Talking tech since 2003

Last week, I got an email from SpaFinder Wellness begging me to move their newsletter out of Gmail’s Promotions tab and into my Primary tab, so that I won’t miss out on newsletters and weekly sales.  The week before, I got more flash sale emails than I ever have, including one for a two hour flash sale that by the time I got to it had expired, because it wasn’t in my primary tab.

Why is this happening?  Marketers are taking aggressive steps to stem the decline in open-rates after Google’s changed its inbox format, which automatically drops promotional emails into a separate tab and away from the users primary inbox (and eyes).  Gmail’s new inbox automatically filters incoming e-mails into five categories: primary, social, promotional, updates and forums.  Instead of a single inbox view, although that format still exists for mobile, Gmail moves the emails into separate tabs as they come in, forcing users to manually move promotional emails back to their main inbox if they want them there.

The result?  Less eyes on the promotional emails, or at least a delay until the Gmail user gets to them.  This has led to a decline in open rates, according to a blog by MailChimp.

“Before the tabbed layout, open rates to Gmail had been above 13% for 15 weeks,”  MailChimp found after analyzing delivery to Gmail for the past year and half.  However, after the tabbed inbox change, open rates declined from 13 percent to almost 12 percent for weekdays, and below 10 percent for weekends, according to MailChimp’s graph below:

Gmail Open Rates

“I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet,” MailChimp said in their blog.  “After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it.”

However, some online businesses feel as though it is an emergency. “My main store,, relies heavily on our email marketing to bring repeat customers back,” said Rhys Davies, who runs a number of websites in the United Kingdom. “It hasn’t fully rolled out in the UK just yet, but we are already seeing a drop of about 30% in email opens.  I’m more worried about the upcoming Christmas period where a 30% drop in email opens could in theory lose us £15,000 a month.”

Tom Sather, Sr. Director of Email Research at Return Path, found that email read rates for retail marketers only dropped  0.31 percent in the 30 days following Gmail tabs release compared with the 30 days before.  However, he believes that Gmail’s spam folder is having a more significant impact on open-rates than the tabbed inbox change.

“We are seeing that less email is making it to the inbox and more email is being delivered to spam at Gmail.  The current inbox placement benchmark at Gmail is 85%, and every day in June has been below that benchmark” Sather said.  “On average 42% of all emails read in June (2013) were read on a mobile device in which Gmail Tabs doesn’t have any influence. This, combined with declining Gmail inbox rates, points to factors outside of the Gmail Tabs feature that are causing declining open and click through rates.”

So, marketers are taking matters into their own hands, sending out emails begging users to move their newsletters to their primary inbox and taking advantage of flash sales.

Marketers know that flash sales work and have been increasing their usage to boost open rates.  According to Experian Hitwise, traffic to flash sales websites increased more than 128 percent in June 2011 over June of last year.   The study said that fifty-six percent of businesses have higher click-to-open rates on their flash sale emails compared to their yearly click-to open rate.  Two and three-hour flash sales report the best click-to-open rates and transaction-to-click rates , Experian reports.  The study showed that two-hour flash sales experience a 14 percent jump in rates than the average for the same businesses.



So, it’s no surprise that I am seeing more of these emails in my inbox (well, promotional inbox).  The fact that you have to jump on these promotions quickly gives users an extra push to open the promotional tab for fear of missing a great deal.  As for emails begging me to move their newsletter to my primary inbox?  Well, I’m not quite ready to do that.  After all, the new tabbed inbox does keep things organized for me.

If marketers are suffering, they may have to think of new ways to get in front of my eyes, like Google ads.  After all, Google AdWords are Google’s main source of revenue.  This makes me wonder, did Google change it’s inbox to get marketers to switch to Google ads?  I’m not sure if Google is that calculating…or maybe they are?

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