impacted by health concerns, the financial services industry has its own set of challenges: helping its customers face the Great Lockdown. And email has proven to be a sure place to educate and motivate.

The financial services sector sent 35% more emails in March 2020 than in March 2019, with equally impressive engagement results to match. There was a 23% increase in opens, 4.6% increase in click-through rates, and 11% decrease in unsubscribes year over year.

Unlike other industries examined in this section, financial services has seen a huge improvement in engagement rates across the board, showing that subscribers are interested and eager to learn more and seek help from these institutions. Brands in this sector will do well if they can craft captivating emails that inspire action from their subscribers.

Email benchmarks by day

With the world changing so rapidly, between some sectors transitioning entirely to remote work, and others furloughing and shutting down completely, many of our customers and followers have been asking our teams when they should send emails.

We’ve historically reported on the best days to send, so we’ll provide daily metrics during the pandemic, giving averages for February, March, and April 2020.

Best day to send email during COVID-19

To give you actionable steps for your email marketing, we’ve calculated the key results and put them here for quick takeaways. We’ve calculated the averages over a combined March and April 2020, highlighting the top days by metric.

The best day to send email during COVID-19 is Monday.

  • Best days for highest opens: Friday (22.2%) or Mondays (22%)
  • Best days for highest click-through rates: Wednesday (3.01%), Monday (3%), or Friday (2.97%)
  • Best days for highest click-to-open rates: Sunday (14.7%), Saturday (14.1%), Wednesday (13.8%)
  • Best days for lowest unsubscribe rates: Sunday (0.1%), Saturday (0.11%) ,Monday (0.13%)
  • Best days for lowest bounce rates: Sunday (0.38%), Sunday (0.59%), Monday (0.72%)

An interesting observation we found is that the best days to send typically reside on days outside highest and lowest send volumes. To explain, here’s a chart showing daily share of sends by volume for March and April 2020:

With Tuesday and Thursday holding the largest share of sends per day, it’s interesting to see that these two days hardly show up in the top metrics by day. Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday have the lowest send volume by far, which makes sense why their unsubscribe and bounce rates are the lowest.

Bottom line: Consider when your competitors send the bulk of their emails, or ask your subscribers when they receive the most messages. If you can determine the peak days for full inboxes, you may consider leaving these days out of your cadence to send on less busy days.

Email benchmarks by day: February, March, and April 2020

To start off, here’s a look at daily averages for February 2020.

Here’s a chart showing daily averages during March 2020, with percentages showing month-over-month and year-over-year changes.

And here’s a chart showing April 2020’s email benchmarks by day, with percentages to indicate month-over-month and year-over-year change.

Wrap up

As we’ve seen above, COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. And many brands are questioning how to move forward with email marketing and communication as the pandemic continues.

To help you and your team take these benchmarks and evolve your strategy, the next sections will uncover how to read these benchmarks, what you should do in your specific industry, and how to take next steps.

Compare your benchmarks and take next steps.

As the benchmarks in this report are based on averages across Campaign Monitor customers, you may find your own email metrics either falling short of the listed rates, or your campaigns may be exceeding the listed results.

No matter what camp you find your marketing performance in, this report should help give you a baseline for comparing your results.

But the most important next step is to get back to best practices.

There have been plenty of tweets and headlines about overwhelmed inboxes in February, March, and April. To keep your subscribers engaged, follow these next steps for your brand:

Consider whether your email is worth sending.

Are you sharing unique information? Is it important to your audience? Keep an eye on your metrics to gauge the answers to either of those questions, and read through this post on tips and considerations when sending a COVID-19 email.

Maximize impact during this time, but don’t take advantage.

Open rates are up across the board, showing the eagerness of subscribers to hear from you. But don’t take advantage of this attention. Continue to give value to your audience. It’s a fine line that brands must walk between keeping subscribers engaged and risking subscriber churn.

Test, monitor, and optimize your email performance.

As always, it’s more important than ever to test with your audience. A/B test subject lines, send times, and even different layouts or designs to deliver the most catered experience to your subscribers. Gauge the results and make improvements, ready to test again so you can stay ahead during this crucial time.

Post originally appeared on Campaign Monitor

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