2018 Back to School Email Activity

Article by John Landsman CATEGORIES: Holiday/Event, Retail TAGS:

As millions of student age begin winding-down an extremely hot summer, the otherwise unsettling notion of classroom confinement also conjures up the crisp air, bright color and clean slate signifying some people’s happiest time of the year.

And retailers love it too.  “Back-to-School” is one of their peak selling periods, the opening salvo in the major Fall battles whose events extend through Halloween, and into Holiday, driving a major portion of annual retail profits.

We looked at Back-to-School related emails detected during a recent seventy-day period.  Focus was on fifteen representative major retail brands, originally named in a related data request by Internet Retailer.  Qualifying emails were identified by screening for one or more of the following words in their subject lines: “school,” “student,” “campus,” “classroom,” “dorm,” and “college.”

Activity and Performance

The table below describes email send activity for the various brands, as well as inbox and engagement performance for the requisite brands, including date of earliest observed related 2018 campaign, and activity and engagement statistics for the comparable period last year.


  • First mailers: Amazon, eBay, Best Buy, Dormify and Lands End were the earliest BTS-related mailers, all launching in the first week of June.
  • Campaign Activity:
    • Amazon, Target, Walmart, Staples and Lands End were the heaviest mailers; Meijer and Office Depot the lightest.
    • In addition to Kidbox, all of the above brands, except Amazon, reflect very large year-over-year deployment increases.
  • Inbox performance:
    • Stated as a percentage of campaigns achieving 90% or more deliverability, Amazon, Meijer and Best Buy were the best performers here, followed by Walmart and eBay.
    • The brands are about evenly divided between those with improving year-over-year deliverablity, and those whose deliverability declined
  • Read Rates:
    • Stated as a percentage of campaigns driving read rates of 20% or higher, Amazon and Best Buy show the strongest engagement; Meijer and Dormify the weakest.
    • On this basis, and with the exception of Target, all brands’ read rate performance eroded versus 2017s. This trend is consistent with a longstanding widespread downtrend in marketing email read rates.

Best Performer Examples

The table below shows fifteen examples of Best Performing emails from the brands of interest, ranked in order of their read rates.

  • Only four are implicitly or explicitly price-promotional; two of those also reference backpacks.
  • Seven make explicit product/category references; e.g., décor, closets, kitchen, backpacks
  • Four of these examples are Amazon campaigns. All are product-focused; three with explicit category references.  These are very typical of how Amazon configures and targets its email content.
  • The remainder stimulate general interest or intrigue