With COVID-19 creating much uncertainty across all industries the world over, online sellers attempted to navigate and grow the best they could.
In what’s typically a slower time of year for online sellers, regardless of the unprecedented crisis we’re currently facing, even the most seasoned ecommerce marketers are confronted with challenges never before experienced.
However, the momentum from the end of 2019 kept many online sellers in motion in Q1 2020, and with new tools in their arsenals, we saw new growth and strategies that had a significant impact on email, SMS, and push notification sending.
We’ve decided to look at how online sellers have used those channels to confront these challenges in Q1 2020. We dove deep into the year-over-year (YoY) data collected between January 1st and March 31st, identifying trends and providing insights sellers can apply to their marketing programs throughout the remainder of the year. Our analysis looked at nearly two billion emails and three million SMS and push marketing messages sent through the Omnisend platform.
Email Marketing Performance
Email Open Rates:
We saw an increase in open rates from both stand-alone promotional campaigns and automations alike in Q1 2020 over Q1 2019. Promotional campaign open rates grew to 9.24%* in 2020, an 8.58% lift from 2019.
As customers and online sellers shifted their focus from brick-and-mortar to online stores, we saw much more significant growth in open rates for automation workflows. Automated messages reached a 34.26% open rate in Q1 2020, compared to 18.86% in 2019, a lift of 81.67% between the two years.
It’s no surprise that with the increase in online shoppers there came with it an increase in new email subscribers, resulting in a 61.3% increase in YoY open rates. For those shoppers who made purchases, they continued to engage with brand emails beyond the purchase, giving post-purchase emails the highest open rates of all automated messages at nearly 42%.
However, one automation workflow that perhaps wasn’t quite as popular in 2019 for merchants became a star in Q1 2020. Browse abandonment workflows earned open rates nearly on par with post-purchase workflows at 40.15%.
Post-purchase, browse abandonment, and product abandonment messages achieved the quarter’s highest open rates—driving home how powerful relevant, automated messages can be. Overall, automated messages average a 274% lift over standard promotional emails.
Automation hardly needs argument when compared to campaigns, averaging a 274% lift in open rate over promotional emails.
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
* List management, send cadence, and the use of Booster sends (remails) on a per-client basis impacts 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.
Email Click Rates:
We saw a 20% decrease YoY in click rate for promotional emails in Q1. With a looming pandemic and the unwillingness to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, there’s an increase in need-based shopping, where customers are going to be prioritizing online shopping for basic necessities as opposed to pleasure-seeking. What’s more, merchants sent more emails during this time period than ever before—when examining click rate between 2019 and 2020, it’s important to keep in mind that online sellers sent nearly 1.5 times as many promotional emails in 2020 as they did in 2019.
However, unlike promotional emails, automated messages experienced a 15.96% YoY lift in click rate, even with a 35% increase in automated message sends. Of the automations, cart abandonment holds the highest click rate at 24.25%, followed by birthday at 22.94%, and product abandonment at 21.07%. Compared to promotional campaigns, automated emails earned, on average, a 46.37% lift in click rate.
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
It’s no surprise that customers’ level of engagement with a merchant is significantly higher when they are in an active shopping phase—such as with cart and product abandonment—and when they know there’s a birthday gift waiting for them.
The high performance in click rates proves that online businesses will find success by sending relevant, time-sensitive messages to their subscribers.
Email Conversion Rates:
Where click rates might have painted a bleak picture in Q1, year-over-year conversion rates told a different story—and we think we know why. Need-based shopping might have reduced click rates in campaigns for certain sectors, but customers were more ready to convert for merchants offering the products they need more immediately. In Q1 2020, promotional campaigns earned online sellers 25.72% more conversions than during the same period in 2019.
This trend was echoed with automated emails, albeit to a lesser degree, which earned a 6.42% YoY lift in conversions. Because online businesses were already seeing significant conversion rates from automated messages in 2019, the YoY growth may not make headlines—but it should. This further indicates that automated emails are increasingly being valued by email subscribers and have a direct impact on sales.
Further proving this point, automation in Q1 2020 earned a 303% lift over promotional emails, with welcome messages leading the pack at a 34.46%, a 893% lift over promotional emails.
For many online sellers welcoming in more email subscribers and customers than ever in 2020, these conversion rates are a promising sign for the rest of the year.
Type of Automation
Lift Over Campaigns
Overall Campaigns and Automation Performance:
As shoppers moved online with the looming COVID-19 crisis, online sellers doubled down harder on email in2020 than in 2019. While automation only made up 2% of all email sends in Q1 2020, it accounted for 23% of all orders driven during the quarter.
This year, automation experienced a 244% lift in the number of orders over the same time period in 2019. It’s likely that we can attribute some of this to the shift online we’re seeing with both online sellers and consumers, who are both trying to operate amidst the current crisis. However, the other part is the uptick we’re seeing in marketers using automated messages, which are proven to consistently convert at higher levels than promotional campaigns.
The data doesn’t lie—marketers who are implementing marketing automation are winning sales.
Because of the shopping stage customers are at, it’s no surprise that abandoned cart messaging would be a popular workflow among merchants. In Q1 2019, abandoned cart automation accounted for 65% of all automated message sends. In 2020, that number dropped to 40% even though sends remained roughly the same. Online sellers became emboldened with their abandoned cart success and began experimenting with different kinds of workflows, most notably lapsed-purchaser, welcome, and post-purchase.
In 2020’s first quarter, the most successful automations included welcoming new email subscribers, and winning back inactive customers, both of which earning some of the highest conversion rates among automated messages. While welcome messages are typically among the highest-performing—with nearly 1 in every 3 welcome automations sent earning a conversion—lapsed-purchase automations sent in Q1 followed welcome automations in earning the highest conversion rates for merchants at 18.34%.
Transactional Message Performance:
Transactional messages, notably order and shipping confirmations, typically hold the highest open rates of any email campaign. The success of online sellers in Q1 of this year can be summed up in one poignant fact: there were 369% more transactional messages sent in Q1 2020 over the same time period in 2019.
Shipping confirmations have higher open and click rates than order confirmations, while order confirmation messages earn 125% higher conversions than their counterparts. It’s expected that customers will open and click their shipping confirmations to track their orders, but order confirmation might be the best moment to reconvert your shoppers by optimizing your transactional messages for cross- and up-sell.
Transactional emails are often overlooked as revenue-drivers, as they tend to earn lower conversion rates than other automated messages which tend to be more sales-oriented. However, with such high open and click-through rates, even a small increase in conversion rate can result in a significant contribution to the bottom line.
Take advantage of these high open and click rates by using order and shipping confirmation messages to offer personalized product recommendations and cross-sell similar products.
SMS and Push Message Performance:
It’s undisputed that email is a tried and true channel for ecommerce conversion, and especially in Q1 2020, when there is more uncertainty than ever before, email is a go-to channel for merchants and shoppers alike.
But with so many more messages landing in inboxes this quarter, inbox fatigue made online sellers turn to other channels to amplify their messages—with much success.
We believe SMS is poised for a breakout year. In Q1 2019, we saw an increasing implementation of SMS marketing alongside email. In 2020, SMS exploded in adoption and effectiveness for online merchants with YoY sends increasing 718%.
Not only did sends increase but so did their effectiveness. While increased sending lowered click rates in 2020, which is a natural byproduct, this slight drop is disproportionate to the rate at which sending itself surged. What’s more, the conversion rate for SMS campaigns grew by over 230% in 2020 as online sellers incorporated them more regularly in their campaign strategies and throughout their automations.
This shows us that SMS is not a one-sided trend—customers are eager to receive and engage with relevant SMS messaging from brands they know and trust.
If ever there was a time to add SMS to your messaging marketing strategy, it’s past due. Begin collecting mobile numbers and SMS opt-ins today to take advantage of this growing opportunity.
If you’re not ready to adopt SMS quite yet, be sure to pay close attention to how SMS marketing progresses throughout the year.
For many online merchants, web push notifications are a new, unfamiliar channel—but that doesn’t make them less valuable. These notifications offer an immediacy no matter where your customer happens to be browsing, making it an ideal channel for calling back distracted shoppers who’ve abandoned a cart or notifying them of time-sensitive offers.
In 2019, push messages began to catch on as a viable channel, following similar trends we saw with SMS in 2017 and 2018. However, unlike SMS, push experienced a more significant boom considerably quicker.
In 2020, merchants sent 4113.43% more push notifications than in Q1 2019. As we’ve seen with email and SMS, a steep increase in sends tends to drive down open and click rates. However, this wasn’t the case with push messages, which earned an 8.72% increase in opens (from 53.34% in 2019 to 57.99% in 2020).
While click rate did suffer from the increased sending, conversion rate did anything but— conversions for push notifications grew by 513% YoY.
If SMS was a dark horse channel for 2019, there’s a high likelihood that push might be our 2020 dark horse for ecommerce marketing. Merchants with high-impact growth strategies would be wise to implement this channel alongside SMS and email in their automation workflows to pack an even bigger punch in 2020.
The Final Word: Ecommerce Takeaways
Despite the emergence and rapid rise of COVID-19 and the uncertainty that this global pandemic brings to nearly every industry, ecommerce merchants have been rapidly adapting their marketing strategies to meet customers where they are.
The first quarter of 2020, classically the slowest period of the year, has shown significant growth across email campaigns, automations, SMS, and push messages compared to 2019. DTC brands looking to increase sales would benefit from the insights we’ve gleaned from this data:
- Marketing automation will be a significant revenue generator in 2020, outperforming stand-alone campaigns at every step. Ensure your email tools have the automation capabilities to respond to your customers at every stage of their purchase journeys.
- Be sure to implement and optimize your revenue-driving automation workflows, especially welcome, browse and cart abandonment. If well-optimized, these three workflows will account for more sales for you this year than any other workflow or campaign.
- Take advantage of the high open and click rates of your transactional messages to up- and cross-sell to your customers.
- Begin collecting mobile phone numbers alongside your email addresses for SMS. If you haven’t already started, it’s time to begin testing SMS in your automation workflows.
- Push messages are likely to have a significant impact on 2020 ecommerce revenue streams—begin putting it in place for time-critical moments when your customers need to hear your message the most.
Growing your online sales through marketing automation doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming.
See how Omnisend can help you increase your sales, not your workload.