Marketers Send High Volumes of Email to Non-Responsive Customers, Endangering Email Deliverability

Only 12.5% Take Steps to Re-engage With Lapsed Subscribers, a New Return Path Study Finds

August 17, 2010 – E-retailers continue to struggle with building customized, 1-to-1 email marketing efforts tailored to subscriber response rates, or more importantly lack of response, according to Return Path’s new study — The One-Way Conversation: Email Marketing to the Non-Responsive Subscriber, Return Path is the global leader in email deliverability and reputation management services.

A majority of the email marketers that Return Path studied sent email at a steady, high frequency for a 19-month period, despite a total lack of response from the subscriber (no opens, no clicks, no purchases). For the new study, Return Path studied the email marketing efforts of 40 online retailers over a 19-month period. Eventually, 11 companies studied (27%) stopped sending email to non-responsive subscribers. Yet, 10 of the companies stopped sending email without making any attempt to reengage the customer or specifically asking the customer whether or not they’d like to continue receiving emails.

“We were certainly surprised to see how these e-retailers were sending emails to a customer who was completely non-responsive,” said Stephanie Colleton, Director of Professional Services, Return Path. “We strongly recommend that email marketers, not just e-retailers, monitor their subscriber responses – opens, click-throughs and conversions – and adapt their campaigns to either slow down the emails to once per month or send a re-permission email to determine subscribers’ continued interest in receiving emails.”

Continuing to Email Non-responsive Subscribers Can Impact Email Deliverability

When high-volume email marketers or publishers continue to send emails to non-responsive subscribers they risk endangering their overall email deliverability. When non-responsive subscribers receive a steady stream of emails, or in some cases an increased frequency of emails, they will often begin reporting those emails as spam driving up the marketer’s complaint rate.

In addition, the retailers studied are missing many opportunities to reengage non-responsive subscribers via special offers, coupons, or a tailored reengagement campaigns. Finally, those uninterested recipients skew response patterns and email metrics making retailers’ jobs much harder when they test email offers and try to optimize their email marketing campaigns.

Only five of the companies (12.5%) studied actually sent one or more win-back messages – messages designed to reengage subscribers and ultimately drive additional purchases. Bed, Bath & Beyond had the most complete email win-back strategy of the e-retailers studied. They identified the inactive subscribers in their file, decreased the frequency of emails to those subscribers over time (from seven emails per month down to a few more than five per month, and eventually to less than one). After one year of inactivity, they sent a clear, attractive win-back message with a discount offer for an item of the subscriber’s choosing. A week after that win-back campaign, they sent a re-permission email specifying a date when they would stop sending email unless they received subscriber permission. When they received no response to the re-permission email, they honored their commitment and stopped sending.

“There is a widespread perception that email is ‘free,'” said Bonnie Malone, Director of Professional Services, for Return Path. “But that is not true – most retailers pay a 3 to 5 cent CPM to service providers to send email, which sounds small but really starts to add up when you consider that these lists can include hundreds of thousands of emails. Continuing to send to addresses that never respond is a waste of money and leads to deliverability problems that erode the program’s effectiveness. Taking all this in to account we think that marketers and publishers need to make win back programs an essential part of their program strategy.”

Return Path’s study, titled The One-Way Conversation: Email Marketing to the Non-Responsive Subscriber, is available for free download.

Study Methodology
Return Path researchers made a single purchase from each of 45 online retailers between September and December of 2008, signing up for the marketer’s email program during the online transaction process. Return Path then returned all the items to the retailer. The email account used for making the purchase and signing-up to the email program was kept open and we did not unsubscribe from any of the programs. None of the emails subsequently received were opened or clicked on.

Return Path studied the emails sent by marketers following sign-up until the end of month 19, to assess their email marketing programs during this period. Five companies sent no promotional email at all to their former buyer, and so were not included in this study.

About Return Path
Founded in 1999, Return Path helps commercial email senders get more email delivered to the inbox. Our tools and services give senders the insight and resources to diagnose and prevent email deliverability and rendering failures by improving and maintaining their email sending reputations. Our Professional Services division then helps our client improve ROI and response by creating consistent and compelling subscriber experiences across the email customer life cycle. Return Path runs the internet’s most widely used third-party whitelist, the Return Path Certification Program. Return Path also invented the Sender Score, an email reputation measure based on data contributed by ISPs and other receivers of large volume email into the Return Path Reputation Network. We offer free access to our Sender Score to any sender, receiver or consumer of email at our reputation portal: Information about Return Path can be found at


Tami Forman
Return Path
[email protected]

Jeff Rutherford
Jeff Rutherford Media Relations
413 475-0087
[email protected]

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