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Why brands must refine the mobile email experience

April 3, 2013


Pamela McAtee is senior vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon

Pamela McAtee is senior vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon

By Pamela McAtee

The train. An elevator. The mall. A restaurant. Consumers today can engage with email via their mobile devices from virtually any location and at any given time. Half of your email population now reads marketing emails on a smartphone.

In 2012, mobile email opens surpassed desktop and webmail opens for the first time.

According to Litmus, at the end of 2012, mobile emails made up 43 percent of total opens. So far, this year we are seeing rates upwards of 50 percent across many of our clients.

It is time for brands to refine the mobile email experience.

Hoping it clicks
While mobile open rates are increasing dramatically, mobile conversion rates are not necessarily following suit. This is primarily because emails do not always render well on mobile devices or because the post-click experience is not mobile-optimized.

Research has found that consumers tend to use their mobile devices to “clean out” their inbox, often deleting emails that are not relevant or that do not render properly.

We have seen in our data that some consumers use their PC at a later point to actually heed an email’s call-to-action or make a purchase. This is especially true if the retailer does not have a mobile application or mobile-optimized site.

With this knowledge, how can marketers today drive sales and ensure their mobile conversion rates keep pace with mobile open rates?

The first step is to understand what your email audience looks like from a mobile perspective.

Ask your email service provider, or ESP, if it can provide data on email open by device. If it cannot, there are a number of third-party providers such as Litmus and Return Path that you can tap into for this information.

These third-party providers can incorporate a 1×1 blank pixel into your emails to determine the device your audience uses to open messages.

You may find that you have more opens coming from tablets than from mobile phones, or you may discover a greater number of iOS devices versus Android devices.

Be cautious in how you interpret this data.

Some Android devices have a default setting for email images to be turned off, which means opens will not be tracked unless your ESP derives opens from click activity when an open pixel does not “fire.” This can also lead to a false positive for Apple device opens, making their results higher since Apple devices display images by default.

Next, use the data you have gathered to help inform your creative team or agency so they can make your emails more mobile-friendly.

Understanding your mobile audience is an important design consideration as various operating systems, devices, mail clients and browsers will render HTML differently.

Designing the “über” email for all mobile devices may be too costly. Instead, your creative team may want to focus on the largest potential base for which they can optimize messages.

Optimal response
Many of our clients often ask about the difference between mobile-optimized email and responsive design.

A mobile-optimized email is an HTML email that is specifically designed to be viewed on a smartphone or tablet, typically with a width of 320-480 pixels.

Responsive design, on the other hand, is a technique that uses media queries within the HTML to format or style the layout based on screen size of the device of open.

Whether you choose mobile-optimized or responsive design will likely depend on your available resources.

Responsive design is more difficult and time consuming to produce. However, it enables you to optimize your content based on the device screen size.

Mobile-optimized emails are easier to produce and provide a good experience for most of your email subscribers.

Both should be tested to determine if the increased effort for responsive design positively affects key metrics.

Retailers who are not incorporating tactics such as mobile-optimized emails or responsive design will likely continue to see declines in response rates and a negative effect on consumer engagement with emails.

Marketers will also see conversion rates decline if their post-click experience is not optimized for mobile devices.

ENGAGEMENT IS JUST the beginning of the concerns.

An important consideration often overlooked by marketers is the effect that non-mobile-optimized emails can have on deliverability.

Most, if not all, major Internet service providers use some level of engagement metrics in their filtering and inbox placement algorithms.

If consumers are not engaging with a brand’s emails because they are not mobile-optimized, it could have longer-term deliverability implications such as junk/bulk folder placement.

Serious declines in engagement could lead to blocking or being discarded altogether. And, if you are not making it to the inbox, you do not stand a chance at improving your click, conversion or ROI metrics.

Pamela McAtee is Wakefield, MA-based senior vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon. Reach her at 

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