What’s the best time to email your customers? Ask your data.

February 1, 2019 Dave Pickett

An hourglass sitting in a bunch of rocks

What’s the best time to send your customers an email? If you think that question can be answered with a simple statement like “10 AM on Thursdays,” it might be time to rethink your approach to email timing.

We recently analyzed two years of email data from two different brands and learned a lot about how brands can optimize their email campaign timings by looking at their own data. We refer to those brands as dessert, a gift and gourmet food retailer, and outdoor, an outdoor sports apparel and equipment retailer.

Email your customers when they interact with you

When a customer visits your website they are sending a strong signal that they are thinking about your brand. Whether they ultimately buy a product, abandon their cart, or just browse, it’s important to make the most of this marketing moment with a triggered follow-up email. Customers are more than twice as likely to open and click abandoned cart and browse emails than normal promotional emails.

Whether following browsing or an abandoned cart, a series of emails is best to maximize revenue from these activities. Test the timing that works best for your brand, but these series are typically sent within one week of the web event (first, second, and third day or first, third, and seventh day).

Transactional emails provide excellent opportunities for increasing revenue. All transactional email types have higher performance metrics than promotional emails. Be sure to include cross-sell and upsell areas in each email. Boost results by using dynamic content personalization and offering relevant products to each customer.

If you haven’t optimized your triggered email campaigns, you are missing out on one of the most important times to communicate with your customers. And don’t forget to optimize the timing of  the very first email subscribers receive from you.

Understand your customers’ purchasing patterns

Okay, so once you’ve optimized the timing of your activity-triggered emails, you still need to figure out the best time to send your customers promotional emails. This is where digging into your first-party data becomes really valuable.

Make sure you understand your customers' purchase patterns, especially with regard to why they buy. The first transaction for 50% of the outdoor brand buyers takes five months after subscribing and may take close to two years for a first purchase. It only takes one month for half of the dessert buyers to make a purchase and the rest of them do so in a little over a year. The decision to purchase takes longer for outdoor brand customers than for dessert brand customers. The price points may be higher and the products may be more complex.

Time of year and regional locations may also be relevant to when they buy. If the patterns are more like the outdoor brand, consider messaging that is more content-focused and highlights the benefits of the products, but brands that are more similar to the dessert brand can appeal to impulse buyers and those interested in special occasions and holidays.

Compare the time between first and second open, first and second click, and first and second purchase. This helps you understand the patterns of repeat customers. For example, outdoor  brand customers took longer on average to make their first purchase, but they had a shorter time period than dessert brand for the second transaction. Once you understand your customers’ purchase patterns, here’s a few way you can bake those into your campaigns:

  • Set-up triggers to take advantage of known timing

  • Highlight campaigns for related products or special dates

  • Provide offers that dynamically relate to previous customer open, click, or transaction history

Go slow and steady with reactivation campaigns

So we’ve covered timing for customers who are actively engaging with your brand and subscribers who are in the purchase cycle, but what about those other email subscribers on your list? The ones who haven’t engaged with your content in the last two years, if ever?

While it feels nice to have a lot of people on your email list, a smaller list of active subscribers is better for deliverability than a large list with lots of inactive members. The first step in a reactivation plan is to analyze your inactives. For example, our sample brands had non-engagement rates of 20-25%.

Reactivation is an ongoing process. Create a steady stream of reactivation emails throughout the year, rather than blast all inactive members before the holidays. Spreading out sends and making the unsubscribe link prominent can help mitigate any potential risks with inactive subscribers marking your emails as junk or spam. An emailer’s reputation takes a long time to build and a short time to destroy.

You should also develop a preference center so subscribers can select the frequency and type of communications. I personally am more likely to stay subscribed to a brand if they let me dial down the email frequency from daily or weekly to monthly or quarterly.

A well-timed reactivation campaign can also improve your bottom line. A women’s apparel retailer we worked with sent carefully timed and targeted messages with updated creative in their emails. They reached 100% of the reactivation population while increasing deliverability rates and generated $300,000 in revenue from the reactivated population in the initial three months.

This is just the start of using primary, first-party data to understand your customers and help create well-timed email marketing programs to increase revenue. For more ideas, recommendations, and case studies, download 10 Ways to Use Primary Data today.


About the Author

Dave Pickett

Dave Pickett is the Director of Blog and Social Media at Cheetah Digital. He has over a decade of experience in content marketing, social media, and influencer marketing. Dave has worked on campaigns with brands such as LEGO, Warner Bros., and Mattel.

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