Billions of Opt-in Email Messages Never Reach Consumers, Return Path Study Finds

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Email intelligence data reveal that 22% of permissioned email worldwide failed to reach inboxes in the first half of 2013; subscribers in Asia-Pacific becoming harder to reach

NEW YORK – July 30, 2013 – Return Path, the global leader in email intelligence, today announced the results of its Inbox Placement Rate Benchmarks Report which show that 22% of marketing email sent with subscribers’ permission never reached their inboxes during the first half of 2013. Based on a sample of nearly one trillion messages sent worldwide, the report found that 18% of all email messages were either blocked or went missing; another 4% were delivered to subscribers’ spam or junk folders. That means billions of opt-in messages failed to reach their intended recipients, representing potentially dramatic revenue opportunity losses for marketers.

Inbox Placement Rates (IPR) – the percentage of sent email delivered to addressees’ inboxes – declined globally by 4% since 2012, according to the report. The Asia-Pacific region led the worldwide decline, slipping 22% to an IPR of 64%. Nearly one-third of all marketing email sent to subscribers in the region was never delivered. On the other hand American senders slightly improved their IPR to 86%. While this figure ranks among the best in the world, US marketers’ inability to place 14% of their marketing email in subscribers’ inboxes represents billions of lost messages and opportunities to build relationships or drive revenue.

European marketers failed to deliver 20% of their email marketing messages despite improvements in Germany and France. In South America, Brazilian marketers continued to struggle to reach subscribers, losing more than 40% of their email to blocking or spam folder delivery.

One-quarter of Social Networks’ Email Missing from the Inbox

While several large industries, including retail, posted meaningful gains in IRP during 2013, social networks’ IPR continued to decline as 25% of their email failed to reach the inbox. Social networks tend to be high-volume senders, but their increasing struggle to reach subscribers is limiting their collective ability to use email to build relationships or generate network activity.

On the other hand non-profit organizations improved their global IPR dramatically in 2013, placing 90% of their messages in subscribers’ inboxes. These senders rely extensively on the email channel to generate donations and awareness, and their collective progress during the past six months may reflect the urgency of their efforts to reach the inbox.

“We’re seeing encouraging progress from some industries in some regions, but on the whole it’s only getting harder for email senders to reach subscribers. This is a universal problem for marketers, the opportunity cost is immense, and overall it’s not getting much better,” said George Bilbrey, Return Path co-founder and president. “There are so many factors that determine whether messages reach the inbox, it’s impossible to point to reason or even a group of reasons for the global decline, but engaging subscribers is clearly becoming a far more important component of inbox placement. Senders that consistently reach the inbox tend to have higher read rates and more active subscribers. Senders whose mail is ignored—deleted without being read—or often the ones who struggle to get their messages delivered.”

Found in the Gmail Priority Inbox: More Finance-related Messages, Fewer Social Network Updates

The study also examined marketers’ success rates at reaching the inbox across large mailbox providers, including Gmail whose Priority Inbox offers additional insight into what types of messages are considered important. Senders around the world found Gmail the most challenging, but IPRs were generally average or better: 86% of American senders’ messages reached the Gmail inbox, for example. It proved far harder for senders from Brazil (53% IPR) and Germany (38% IPR).

As for the Priority Inbox, only 7% of all Gmail messages were routed there. Finance-related mail (17%) was more than twice as likely to reach it while social networks’ mail (5%) was the least likely among major categories to be found in the Gmail Priority Inbox. Any message categorized as a statement was far more likely to reach the Priority Inbox (26%), but only 5% of those identified as coupons were found there. Messages that were part of an active conversation, either replies (24%) or forwards (11%) also reached the Priority Inbox more often.

The complete study, including infographics, can be downloaded here: http://landing.returnpath.com/placement-benchmarks-2013


Return Path conducted this study by monitoring proprietary email intelligence data, examining the worldwide deliverability of permissioned marketing email sent during the first six months of 2013. This includes nearly one trillion messages sent through more than 150 mailbox providers in North America, Latin American and South America, Europe, Asia and Pacific regions. Global and regional statistics are based on performance across all mailbox providers; country- and industry-specific statistics are based on a subset of senders whose location and industry classification are identifiable.

About Return Path

Return Path is the worldwide leader in email intelligence. We analyze more data about email than anyone else in the world and use that data to power products that ensure that only emails people want and expect reach the inbox. Our industry-leading email intelligence solutions utilize the world’s most comprehensive set of data to maximize the performance and accountability of email, build trust across the entire email ecosystem and protect users from spam and other abuse. We help businesses build better relationships with their customers and improve their email ROI; and we help ISPs and other mailbox providers enhance network performance and drive customer retention.  Information about Return Path can be found at www.returnpath.com.


Tami Forman
Return Path
+1 646 367 3905
[email protected]

Kristen Stippich
Weber Shandwick for Return Path
+1 212 445 8030
[email protected]


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