2020 was one for the books. While there’s no need to rehash what happened—we all know—it’s important to recognize how COVID has changed the way both ecommerce businesses market to their customers and how consumers respond to those efforts.
Throughout the year, we have aimed to help ecommerce businesses identify and understand these quickly-shifting consumer trends by releasing multiple email, SMS, and web push messaging reports, including:
- Quarterly reports: Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4
- COVID-19’s Impact on Email Marketing Performance
- Black Friday and Cyber Monday report, including a supporting infographic
With the goal of helping your ecommerce business to increase sales in 2021, this report will focus slightly less on open and click rates, and more on the trends related to consumer purchasing habits and channels. We’ll cover promotional campaigns and automated email marketing performance, SMS and web push messaging performance, and all of these within the scope of the holiday shopping season.
To prepare this report, we analyzed over 10 billion email messages and more than 31 million SMS and web push messages sent from the Omnisend platform in 2019 and 2020. Let’s dig in.
2020 Email Marketing Conversion Rates
Let’s get right to it—emails equal sales. Throughout 2020, we saw email conversion rates skyrocket compared to the previous year and the first half of 2020.
Conversion rates for promotional email campaigns finished the year at a solid 6.49%, a 111% year-over-year improvement. If you consider that the average conversion rate through the first five months of 2020 was 3.8%, it becomes evident just how much email became a primary channel as at-home shopping increased.
Automated message conversion rates also had a breakout year in 2020, ending with an incredible 29.8%, a year-over-year (YoY) lift of 95%. Compared to other messages, this represents an increase of:
- 359% over 2020 promotional campaigns.
- 95% over 2019 automation.
- 853% over 2019 promotional campaigns.
And which were the best-performing automated email campaigns of 2020?
The three highest-converting automated messages of 2020 were welcome (51.9%), cart abandonment (33.9%), and lapsed-purchaser messages (21.3%). It’s hard to believe that any message would convert over half of its recipients, but welcome messages did just that. If an ecommerce business is still not sending optimized welcome messages they’re leaving money on the table, period.
Interesting fact: The largest improvement in conversion rates from Q1 to the end of the year belongs to cart abandonment messages, whose 2020 conversion rate is 21 percentage points greater than in the first quarter. Welcome and product abandonment rounded out the top three, marking a 17 and 11 percentage point improvement, respectively. This illustrates the impact that behavior-based messaging can have on ecommerce sales.
In 2020, automated messages generated 29.4% of all email orders while accounting for only 1.8% of email sends.
Comparatively, in 2019, automated emails generated 17% of email orders and accounted for 1.1% of email sends. Automated emails are vital to growing ecommerce sales!
2020 Automated Email Marketing Conversion Rates
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
2020 Email Marketing Click Rates
Click rates (click-to-open) for promotional campaigns ended the year at 13.2%, a YoY decline of 14%. On the other hand, automated emails finished the year with a 19.9% click rate, a slight 0.79% YoY improvement and a 51.6% lift over promotional messages.
What’s behind the decline in promotional campaign click rates? As noted in our COVID report, with the virus forcing more consumers to shift their shopping online, email open and conversion rates increased while click rates declined—a strong indication that intent-based shopping was in effect. The good news for ecommerce businesses is that even though click rates declined, email became a go-to, trusted channel for product discovery and brand communications—leading to increased sales.
2020 Automated Email Marketing Click Rates
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
Email Marketing Open Rates
Note: Open rates of scheduled promotional campaigns are one of the most challenging email metrics to benchmark. List management and hygiene, the number of unengaged contacts, segmentation, send cadence, and the use of Booster sends (remails) on a per-client basis impacts overall promotional campaign open rates—often resulting in lower overall numbers. For instance, it is common for remailed messages, because they specifically target non-openers, to receive roughly half of the open rate as the initial send, therefore reducing the overall open rate.
Overall, open rates for both promotional campaigns and automated messages increased in 2020 compared to the previous year. Promotional campaigns ended the year with a 10.14% open rate, a 22% lift year-over-year.
However, the real winner for most-opened emails is automated messages, which averaged a 32.6% open rate, a 31% YoY lift, and a 220% lift over promotional campaigns.
When it comes to the most-opened automated message, product abandonment, sporting an open rate of 37.8%, takes the crown. Rounding out the top three most-read messages were post-purchase and browse abandonment, both at 34%—proving that consumers welcome relevant messages.
2020 Automated Email Marketing Open Rates
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
Overall Campaigns and Automation Performance
Email marketing is a trusted opt-in channel, generating high ROI at lower costs than paid search and paid social. Companies who invest in growing their email list and sending relevant, timely messages will find themselves reaping those rewards.
With at-home shopping at its highest levels, consumer shopping habits are being reshaped and reformed—and email is a significant part of that. Not only is email marketing not dead, but the evidence shows that it may just be beginning.
Even though automated message email volume was less than 2% of sends for the entire year, they generated nearly 30% of the email orders. Open, click, and conversion rates all saw improvement over 2019, and, as we saw in our previous reports, the worst-performing automated message for each metric still outperformed those of promotional campaigns.
2020 Transactional Message Performance
When it comes to transactional messages (specifically order and shipping confirmation messages), companies often view them as just that—transactional. But these messages are so much more. Because these messages have the highest engagement, they possess an excellent opportunity to drive significant revenue for businesses.
In 2020, these two messages combined saw a 55.9% open rate, 27.3% click rate, and a 9.5% conversion rate. The open and click rates mark a slight improvement from 2019, while the conversion rate of these messages jumped 346% year-over-year.
Transactional messages were not immune to the COVID bump, which showed increases in conversion rates as the year progressed. Both of these messages saw a quarter-over-quarter increase in conversion rates before seeing a slight decline in Q4—which is expected due to holiday shopping.
Because these messages serve different purposes, they do present different conversion opportunities. Shipping confirmation messages possess higher open and click rates (as people check their shipping updates), while order confirmation messages drive more sales.
2021 Email Marketing Takeaways
Email marketing is a necessary tool for any ecommerce business looking to increase its sales. With conversion rates at all-time highs and behavior-based automation easier than ever to set up, there is no reason brands can’t accelerate sales in 2021. Here’s what you need to know for 2021:
- Growing your email subscriber database should be priority number one for ecommerce businesses. Seeing email conversion rates at such high levels indicates that email is a sought-after opt-in channel used during the customer shopping journey.
- If email marketing is a car, email automation is a Ferrari. With automated emails driving 29% of all email marketing sales (with less than 2% of email sends), companies can realistically and significantly increase their sales without increasing their workload.
- If you’re looking to drive the most amount of revenue in the least amount of time with automated messages, look no further than welcome messages and cart, browse, and product abandonment.
- Quantify the value of the email channel. Cart abandonment messages converted at 34% in 2020. How does the cost of sending this email combined with the conversion rate compare to the cost and conversion rate of retargeting ads? Email is a no-brainer!
- Optimize transactional messages. Consider adding personalized product recommendations, often forgotten item suggestions, and customer-only discounts and offers in these messages.
2020 SMS and Push Message Performance
2020 was a breakthrough year for SMS marketing. There was not only a record number of sends but also a record number of SMS-generated orders. And on those key shopping days for ecommerce businesses, Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined to send more SMS messages than the entire month of November 2019. In fact, on Black Friday 2020, SMS drove 2.5% of orders across all channels.
This past year, there were 378% more SMS messages sent than during 2019. In both years, sends increased quarter-over-quarter from Q1 through Q4. Interestingly, Q4 dominates SMS sends. In 2019, Q4 accounted for 63% of yearly SMS sends. That number increased to 68% in 2020, even though 27 million more SMS were sent in 2020.
This was welcome news for consumers. Not only did SMS adoption heat up, but so too did its revenue-driving performance. Click rates ended 2020 at 10.6%, a YoY lift of 5.5%, while the conversion rate totaled 2.65%, a 102% YoY increase—even with the massive increase in sends.
November saw the highest monthly conversion rate for SMS in 2020, clocking in at 3.2%, while December came in a close second at 2.9%. This is a slightly different trend than what we saw in 2019. Last year, the two highest-converting months for SMS were May (1.9%) and August (1.65%). December (1.43%) and November (1.34%) came in third and fourth respectively.
In both years, SMS was an active marketing channel for shoppers during the peak shopping season. However, in 2020, we saw this shift from a seemingly nice-to-have channel to a must-have channel.
It’s interesting to see how SMS evolved quarter-over-quarter during the past two years. In 2019, there was a big jump in conversion rate from Q1 to Q2, before fluctuating and slightly declining over the final two quarters—but not in 2020. January started strong and kept increasing throughout the year, even as sends continued to grow from one quarter to the next.
Consumers are more than receptive to receiving messages via the opt-in channel of their choosing.
SMS Marketing Message Conversion Rates
Web Push Messages
Like SMS, we’ve been following the increase in business and consumer adoption of web push messages over the past two years. In each of our quarterly stats reports, we mentioned that there was a consistent YoY increase in push messages sent. For 2020 as a whole, there was an impressive 1098% increase in web push messages sent.
While web push messages may still be a newer channel, the performance doesn’t show it. Push messages ended the year with a 52.8% view rate, 2.8% click rate, and an impressive 28.1% conversion rate. While the conversion rate ended the year with a YoY growth of 478%, it’s even more impressive if you factor in the whole story.
In 2019, the conversion rate peaked at 5.8%. This was in the ballpark of the 4.2% seen in Q1 2020. But, as noted with email and SMS, as the pandemic swept in conversion rates began to soar. In Q2 2020, the conversion rate of push messages jumped to 16.5% and nearly doubled to 30% in Q3 before ending Q4 at 31.7%. This growth in performance is amazing.
Push Message Marketing Conversion Rates
While web push messages may be the newer kid on the block, they shouldn’t be ignored. As businesses continue to meet consumers with relevant messages on their preferred channels, consumers will continue to respond with their wallets.
2021 Ecommerce SMS and Web Push Takeaways
The critical piece of advice for ecommerce businesses in 2021 is, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t allow lack of familiarity with channels like SMS and web push cause you to dismiss them. Here is what you need to know to increase ecommerce sales in 2021:
- SMS is a must! If you are not collecting mobile numbers along with email addresses, you are losing sales. SMS marketing will only become more commonplace and expected by consumers.
- Add SMS and push messages to automated email workflows. We already know how effective automated messages are—imagine if you add the right channel to the right message at the right time?
- Experiment with web push messages. Find the right place and time to use them, such as preventing an abandoned cart, and adjust your workflow strategy accordingly.
- Don’t think these are a fad—they’re not.
2020 Holiday Performance
The 2020 online holiday shopping season was predicted to be the biggest ever due to COVID—and it was. Like with our quarterly reports, we also released a Black Friday and Cyber Monday performance report. In that report, we analyzed the tent-pole days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday and periods such as Gray November, the Cyber Five, and the Cyber Ten.
A couple of takeaways from that report include:
- The promotional email conversion rate in November was nearly 9%, reaching above 12% on some of the most important days of the year.
- During Black Friday and Cyber Monday, one of every eight subscribers who clicked on an email made a purchase—and one in six on Giving Tuesday.
- During the Cyber Ten, automated marketing emails were responsible for 43% of all automated email conversions in November.
- Ecommerce businesses sent nearly as many SMS messages during the Cyber Ten than all of Q3. At the same time, Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined to send more SMS messages than the entire month of November 2019.
- Black Friday accounted for 19% of all November SMS orders, and the Cyber Ten accounted for 72% of all November SMS orders.
While this report was focused on the Black Friday season, there are a couple of other notable highlights from December worth mentioning.
- There were 11.5% fewer scheduled emails sent in December 2020 than in November. Even so, December was still the second-highest send month of the year.
- Year-over-year, open rates for promotional campaigns in November increased 17%. In December, it jumped to 33%.
- While conversion rates for all automated messages remained strong throughout December, welcome emails were the only automated emails to have a higher conversion rate (61.3%) than in November (57.8%).
Final 2021 Ecommerce Takeaways
The ability for an online business to increase sales has never been easier than it is today. After all, just look at the continued increase of message performance throughout 2020.
Email, SMS, and web push marketing messages are a powerful three-headed monster. When used properly and in combination with one another, ecommerce businesses can reap massive rewards. Each channel’s performance is increasing year-over-year, meaning those who wait to utilize the channels that their customers prefer will find themselves playing a constant game of catch up.
- Opt-in channels are essential for ecommerce growth. Promotional email marketing campaigns saw a 108% increase in conversion rate from 2019.
- Promotional email conversion rates were greater than 10% during the Cyber Ten and nearly 12% during the Cyber Five.
- Automated messages dominated 2020, marking YoY lifts in open and conversion rates—and did they ever have an impact on sales. Overall, automated messages accounted for 29% of email orders while making up less than 2% of total email sends.
- Everyone texts! It’s no wonder SMS had its coming-out party, sending 378% more messages than in 2019. Conversion rates increased over 100% from 2019, and 19% of all November SMS orders came on Black Friday.
SMS accounted for 2.5% of all orders placed on Black Friday. How would you like to add 2.5% to your Black Friday sales?
- Web push notifications are starting to find themselves a place in the modern-day customer journey and ended the year with a 28% conversion rate.
- Like this report? Take it with you.
See how Omnisend can help you increase your sales, not your workload.