The global coronavirus pandemic has spread quickly and incurred broad impacts including a global recession, supply chain disruptions, and fundamental daily life changes for many around the world. Despite these impacts, email as an industry remains stable, reinforcing its position as the most versatile, reliable, and effective channel with which to reach people. It’s also cost-effective, which is valuable during a time when companies need to conserve cash flow. 

The SparkPost permissioned email panel gives us insight into global email trends. In this report, we subset that panel to look at the impact on U.S. email sends. Overall, we see that email volumes are slightly down (5%) since the market crash, but with major impacts in travel and in-person industries, while others remain strong and some have accelerated. 

To acquaint you with the graphs, we looked at the pre and post-crisis means on the sending volume with the dotted lines. For the post-crisis mean, we show the percentage change in volume. We marked the start of the stock market crash with the red line and when regional shelter-in-place orders started with the blue line. Lastly, we marked the inboxing rate of emails with the green line and the message read rate (analogous to open rate) with the purple line.

Verticals with Accelerated Growth

We see a measurable growth in email in a number of sectors, principally those that serve people at home. 

Accelerating verticals include not only the ones which one might expect in a crisis, like news (up 28%), government notices (up 36%), religion (up 19%) and charities (up 21%); there is also growth in a number of commercial verticals as well.

Food services, in general, are up 15%, with mailings direct from restaurants and bars in particular up by 26% over the period, as many restaurants convert into direct sellers of essential commodities and try to drive direct pickup and delivery. Within the food delivery industry, the results are mixed, with some companies sending materially more email and some of the meal kit subscription services appearing to send less.The Enterprise Software segment is up by 27%, almost entirely driven by online meeting technology all of whose growth has really exploded.Online learning traffic is up by 10% with more people homeschooling their children and people taking courses online instead of in-person. As consumers are driven online by shelter-in-place orders, social media email traffic is up by 8%. Shipping services/delivery notifications are up by 11% as commerce moves increasingly online.  In particular you can see the sharp bump in panic buying following the institution of regional stay-at-home advisories across the US.Across all of these verticals, we saw overall inboxing and engagement rates flat to up. This is a sign that these additional messages are relevant to consumers and valuable. 

We are not seeing deliverability issues as a whole in our panel data view and our clients have largely validated this as well. 

Verticals Showing Minimal Change

Financial services and institutions are overall flat in both volume and deliverability. An interesting subsection here is the niche vertical of payday loans, which are both significantly down (60%) and also showing lower deliverability demonstrating the mails are even less relevant now, possibly as a result of the spike in unemployment and that payday loan services often have to be administered in person. Health and wellness information, home goods, automotive products, and coupons/promos are all fundamentally flat.

Entertainment as a broad vertical is flat as well, but when you look into the details, on-premises entertainment like movie theaters are extremely down while streaming services are up significantly.Negatively Impacted Verticals

Of the impacted industries, events and live shows are the most heavily impacted, seeing an overall decline of 64% across the period. Travel, hospitality, and related services are similarly impacted, seeing a decrease of 54%. Many of these businesses have almost completely stopped sending. Of almost 200 companies tracked in the transportation sector (ride-sharing, taxis, car rental) every one of them had depressed sending rates.

Retail, both online and multi-channel is also depressed, with multi-channel retail down 15% and online retail less impacted at 8%. Online retailer depression in the US market is driven by two primary factors: a decrease in non-U.S. online retailers mailing to U.S. recipients (since international shipping is heavily impacted), and a reduction of traffic from companies that promote handmade crafted goods.Job search traffic is down by 15%.

Sports are down heavily, particularly sports team traffic as all the major sports have canceled their 2020 seasons. We see that while email send volume has decreased, we see a dramatic increase in engagement, showing deep interest in the emails that are being sent. Putting it all together

In summary, we’ve found that email overall has only declined 5%, but it seems vast fluctuations in send volumes depend on the vertical. This data is consistent with email remaining the best-performing and most reliable of communication channels.  Only in sectors where business has effectively stopped have we seen truly material declines in traffic, with a number of sectors amping up activities.  User engagement has remained high as well, which we take as a positive sign for the stability of email communication as a whole.  We’ll continue to monitor and periodically share these benchmarks as we progress through this crisis. Want to dive into this data yourself? Click here to sign up for a demo of Competitive Tracker.

~ George