Return Path Study Finds Marketers Struggling to Connect with Consumers

Report reveals consumers read less of the email they received in Q4, including shopping-related messages

NEW YORK – Jan. 29, 2013 – Return Path, the global leader in email intelligence, today announced the results of its latest Email Intelligence Report, which shows consumers reading less of their email across most sender categories. Senders in the shopping category, for example, saw read rates drop to 15% in Q4 of 2012 compared to Q4 of 2011.

Other sectors that saw significant declines in quarter-over-quarter read rates include social networks, news providers, travel- and jobs-related senders. Not all senders suffered setbacks in Q4-2012, though: The top 100 internet retailers enjoyed far better subscriber engagement than their smaller peers and also achieved higher inbox placement rates, with only 6% of their messages failing to reach subscribers’ inboxes. The North American average tripled that rate, with 18% of messages failing to make it to addressees’ inboxes.

Finance, business, and real estate marketers were top performing categories in Q4.  Spam folder placement decreased year-over-year for these senders while subscribers read a higher percentage of their messages, improving their overall engagement metrics.

Quarterly engagement metrics also helped explain the results of one of the most studied email campaigns in recent history: the fundraising effort for the 2012 presidential election. All key indicators of subscriber engagement placed the Romney campaign well behind President Obama’s.

As part of the study, Return Path also compared the performance of retailers’ email subject lines offering free shipping, a dollar amount off (e.g. “Save $10 off your next purchase”), a percentage off (e.g. “30 percent off all outerwear”), or a combination of these.  The “percentage off” messages slightly edged the others, achieving a 14 percent read rate for the top 100 internet retailers vs. 12 percent, but again these retailers generally outperformed others.

“As the attention span of today’s consumer is limited and the competition to gain this attention is fierce, it has become increasingly important for brands to adapt and customize their messages for the best ROI in the email channel,” said Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path. “The data shows a clear opportunity for marketers to use analytics to gather email intelligence about which tactics resonate with subscribers, while also showing how much engagement depends on building strong brands and reputations.”

The study also found that consumers continue to open more of their email—sometimes most of it—on mobile devices, underscoring the need for marketers to implement a mobile email strategy.  Email opens on mobile devices spike on the weekends with open rates in excess of 50 percent for the top 100 internet retailers.  

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


Data for this study were extracted from Return Path's email performance analysis engine and its Inbox Insight product, which aggregates actual email message interactions by 2.2 million panelists composing a representative sample of the US consumer population. References to the top 100 internet retailers are based on the most recent Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, a ranking of merchants in the US and Canada by annual online sales. For more details on the methodology see the full report.

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:



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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