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Andrea Serventi
28 July 2020
Reading time: 6 min.

Email marketing & e-commerce: a research on the Covid-19 impact

We have combined the results of two researches: one by MailUp and the other by B2c eCommerce Observatory from the Polytechnic University of Milan’s School of Management. The objective was to provide a snapshot of the lockdown’s impact on e-commerce.

During the emergency, both companies and citizens asked many questions on how this unprecedented pandemic has been affecting and changing the world of commerce.

This studyhas combined the results of two distinct researches conducted by MailUp and the B2c eCommerce Observatory from the Polytechnic University of Milan’s School of Management. Our goal was to provide a snapshot of the health emergency and lockdown impacts, and the effects this had on e-commerce.

The MailUp study sought to identify any Email Marketing campaign trends caused by the health emergency that had hit Italy between February and March.

To do so, the research examined 1,092 e-commerce company campaigns launched between January 1 and June 7, 2020 making a comparison with the same period in the previous year.

The weeks between January and June were then divided into three phases:

  • Pre-Covid phase (from January 1 to March 8)
  • Phase 1 or Lockdown (from March 9 to May 10) 
  • Phase 2 (from May 11 to June 7).

The following is a preview of the study’s findings

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The first weeks of 2020 showed a net increase in the sending volumes compared to the previous year: an average growth of +19.78%. If we exclude the values from the first week of the year, then this result turns into +23.63%.

The trend reversed its course during the first week of national lockdown (March 9) from 73 million to nearly 39 million mailings at week 17 (-46.57%). From the next week on, however, we’ve seen a recovery in both quantity and stability of sendings to meet last year’s results.

2019 2020 Variation
Pre-Covid phase 531,360,737 662,340,834 +19.78%
Phase 1 495,106,754 526,924,470 +6.04%
Phase 2 253,354,277 245,945,767 -3.01%
Total 1,279,821,768 1,435,211,071 +10.83%

Certainly, the decline is due to the closure of many companies surveyed and, partially, to the initial challenges of reorganizing activities in an unprecedented emergency phase. Similarly, the readjustment from week 18 onwards is due to the fact that companies started getting ready for what is known as phase 2 and resumed their work activities.

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If email campaign sending volumes were hit by the health emergency, then it’s interesting to note how, instead, opening rates benefited. In fact, this graph shows a clear drop among 2019 and 2020 during the pre-Covid period: 11.81% and 9.39% respectively (-20.49%).

This gap gradually tapered off during the lockdown (weeks 11–19) until it cleared on week 21 (May 18) with 11.80%.

2019 2020 Variation
Pre-Covid phase 11.81% 9.39% -20.49%
Phase 1 12.07% 11.24% -6.81%
Phase 2 11.40% 11.23% -1.54%
Total 11.76% 10.62% -9.69%

So, we see a relative growth of +19.60% if we compare the pre- and post-quarantine period average values. Of note, however, is that the 12.50% peak in weeks 2 and 13 of 2019 were never reached in 2020.

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The 2020 CTOR shows a fluctuating yet clear overall drop from 14.90% in week 1 to 9.80% in week 11—which was the start of the national lockdown (-34.23% ).

2019 2020 Variation
Pre-Covid phase 12.04% 12.03% -0.08%
Phase 1 10.98% 11.28% 2.73%
Phase 2 11.28% 10.58% -6.21%
Total 11.43% 11.29% -1.20%

During quarantine, we see an increase in the CTOR (even higher than the 2019 values). This is a sign of a greater recipient interest in both the informative and commercial content offered by the e-commerce brands.

Phase 2 started with a performance drop, falling well below the 11% threshold. This significant decrease may be caused by the reopening of physical stores, leading to a reduction in online purchases.

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Use: mobile or desktop?
If we divide the period into 3 phases, we notice a significant drop in mobile openings over the desktop: 38.07% in the pre-emergency phase, 36.73% during the lockdown, and 36.16% in phase 2. This drop is due to limited mobility and the spread of remote work during quarantine.

2020 Mobile Desktop
Pre-Covid phase 38.07% 61.93%
Phase 1 36.73% 63.27%
Phase 2 36.16% 63.84%

The Covid-19 impact on e-commerce in Italy

Here, we’re at the second part of the study. The study, conducted by the B2c eCommerce Observatory from the Polytechnic University of Milan’s School of Management, was based on a survey aimed at the main product operators of B2C e-commerce. It sought to investigate:

  • Terms of sale
  • Orders originating device
  • Transaction value and related changes compared to the previous year.

The survey observed the evolution of e-commerce compared to past years. Any trends in consumer habits and B2C digital adoption due to health emergency impacts were measured.

E-commerce product purchases

The analysis starts from the previous years’ sector growth in terms of product purchases in billions of euros. The total value expected by the end of 2020 is 22.7 billion euros with a relative + 26% increase since the previous year.

There is a higher growth rate compared to previous years: e-commerce recorded +23% in 2018, and +21% in 2019.

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E-commerce purchases by product sector

All sectors have performed positively, and this is the first point to highlight. In detail, we see that the apparel and accessoriespublishing, and IT and electronics sectors share similar growth rates between 16 and 21%, while the furniture and lifestyle sector outdistances the previous ones by about 10 points—improving its 2019 result by 30%.

It’s worth mentioning that the food and grocery sector went from 1.6 billion euros last year to 2.5 billion this year (+56%). This leap, which was definitely from the March–April (lockdown phase) restrictions, prompted many consumers to buy essentials online. On the other hand, many supermarkets adapted their own sales and distribution processes.

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Distribution by purchasing sector 2019 and 2020

The weight of specific sectors on total product purchases changes based on the different growth rates in the main product sectors. Compared to 2019, apparel and accessories lost 4%, publishing dropped by 7%, and IT and electronics reduced its weight by 6% but still accounted for more than a quarter of the total.

The furniture and lifestyle sector rose slightly by +2% as the food and grocery sector once again increased significantly, this time by +24%, from 8.88% to 11%.

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Smartphone incidence

The following graph shows mobile use for purchases on the total purchase volumes. We, therefore, see that it has passed to 56% since a 50% incidence in 2019. If we consider the value of purchases, instead, then e-commerce from smartphones went from around 9 billion euros in 2019 to around 12.8 billion in 2020 (+42%).

It could be inferred that more and more people prefer to use their smartphone for online purchases, even when they’re home.

In summary

The main data extracted from the survey of the B2c eCommerce Observatory from the Polytechnic University of Milan’s School of Management clearly show that the health emergency has had a double effect on e-commerce.

On the one hand, it certainly made some operations more difficult. On the other, it has promoted expansion by pushing market segments that purchased exclusively offline until a few months ago into using the e-commerce (one example stands out: the growth of the food and grocery sector).

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Andrea Serventi

I was born in 1986 in Milan, where I graduated in Modern Literature and started writing for online newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. Having now converted to marketing and the digital world, I am a Content Editor at MailUp: I read, listen, collect ideas, and write about what email marketing is and how to use it strategically.