What Do Changes To Apple Mail Mean For E-Commerce Brands?

Apple Mail Changes & eCommerce Brands - Apple Mail icon

Apple has been at the forefront of a lot of change recently that marketers do not really like too much. App tracking changes are shifting the goalposts in the app ad ecosystem. Now it looks like they might be trying the same thing with emails.

But what does it mean for marketers, specifically in the e-commerce industry? Is it time to do away with emails? Should we run around like our hair is on fire? Or will it not change much at all?

Let’s open the envelope and dig in.

Apple Mail Changes - Image showing an iPhone on a Mac.
Photo by Raagesh C on Unsplash

What is happening? iOS15 and Monterrey Mail Changes That Are Coming

When users update to iOS15 and to Monterrey, then open Apple Mail, they will be given a prompt. The new changes are not enabled by default, the user has to make a decision and opt-in.

As seen above, the user is given two choices. One to “Protect Mail Activity” and another that states “Don’t Protect Mail Activity”. While it is great that the user is being given a choice, Apple Insider suggests that we will likely see a “Protect Mail activity” opt-in rate of around 4% at best.

Users will not actively choose to not be protected. Especially by a provider they really trust.

Image showing a padlock with keys from a keyboard.
Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

What happens when someone opts to “Protect Mail Activity”?

When a user opts in to “Protect Mail Activity” Apple will then route emails through a proxy server to pre-load the message content – which will include tracking pixels – before then serving the message to the user. Even if the user does not actually open the email.

This will affect any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device. Mac, iPhone, iPad…it will affect all of them. It also does not matter which email service is used. Whether it’s Gmail, Outlook or a work account; if the email is opened through an Apple Mail app it goes through the same process.

The end result of this is that you will no longer be able to see who opens your emails, when they open them and where they are when they do it. If they use Apple Mail apps. Gmail for iPhone, for example, will continue to work as normal.

Apple Mail Changes - Image showing empty apple mail inbox screen.
Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

What does this do to Open Rates?

“Open rate” is a key metric in email marketing. It might seem pretty obvious but “open rate” is a literal measure of how many users actually open the email that you have sent. If you send 100 emails and 30 are opened, that’s a 30% open rate.

With these changes, any device that uses Apple Mail will now likely see a vastly inflated open rate. This is due to the pre-load process described above. As Apple accounts for an estimated 46% of all email opens across all of its devices, that’s nearly half of all email opens.

So if half of your open rate data is suspect, open rate as a sole metric of success becomes redundant.

Apple Mail changes - image showing unread emails

But no one reads marketing emails anymore…right?

Wrong! In fact, email marketing is bigger than ever. In a recent Q4 2020 Litmus survey more than one-third of respondents ranked email as “the most effective” marketing channel in their organization. 

When asked, “If you had to give up one marketing tactic for the next 12 months, which would it be?,” 4 out of 5 respondents said they’d rather give up social media than email marketing. 

There are two very very good reasons for this. One is ROI (Return On Investment). Litmus estimates that email marketing returns $36 for every $1 spent. Email marketing also supports a brand’s wider marketing efforts. It supports video marketing, landing page promotion and, crucially, parts of the remarketing funnel. 

Email marketing is highly personalized, easily customizable, measurable and comparatively cheap. 

So it is easy to see why e-commerce brands might be nervous about any big changes.

What about my e-commerce Email campaigns and content!?

Open rate, or “opens” to use a shorthand term, are not just used as a metric. Opens also impact the following:

Re-engagement Campaigns – Cart abandonment campaigns especially face an impact here. Without precise open data there is less visibility on when re-engagement begins.

Send Time Optimization – With the new Apple Mail changes, you may not get an exact opening time for your emails due to caching.

Real-time Personalization – If you use last open date or time for any kind of segmentation, the caching process also renders this useless.

Customer List Hygiene – If you use opens to keep your customer list clean (you remove addresses that don’t open emails) then this becomes harder as due to Apple Mail caching your opens will be inflated. This could actually be bad for users as it may prompt brands to just send more emails to assess activity.

A/B Testing Subject Lines – Quick message testing of two different subject lines will become redundant as open rate from Apple Mail will be inflated.

Any automated flows and journeys that rely on opening an email – You will not have exact open date/time so the flow may need to be redesigned.

Time-limited offer/voucher promotions – This is a big one for e-commerce brands. Countdown clocks and time-limited voucher codes rely on an accurate open date and time to work effectively. This removes a very effective tactic for promotion and conversion.

If your business uses these tactics in their email marketing or general marketing funnel then you may have to go back to the drawing board.

Image showing an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods.
Photo by Lala Azizli on Unsplash

When does the Apple Mail privacy change go live?

There is no exact date yet but both iOS15 and MacOS Monterrey are currently in Beta. While this does mean that the implementation of mail privacy protection may change, it also means the proposed changes could go live very soon, likely beginning of Q4 2021.

Image showing an iPhone user writing an email.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

What can I do?

While there are some things which might end up consigned to the past (countdown timers are likely dead), there is reason to hope. For example, personalization will largely just shift to “recent time” optimization rather than real-time.

It should also be noted that the changes are not live yet. So the most you can do is prepare for the change.

The best things you can do to prepare for the change, right now are:

  • Assess the impact of the change to your overall marketing strategy
  • Stop using open rate as a metric 
  • Focus more on engagement with email content (measure click through rate rather than open rate, for example)
  • A/B test some creative and copy to see what works right now
  • Clean up your customer lists now, this may become more difficult
  • Start implementing a better first-party data strategy – This future proofs your business

Contact us via hello@maqe.com.

Talk to MAQE

Need help dealing with the Apple Mail change? Want to implement a better first-party data strategy to take control of your data? MAQE are commerce experts and have worked with brands of all sizes for a decade. Talk to us via [email protected].