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New Return Path Study Explores Consumer Behavior Revealed by “This Is Not Spam” Reports

Email data shows which brands consumers love enough to rescue them from the spam folder:  Apple, Netflix, Target, Amazon,, United Airlines, Etsy among favorites

NEW YORK – June 25, 2013 – Return Path, the global leader in email intelligence, announced the results of the industry’s first comprehensive study of consumers’ This Is Not Spam (TINS) reports.  TINS rates, or how often subscribers “rescue” messages from their spam folders, send clear signals to mailbox providers, revealing which senders and brands consumers most want to hear from. As a result TINS rates can strongly influence inbox placement rates and revenue.

Consumers have opportunities to rescue virtually any sender at some point, because messages from all brands are at least occasionally delivered to the spam folder. TINS rates can help brands to better understand and react to mailbox providers’ views of their subscriber engagement, but they can also provide insight into their customer relationships within and beyond the email channel. Among the brands that Return Path found were most likely to be rescued from the spam folder were Apple, Etsy,, and Netflix.

TINS reports are unusually clear indicators of engagement because they are deliberate, uncommon, and difficult to game. Across a sample of more than one billion messages received during the first quarter of 2013, fewer than two per thousand (0.17%) were rescued from the spam folder. To send a TINS report consumers must first search their spam folders for messages, and then actively identify those they want by clicking a This Is Not Spam button to notify their mailbox provider. Unlike more tactical metrics, TINS rates don’t quickly reflect senders’ adjustment in sending practices or list composition, so they can’t be improved through programmatic shifts that subscribers can’t see. They can be improved only by earning consumers’ trust in the value of the email they receive, and that takes time. As a result mailbox providers can use TINS rates to help distinguish senders whose mail subscribers want from the rest. When this distinction helps wanted mail reach the inbox more frequently, it can significantly boost marketing performance and revenue for senders with strong customer relationships while hindering their competitors.

“Virtually every sender sees some of its messages occasionally delivered to the spam folder, but relatively few inspire their subscribers to search for them,” says George Bilbrey, president of Return Path. “Senders with high TINS rates share common traits that extend beyond email marketing best practices. They use data-driven intelligence to connect with consumers and study their behavior and make decisions that increase loyalty across all channels. Deeper examinations of metrics like TINS offer great examples of how brands can use data to develop more value from email.”

The Impact of TINS: Which Brands Win

High TINS rates correlate with good deliverability. Although a message cannot be rescued unless it’s in the spam folder, senders whose mail was most frequently delivered to spam were the least likely to earn TINS reports. Senders whose messages reached the inbox more than 97 percent of the time had TINS rates of 0.44 percent – nearly triple the average of all other senders.

High TINS rates correlate with strong engagement, too. The greater the percentage of a brand’s messages that get read, the greater the chance that its messages will be rescued from the spam folder. Of those studied, senders with a read rate of less than nine percent had an average TINS rate of 0.14 percent, while those with a read rate of 22 percent or greater had an average TINS rate of 0.97 percent – more than six times as high. Forward rates suggested a similar advantage for the best senders: Those with TINS rates of 0.50 percent were six times more likely to have their messages forwarded.

Return Path examined the TINS rates of particular industries and found recipients are much more likely to rescue messages sent from financial and insurance senders (0.59 percent TINS), probably because these are likely to be messages relating to their specific accounts.  TINS rates for Citi, Chase, Allstate, and Progressive led all senders in these categories.

Additionally, recipients are more likely to rescue messages relating to travel, dating and jobs.  United Airlines, and CareerBuilder were the high performers in these categories.

Retailers and social media networks saw lower TINS rates of 0.11 percent and 0.10 percent respectively, possibly due to the high mailing frequencies of these mailers, as well as recipients’ tendency not to unsubscribe to messages they no longer want. Within the retail category in particular there were standouts with exceptional TINS rates, though: Amazon, Target, and were among the overall leaders.

Top TINS performers by category include:

  • Content, General Interest: AARP
  • Content, Hobby and Enthusiast: Smithsonian
  • Content, News: The New York Times
  • Dating:
  • Financial Services/Insurance: Allstate
  • Financial Services: Bank/Card Services: Citibank
  • Job Services: CareerBuilder
  • Retail, Apparel: Kohl’s
  • Retail, Arts and Crafts: Etsy
  • Retail, Automotive: J&P Cycles
  • Retail, Books and Music: Barnes & Noble
  • Retail, Childrens: Gerber
  • Retail, Cosmetics: Avon
  • Retail, Department Store: Century 21
  • Retail, Dining:  Dairy Queen
  • Retail, Drugstore: Walgreen
  • Retail, Electronics: Apple
  • Retail, Food: Kroger
  • Retail, Garden: Gardens Alive! 
  • Retail, General: Target
  • Retail, Gifts/Flowers: Figis
  • Retail, Hardware: The Home Depot
  • Retail, Home: Pier 1 Imports
  • Retail, Jewelry: Blue Nile
  • Retail, Luggage/Accessories: Dooney and Bourke
  • Retail, Office Supply: Avery Dennison Corporation
  • Retail, Pets: 1-800-Pet Meds
  • Retail, Private Sales/Daily Deals: Modnique
  • Retail, Shoes:
  • Retail, Sporting Goods and Apparel:
  • Retail, Toys and Games:  LeapFrog
  • Retail, Video: Netflix
  • Retail, Vitamins/Supplements: General Nutrition Corporation
  • Travel, Airline: United Airlines
  • Travel, Car Rental: Alamo Rent A Car
  • Travel, Cruise: Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Travel, Hotel/Accommodations: Hilton
  • Travel, Price/Shopping Engine: KAYAK


To conduct this study Return Path analyzed more than one billion messages sent to its panel of 3 million email users during Q1 2013. Calculations are not derived from individual activity; they are based on hourly snapshots of aggregations of messages’ locations within the mailbox, counting all messages that have been delivered to the inbox, delivered to the spam folder, are in the trash, and have been moved.

About Return Path

Return Path is the worldwide leader in email intelligence. We analyze more data about email than anyone else in the world and use that data to power products that ensure that only emails people want and expect reach the inbox. Our industry-leading email intelligence solutions utilize the world’s most comprehensive set of data to maximize the performance and accountability of email, build trust across the entire email ecosystem and protect users from spam and other abuse. We help businesses build better relationships with their customers and improve their email ROI; and we help ISPs and other mailbox providers enhance network performance and drive customer retention.  Information about Return Path can be found at