Three Biggest Changes To Unsubscribe Practices

Email marketers have a lot of opportunities to improve their opt-out processes. In the newly released Retail Email Unsubscribe Benchmark Study, I discuss many unsubscribe trends -- but here are the three that I think are most impactful:

1. Rather than lose subscribers, retailers are giving them more control over frequency. All email marketers are loath to give up frequency control, but when the alternative is to lose email as a communication channel with a customer, it's a fair trade if you can manage it. Increasingly, retailers are seeing this as worthwhile, with 35% of retailers now allowing subscriber to reduce the number of emails they receive, up from 16% in 2008.

I see this in part as an admission that whatever cadence control measures retailers had weren't working. It's probably vanity to think they could work for the vast majority of subscribers in the first place. While it's generally smart to use opens, clicks and conversions to modulate frequency, this tactic simply just doesn't work all the time. Allowing subscribers to then dictate frequency is very reasonable, especially when put up against the prospect of losing contact with that customer via email.



The next time I look at retailers' subscription practices, I will be curious to see if them giving subscribers more frequency control on the back end translates into more frequency control on the front end of the email relationship. I suspect not, because of the desire to try to maximize frequency and let engagement level dictate cadence. In 2008, only 2% of retailers gave subscribers the option to choose a lower frequency. Unfortunately, only 4% gave subscribers any idea of how many emails they'd receive, so perhaps we'll see more transparency around frequency to better set expectations.

2. Opt-out processes have gotten longer. The efficiency gap between clicking the unsubscribe link and the "report spam" button has grown, regrettably. Since 2008, the average number of clicks necessary to opt-out has increased 18%, to 2.4 clicks. More worrisome, the percentage of retailers requiring three or more clicks to unsubscribe grew to 39% from just 7% two years ago.

We counted the click on the unsubscribe link in the email, plus any clicks necessary on the opt-out page. In addition to clicks, 15% of retailers required subscribers to enter their email address at least once, unnecessarily introducing more friction to the process.

This is simply poor process design. There's no reason for an opt-out to require anything more than one click on the unsubscribe link in the email and one click on the opt-out page or preference center. Email marketers can provide tons of alternatives to opting out while still adhering to the Two-Click Unsubscribe Rule.

3. Marketers have been slow to present alternative channels like RSS and Facebook pages to departing subscribers. Only 7% of major online retailers do this currently, with only 2% presenting their Facebook page as an alternative channel, and only 1% presenting Twitter as an alternative. That's despite the fact that more than 30% of retailers include social community links in their emails.

This lag is because many email marketers don't regularly update their opt-out pages (or their welcome emails, preference centers, subscription confirmation pages, etc.). As email continues to de-silo and integrate with other channels -- especially social -- we'll see this gap close significantly as more unsubscribe pages get updated over the next year. Just because a customer doesn't want to communicate via email doesn't mean that they wouldn't be open to engaging with the brand through direct mail, Facebook or Twitter.

The unsubscribe process is perhaps not the cheeriest topic, but there are plenty of opportunities to reduce spam complaints and churn -- and to funnel outgoing email subscribers into other channels.

2 comments about "Three Biggest Changes To Unsubscribe Practices".
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  1. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, March 31, 2010 at 12:33 a.m.

    Have you ever received a "sorry" message from subscribers indicating their action was not to be removed but just trying to see what the process were about? I have received several and thus the decision to introduce the email requirement to avoid these issues.

    Also, have you ever received a "why I don't receive your message anymore?" email message? People tend to suggest/send the message to their friends and family when the information represents value for them. Of course, different industries, but your point is not considering different industries require different approaches.

    Kindliest regards.

  2. Chad White from Litmus, March 31, 2010 at 8:33 a.m.

    Greg, using a two-click unsubscribe process should allow subscribers to explore the opt-out process if they're curious without actually opting out. Including a subscribe link on the opt-out confirmation page can also recapture subscribers who unsubscribed unintentionally.

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