Why smart companies care about email unsubscribes

Ian May
2 min readDec 5, 2016

A lot of companies measure email open rates and click-through rates but why is it that very few look at what makes people actively switch off from their communications?

How many times recently (escpecially in the run up to Christmas) have you unsubscribed to emails from a retailer or a brand? If you’re anything like me it’ll be for one of the following reasons:

  1. You couldn’t remember signing up to receive emails from company x in the first place
  2. The last few emails you received from company x didn’t have anything relevant to you in them
  3. Company x emailed you too often
  4. You just get too many marketing emails in general to be interested in company x’s emails

Normally, assuming the unsubscribe link works (and that’s not always a given), what you see is something like the screen below:

Confirmation screen after unsubscibing from Philips marketing email

So what’s wrong with the screen above?

Well, it’s not great that it looks like it’ll take 10 days to actually get off the company’s mailing list but the main thing for me is that this is a big missed opportunity to find out why you’ve asked not to be contacted by email any more.

Something like this gives the recipient the opportunity to give their feedback and for the company to gain insight to feed into their email marketing programme:

Debenhams email platform has built in feedback following a successful unsubscribe

With the data gathered from the example above Debenhams can learn a number of things and note which option is first on the list!

It’s really tempting as a marketer who believes in their brand to want to email your subscribers as often as possible, but if a significant volume of your unsubscribers tell you that you’re emailing them too often, then that’s something valuable to know.

With the second set of questions Debenhams can use this information to improve the content of their newsletters in the future. By over-laying information about who unsubscribes with why they unsubscribe there’s a real opportunity to improve the effectiveness of your emails to remaining (and new) subscribers.

Under normal circumstances the number (or percentage of) unsubscribes over a given period can be perceived as a negative metric to measure. However, if marketers can use the opportunity to gain valuable insight to improve their eCRM strategy they might not be such a bad thing after all!

(This article was first published in March 2014)



Ian May

Digital Agency Consultant. Proud dad, Yorkshire tea drinker, Steam buff.