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Making it to the inbox, the unanswered questions on deliverability for e-commerce, unfolded
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Making it to the inbox, the unanswered questions on deliverability for e-commerce, unfolded

The eCommerce business sector experienced a huge boost during the COVID-related lockdowns globally. People became used to the convenience of having products delivered to their doorsteps. And, many new players entered the eCommerce field to sustain their brick-and-mortar operations.

As such, the Deliverability Summit 2020 brought together some of the top email marketers from vendor brands globally to provide insights on how eCommerce marketers can generate high returns from their email program. 

As we dive deep into the minds of these email experts, we uncover revealing details about how the email industry functions and what you as an eCommerce brand owner can do to better your email campaigns for the future. 

In this discussion, we’re asking questions that eCommerce marketers have always asked us:

  • Does deliverability matter and should you care about it?
  • Do the same rules apply for bigger and smaller eCommerce brands in terms of deliverability?
  • How should you plan email campaigns for a seasonal niche?
  • Will lower user engagement drop the deliverability points for your campaigns?
  • Should you ever stop emailing a person irrespective of their engagement?

How important is email deliverability and should eCommerce marketers care about it?

Tejas Pitkar

Product marketing and evangelist, Netcore Solutions, linkedin

Email deliverability is crucial for eCommerce brands that are dependent on email marketing for their revenue. An email can generate engagement only if it lands in the inbox. No one’s checking the spam folder, are they?

Now to get customers to engage, encourage repeat purchases, and even improve your conversion rates, it is very important to ensure that your emails reach the inbox. 

Adeola Sole

Adeola Sole - Senior Consultant - Holistic Email Marketing | LinkedIn
Senior Consultant, Holistic Email Marketing, linkedin

The conversions that you generate depends on the type of business and the average order values. However, to initiate a conversion, the first step is to land in the inbox. And that’s why deliverability should be on the top of the list for any brand that relies on email marketing.

Many marketers misunderstand the transmission of an email and the deliverability of email campaigns and lines in conversation are blurred

When your email is delivered, it has reached your recipient’s inbox. Deliverability is the rate at which emails land in the inbox rather than the spam folder

Dela Quist

Interview With The Leading Email Marketer – Dela Quist
Founder and CIO, Alchemy Worx & Touchstone Intelligent Marketing, linkedin

While deliverability should be prioritized, it is also important to understand at what point the priority changes. For example, if you have deliverability in the 90 to 94% range, spending money to improve it by another percent would not impact the overall campaign performance. 

In such a case, spending the same money to improve open rates from 12 to 14% will offer a 20% overall improvement and increase the number of people who see your emails. 

Deciding what to focus on can improve your revenues significantly.

Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar - co Founder @ Deliverability Ltd - Crunchbase Person Profile
Founder, Emailexperts. linkedin

Improved deliverability is a byproduct of higher engagement. If you are in the 90-94% deliverability, focusing on sending the maximum value emails to customers will improve your engagement. 

As a marketer, the focus should immediately shift to improving the other email KPIs rather than spending money on the few percentages leftover in the deliverability department

Do the same deliverability rules apply for large eCommerce brands as well as the smaller ones hosted on Shopify or WooCommerce?

Tejas – When it comes to large brands, the list sizes are huge. You might be sending out more than a million emails per month and the possibility of having lower overall engagement always exists.

In such a case, it becomes the highest priority for larger brands to maintain list hygiene, reduce bounces, monitor spam complaints, and improve engagement albeit slowly but over time. 

Having a solid sunset policy in place can help maintain lists. Segmentation is another aspect of list maintenance with larger senders as they must know what content appeals to what set of customers. 

A smaller volume sender is generally someone in the 100k list range while larger volume senders have email lists in millions with 100-200k users subscribing and unsubscribing daily.

Adeola Sole – Larger volume senders don’t always send out emails to their entire lists. At most, the emails are sent out to 30-40% of their email lists. So it doesn’t impact the deliverability to an extent where all their email campaigns suffer. The main factor here is money. They’re looking at earning revenue out of all emails that are sent out. 

At times with bigger lists, marketers tend to go deep to dig patterns within their lists, but they do not identify when to stop. And then trying to activate too many inactive users, too soon can trigger the mailbox service providers and increase spam rates. However, this is a rare possibility with companies that work with hundreds of millions of subscribers.

Dela Quist – Spam complaints are never a concern since they’re much lower than even unsubscribes. And unsubscribes are already in the very low ranges. To reach a spam complaint rate that can impact your campaigns, would mean that the marketer is performing activities that are not only triggering the MSPs but also the users to hit the spam button on their mailboxes. 

How does the seasonal change in email volumes impact deliverability?

One of the common observations for all eCommerce brands is how the email volumes spike when they are in the peak seasons. Be it Christmas, or Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or any other festive season. 

These volumes are generally higher and more frequent than regular emails. How does this sudden change affect the deliverability? 

Andrew Bonar – It is an expected spike in email volumes across all eCommerce providers. While we continue to hear that there needs to be consistency in sending emails, being too consistent during an expected spike can seem strange and stand out. 

The deliverability might suffer as the server resources are finite. However, the peak seasons are where most brands make money. And a minor dip in deliverability should not stop brands from sending out email volumes higher than their normals. 

Adeola Sole – You must ramp up your email volumes during the peak season. It is a highly profitable time. However, you also need to understand where to make a stop. While most marketers can identify when to stop, the pressure at work to meet the KPIs can make them overlook the warning signs.

Usually, the warning signs are a dip in engagement. Downward trending engagement can tell early on if it’s time to lower the email volumes.

Tejas – Monitor your volumes and make sure your IPs are warmed up before you scale up your email volumes. It’s imperative because when you send over a higher volume campaign on an IP that isn’t warmed up, Mailbox providers take notice and can reduce your deliverability. 

Dela Quist – You cannot continue to segment and expect higher engagement when the volumes need to spike. After a certain point, engagement will flatten no matter how many segments are created. 

For most marketers, their mailing list during peak seasons is lists of engaged users over the last 90, 120, or even 900 days. That can yield average results at best. 

A common statistic here is that 60% of any list on average is unengaged. Users become engaged 2 to 4 weeks before and after they make a purchase. 

And that’s the window where a marketer can convert the user to make a purchase. During the peak season, you must engage with them beforehand so they don’t drop off or stop engaging when you need them the most. 

Andrew Bonar – Email frequency has to change based on the product. Sending an email has to make sense during the offseason. If it isn’t required for your audience to engage with your emails during the non-purchase seasons for your products, it’s best to limit your emails just enough to maintain your email metrics. 

For the other times, you can let your audience take a break from hearing from you. All-in-all, the email frequency is variable and there are no right answers. 

If you create campaigns that can engage your users irrespective of the season, you can send out emails and garner engagement. 

Users are getting more sophisticated, marketers are getting more sophisticated and so are anti-spam filters here. It’s necessary to grow along with the technology and add value through email instead of considering users as email IDs on a list. 

Do user activity and response impact deliverability? And if so, how can eCommerce brands account for that? 

Tejas – Engagement is important for deliverability. Being on the ESP side, we see how the deliverability can increase or decrease as the engagement improves or dips. Keeping them engaged with occasional emails from your brand, informing them about upcoming events, or even just asking for feedback about the type of content they’d like to consume is enough to keep the engagement high for maintaining the deliverability. 

Adeola Sole – You can’t expect your customers to remember you if they receive your emails once a year! You need to keep them engaged with the occasional campaign here. 

Andrew – If you are a marketer who is not sending an email to a set of customers because they haven’t engaged with your emails in the last 90-100 days, then it’s a very poor approach. There are a variety of other metrics that you have access to and should use to work with. That can include their purchases, their behavior on your website, and anything else that makes sense. 

Dela Quist – Engagement has to go beyond checking historical opens, clicks, or even purchases. All your customers, except for the ones who have unsubscribed or bounced should receive at least 2 emails a month minimum. The recommended frequency will be at least once a week. 

You should go through your inactive file, 5 to 10% additional inactive users with every new campaign. 

One of our client’s email list had two distinctions. One the active list, and one the inactive list. The inactive list generated an average sale per user per year at $100 while the active list, the list of people who engaged with emails generated about $300 per user per year. 

If they had ignored the inactive list which contained over 300,000 users, they would lose out on over 1 million in revenue. 

So it’s important to not decide for your users. If your users do not wish to receive emails further,  they can always choose to unsubscribe. 

So, should you have a sunset policy?

The last point by Dela brought contradicting opinions within the panelists and spurred a discussion about the same. 

While it is common knowledge that you must set aside users who haven’t engaged with your emails for a while, Dela mentioned emailing everyone until the user unsubscribes or hard bounces. 

He mentioned that it’s always better to continue to email users for long enough. And if the purpose of your email campaigns is to generate revenues, there’s no reason for you to stop emailing anyone as long as they have potential.

You can try out different subject lines for the inactive and active audiences and convert more of your users into engaging. You can take the help of this AI-powered subject line optimizer for more engagement.

Conclusion

None of the users stay active all the time and it’s important to understand when it is important for your audience to engage with your emails. Preparing your users before when you need the most is what results in successful campaigns. 

While emailing unengaged users may impact deliverability, you can ignore the 1-3% drops in your deliverability if you’re already in the 90-95% range and focus on converting more users to generate revenue. 

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Email deliverability is very important but after 90-95% deliverability is reached, marketers should reduce their focus on improving deliverability and begin improving content.
  • With bigger brands, it’s impossible to keep the complete list engaged at all times. So, such brands send out emails to partial email lists or send automated targeted emails instead of running bulk campaigns to avoid major deliverability and spam issues. Smaller brands can get away with email their entire lists without impacting their deliverability by a lot.
  • Most eCommerce brands are seasonal, and marketers must avoid sending emails when it’s not the buying season. To maintain the sending domain reputation, you can send an occasional email about your upcoming offers to prepare your users but no more. 
  • User activity can affect deliverability but the impact isn’t as much as marketers tend to make it seem. If you’re emailing all your users every day, the metrics are going to drop. But for eCommerce brands that send an email once a week, user activity will not impact the deliverability even if their metrics drop by a few points. 
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