Flexible Email Unsubscribe Practices Boost Customer Trust

Though most online retailers comply with federal regulatory requirements, all must continuously adapt said email unsubscribe strategies to satisfy consumer behavior and preserve brand reputation.

From promotional offers to shipping confirmations, email allows marketers to easily engage and inform consumers based on personal preferences.Yet, while this channel enables great flexibility, many brands abuse the opportunity to connect by overloading the individual's inbox and inspiring them to unsubscribe.

Unsubscribe practices, however, help brands shape their customer experience strategies, as the right mix of best practices empower consumers to control how and when they interact with their favorite companies. The Online Trust Alliance's recent "2014 Email Unsubscribe Best Practices & Audit" report explores how the top 200 ecommerce sites, as reported by Internet Retailer Magazine, approach the unsubscribe process by comparing their current programs to an established assortment of best practices, including "clear and conspicuous" opt-out copy and immediate removal. Researchers signed up for and subsequently opted out of all 200 retailers' emailing lists in order to evaluate said brands based on both regulatory compliance and adoption of the aforementioned practices.

The following statistics highlight how these 200 online retail brands performed with regard to unsubscribe strategies, as well as opportunities for improved learning and increased engagement:

  • While nearly 70 percent of those brands tested implemented eight or more of the 10 best practices, more than 10 percent violated the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's CAN-SPAM Act and Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) enacted in 2004.
  • Of the non-compliant companies, one-half continued to send emails for an additional two weeks, while 4.8 percent of the 200 brands sent unsubscribe confirmation messages to attempt to persuade users to re-subscribe to their listing.
  • Overall, 10 percent of the brands audited realized perfect scores by adopting all 10 of the best practices as previously outlined. Such online retailers include Coach.com, CrateandBarrel.com, LivingSocial.com, CDW.com, and Staples.com.
  • Companies typically excelled with regard to email readability (96.8 percent), confirmation Web page availability (95.2 percent), and comprehensive opt-out capabilities (93.7 percent).
  • Only 24.9 percent of those audited requested optional user feedback to determine why users chose to unsubscribe, thereby missing the opportunity to learn and improve strategies.
  • Though double opt-in tactics help prevent sign-up abuse, only 7.8 percent of said companies sent a confirmation email requiring the user to click on a link to validate subscription intent.
  • Only 29 percent of brands provided promotional offers upon sign up, thus missing the opportunity to engage new customers and lift conversions.

Key takeaway: Though the majority of marketers continue to implement email unsubscribe practices that actively fortify customer relationships and ensure deliverability, all must perpetually monitor and evaluate said strategies in an effort to maintain trust. Many ISP and mailbox providers consider user engagement elements, such as open rates, click throughs, and spam complaints, when determining inbox placement. Thus, online retailers must establish programs that utilize behavioral data and promote content relevancy in order to preserve brand reputation. For instance, two brands continued to send daily emails despite researchers' repeated attempts to alert the abuse and customer service departments of their desire to unsubscribe. Said brands refused to acknowledge consumer complaints and adjust campaigns accordingly, destroying any hopes of reengagement. Companies often neglect to understand that, while consumers may wish to opt-out of some or all email programs, this flexibility offers individuals the freedom to choose, thereby enhancing customer experience overall. Therefore, brands need only look to customer behavior to clarify precisely how and when to communicate with audiences and create campaigns that reflect such preferences.