The Good Guys: Retailers Improve Their Email Unsubscribe Practices, Study Finds

Except for some backsliding, most retailers are better than they were at handling email unsubscribes and complying with national laws.

A full 74% now qualify as “Best in Class” -- attaining scores of 80% or more, according to the 2018 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit from the Online Trust Alliance (OTA).

That’s up from 67% last year, but down slightly from 75% in 2015.

OTA, an Internet Society initiative, studied the top 200 North American e-commerce sites based on revenue as of the end of 2017, as reported by Internet Retailer Magazine.

Ten online retailers attained perfect scores:,,,,,,,,, and

Five of those —,,, and — repeated their 100% 2017 scores. 



What’s more, 100% of those studied support the SPF and DKIM security standards, and 71% had DMARC records. In addition, 89.2% removed unsubscribes without delay, up from 88.1% last year and 83.1% in 2015.

Only 1.6% failed to honor unsubscribes, down from 4.1% in 2017. And while 3.2% violated CAN-SPAM or CASL, the Canadian privacy regime, that is down from 5.7% in the prior year.

However, there is one “increasing concern.” Only 14% required geographic information, down from 17% last year.

This apparently can prevent them from identifying EU residents and citizens, leading to potential non-compliance with GDPR.

There has been no repeat of the “list or subscription bombing attacks,” the barraging of consumers with hundreds of unsolicited emails seen in 2016. But only 4% used CAPTCHA, a process that can help verify that the subscriber is a real person and not a bot.

More surprisingly, only 7% used Confirmed Opt-In (or double opt-in), in which the consumer must click on a link to verify the subscription. This is considered the industry best practices.

Unsubscribes were treated in a variety of ways.

“As in previous years the unsubscribe experience ranged from abrupt, non-branded one-click interaction to elegant, branded experiences that presented various choices and solicitation of feedback.”

Of all those studied, 100% let subscribers opt out from all email. And 100% supplied a confirmation web page. But 34.6% provided an opt-down option.

In addition, 92.2% served a branded page, and 89.7% served a pre-populated unsubscribe address. Also, 68.6% used an encrypted unsubscribe page.

How did they sign up subscribers to begin with?

OTA found that 31% employed a pop-up screen to solicit subscriptions and 25% make a promotional offer for signups, both down slightly from 2017.

Only 12% required re-entry of the email address. Yet 15% required account creation, depending on their business model. Both of these practices are up from 2017 but down from 2016.

At the same time, 40% requested additional information, and 29% required it.

All the sites offered signup on their home page, but only 6% did so at the top of the page, down from 8% last year. And 94% made it easy to find, up from 84%.

Of those studied, 98% displayed a signup confirmation onscreen. In addition, 74.5% sent both a confirmation and a newsletter or promotional message. Still, 4% made no response at all.

The best text size for unsubscribe links? OTA found that 29% utilized 10px (the minimum to receive credit in the study). “For reference,12-point type in print equates to 16px text on a website, and most experts recommend type sizes in the 12px-16px range for ideal readability of body text,” it writes.

In general, OTA recommends these best practices, and we quote: 

  • Sending relevant messages at a pace selected by the consumer;
  • Allowing them a high degree of choice and control.
  • Setting expectations regarding use of data and consequences of choices via transparent disclosures.
  • Protecting the integrity of email and websites through use of email authentication and encrypted email transfers and web sessions.
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