“Do Email Open Rates Drop in December?” and Other Curiosities

Do email prospecting programs slow down in December?

We (and probably you) assumed “yes” — but we thought we’d test our assumptions with data.

Lots of details below, here is your tl;dr…

    • Our analysis shows a nominal improvement in open rate and reply rate from Nov2018 over Oct2018.
    • Our analysis shows ~flat KPI performance from Nov2018 to Dec2018…not the slowdown that we expected.
    • Our analysis shows a pop in email prospecting KPIs from Dec2018 to Jan2019 — both open and reply rates increased by 10%+.
    • Reply rate tends to lag a week or so behind open rate (e.g., you email someone today and they reply in a week), but we were still shocked to see a 35% MoM increase from Jan2019 to Feb2019 and no drop-off from the Jan increase in open rate.

mom-changeWhat does this mean?

  • Don’t take your foot off the gas in December, outside of pausing over the holidays.
  • Have your ducks in a row heading in to the new year because January should be good.
  • Test assumptions with data — we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. 🙂


Do Email Open Rates Drop in December?

We’re starting to think about holiday and 2020 planning for our clients. This process triggers a few questions for us and for our clients:

  • How should we work around Thanksgiving and Christmas break?
  • What results should we expect in December?
  • What should we start prepping for January?

We’ve been doing email prospecting for a while now and have always operated with a few rules of thumb vis-a-vis these questions.

  • We’ll stop sending on Tue during Thanksgiving week.
  • We’ll shut down the week of Christmas / New Years.
  • Results will slow down in December.
  • Results will pop in January.

This past week we collectively admitted that we don’t have any data to support the aforementioned rules of thumb…so we decided to test our assumptions with data.

Our Method

We sampled 10 clients to assess open rate and reply rate for the months of Oct2018, Nov2018, Dec2018, and Jan2019.

We also aggregated a global average of all active clients for each month to establish a benchmark and “global” trend.

We analyzed rates and averages, so drops in volume over Thanksgiving and Christmas won’t impact the numbers.

We chose not to measure lead conversions or lead volume because (in our experience) open rate and reply rate are sufficient leading indicators for lead conversion and lead volume rates — i.e. if you’re getting opens and replies, you’ll get leads at a fairly consistent rate.

Here are the outputs…

Total Open Rate

= total emails opened / total emails sent


Each colored line represents a sampled client — fairly distributed results with tighter clustering in December and an across-the-board increase in January.

The dotted red line is the “global” average — similarly shows flat performance from Nov to Dec with a bump in Jan:

  • -3.7% change in total open rate from Nov to Dec, i.e. a 40% open rate drops to 38.7% open rate.
  • 18.4% change in open rate, i.e. 40% open rate bumps to 47%.

The open rate trends are more tightly clustered that reply rates, suggesting a lower standard deviation and more instructive takeaways

In other words, Prospects open email in December at roughly the same rate as other months.  So don’t worry about prospects not being engaged in December — they’ll still open your email.

Reply Rate

= all replies / # of new prospects targeted during time period


Each colored line represents a sampled client reply rate, all of which are much more widely distributed results than open rate, which isn’t surprising.

Open rates are easy — you just need to hit the inbox with a good subject line and you’ll get an open.

On the other hand, reply rates are a much tighter needle to thread — you need tight messaging, prospect targeting, company targeting, etc.

So…if open rates show a consistent trend and reply rates show much more variability, I think it is hard to draw a strong correlation between time of year and reply rate — which suggests that a December reply slow down only exists to the extent that your messaging and/or targeting is off.

Even still, the change in average reply from December to January is meaningful — 13.2% change in reply rate, i.e. 7% reply rate bumps to 7.9%.

This suggests a global upward trend, even if the numbers are a bit scattered.  The even bigger jump in February (see below) supports this trend.

% Change Month-Over-Month

= the % change in a metric from one month to the nextmom-changeWe aggregated all of the numbers to assess how the aggregate metrics change month-over-month.  With the caveat that “averages lie”, I think that there are a couple interesting takeaways here:

The data shows ~flat KPI performance from Nov2018 to Dec2018. -3.7% change in total open rate, i.e. a 40% open rate drops to 38.7% open rate.  -2.36% change in reply rate, i.e. a 7% reply rate drops to 6.83%.

The data shows that the January pop is real.  There is a material bump in both open rate (18%) and reply rate (13%) in January.

The data shows the January bump sustains itself into February…global open rates were the same in February as in January and reply rate jumps even higher, another 38% increase on top of the 12% in January.  Reply rates tend to lag open rates — e.g. you email me today and I reply next week — so the jump in reply rate is most likely some of the January goodness simply leaking into February.

So What Should You Do About This?

We came away surprised with what we learned from this process, largely because the takeaways are pretty simple:

  • Aside from lowered volume around the holidays, Nov and Dec are consistent with other months.  (We think that the big slowdown actually happens in the summer…which will dig into at a later date.)
  • If you’re getting good stuff, you should keep getting good stuff in December…just a little less of it because we’ll dial back the volume over the holidays.  So don’t slow down.
  • If you’re not getting good stuff, then it is some other issue, not holiday seasonality.  So keep tuning the process.
  • You’ll very likely see a nice pop in January that sustains itself into February, so at the very least use December to set yourself for a big effort in January.

Agree? Disagree?  Let us know what you think.

Thanks for Mike and Liz from the RevBoss team for the data wrangling.