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Email marketing for e-commerce on mobiles & tablets [analysis]

We wanted to look at the performance of email marketing on different device sizes, so we studied the analytics data for April 2014 for 11 niche retailers selling lifestyle goods, including Atterley Road, Bella di Notte, Choc-on-Choc, Christopher Ward, Donald Russell, Force4, Loake, Micro-Scooters, the RSPB shop, This Works and Van Dal. We singled out these businesses because all but one derive more than 5% of their visitors from email marketing.

In aggregate, the study looks at nearly 200,000 email visitors, placing over 7,500 orders and spending over £500,000. The data was compiled using Google Analytics.

Overall email performance

% of traffic from email marketing (across our sample of online retailers)

Email is clearly one of the most powerful source of traffic and sales. It's a shame (or a crime) that many retail businesses are not exploiting email marketing in the same way - it works so well. For 5 of the businesses, it accounts for more than 25% of their traffic.

Does it sell though?

Yes. The average conversion rate from email marketing was 36% better than non-email traffic. While for some businesses it was in fact lower, one can offset against this the relatively low costs of obtaining these sales (versus for example PPC or catalogue marketing).

On what devices is email opened?


Where email (& other traffic) is opened)

Email is more likely to be opened on touch screen devices (iPads and iPhones) than on desktops - in fact, 50% of emails are opened on "mobile" devices, compared to 43% of non-email traffic.

This underlines the importance of providing content and layout appropriate to smaller touch screen displays.

How does email traffic bounce on different devices?

Email performs better across the board than non-email traffic - but mobile devices let the side down (with an important caveat - see later).

Firstly, we looked at bounce rates (a initial measure of engagement, being people who land on a site but don't click in). Bounce rates for email-generated traffic on desktops are better than non-email traffic (30% versus 36%), but the advantage ends there. Emails on tablets and mobiles bounce significantly more than non-email traffic (on tablets 42% vs. 37% and on mobiles 52% vs. 46%).

The stand-out comparison however is the comparison for the same email traffic: what bounces at 30% on a desktop, bounces at 42% on a tablet and 52% on a mobile.

How does email convert on different devices?

Conversion rates for emails (& other traffic) on different platforms

Simply put, emails do very well on desktops but badly on smaller screens(5.79% versus 0.88% on mobiles and 3.58% on tablets). Compared to other sources of traffic though, desktops and tablets boast sales conversions at 25% more.

It's important to check and optimise that journey from the email through to the tablet and mobile view of the site. Why are people so likely to bounce? What can be done to smooth that journey and encourage people to continue into the site? For example: do the URLs involved take you to a mobile version of the intended page, or do they just go to the home page? If nothing can be done about that, consider devising emails which are intended to work that way with home page optimised to match email promotion.

What if I had a mobile site?

Mobile websites convert better for all traffic - but markedly for email

5 of the sample have mobile-optimised websites. When optimised, email traffic converts at 1.66% versus 0.22% - that's a hefty 8 fold improvement, but it still lags these businesses' desktop average conversion rate of 7.52%. For comparison, non-email traffic opened on mobiles also converts better at 1.15% versus 0.73%.

Oddly, bounce rates for email traffic were slightly higher (5% worse) on optimised websites. Having said that, bounces were nearly 20% worse for non-email traffic landing on non-optimised sites.


We are indebted to Tim Leighton-Boyce - a leading analytics expert - for this additional thoughts. "These numbers will ignore lot of cross-device going on: each attempt on a small-screen (1 visit, no order) may well turn into an additional visit on desktop (possibly with the order). So that would inflate the number using desktop and converting there.  If they could have done everything fine on tablet they would".

He referenced "in the UK, the people switch devices 21 times per hour (TV and smartphone). 90% of people move between devices and use them simultaneously." (see http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1874)

A short-term practical approach would be to optimise the message of emails for tablet and mobile context. "It's not about clicking to buy now," suggests Tim. "Maybe not even about clicking to visit site."

Other options which might work better with tablet and mobile usage ( in "lean-back mode")

- share this offer with your friends' in conjunction with social activity (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, email)
- 'add to wishlist' or, simply, 'remember this for later'.


  • Email remains under-utilised as a means of driving traffic. As a marketing channel, it is extremely good value relative to other channels: it costs little to send and the results are generally better.
  • Emails are increasingly being opened more on small screen devices: make sure they display well and the content is appropriate.
  • With a mobile version of a website, sales results are better for email and mobile traffic across the board. For every business, there is a tipping point where the investment in a mobile version will produce healthy returns.

Further guidance

We recommend Dave Chaffey's digital marketing advice on emails:

Email marketing checklist
Email marketing analytics

And there's always e-consultancy...

Email marketing & CRM



Analysis by Roger Willcocks


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