Signs of A Fading Summer

Article by John Landsman CATEGORIES: eCommerce, Retail, Trends & Analysis TAGS: ,

Back-to-School Email

By John Landsman, Director, Strategy and Analytics

Go to any store selling what students need, and you’ll see them.  They’re earnest-looking (mostly) moms herding grim-looking kids through the aisles, seeking all manner of clothing, equipment and supplies. Kids at the dentist act a lot more cheerful.  Almost as many of these folks have fled the store for online shopping. Forget the happy talk about clean slates and fresh starts. We all know that the first day of school is no day at the beach, and it has already happened for many kids around the country.

But the email campaigns driving this shopping activity started well over two months ago.  We’ve specifically followed twelve major brands:  Amazon, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Penney’s, Ikea, Dell and Apple.  We identified related emails by filtering for subject line keywords like “school,” “student,” “college,” and “dorm,” among others.


  • The table below summarizes the overall number of related campaigns we’ve identified over the past sixty days. It’s surprisingly light, and — although not shown in the table — a surprisingly small percentage of each brand’s overall email a campaign flow during this period of time.  Back-to-School is important, but by no means the primary focus of what these brands have been emailing about.
  • Its activity increase over last year is also quite small: 289 related 2017 campaigns, versus 282 last year.
  • However, year-over-year inbox performance eroded only slightly, stated as a percentage of campaigns showing inbox performance exceeding 90%. This continues the moderation of the steep downtrend in inbox performance we’ve been observing for the past year or more.
  • Read rates improved strongly versus last year, stated as a percentage of campaigns showing read rates exceeding 20%.

Back-to-School Email Campaigns Performance Metrics

  • To gauge 2017 read rate performance by brand, we focused on campaigns with “school” in their subject lines — 52% of 2017’s campaign total; by far the largest number. Viewed as a percentage of campaigns with read rates exceeding 20%, Amazon, Apple and Best Buy own the strongest read rates; Walmart, Penney’s, Kohl’s and Dell reflect the weakest.

  • Twelve noteworthy examples of Back-to-School emails are shown below. The list is ranked by campaign read rate.
  • Amazon has strong performance with “checklist” type references in two of these subject lines. In a third, they target a special student-focused segment of Amazon Prime.
  • Many of those and other subject lines feature specific product categories; e.g., cosmetics (Macy’s), kids (Kohl’s), home furnishings (Amazon; Penney’s), electronics (Best Buy, Walmart); private label (Target’s Cat & Jack kids’ line). Explicit price-discounting only appears in three of the twelve.
  • Mailing quantities of most campaigns, in relation to the respect brand’s estimated email audience size, reflect the high degree of content curating shown in many of the subject lines. Even the largest mailing quantity below (Walmart’s 26 million) is only about one-third of its total estimated email audience size.

Back-to-School Email Subject Lines Performance

Happy learning!  See you next week.