COVID-19’s Impact on Email One Year Into the Pandemic

We’ve now passed the one-year anniversary of the world changing with the COVID-19 pandemic; how is the email industry doing one year in? 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, email remained a steady channel of communication throughout the past year. Email sits in an enviable position within marketing. It has the highest ROI of any channel and doesn’t have a spatial component that was disrupted by the pandemic, like many display ads. As businesses looked to cut spend over the past year, email often endured. In fact, we found that 44% of marketing leaders actually increased their spend on email marketing last year.

When I looked at the impact on email two months into the pandemic, we saw that even at the beginning of the pandemic that email was largely stable, with a slight dip in overall email volume per recipient. Looking at that same picture a year in, that slight dip has disappeared and the overall daily emails seen by panelists is very flat.

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In the earlier analysis, it was also clear that this impact was heavily affected by industry, with little-to-no impact for some, and extremely high impact for others. Travel and events were particularly highly impacted, with a big bump in traffic for political, religious and charity-oriented emails.

Travel remains highly impacted, and is undergoing a slow L-shaped recovery. It seems unlikely that this will recover fully until a significant portion of the U.S. population is vaccinated, but it is halfway there from it’s nadir in April 2020.

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The growth in political and non-profit email has also tapered off, and turned out to be much more heavily tied to the election cycle than to anything pandemic-related, as can clearly be seen in the graph below.

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Retail has remained relatively stable throughout the year, with the normal seasonal bump around the holidays. This is reflected in multi-channel retail and apparel as well.

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Job Search emails overall have declined as well from a peak in mid-March 2020. This largely mirrors the drop in the U.S. unemployment rate, which has been declining throughout the period as well.

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In the previous research, we commented on the explosion of video conferencing notifications, but didn’t present data. Here you can see the meteoric rise of video meeting emails starting in March of 2020 and while it has decreased from it’s peak early in the pandemic, it is around triple what it used to be.

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All-in-all the data confirms that email remains a highly leveraged channel. As we look ahead to some more normalcy in 2021, I remain hopeful that a byproduct will be that the most heavily impacted verticals will rebound strongly.