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Study: 2016 Email Marketing Metrics

Email Marketing Metrics Report to Help Marketers


In a recent study by IBM Marketing Cloud, researchers analyzed various metrics including; open-rate, click-through rate, list churn and mobile metrics to help marketers see where they rank and better understand the data to help them improve their marketing programs.

Key Findings Include:

Non-holiday emails outperformed holiday-period messaging. – Retail and e-commerce-focused marketers frequently change their game plans during the shopping-centric months of November and December, often ramping up frequency and shifting message content. Does email performance differ during this period?

The “frequency math effect” surfaced. – Evidence of this phenomenon surfaced in the lower holiday email open and click rates in the Retail & Ecommerce sector, but it applies across verticals. Do lower open and click rates mean you should pull back on frequency during high-volume sending periods, such as the holidays? Conversely, do lower indicators of list churn mean you can ramp up frequency without inflicting collateral damage on your email list?
Not necessarily.

Mobile email readership is hightest in emerging economies and the UK, while Retail & E-commerce had the lowest engagement rate. – For the first time, we compared how recipients across geographies and industries differ in how they access their email (via webmail, mobile or desktop) and how much time they spend looking at messages.

Open Rates

The open rate works best as an in-house benchmark to track over time, because it can signal progress or problems with engagement. It’s also not a completely accurate metric because it doesn’t capture all opens due to image blocking and other factors.


email-open-rate-by-industryemail-open-rate-by-message-type Transactional messages have long been thought of as a powerful customer contact moment, and these statistics bear out that assertion. On average, these behavior-triggered emails are opened more than two times as much as other messages.

In this study, transactional emails generated mean and median unique open rates of 47.1 percent and 48 percent, respectively, and 73.5 percent in the top quartile. At 19.5 percent in the bottom quartile, even the weakest transactional emails are opened at nearly the same rate as the mean non-transactional email.

These emails are excellent vehicles for including cross-upell/upsell content. For example, an email receipt for a yoga mat might include a promotion for a resistance band set, yoga towel and stability ball based on like-minded purchases.

Click-Through Rates

The click-through rate (CTR) of 9.5 percent on average in the top quartile was more than 6 times higher than the overall median CTR of 1.6 percent. In contrast, bottom-quartile performers mustered a CTR of only 0.3 percent. UK brands lead the pack with a median CTR of 2.5 percent. However, Australia/ New Zealand brands claimed the highest mean (5.1 percent) and top quartile  (15.8 percent).


Emails from brands representing Computer Hardware & Telecommunications and Nonprofits, Associations & Government industries topped this comparison of click-through rates by verticals, with high-performing rates across mean, median and top quartile.
This combination is likely a testament to strong content marketing for computer hardware and the more action-oriented nature of many government and  nonprofit emails.

This combination is likely a testament to strong content marketing for computer hardware and the more action-oriented nature of many government and  nonprofit emails.

Transactional emails easily beat their non-transactional counterparts on every metric. Given that these messages are based on a recipient’s purchase or conversion activity, it’s not a surprise to see these emails continue to generate high follow-on activity.


To take your emails up a notch, consider offering an incentive for a related purchase, reminding buyers to review their purchases, inviting recipients to join your loyalty club or user community, or linking to user information, how-to videos and other information on your site.

List Churn Metrics

These metrics reveal reader disengagement and discontent. They also can provide insights into your data-management practices.


Mean hard bounce rates vary widely by industry, from a low of 0.20 percent for Nonprofits, Associations & Government companies to a high of 1.59 percent for Industrial Manufacturing & Utilities organizations.

In the case of Nonprofits, Associations and Government entities, there may be less pressure to build their databases and resort to the types of list-building tactics that result in more hard bounces. It’s also probable that people who sign up for email programs for nonprofit organizations are motivated, care about the cause and are more likely to use a primary rather than throwaway email account.

In addition, as described in other sections of this report, frequency likely plays a role, with industries that send less email (such as Industrial Manufacturing & Utilities) generating fewer total hard bounces but a higher percentage per send.

Holiday Retail and E-commerce Metrics

This study includes a new section that compares open, click-through and list churn rates for the Retail/Ecommerce sector sent during the holiday season from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31, 2015, to non-holiday email.


Not surprisingly, mean, median and top-quartile open rates for Retailer/Ecommerce companies were significantly higher during the non-holiday time of year than in the throes of the holiday shopping season. With a 3.3 percentage point difference for the mean open rate, this equates to an open rate that is 18.8 percent lower during the holiday season.

Although open rates are lower, total opens for the period will be much higher because of greater frequency. If you increase your reach by 100 percent but see open rates down by less than 20 percent, you’re still way ahead in terms of overall engagement in this period.

Email Usage and Engagement Metrics

This year’s benchmark study has expanded to include the growing impact of mobile readership on email marketing programs and the amount of time recipients are spending engaging with emails.


Nearly half (49 percent) of all emails are read on mobile devices throughout the world, though with some regions a bit higher and or substantially lower. “Rest of the World” and United Kingdom regions had the highest mobile readership at 56 percent and 55 percent respectively.
Higher consumer adoption of mobile in emerging economies is likely driving the “Rest of the World” region’s higher mobile readership, with contacts often skipping over desktop computer ownership entirely.

The “Rest of Europe” region lagged at 32 percent, while the extremely low 25 percent rate for Middle East/North Africa is surprising and could result from the higher cost of data plans and culture in certain markets.

Webmail (29 percent) and desktop (22 percent) make up the rest of the overall email readership. Australia/New Zealand and Canada had the highest use of desktop clients at 25 percent, while Middle East/North Africa (11 percent) and United Kingdom (18 percent) had the lowest rate.

Source: IBM Marketing Cloud

More Email Marketing Resources:

Study: Reveals Email Marketing Best Practices for 2016

6 Email Marketing Tips for 2016

New Data: Insights into the Evolution of Email Marketing

Mary Shaw