Background confetti Background confetti Background confetti Background confetti Background confetti


Top Brands Making it Easier for Consumers to Get On and Get Off Email Lists, Return Path Study Finds

Subscriber experience comparison explores how email tactics and consumer behavior have evolved over the past five years; surveys top brands like Best Buy, American Airlines, Nike and Target

NEW YORK – Sept. 17, 2013 – Return Path, the global leader in email intelligence, today released the results of its Email Subscriber Experience 2008-2013 Report which details how major consumer brands have reworked their email marketing and consumer engagement processes over the past five years. The research found that, since 2008, brands have incorporated a more simplified sign-up process for new subscribers, asking for less personal information. When consumers ask to be taken off their lists, these brands acted even more quickly than they did five years ago to stop sending, while finding new ways to make the unsubscribe experience positive.

Less is More

Based on a sample of 76 email marketing programs and panel data from 3 million email subscribers worldwide, the report found that 33 percent of brands only require a subscriber’s email address to sign up for an email marketing program. This is up 13 percent from 2008, when nearly half asked for more than a full name, zip code, or birth date.  Collecting less information didn’t appear to have a downside for these marketers. A comparison of those who asked for only minimal information with those who asked for more detail during signup showed no meaningful difference in inbox placement, read rates, or complaint rates. In fact the brands that collected more information performed slightly worse than others.

Winners Start Strong

More than 80 percent of brands began email subscriptions with a welcome message, up from only 40 percent in 2008. Although welcome messages generally arrived within a day, it took longer for most to marketers to send regular messages. Most began sending within seven days, but nearly a quarter still hadn’t sent a regular message after two weeks. (In 2008 30 percent sent nothing at all within a month.) Brands that delayed sending regular messages received significantly more complaints. This Is Spam (TIS) rates for brands that started regular mailings within a week were half of those that waited more than two weeks to begin regular mailings.

Everyone Loves a Deal

Most brands began their email relationships in 2008 by sending some kind of offer, such as a coupon or discounted shipping. This year only 39 percent started subscribers off with an offer. Those that did reached the inbox more frequently and had higher read rates than those that didn’t, and while too many factors influence these metrics to imply that deals made the difference, they coincided with better overall email marketing performance.

“These brands represent some of the most sophisticated email marketers in the world, as well as category leaders in customer care and relationship development. To see from the subscriber’s point of view how their tactics have evolved in the past five years offers invaluable insight into what consumers want and how leading marketers are shifting to accommodate them,”” said George Bilbrey, Return Path co-founder and president. “It’s even more exciting to be able to examine consumer engagement with these companies’ email programs to see what success looks like, the differences within segments and across disparate industries, and how different tactics correlate with levels of engagement. We didn’t have this level of visibility into consumer behavior five years ago. I expect it will speed up the evolution of email marketing. These same comparisons even a year from now will probably show even more radical change.”

Less Frequent Senders Engage Readers, But More Frequency Has Benefits

The study also compared the inbox placement, read rates, and complaint rates among high-frequency and low-frequency senders, finding that those that mailed less than weekly had an easier time reaching subscribers’ inboxes and were more likely to be read. But consumers complained least about messages from the most frequent  senders.

Marketers Make Opt-Out Easier

While unsubscribing from a brand’s email marketing program was relatively straightforward in 2008, and most brands ceased communication quickly, the process is even simpler and faster in 2013. Nearly every mailer stopped sending messages within the CAN-SPAM Act‘s 10-day window, but unlike 2008, virtually none sent a final plea for continued subscription. Instead many now offer unsubscribe alternatives like different sending frequencies or message types through preference centers. Furthermore, 22 percent of marketers asked unsubscribers for feedback about why they were going, something only two marketers did in 2008.


In February 2008 Return Path subscribed to 61 email marketing programs from retailers, consumer brands, and companies in the travel industry. In August 2008, after monitoring what each sent, we unsubscribed from 45 of these programs to chart the procedures and communications during the process. In June 2013 we subscribed to 76 programs including as many of original programs as possible and a number of others in the retail, consumer brand, and travel industries. After monitoring messages from each of these, we unsubscribed in August 2013 to compare the experience to the original study.

We then analyzed engagement data derived from our panel of 3 million email subscribers, including roughly 10 million messages from the selected brands received during a 30-day period between June and July, to map key email performance indicators to senders’ marketing tactics. As noted in the text, correlation is not causation, and this is a limited sample of consumer relationships so your results may vary.

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