Skip to main content

Where are subscribers interacting with emails in 2017?

(Image credit: Image Credit Niekverlaan / Pixabay)

This year, email is projected to surpass 3.7 billion users, which is almost half the world’s population. No other marketing platform comes close to the unprecedented reach of email. This enormous audience subsequently presents a unique opportunity for businesses, however they must pay attention to where subscribers are consuming their messages if they want to maximise the effectiveness of their email programmes.   

For example, the rise of mobile technology has transformed the world in many ways, including the way users interact with email. Indeed, mobile email opens have nearly doubled over the past five years and more than half of emails are now opened on mobile devices. The evolving email landscape makes it more important than ever to understand where subscribers are interacting with email, and tailor marketing campaigns accordingly.   

Before implementing an email marketing campaign, businesses need to understand when, where and how subscribers are viewing their emails.   

Where are emails being opened? 

According to our own research, mobile, which includes any smartphone, tablet or e-reader, is the most popular platform for users to open their emails. On average, 55 percent of email opens are made via mobile worldwide, which is up from 29 percent in 2012. Interestingly, the UK has the highest mobile opens, with 76 percent of email subscribers choosing to use their mobile devices, compared to 71 percent in the US, 61 percent in China and 59 percent in France. This could be down to the UK being a much more commuter-centric society, with more people travelling on buses or trains, checking emails on their mobile mid-transit.

Implementing mobile-friendly email designs is therefore essential. Being ‘mobile aware’ means ensuring that images, links, and text are formatted correctly to suit whichever mobile device they use. By creating a positive mobile email experience, marketers will enjoy high engagement levels, and subsequently have an opportunity to build longer lasting relationships with customers.   

The second platform of choice is webmail, however its popularity has dropped significantly over the last five years. Including any email opened on an internet browser, such as or, 28 percent of recipients worldwide access their emails via webmail, compared to 37 percent in 2012. The rise of Gmail is a trend that marketers need to take seriously.   

For businesses, getting into the inbox has become more challenging than ever at Gmail. While every mailbox provider (MBP) has criteria when deciding which emails to deliver to an inbox, Gmail is particularly stringent, placing significant emphasis on positive engagement. Gmail also places strong importance on authentication and security, and wants to see Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC), as well as Transport Layer Security (TLS) in place. As people increasingly choose or switch to Gmail, higher engagement levels coupled with secure authentication is be a bigger priority for marketers. They need to ensure that they are consistently delivering messages that are targeted, relevant, and timely; otherwise Gmail will automatically direct their emails to the junk folder.     

There’s also the desktop, which was once the most popular way for people to view emails. Today, desktop comes in a distant third place, with 16 percent of subscribers worldwide choosing to access emails on software installed on a laptop or desktop, such as Outlook or Apple Mail. This shift is mostly due to the rise of the smartphone, but it’s also likely because more businesses are doing email “in the cloud,” allowing employees to access email via webmail interface (i.e., G Suite, Exchange Online, etc.) rather than requiring standalone software like Outlook.   

However, the desktop cannot always be ignored or overlooked in favour of focusing on mobile and webmail. Though mobile accounts for more than half of global email opens, people are still accessing email on webmail and desktop – and they shouldn’t be neglected. For many consumers, it feels much more secure when transacting from a desktop.   

When are people opening email, and for how long? 

Marketers also need to be aware that there is a correlation between the day of week and the environment that people use to open email. Unsurprisingly, desktop opens occur primarily during the workweek as people are situated in front of their computer. Only 13 percent of total opens occurred on a desktop client over the weekends, on average. The majority of email opens occur on mobile regardless of the day, but the weekends see a boost. In fact, smartphones and tablets account for 60 percent of all opens on the weekend, as people tend to be out and about or relaxing at home.   

How much time subscribers spend reading email is also important. According to our research, from December to April, 61 percent of emails are fully read regardless of the environment. Skimming emails is relatively consistent across environments, with 22 percent of emails being skimmed on average. Abandoned emails, however, occur most frequently on desktop applications, with a nearly a third (30 percent) of these subscribers viewing emails for less than two seconds, compared to 15 percent of mobile readers and 18 percent of those using webmail.    

Interestingly, subscribers behave much differently in December, abandoning 10 percent more emails than average. People opening emails on mobile or webmail were nine percent and 11 percent less likely, respectively, to fully read emails in December compared to the five-month average. This is likely due to an increase in email volume over Christmas, causing subscribers to be more selective with their time. Marketers therefore need to be wary of overwhelming subscribers during this period, which could lead to emails being deleted without reading or sent to spam, thus reducing their sender reputation.

Another challenge worth mentioning is when making the shift to mobile is that generating a click is only one of many likely outcomes. While this is the action that marketers can measure, other actions such as going to the website via another route, visiting the store in person and saving the email to refer back to at a later date, are also common when checking emails via mobile devices. Mobile technology is changing email from a medium solely designed to generate response to one that also acts as a broadcast channel, which can make it difficult for marketers to track.  

In just five years, there have been dramatic shifts in the email space and more changes are coming. Businesses need to understand both the current state of the email ecosystem, and how it’s likely to evolve in the future, and adapt their email marketing programmes accordingly. Knowing where, when and how their emails are being opened – and how this has changed over time – can help to inform critical decisions about the direction of an email programme, and ultimately help provide a better email experience.    

Guy Hanson, Senior Director Professional Services at Return Path (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit Niekverlaan / Pixabay

Guy Hanson is email council chair at the DMA and senior director professional services at Return Path.