Building Trust 15 December 2015

2015 Email Unsubscribe Audit

OTA’s research and unsub test criteria revealed that 98% (versus only 90% in 2014) of the top e-commerce brands are in compliance with U.S. and Canadian unsubscribe regulatory requirements. The primary criteria included a discoverable and functional unsubscribe link which removed a user within 10 business days. Recognizing compliance is a minimal threshold, OTA’s efforts focus on stewardship, adding consumer-centric criteria and best practices which not only benefit the email recipient, but also enhance the marketer’s brand. Building upon last year’s base criteria, the 2015 criteria were tightened and raised. Surprisingly, even with these higher standards, the number of companies achieving the Unsub Honor Roll designation rose from 70% to 75%, primarily attributed to the overall improvement in honoring timely unsubscribe requests. Interestingly, though the top-line achievement was similar, only 49% of companies repeated as Unsub Honor Roll recipients, while 26% were first-time recipients. In 2015, 11% of companies had a perfect score, compared to 10% with perfect scores in 2014. The complete list of Unsub Honor Roll recipients in shown in the Appendix on page 22.

Though adoption of many of the best practices was flat year-to-year, the audit revealed a large increase in “clear and conspicuous” placement of unsubscribe links (from 80% to 97%) and in the use of unsubscribe headers (from 76% to 85%). The only significant drop in adoption was in use of preference centers / opt-down during the unsubscribe process – this was due in part to more stringent scoring by OTA analysts which required the preference center / opt-down to be presented during the unsubscribe process versus making it available through alternate paths. In the non-scored criteria, the largest change was seen in the use of promotions in the confirmation email – it grew by nearly half from 29% to 42%, indicating that marketers are trying to engage new interest immediately and drive visitors to the shopping cart.

This year a new section has been added to the report, assessing the subscription/unsubscribe processes of the 2016 presidential candidates using the same criteria and scoring applied to the online retailers. The presidential candidates scored higher than retailers on adoption of most core practices but lagged in adoption of marketing-focused practices, and earned an Unsub Honor Roll achievement of only 47.8%.

Brand owners and consumers alike should review these findings which in part reflect an organization’s commitment to consumers. Combined with other security and privacy enhancing best practices as outlined in OTA’s 2015 Online Trust Audit, consumers should consider these findings when using online services, shopping and banking online.

OTA expanded its calls to the marketing community and trade organizations to support these voluntary practices, demonstrating a commitment to the long-term integrity of interactive marketing and enhancing consumer trust. By focusing on the users’ needs, companies will achieve long-term benefits, including enhanced brand reputation, improved deliverability of legitimate email and resulting click-through. Adoption of these best practices, and ideally a voluntary yet enforceable code of conduct, will help alleviate calls for regulatory oversight while distancing legitimate marketers from spammers.


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