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  • Writer's pictureExpert Opinion

Email marketing and covid

Covid-19 has resulted in a surge in email marketing, as brands send updates on how they are responding to the pandemic, while also striving to stay front-of-mind for consumers.

As the need for online shopping grew, so too did the number of retailers stepping into email marketing for the first time, while others tried to squeeze even more out of the channel.

But did COVID-19 impact the way consumers respond to email marketing, and what can retailers learn from it?

In a recently released report, How COVID-19 Impacted Email Marketing Performance, Omnisend analyzed the email open, click and conversion rates of over 2.5 billion promotional emails sent from its marketing automation platform from Jan. 1 through April 26 in both 2019 and 2020.

The results were quite telling about how consumers shopped during this time and what lessons retailers can learn from the results.

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.

How Consumer Email Behavior Changed During COVID

We learned from the report that COVID did have a significant impact on consumer email behavior and the online purchase experience. Without going into all of the detail, let’s take a quick look at the three email marketing metrics analyzed.

Email open rates: Overall, the report showed the year-over-year lift in open rates for the entire period increased by nearly 14%. But as you can see in the chart, the open rates significantly increased as we moved deeper into the pandemic, and from March 16 to April 26, year-over-year open rates increased by nearly 32%.

Email click rates: Click rates saw the opposite effects of COVID, realizing a decrease of just over 17%. Like with open rates, you can see how click rates suddenly decreased as the pandemic unfolded. In fact, during an 18-day stretch from March 12 to March 29, many days saw a 30% and 40% drop in click rates before ultimately rebounding.

Email conversion rate: Email marketing continued to be a revenue-driver with increased conversion rates during the pandemic. Year-over-year conversion rates increased by 17% and saw a nearly 23% year-over-year lift from March 16 to April 26. Like with open rates, you can see the acceleration as we moved further into the pandemic.

Key Takeaways and Email Marketing Lessons for Retailers

Two things became apparent when looking at the shift in consumer behavior:

  • Consumers turned to brand emails. As consumers across the country became increasingly reliant on online shopping, they turned to trusted brand emails for both sales updates and product discovery, increasing open rates.

  • Email was an effective communication tool. As consumers shifted from want-based shopping to need-based shopping, they moved on if a retailer email failed to meet their needs, negatively impacting click rates. If the retailer met their needs, consumers clicked and purchased, increasing conversion rates and generating online sales.

Recognizing how consumers interacted with brand emails during this crisis is one thing.

Learning from it is another. Retailers should look to this consumer behavior and find ways to improve their marketing program by further differentiating from the competition, better preparing themselves for the next crisis, and recognizing email as a go-to marketing channel for consumers. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Focus on list growth. By utilizing and optimizing tools like a website or exit-intent pop-up form, retailers can increase their audience size and become a trusted brand for consumers.

  • Increase your automated messaging capabilities. With email automations set up, retailers can deliver relevant messages to subscribers, making emails even more valuable. Consider how messages such as product and browse abandonment can help remind and convert customers who are shopping for specific products but have not yet pulled the trigger. FOMO became real during the crisis.

  • Audit your current automated messages. Ensure your automated messages are not only up to date but note which ones may need to be updated in times of crisis. A lighthearted cart abandonment message might normally be great, but not when a life-altering crisis hits.

  • Expand your opt-in channels with SMS. Email is a trusted communication channel, but it has become more crowded since COVID-19 struck. Other forms of trusted brand communication, most notably SMS, are increasingly desired channels by consumers. You can begin capturing mobile numbers on your email sign-up forms and as a stand-alone initiative. Consider sending an email campaign to your subscribers announcing the launch of your program and asking members to sign up.

Retail will likely be changed forever by COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean it can’t make you a better business. Focusing on building a stronger relationship with your customers will help you become a better company today and help offset any future negative impact of the next crisis.

At the end of the day, email and SMS are opt-in marketing channels. If you’re a trusted retailer, your messages will be welcomed by your customers.

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