3 Methods to a 47 Percent Email List Open Rate

Last week my friend and client Steve, from Amherst Wines & Spirits, told me that his previous monthly email newsletter open rate was 47%. If you need some context, for a retail brick and mortar business, an open rate like that just doesn’t happen (MailChimp open rates by industry). But I knew he didn’t misread the analytic report because when I started working with Steve, right out of the gate, his open rate was also a leader in his business sector, fluctuating between 20 and 30 percent. I knew most businesses would kill for even that email open rate.

Steve was complementary to me for bringing his open rate even higher, but he was clearly doing an effective job before I showed up (though he didn’t know it because he managed his email list by hand, in his regular email program).

Here’s what Steve does to get astronomical email open rates, along with some lessons this may teach us all.

Steve pre-qualifies his email list subscribers. Nearly every person that subscribes to his monthly newsletter has been into his store and bought something. And most of those email newsletter subscribers are also subscribers to his printed newsletter, mailed at the beginning of each month (the email newsletter is sent in the middle of the month). This means the number of subscribers to both of the lists climbs slowly, but the new subscribers have proven they want his messages.

Steve has a small business. He’s the only full time employee, so it’s likely that he’s personally spoken with every person that’s signed up for his print and email newsletters. Also, he’s tasted every single wine and spirit in the store, so when you ask for a recommendation, he has one specifically matched to your needs. Recently I asked Steve for a two bottles of wine, less than $11 each, that tasted more like vegetables than a jar of jam, and if they had screw tops I wouldn’t mind. A couple of minutes later he had two recommendations (both of which have been wonderful).

Given that context, it’s clear that Steve’s email list subscribers want the information he sends each month. Here are lessons Steve’s experience can teach us:

  1. Don’t worry about the number of subscribers to your list, because if none of them open your emails, what’s the point of a big number? Being more concerned with who’s on the email list should be the priority; those are the people that want to read your messages.
  2. Pre-approve your email list subscribers. It doesn’t have to be like Steve in his brick and mortar store. You can make a strong pitch to people who’ve already proven to be customers, and ask them to sign-up for a monthly newsletter. Just because they bought something from you, don’t assume they also want to receive other communication from you. As hot-top marketeer Seth Godin says, ask for permission.
  3. Have a deep knowledge of what you’re trying to sell, then communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers. No, I didn’t make a leap in logic. If you communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers, then like Steve, you need to get to know them. If both you and your customers get to know each other, and treat each other with respect, then it’s a good likelihood they’ll open your emails.

Do you have any interesting email open rate stories? Please leave them in the comments below.