Building Trust 2 November 2016

OTA Finds Retailers Honoring Email Unsubscribe Requests Faster than Ever


Bellevue, Wash.  – Today global non-profit think tank the Online Trust Alliance (OTA) released its 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit report. Now in its third year, the Audit analyzes the newsletters and promotional emails for end-to-end user experience from signup through unsubscribe for the world’s largest 200 e-commerce websites as defined by revenue.

“As we head into the holidays, it is essential that marketers find the most effective methods to reach their customers while still ensuring users do not experience email fatigue,” said Craig Spiezle, Executive Director and President of the Online Trust Alliance. “Making the consumer email experience as straightforward as possible, aligning email marketing practices to users’ interests and honoring customer unsubscribe requests is critical to merchants’ online brand reputation and ability to meet regulatory requirements.”

Among its findings, OTA determined 86 percent of the examined retailers stopped sending marketing emails to consumers immediately after they placed an unsubscribe request. This is an improvement from 83 percent last year. At the same time, OTA’s research showed nearly six percent of the retailers did not honor unsubscribe requests which violates U.S. and Canadian anti-spam laws. This underscores the need for retailers to constantly monitor and manage their email infrastructure.

“The user experience is essential to building trust in the email channel and the brands consumers interact with,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yes Lifecycle Marketing—a leading cross-channel marketing and analytics solutions provider, and a sponsor of the 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit. “It is paramount to put the user first by giving them control through the use of preference centers, transparent privacy policies and one-click unsubscribing.”

“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,” said Spiezle. “However, it is concerning that some companies continue to ignore unsubscribe requests and make the process obscure.”

In the 2016 audit 69 percent of the retailers received a “Best of Class” designation, meaning they scored 80 percent or higher in OTA’s analysis of their marketing emails (see methodology section below). Twelve sites had perfect scores which means they adopted all ten of OTA’s email best practices, did not send an unsubscribe confirmation email, and did not violate CAN-SPAM and CASL. Those retailers are Blue Nile, Carter’s, CDW, Evine, HSN, Jomashop, Lands’ End, Sierra Trading Post, Sweetwater, ULTA, Walgreens and Wayfair.

OTA expanded the 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit report from past years to examine the entire email marketing engagement process, from signup to the unsubscribe user experience. Among its determinations, OTA found the use of:

  • Unsubscribe headers (which presents as links or buttons in many consumer client mailboxes) increased to 89 percent in 2016 from 85 percent in 2015
  • “Clear and conspicuous” unsubscribe links at 81 percent in 2016, declining significantly from 97 percent in 2015
  • Preference centers and opt-down choices during the unsubscribe process continued to drop. These provide consumers the choice to still receive emails from a retailer while decreasing their frequency.
  • Email Authentication was exceptional, with 94 percent of retailers using SPF (Sender Policy Framework), 98 percent using DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and 51 percent using DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance). Email authentication helps counter fraudulent and malicious email, the leading tactic for phishing exploits.

The primary objective of OTA’s 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit is to provide marketers, service providers and policymakers strategic insight about how to enhance the integrity of email marketing. In addition to the audit, this year’s report includes best practices OTA encourages marketers to adopt to help maximize regulatory compliance and email campaign performance.

OTA signed up to receive promotional emails from the top 200 retailers between Apr. and Sept. 2016, and tracked compliance through Oct. 2016. It analyzed the user experience of those emails in ten best practice categories that included signup, subscriber validation, email authentication and mailing cadence.

OTA’s 2016 Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit report reflects input from industry leaders and government agencies in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. This year’s complete report, and the 2015 and 2014 reports are at To sign up for a public online briefing and webinar about the audit on Nov. 16 at 11 AM PST/2 PM EST, go here.


About OTA: 

The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) is a non-profit with the mission to enhance online trust and user empowerment while promoting innovation and the vitality of the Internet. Its goal is to help educate businesses, policy makers and stakeholders while developing and advancing best practices and tools to enhance the protection of users’ security, privacy and identity. OTA supports collaborative public-private partnerships, benchmark reporting, and meaningful self-regulation and data stewardship. Its members and supporters include leaders spanning the public policy, technology, ecommerce, social networking, mobile, email and interactive marketing, financial, service provider, government agency and industry organization sectors.

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