iOS 15 and eCommerce Email Marketing – What You Need To Know

hide my email - hand holding phone

Apple’s iOS 15 changes the way email marketing for eCommerce is being done.

55% of US consumers use iPhone (Q1 2021 data). What this means, is millions of dollars in sales are affected, for the email campaigns that we run for our clients, each and every month.

So, how does iOS 15 impact your sales & marketing, and what are the workarounds for eCommerce stores?

Watch our video TLDR below:

Let’s start with a quick definition of what has happened: 

It started with iOS 14.5 when Apple declared they’re putting their user’s privacy first, and ended the era of advertisers freely tracking users. As it turns out, 96% of Apple users, indeed chose NOT to be tracked. 

Then with iOS 15, Apple took it a notch higher by introducing features that sound like bad news for marketers, such as “Hide my email” and “Mail privacy protection”.  

Let’s break it down and see how it affects us in the eComm space, when we send emails to our customers and our newsletter subscribers.

First of all, the impact is serious, because if you consider Apple’s market share in the US, this applies to around half of your customers.  Most of them choose to leave Apple’s defaults on so your tracking becomes disabled. With iOS 15 they have additional features that further impact your advertising and emails:

The new iOS 15 feature Mail privacy protection means that when you send an email, you won’t know if your customer opened it or not, because Apple’s Mail app blocks pixels and hides identifying info about the recipient, such as their IP address.  

This requires you to change your approach as to the metrics that you’re tracking and basing email automations on. We’ll get into more details about this important change in a minute.

But it doesn’t end here – they’ve also introduced the feature Hide my email, available to iCloud Plus users. 

Whenever a site requests to sign up with an email address, for example if you have a popup on your site that offers a discount coupon – your site visitors no longer need to input their real email – they can use a random address that Apple generates. Which means some of our opt-ins won’t be as effective as before. 

This feature has been around for a while, but Apple is giving it more focus and publicity going forward. Therefore we can definitely expect more users to adopt it.

Another iCloud Plus feature is the Private Relay, which encrypts user’s activities so no one can track it across the web. 

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How does it all affect your email marketing?

1. Not knowing if it’s a real email

You won’t know for sure if your subscriber is using their real email or not, because they might be using Hide My Email. This adds a challenge to growing your list. 

This only applies to iCloud Plus users, so at the moment this has potentially less impact compared to the Mail Privacy Protection feature.


2. Split-tests become less accurate

If you’re split testing subject lines by looking at the open rates, you’d now be missing that data point for Apple Mail users. 

Instead of showing real open rate stats, ALL of the emails sent to privacy-enabled Apple Mail addresses, now seem to have been opened by the recipient. 

In reality, those opens are machine-driven. In other words, Apple had automatically ‘opened’ the emails, thus reporting an inflated number of opens.

Therefore, results of split tests involving open rates are now less accurate. This requires us to change how we approach subject line optimization.

It could actually be a blessing in disguise, because many marketers rely on open rates as a measure of the success of their emails. You might be asking: “what’s wrong with that approach?”

What they forget is that the goal of split-testing subject lines isn’t to “get more opens” but to “get more opens by contacts who will end up buying”.

Now it becomes clear that you should be optimizing subject lines for clicks and email conversions, rather than for people just opening your email.

As an example of how relying on open rates can give you a false sense of success, you could raise open rates by using a shocking, click-baitsy subject line. That practice might actually prove a turn-off for your audience and result in less sales.

Therefore, a new metric for how your email campaign succeeded might be: ‘how many sales have resulted from each of the email split-test versions’.

Having said that, the engineers at Klaviyo have found a way to still keep the open rate metric as realistic as possible, by identifying which of the opens represent a human interacting with your email, and which opens are machine-driven, and enabling you to segment accordingly to ‘human’ opens. 

3. Delivery rates might decrease

For the Hide my Email feature, a possible side effect is  that Apple might be inclined to categorize some of your emails as spam, if your subscriber signed up with their substitute email address, because this might signal lack of trust. So your delivery rates are in danger of going down. 

This is why it now becomes even more important for you to run inbox rate tests, and run them frequently. 


4. Issues with flow triggers based on engagement

Flows that are triggered based on engagement, might prove to be more challenging to utilize – for example a flow to sunset inactive subscribers. 

The reason is, we’d be missing the open tracking pixel that typically make these flows work. 

So you’d need to run through all your flows to make sure they don’t rely solely on such triggers. You’d need to look for other engagement “clues” – see point 5 below for ideas on how to achieve that.


5. Issues with campaigns to “engaged” segments

Finally, when it comes to sending campaigns to your engaged audience, for example if you’d typically send emails to a segment of people who engaged with your emails in the past 60 days, then this would no longer be as effective. 

You’d need to look for alternative ways of ensuring you’re sending emails to engaged segments, without relying solely on open rates to measure how engaged they are.

For example, you could combine open rates with other indication of engagement, such as:

  • Placed order at least once in the last 90 days
  • Active on site at least once in the last 90 days
  • Contact created in the last 90 days

What to focus on now?

Audit your flows for triggers relying on opens

Be sure to audit all of your existing flows to look for the ones that have triggers that rely too heavily on open rates. 

It is still possible to use open rates as a trigger (unless all your customers are Apple users…) however definitely test out other indications of engagement, such as:

  • Placed order at least once in the last 90 days
  • Active on site at least once in the last 90 days
  • Contact created in the last 90 days


Increase opt-ins to compensate

Your paid ads and your email marketing work hand in hand. Since Facebook is now more limited in its ability to track & optimize the traffic it sends to your site – it has become even more critical to get as much traffic as possible to opt in to your list.

This would enable you to retarget them with emails down the line to convert them to buyers.  


Nurture your list to strengthen engagement

It now becomes increasingly important to nurture your list with interesting and engaging emails that provide real value so you build a stronger relationship with your audience, and be less likely to end up in people’s spam folders.

This will address the problem of engagement at the source, rather than trying to fix a list with a low engagement, while not being able to accurately measure open rates.


SMS still enables open tracking

Finally, if you haven’t explored yet the possibility of using SMS marketing, now is a great time to try, as SMS still enables you to track if your customer received the message or clicked a link.

We will keep updating as we find more ways to deal with this marketing earthquake, and to even make the best out of it. 

Remember – every challenge opens up the door for new and creative approaches!

In this case, it is actually a great move in the direction we believe in here at Email Composed, that emails should engage, delight and give real value to customers, rather than relying on anonymous tracking.

And if you need help surviving the next iOS wave… or help with seriously boosting your revenue and engagement with emails – click the button below and let’s talk!

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