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Why are mobile email open rates declining?

Mobile email opens appear to be plateauing with less than half of emails opened on a mobile device in November, down from last year when the rate topped 50 percent, according to new data from Return Path. 

The findings suggest that consumers are continuing to engage in multi-screen use of email and not necessarily embracing mobile exclusively to read emails. The key takeaway for email marketers is that they need to continue to create campaigns for a multitude of devices. 

?The decline in mobile email open rates year-over-year by 1 percent is relatively insignificant,? said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path. ?This is the first year where we didn't see month-over-month increases in mobile email consumption. 

?This signals that mobile usage has perhaps reached a mature stage,? he said. ?U.S. smartphone penetration is currently at 72 percent so we're seeing signs of saturation, and mobile and email-on-mobile is experiencing a plateau as opposed to a decline.?

Retail email
Mobile usage reached 50 percent of all email opens for the first time in November 2013 and continued to dominate throughout last year?s holiday season. 

Mobile usage then started to decline in January of this year and reached it lowest point in May. 

However, mobile email open rates are higher in some verticals than others. 

Consumers opened 60 percent of emails from apparel retailers from a mobile device. 

In banking, the rate was 51 percent, finance 41 percent, food and beverage 38 percent, media and entertainment 20 percent and travel 30 percent. 

December rebound
Open rates on mobile could also rebound in December 

?It's unlikely that the decline will continue through December,? Mr. Sather said. ?Consumers are more likely to use multiple devices for online activities. 

?As consumers are in the mood to shop this quarter, we'll see emails being opened on mobile devices increase through right before Christmas,? he said. 

?Also, people are more likely to start interactions, like opening and reading email, on mobile phones during this time of year as people head home for the holidays, or are just out and about shopping.?

A recent One Kings Lane email

For marketers, the numbers underscore the importance of understanding the preferences of a brand?s target audience as consumers appear to be changing their behavior depending upon whom they are interacting with. 

Unique strategies
Return Path?s data shows that last month, mobile opens surged on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when consumers were at home sorting through the first wave of email offers from retailers. 

However, on Cyber Monday, email opens surged on desktops as consumers opened their inboxes at the office. 

The takeaway for marketers is that, increasingly, mobile does not necessarily mean that users are on the go. Instead, consumers are engage with mobile when they are not at work, meaning marketers need to develop unique timing and tone strategies for mobile email campaigns likely to be reaching people at home. 

Another finding is the ongoing importance of iPads for email marketers. 

While much has been of the fact that iPad sales are declining, they still make up more than 20 percent of the share of opens on iOS devices. 

There are also differences in mobile engagement rates by country. In Britain, 62 percent of emails are opened on mobile while in the United States, just 48 percent are opened on mobile. In Australia, the rate is 47 percent, Canada 40 percent, France 36 percent, Germany 35 percent and Brazil 33 percent. 

?Marketers need to be prepared for consumer interactions, specifically to email, across multiple devices and platforms from a design and usability standpoint,? Mr. Sather said. 

Final Take?
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York