Delivery arrives to post-COVID inboxes: 21 million items to bridge the gap

11 February 2021Reading time: 6 min.

Surely, COVID-19 was the main theme of the 2020 Email Marketing campaigns. The communications analysis on the emergency showed that both companies and recipients focused on delivery as a response to social distancing.

“Coronavirus”; “COVID-19”; “pandemic”; “delivery”; “home”; “free shipping”—these words filled up our inbox during the year that’s just ended. Think of how many emails we’ve received and opened with these terms since the pandemic disrupted our daily lives.

We’ve tried to assess these and other figures with a study on pandemic-related emails sent during 2020. The goal was to understand how quickly Italian companies have responded to the crisis and have readjusted their communication strategies to cope with the emergency. 

The study took into consideration all of last year’s massive mailings (except the transactional ones) from a sample of about 14 billion mailings. Keywords related to COVID-19 and delivery in the subject line of the email campaigns formed the basis of the research. The results of the analysis confirmed the trends that we’ve all witnessed: COVID-themed communications grew in the first phase of contagion. The pattern matched the same trend of the virus and turned into a peak of emails focused on delivery during the first months of the lockdown—a sign that companies have organized and ran for cover after the pandemic’s first traumatic and unexpected hit. 

A general overview: COVID-themed email sending and open rates

We’ve all had that feeling since March 2020. Every single email in our inbox had words like “COVID-19”, “lockdown”, “quarantine”, and “pandemic” in the subject. Data from our study confirms these impressions: in March 2020, around 9% of emails sent used these keywords in the subject line—almost 103 million compared to the total of billion emails sent. The numbers gradually dropped in the following months, right after the same evolutionary pattern as the virus. After the summer, a percentage rose to match the second wave of infections. 

Above all, it was the field of medicine, followed by non-profits and public bodies, to boost COVID-19-themed communications in the early stages of the emergency. This declined drastically in the following months. However, the education sector, most likely also due to continued distance learning, has guaranteed a steady coverage of mailings related to the pandemic throughout 2020.

The public was initially quite interested in reading this type of communication over traditional ones: the open rate remained above 20% from February to April. 

Interest has understandably decreased with the pandemic’s prolongation—even if we cannot speak of a drastic drop. The opening rate stabilized between 15 and 17% only to rise again with last fall’s infection spike. Data clearly disproved any expectation that—with the protraction of the emergency and the constant reception of communications focused on a single theme—the public would soon be disinterested: attention levels stayed higher than the average of all other types of communication. They also went up again with the second wave of infections. 

Therefore, mailings and openings followed the same evolution as the virus. There was a peak from March to April and a second gradual increase from September to December. A decline was only reported in the summer during relaxed restrictions and a decrease in infections. 

Focus on delivery: companies’ prompt response to distancing

Before 2020, companies have never included words like “delivery”, “free shipping”, “home delivery”, or “home” in the subject of their emails. 

Both brands that had already carried out this type of service and those that had to get themselves ready to implement it for surviving have oriented their communications on this issue right at the start of the emergency. 

Data from the study shows a spike in delivery-themed mailing subject lines right in the month of April. This holds true for both B2B and B2C (obviously with smaller volumes for the first) with 21 million emails. B2C released 3% of its mailings with such a subject. Almost 8 million were DEM communications. Clearly, this signals that companies had taken the March hit, then organized and responded quickly. They readjusted their campaigns to contain the emergency and find a solution to social distancing. 

The public was informed about the possibility of taking advantage of home services, especially from companies that had never resorted to this type of option. The greatest interest was placed on B2B delivery-themed emails, a sector that most likely had never focused its campaigns on such issues before the pandemic. In fact, B2B obtained the highest opening rates. Their trend settled between 15% and 20%, above other emails’ average. If we consider just the DEMs, then the rate is even higher, with peaks of around 25%. 

Rediscovering personal care and the domestic realm: the most transmitted and appreciated messages on behalf of recipients

On the other hand, the delivery-themed emails sent by companies in the beauty and personal care sector aroused much interest. These specific mailings were 8% of all emails sent in the spring months when they recorded an open rate between 15 and 20%

In fact, an analysis of the sectors confirmed that in delivery-themed items, beauty companies ranked first. Retail (between 8% and 5% of the total) and non-profit (with a peak in May close to 5% and a second recovery in the last months of the year) followed. In terms of openings, once again the beauty sector kept pace together with publishing and media and non-profits. Opening peaks span from 15% to 20% during the first months of the emergency. 

The analysis returns a very similar cross-section when focusing on DEM mailing volumes. Beauty, non-profit, and retail sectors are among those with the highest number of mailings. These have peaks of up to 10% of delivery-themed emails during the intense months of infections. However, DEM communications recorded a particular and interesting open rate figure: an opening peak (up to 25%) for home and garden products’ emails during the first lockdown. This demonstrates the renewed interest in the domestic dimension, as well as more time to spend on home and garden maintenance. 

Data then confirm the success of communications based on “self-care” messages, especially during the months with mobility restrictions. In fact, people have had more time to take care of themselves and purchase products related to personal care (also because beauty centers and hairdressers were closed). So it’s not surprising that sectors like fashion (clothing, footwear, jewelry, etc.) have suffered a setback. Their delivery-related communications were always less than 2%, and the engagement rates were not particularly high. 

When delivery doesn’t take a vacation: data from an anomalous August

Email Marketing usually goes on vacation in August when sending volumes drop drastically and opening rates are typically lower than other months. However, the search results confirm how particular 2020 was. The returned values are much higher than the averages recorded this month. The following graphs show that, considering only the delivery-themed mailings, August had one of the highest number of DEM mailings with about 5 million emails sent and an open rate of 11%. 

delivery keywords DEM

This trend is probably synonymous of the need for last-minute purchases through convenient and prompt e-commerce and delivery services (often made free and even faster for the summer vacations). In fact, August turned into improvised and unplanned holidays for everybody. Not by chance, this month’s e-commerce recorded a peak in delivery-themed mailings identical to those of March and April with about 4 million emails sent

delivery keywords ecommerce

Speaking of sectors, again the most sent messages were about retail, beauty, and home. Most importantly, home and gardening products also recorded a significant peak in August mailings with delivery-themed emails sharing about 10%. 

In summary

Hands down, COVID-19 and delivery themes took the 2020 email campaign spotlight.

We analyzed emails with keywords related to these two thematic spheres in the subject. What emerged was an increase in sendings and openings that followed the same evolution as the virus spread: a peak during the first months (March and April), a plateau at lower levels and a decline in the summer, followed by a gradual rise when infections and restrictions increased during the fall.

This article was written by

Paola Bergamini

Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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