One in Six Email Messages Sent Worldwide Never Reaches the Inbox, Return Path Study Finds

Despite stalled inbox placement, data reveals higher rates within Gmail Promotions tab

New York – September 16, 2014 – Return Path today announced the results of their annual Inbox Placement Benchmark Report which found that one in every six email messages sent worldwide never reaches the subscriber’s inbox. Based on a sample of nearly 500 million messages from permissioned email marketers, the report found that 11% of all email messages went missing and another 6% were delivered to subscribers’ spam or junk folders. Consistent with last year’s findings, reaching the inbox remains a significant challenge for commercial senders.

Return Path found that the relative constancy of global Inbox Placement Rates (IPR) – the percentage of sent email delivered to addressees’ inboxes – falls apart on a country-by-country comparison:

  • Australian and German senders, top-rated in this study, failed to deliver one-in-eight messages to the inbox during 2013
  • Brazilian senders reached the inbox only 60% of the time, with nearly one-third of their messages disappearing altogether
  • While the US and UK reached the inbox 87% of the time, no country’s marketers were able to break the 90% inbox placement threshold

Overall, European marketers struggled more than others with missing messages, but saw less mail routed to subscribers’ spam folders than North American senders did.

Gmail’s Shopping Folder: Inbox Placement and the Promotions Tab

Senders had the easiest time hitting their marks when their target was a Gmail inbox – but only when their messages were routed to the Promotions tab. Gmail users consistently received more than 90% of legitimate commercial messages sent to them; moreover they tended to read those messages: Read rates for messages in the Promotions tab approached 20% in 2014, which is among the highest for any large mailbox provider.

Senders that followed Google’s suggestion not to ask subscribers to redirect promotional messages into their Primary tabs have been collectively successful at reaching and engaging their audiences. On the other hand campaigns meant to convince users to override placement in the Promotions tab failed almost universally: Very few Gmail users complied, and inbox placement for those that did was sharply lower in 2014.

Holiday Inbox Placement Holds Steady, with an Assist from Apple

During a period that might be expected to suppress inbox placement with a surge in marketing email volume, the holidays instead maintained roughly constant deliverability – at least for campaigns from legitimate marketers. Lower complaint rates probably exerted the strongest influence on Q4 inbox placement rates and mobile devices may have played a contributing role. For the first time in November more than 50% of email messages were opened on mobile devices – the majority of them iPhones and iPads. Consumers using the native Apple mail client were unable to file spam complaints as easily as other users. As a result this growing segment of the user population may appear to mailbox providers to be more satisfied with their commercial email than those reading mail on their desktops.

“While we continue to see promising headway in some regions and industry sectors, reaching the inbox continues to be a struggle for marketers across the globe,” said George Bilbrey, Return Path co-founder and president. “The same challenges that kept reputable senders from consistently reaching subscribers a few years ago are still there, joined recently by new complications as mailbox providers push to keep unwanted mail out of the inbox. The potential to expand the reach of an email program by 10- to 20-percent remains a key lever to drive stronger performance, though, and developing an understanding of the interplay between inbox placement and engagement, reputation, and marketing tactics is critical to maximizing email ROI.”

Return Path’s Inbox Placement Benchmark Report also highlights worldwide inbox placement by industry sector and examines the evolution of measurement in response to rapidly diversifying email applications and consumer behavior, increasingly individualized mailbox provider decision making, and the rising influence of subscriber engagement on deliverability

The complete study, including infographics, can be downloaded here:


Return Path conducted this study using a representative sample of more than 492 million commercial email messages sent with permission to consumers around the world between May 2013 and April 2014. Global and regional statistics are based on performance across more than 150 mailbox providers in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions; country- and industry-specific statistics are based on a subset of senders whose location and industry classifications are identifiable.

About Return Path

Return Path is a consumer intelligence company. We analyze the world’s largest collection of email data to show marketers how to stay connected to their audiences, strengthen their customer engagement, and protect their brands from fraud. Our solutions help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam and abuse don’t. Consumers use Return Path technology to manage their inboxes and make email work better for them. Find out more about Return Path at


Peter Girard
Return Path
+1 646 367 3923
[email protected]

Samantha Evans

Weber Shandwick for Return Path

+1 212 445 8019
[email protected]

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