Study finds e-retailers are making it more difficult to unsubscribe from emails

According to the Online Trust Alliance, fewer online retailers are using “clear and conspicuous” unsubscribe links in marketing emails.

According to a study released today by the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), fewer online retailers are including “clear and conspicuous” unsubscribe links in their email marketing compared to last year.

After analyzing email marketing unsubscribe practices of the top 200 e-commerce sites based on revenue (per Internet Retailer magazine), the OTA found 81 percent of online retailers were using “clear and conspicuous” unsub links in emails, compared to 97 percent in 2015.

The OTA says for unsubscribe links to be “clear and conspicuous,” an email must include opt-out copy, and it must not be buried within the last paragraphs of an email that usual contain legal language.

From the OTA’s 2016 Email Marketing and Unsubscribe Audit:

The opt-out should be visible from the last sentience of the body of the email, minimizing vertical space between the end of the body copy and the link and a different color than surround text to help identify it as a link. The user should not be forced to download images in order to identify the unsubscribe link.

Much of OTA’s research showed e-commerce sites moving in the wrong direction with their unsub practices. Not only are fewer e-commerce sites using “clear and conspicuous” unsub links, the use of adequately-sized text for unsub links dropped as well, with 93 percent of sites using the right-sized text compared to 98 percent in 2015. Only 89 percent of the e-commerce sites used commonly understood disclosure terms, compared to 94 percent the year before.

Use of preference centers — where users can choose their email preferences — dropped from 56 percent in 2015 to 38 percent this year, and the number of e-commerce sites offering users an “opt-down” option (to reduce the number of emails received) dropped from 45 percent to 33 percent this year.

On a brighter note, 85.6 percent of the online retailers analyzed stopped sending emails immediately after receiving unsubscribe requests — an improvement over the 83.1 percent last year. Also notable, only 5.9 percent of the retailers violated CAN-SPAM/CASL regulations — down from the 7.1 percent in 2015 and nearly half the 10.9 percent in 2014.

“The majority of the top e-commerce retailers should be commended because they went above and beyond the regulatory requirements of stopping emails 10 days after an unsubscribe request is made by immediately stopping their correspondences,” says OTA Executive Director and President Craig Spiezle, noting that it was concerning that some companies are still ignoring unsub requests or making the unsubscribe process more difficult.

In addition to evaluating unsubscribe practices, the OTA looked at email marketing sign-up practices and mailing practices and rated the e-commerce sites for their email marketing efforts — designating a “Best of Class” list of the online retailers that scored 80 percent or higher per the OTA’s best practices recommendations.

Of the 200 e-commerce sites evaluated, OTA says 12 earned perfect scores: Blue Nile, Carter’s, CDW, Evine, HSN, Jomashop, Lands’ End, Sierra Trading Post, Sweetwater, ULTA, Walgreens and Wayfair.

You can download the full report on OTA’s website: 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubcribe Audit.


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