What Are Email Open Rates and Why are They So Important?

When calculating email marketing metrics, one of the first things all marketers measure is the email open rate. This is the percentage of how many of your recipients actually opened the messages you sent. Open rates help you to understand if you are reaching a suitable amount of your customer base. Are you prominent in their inboxes? Are your subject lines resonating? Is your content relevant? How many active contacts are on your email list? This article will break down how to calculate and compare your open rates against the rest of your industry (particularly retail) and detail specific, proven ways to help them improve going forward.

How Do I Calculate Email Open Rates?

Calculating your email open rate is very easy and straightforward to do. Email open rate = (Number of Emails Opened / Number of Emails Deployed – Number of Emails Bounced) x 100 For instance, let’s imagine you sent out a series of 100 emails. Of those 100, 17 bounce, and 35 are opened. Here’s how you calculate your rate: (35 / 100 – 17) x 100 35 / 83 = .42 .42 x 100 = 42 percent. This means that your open rate for this particular campaign is 42 percent.

What is a Strong Email Open Rate?

A MailChimp study found the average open rate across all industries to be 21.33 percent. Meanwhile, after sampling 25 million emails across 28 different industries, HubSpot deemed the average open rate to be around 32 percent. In reality, this number varies greatly across different industries. Depending upon your audience and the type of goods you’re selling, a strong open rate for you could be well above or below this figure. Therefore, the best way to calculate the success of your campaigns is by comparing your rates against your industry average.

Average Email Open Rates for the Retail/Shopping Industry

The same HubSpot study found that from a sample of over 312,000 emails, the average email open rate for shopping companies is 41%. This spans companies that labeled their industry as:
  • Retail
  • Apparel and Fashion
  • Consumer Goods/Services
  • Luxury Goods and Jewelry
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Sporting Goods
  • Supermarkets
  • Wine and Spirits
MailChimp’s study, however, found the average open rate for retail to be just 18.39 percent. However, MailChimp’s data was pulled from a much larger number of emails (hundreds of millions) compared to HubSpot’s.

Set Your Own Benchmarks

Always keep in mind that no two email lists are exactly alike – even in the same industry. When analyzing figures like these, be sure to take into account the size, scope, and region of each study. Keep your external research up to date, but also track your own open rates and and set your own benchmarks. Chart your open rates from the past few quarters, look for patterns, identify which creatives performed better than others, and set your own realistic goals and objectives.  

How Can I Improve My Email Open Rates?

If you find your average open rate to be lagging behind the industry average, or if you just aren’t getting the level of engagement you had in the past, the following 9 steps are excellent ways to boost your open rates.

Personalize with Sender and Recipient Names

It likely comes as no surprise that emails addressed directly to the recipient by name are more likely to be opened than ones that aren’t. Emails that are  personalized for individuals, by individuals, are the ones that form stronger connections. Use the recipient’s first name in your opening, and design your creative as if your are speaking to them directly. When it comes to sender name, you can certainly try a few different approaches. For instance, if you send emails more than three times per week, you can change up the name so it doesn’t become redundant.

Develop the Best Subject Lines

Treat subject lines in the same way you would treat headlines. Like any article headline, the subject line is the greatest determining factor that persuades a recipient to open your email. Like the body of your emails, personalize your subject lines and make them as relevant to the reader as possible. While your subject line should be an extension of your email body, it still shouldn’t give too much away. Pique their curiosity and give them a good reason to click through. Never use misleading headlines just to get a click. If readers feel they have been tricked, they certainly won’t be as willing to open your messages in the future. Do not use all caps to try to get the reader’s attention. It comes across as overly pushy and winds up turning people off.


Test Consistently

Testing various aspects of your campaigns (including subject lines, timing, and creatives) is an essential practice for optimizing your open rates. To deploy a subject line test, send two different subject lines to a subset of your customer base. Then, analyze which one resonates the best. The more you test, the more informed you’ll be for the next campaign.


Character Count

The optimal length for subject lines is around 50 characters. Take note of when your email provider cuts off your subject lines (most stop around 25 characters) and keep the most important, relevant words towards the beginning.


Use Direct and Curiosity Subject Lines

Direct subject lines tell the reader exactly what the rest of the email will be about. An example is: “Save $10 off your next order.” Meanwhile, curiosity subject lines persuade recipients to open your emails by hinting towards something inside. An example of this is: “We have a special surprise for you…” Incorporate a steady balance both of these kinds of subject lines in your email marketing campaigns to keep readers on their toes and maintain their interest.

Choose the Right Time

Finding the best time to send emails is one of the most critical factors of a successful email marketing campaign. While there is plenty of data on the subject, the truth is that there is no undisputed best time of day, week, or month to send your emails.  As stated before, no two email lists are the same. Therefore, the best time for you to send emails is largely based on how well you know your subscribers, their lifestyles, and their behaviors. Consider both your audience and your product offerings.

Segment Your Lists

Make sure you segment your list based on demographic, geographic psychographic customer information. Blindly blasting the same creatives to your entire list will surely bring down your open rates. This is because different groups of people can have entirely different tastes and preferences based on their personal backgrounds/lifestyles and your variety of product offerings. If you are going to expect a reader to take time out of his/her busy day to open and read your email, make sure you are speaking to the right person, at the right time, with the right pitch.

Optimize for Mobile Devices

These days, more people read their emails on mobile devices than ever. Statistics show that over 60 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices, which is a huge leap from earlier in the decade. In turn, it is imperative that all of your messages be fully optimized for mobile. If not, they will not only remain unopened, but will likely wind up being deleted altogether.

Clean Up Your List

A clean email list consists of emails that are active, engaged, and receptive. The simple practice of establishing a cutoff for non-openers can have a huge positive impact on your open rates. You can either unsubscribe them altogether, or relegate them to another list that you only email on rare occasions. Regularly get rid of inactive email addresses belonging to individuals who have not engaged with your messaging for an extended period of time. In fact, some of these addresses could purely be out of use – making them dead weight. The more inactive or abandoned addresses you have, the lower your overall delivery/engagement rates will be. This can damage your reputation and increase the odds of being relegated to spam.

Avoid Spam Filters

Simple logic dictates that if your emails aren’t being delivered, there is zero chance of them being opened. Of all of the factors and tools that govern email deliverability, one of the most critical is spam filters. Be wary of using SPAM “trigger words” and terms in your subject lines. These include “Free,” “Act now,” and “Cheap.” Click here for a more comprehensive breakdown on how to avoid spam filters.



Determining your average email open rate lets you gauge how successful your campaigns are, and how you can refine your approach to boost your engagement down the road. Of course, ensuing factors like click-through and actual conversion rates are what lead to actual revenue for your company, but none of those matter if your messages are never opened in the first place. Without a clear understanding of how to analyze this critical metric, you’ll never know if you’re performing better or worse than the rest of your industry, and could be stuck settling for less than what your business is truly capable of.