One-Fifth of Marketers Send Emails Even after Consumers Unsubscribe

November 19, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand Metrics | Email | Regulatory | Retail & E-Commerce

Some 20% of top brand marketers continue to send additional emails to consumers, even after they confirm requests from those consumers to “unsubscribe” from an email marketing list, according to a research study from Return Path.


Though the study, “Keeping the Subscriber Experience Positive After ‘Unsubscribe Me,'” found that the majority (65%) of companies studied are handling the unsubscribe process in a straightforward and user-friendly way, it also discovered a significant percentage of marketers failing to promptly comply with user wishes to be removed from email lists.

Of the 20% of companies that sent more than one additional email after the opt-out request was received, many sent four or more additional messages, a practice that Return Path said could undermine customers’ relationships with the brand.

The survey also revealed that 11% of companies were still emailing subscribers more than 10 days after confirming an unsubscribe request – a violation of the federal CAN-SPAM Act. This puts marketers at risk of damaging their overall email reputation with spam complaints if they have a faulty email unsubscribe process.


Additional findings:

  • Most companies studied provided customers with immediate confirmation that their unsubscribe request was processed – through a landing page on their website.
  • The majority of companies provided a link from the email to an unsubscribe landing page on their website (about 60%) or a preference page (about 40%).
  • Only 11% of companies provided an opportunity for subscribers to change their email address on the unsubscribe landing page, despite the potential to increase retention by doing so.
  • Only two companies out of the 45 studied offered options for subscribers to change the frequency they received email or the ability to opt out of some of the marketers’ emails.
  • Just over a quarter of companies asked individuals who were unsubscribing to confirm their email address, a step that helps assure that the correct individual is unsubscribed.
  • A handful of companies are still requiring that the subscriber log-in to unsubscribe, which is not compliant with the recently updated CAN-SPAM Act.
  • Two companies? required subscribers to send an email to request to unsubscribe, a process that is often perceived as inconvenient by the subscriber.
  • Just two companies used the landing page to remind subscribers of the benefits the email program was providing them.
  • Only two of the companies studied took advantage of the opt-out process to learn how they could improve their email program. They included a few simple survey questions on the landing page to help them understand why customers were unsubscribing and how they could do better.

“Marketers work very hard to design compelling email marketing campaigns, but can’t neglect to evaluate the entire email experience for subscribers – including when those customers decide to unsubscribe,” said Bonnie Malone, Return Path’s director of strategic services. “While email marketing may have a small influence compared to the overall digital and traditional marketing campaign reach, email is a very direct, one-to-one interaction with customers and potential customers. Even a single negative email experience can lead to a poor overall brand image for consumers.”

About the study: Return Path conducted the study by unsubscribing from the email lists of 45 companies from the retail, consumer goods, travel, and media/entertainment industries. Return Path originally subscribed to these email lists to conduct its Subscriber Experiences study.

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