The Impact of iOS 15 on Email Marketing — One Year Later
On Sept. 20, 2021, Apple released its much-anticipated iOS 15 software update. The update included various “privacy protection” features for iPhone users, including "Mail Privacy Protection." This feature prevents companies from seeing whether subscribers opened their emails, and instead reports an open rate of 100 percent for those using the Apple Mail app.
As the update release approached, it was predicted that the changes would significantly diminish the value of open-based engagement metrics for email marketers and impact their day-to-day strategy, including how brands use "remails" (i.e., automatically resending unopened emails), identify engaged users for cross-channel retargeting and deliverability list cleaning, and report on open-based metrics like click-to-open rate.
Now that we’ve passed the one-year mark since the update’s release, what has the impact been? After analyzing 15 billion marketing emails sent by Omnisend since iOS 15 was released and 20 billion sent before the update, dating back to 2019, we have a much clearer understanding of the true impact iOS 15 has had on e-commerce brands’ email marketing programs.
Steady Adoption, Just in Time for the Holidays
iOS 15 was released just before the 2021 Q4 holiday shopping season, and as with most updates, adoption was not instantaneous but it was evident. Open rates gradually increased through Q4 2021.
The average open rate for the three months before the release was 12.74 percent. In September, the month of the release, that number jumped to 14.22 percent. Through the remainder of the year, open rates increased from one month to the next. October rose to 17.15 percent, November to 19.35 percent, and December ended at 22.09 percent.
Was this simply a seasonal Q4 trend?
The answer is no. This same trend wasn't seen in either 2019 or 2020. The average open rate in Q4 2021 was 59 percent greater than the first nine months of the year. In 2020, the Q4 increase was 0.84 percent. In 2019, there was a 2 percent decrease in the open rate. Comparing Q4 2021 specifically, the open rate increased 93 percent compared to Q4 2020.
In 2020, the average open rate for the first eight months of the year increased by 21.8 percent compared to the year prior. In 2021, the average year-over-year increase was 18.9 percent. In 2022, it jumped to 93.5 percent.
Finally, the average open rate for the 11 months following the releases (starting in October 2021) is 93.6 percent higher than during the same period the year before.
It’s definitive: iOS 15 has impacted email marketing open rates as expected and brands need to evolve their email marketing strategy accordingly.
How Brands Can Respond to the Post-iOS 15 ‘New Normal’
Whether your brand prepared for the changes and is looking to optimize its strategy or it waited for evidence of the impact before making adjustments, here are ways you can move away from an open-based strategy to an optimized engagement-based strategy.
- Combine open and click activity to identify unengaged contacts. Sending emails based on non-openers, whether scheduled or automated, will not yield inaccurate results. Brands should create a second layer using click activity. Open activity will identify some inactive contacts, but creating segments that isolate click activity for Apple Mail users will provide more clarity.
- Use click activity inside of automated workflows. A common strategy with marketing automation is to trigger messages based on open activity of the previous email. Instead, trigger subsequent messages based on whether the previous message was clicked. To better personalize the message, craft copy with content based on the specific link that was clicked. And yes, combining open and click activity side-by-side inside of a workflow is a good strategy.
- Incorporate SMS into your marketing strategy. SMS has been rapidly growing for several years and 2022 is no different. In the first half of this year, e-commerce brands sent 36 percent more messages compared to the same period in 2021. SMS is a great channel to re-engage inactive subscribers, continue opt-in marketing to email unsubscribers, and enhance the overall customer shopping experience, especially when used in automated workflows. Conversion rates for automated SMS increased 42 percent year-over-year and converted 349 percent better than promotional SMS messages.
- Continue optimizing subject lines. Just because open rates are inflated doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Work to craft subject lines that will maximize opens and utilize the preheader text to support the subject line. Just don’t use open rates as the leading indicator of message success.
Change is a Good Thing
Marketers know that change is inevitable. While there was a lot of initial concern about the impact of Apple’s privacy protections, we now see everything will not only be alright, but brands and consumers should be better off because of it. Forcing brands to shift their mindset to an activity-based messaging strategy should provide more engaging and relevant messages for consumers resulting in an overall better shopping experience.
Greg Zakowicz is a veteran marketer and the senior e-commerce expert at Omnisend, the all-in-one e-commerce marketing automation platform.
Greg Zakowicz is a veteran marketer and the Director of Content at Omnisend. With 15-plus years of experience in email, mobile, and social media marketing, he’s helped over 100 DTC companies around the world, including numerous from the Internet Retailer Top 1000, maximize sales through their email marketing programs. Zakowicz is a frequent speaker at ecommerce events, often shares his ecommerce insights across various industry media outlets, has been retained as an ecommerce expert witness for trial, and is the host of Omnisend’s Cart Insiders Podcast.