Retail Email Rendering Benchmark Study: Executive Summary

Image blocking has become pervasive, with approximately half of all email users suppressing images by default. However, email marketers have not fully adjusted to this reality and reflected it in their email design.

The two strongest weapons in their arsenal in the fight against image blocking, HTML text and alt tags, aren’t used nearly enough. Only 42% of the 104 top online retailers included in our study designed emails that were a good mix of HTML text and images, and only 63% used alt tags adequately or extensively.

Consequently, emails from 23% of the retailers reviewed in this study were completely unintelligible in an inbox environment—and there were some significant shades of gray among the 77% that were intelligible, because of lackluster HTML text and alt tag usage.

In addition to our observational study of retailers, the Email Experience Council and SubscriberMail, the sponsor of this study, surveyed 472 marketing executives in March. When it comes to designing for images off, only 47% of the survey respondents said that their company had taken action. Those actions ranged from adding alt tags or a “click to view” link to minimizing images above the fold.

Of the 38% that had tested to see whether the changes they made produced results, 32% have seen more opens, 32% have seen more clickthroughs, and 17% have seen more conversions—with 47% seeing at least a 10% improvement.

“Email marketing currently generates an estimated return on investment of $48.29 for every dollar spent on it, according to the Direct Marketing Association,” says Jeanniey Mullen, the founder and executive chairwoman of the Email Experience Council and chief marketing officer of Zinio. “We conservatively estimate that if all marketers optimized their emails for image blocking, email’s ROI would jump to $52.69. Not paying attention to rendering impacts revenue directly.”

“The results of this study underscore the importance of proactively designing email to compensate for image suppression,” says Jordan Ayan, the CEO of SubscriberMail. “Specifically, email marketers must design emails to work with and without images present and test to ensure optimal image rendering. Marketers whose design accounted for image suppression reported impressive lifts in key performance areas—the results speak for themselves. Still, a significant percent of email marketers realize this issue, yet fail to take action to address it.”

Other key findings from the study include:

• 14% of retailers compose their navigation bars with HTML text rather than images.

• 3% of retailers used HTML call-to-action buttons rather than images.

• 88% of retailers include a “click to view” link in their preheader text.

• 63% of retailers include whitelisting instructions in their preheader text.

• The emails from only 21% of retailers displayed meaningful snippet text.

*Please note that this report does not cover rendering on mobile devices, a subject that is worthy of its own separate report.

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