Marketing   //   June 18, 2020

With more people stuck at home, DTC brands see gains from email

Back in January, email fatigue was the digital malaise du jour. Now, they’re getting a second lease on life, thanks to a change in people’s behaviors and where they’re spending their time.

According to new data from Omnisend, open rates saw a 31% lift year-over-year during the post-coronavirus months. The report analyzed 2.5 billion emails and found that between January and April, open rates were steadily increasing — with March seeing the largest jump. For comparison, during the same period the year before, open rates saw a decline.

This isn’t terribly surprising. Beginning in March, people’s behaviors changed dramatically. They couldn’t go outside, they couldn’t socialize. Nearly everyone was stuck at home so why not open emails and maybe even read them?

“We’re seeing much much higher engagement with email,” said Colin Daretta, CEO of the supplement brand Wellpath. It’s doubled, in fact. Emails that before got 20% open rates are now seeing upwards of 40%. Click-through rates are higher too, he added.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that email has become a runaway sales channel. “Conversion rates have gone down a little bit,” said Darretta, attributing this to people being more mindful of what they spend. “They are more apt to read our content and more apt to learn about our products,” he said, adding that it’s “still a net gain for us.” (Indeed it has, Wellpath’s products saw a 30%-40% sales lift beginning in March and while some of that has decreased a bit, revenue is still a great deal above what it was in February.)

Despite relying predominately on Amazon for sales, email remains one of Wellpath’s most important marketing channels. The company has acquired over 2 million emails (using a platform built by its parent company that lets brands share data and participate in joint sweepstakes campaigns), and has a newsletter with about 600,000 active readers. According to Darretta, while engagement on emails is up, acquisition remains relatively the same to what it was before.

This is a distinct change from six months ago. Last November, a number of brands began looking into alternative communication channels as a result of email fatigue. SMS was considered a real growth potential, as it offered direct communication similar to email but in a more novel way. “Furniture is a highly-considered purchase and SMS allows us to help our customers navigate each step of the process,” Whitney Blau, head of conversational marketing at Burrow, told Modern Retail then. “We hope by making ourselves more accessible that we build trust that can’t be accomplished via other channels.” Indeed, a 2019 survey from the texting platform ZipWhip reported that the majority of the people queried were more partial to receive reminders via text compared to other channels like phone or email.

But even SMS has its pitfalls. As Modern Retail reported last December, a number of brands and marketers began using text and phone calls as a way to boost customer acquisition. A phone number, said DTC brand strategist Nik Sharma at the time, is more to marketers than email because “they can basically chase you until you purchase.” He added that this kind of approach “deteriorates brand equity.”

Brands doubling down on email now face a similar tightrope. Wellpath, for example, has been known to include itself in emailed sweepstakes — some of which may be viewed as tone-deaf with the current state of things.

The biggest takeaway about this current phase isn’t that emails will necessarily lead to more sales, but that it’s a chance to find new people amenable to your brand. “This presents a new opportunity to new evangelists to our content,” concluded Darretta. These are people, he went on, who “were stuck at home and maybe wanted a distraction.”