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If people want to unsubscribe from emails, it should be made as easy as possible, as the alternative for many customers is using the report spam option, something which can have an adverse effect on sender reputations with ISPs.

I signed up for emails from some of the top UK retailers, and have been seeing how easy (or otherwise) they are making it for customers to opt out of marketing emails...

Tesco

Tesco doesn't make it as easy as it could do for customers to unsubscribe from its emails. First of all, the link is right at the bottom of the email in the small print, and it also warns that you may have to wait five working days for this to take effect:

Tesco unsubscribe link

Tesco makes it even harder at this point, requiring users to sign in with their email address and password before they can opt out. Users who can't remember details and don't want to go through the process of resetting logins may decide that the report spam button is an easier way to unsubscribe:

Once this has been done, a further couple of clicks are needed to finally opt-out of emails, at least two or three more steps than is necessary.

Amazon

Like Tesco, Amazon's unsubscribe link is among the small print, and doesn't exactly stand out:

Amazon email unsubscribe link

However, no login is required to unsubscribe once you get to the Amazon website, and only one further step is required to complete the process, making it smoother for users:

Argos

Argos doesn't want you to unsubscribe; again the link is in the small print, and it is not even shaded in blue, making it even harder to spot. Once you go to the website, however, only one more click is required to opt out of future emails:

Next

The link isn't too easy to spot on Next's emails, especially as in my case (in Gmail) the message was so long that it was clipped at the point where the small print begins. As with Tesco, Next adds an extra level of difficulty by requiring that you login to opt out of emails:

M&S

M&S makes the link hard to find, but its approach from this point onwards is much better. Rather than requiring logins, M&S provides options for shoppers to make emails less frequent, as well as to provide feedback about their decision to opt out.

They can simply unsubscribe straight away if they prefer. By giving users such options, it is likely that some will simply opt to receive fewer mails, while some useful information may be gleaned from the feedback given.

B&Q

The link is right at the bottom here, but it's easy enough to unsubscribe once you have found it. Just one more click is required to confirm the opt out:

HMV

Like M&S, HMV provides the option for customers to either opt-out altogether or else to edit their preferences:

Topshop

In contrast to the retailers I have mentioned so far, Topshop actually provides an unsubscribe link that catches the eye. It is in the admin area of the email, but has not been buried in the small print, and the blue link colour makes it stand out:

Also, just one further click is required to complete the process of unsubscribing, and immediate confirmation is provided.

Recommendations on the unsubscribe process...

  • Make the unsubscribe link easy to find

    Most people will expect to see the unsubscribe link in the admin area at the foot of emails, but attempting to bury it in the small print is not a good idea.If users want to unsubscribe, then they are not going to change their minds just because they cannot find the link, they may well just report it as spam and unsubscribe in this way.

  • Place the link in a more prominent position

    There is even an argument for placing it at the top of the page. After all, the report spam button is normally easy enough to find, and a clearly placed unsubscribe link will reduce the risk of spam reports.

    There aren't too many examples of this, though Laura Ashley is one, placing a link to change subscription preferences right at the top of its emails:

  • Provide options on email content and frequency

    I like the M&S approach here, as this gives retailers a chance to save unsubscribes, and the opportunity to tailor future emails more effectively by learning about desired frequencies and other preferences.

  • Don't insist that users sign in to opt out

    If users have become uninterested in emails, they may well have also forgotten login details, and I can't see many taking the effort to retrieve these. Letting them opt out easily will avoid the need for spam reports.
  • Reduce the number of steps required to opt out

    Make users work too hard to unsubscribe and they may well become frustrated and instead choose the spam option. It should be possible to opt out in two clicks from the email.

  • Confirm unsubscription immediately

    Let customers know that their request to unsubscribe has been successful to avoid leaving any doubt in their minds. Making them wait for several days is not good enough.

  • Test your procedure

    Make sure the process works by clicking the links or sending test emails, so customers don't encounter any problems or frustrations when they want to opt out. 

Graham Charlton

Published 22 September, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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Greg Power

To avoid users resorting to the report spam button (for the reasons you mention), I sort of tested this.

I ran one campaign; with a typically obscured unsubscribe link in the footer and saw a unsubscription rate of 0.47%

I then ran the same campaign, with an unsubscribe link in the header at the top of the email (and the same one in the footer) and saw an overall rate of 0.39%.

I've always tried to include an incentive to not unsubscribe aswell, using something similar to (Bear in mind you'll no longer receive exclusive voucher codes or deals).

about 7 years ago

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Mike Yan

@Greg I like the idea of giving them an insentive NOT to unsubscribe, I will definetely try and implement that into my next campaign.

I do however have one question, did you include the incentive by the unsubscription link or on the landing page where they unsubscribe? Might be a good idea to test both and see which has more success.

Thanks for a great article and thanks for your input Greg.

about 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Greg,

Interesting results, and good idea to offer the incentive.

about 7 years ago

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sarah

I think putting the unsubcribe link at the top of the email is one of the worst thing you can do, people are used to looking for them in the email footer and if they don't find it there they may not bother to continue looking and us the report spam feature anyway.

about 7 years ago

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Greg Power

Mike,

On this occasion the incentive was next to the unsubscription link. I like the idea of using it on the landing page, so I'll bear that in mind. Thanks!

Sarah,

I thought that too, until a discussion with a few people on Twitter gave me the idea to try it. I'd rather separate the wheat from the chaff and have a subscriber list of people who do actually want to receive my emails :)

about 7 years ago

Ian Tester

Ian Tester, Senior Product Manager at brightsolid online publishing

@sarah - include it on both header and footer, clearly in both, for maximum Gross Domestic Happiness among customers and future customers (and a much cleaner, more engaged list that's cheaper to mail and offers superior ROI).

about 7 years ago

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Judah Swagerty (eBizSuccessC)

Good article.  Very interesting!  I guess the whole goal is to keep our suscribers suscribed as long as possible by keeping them happy and offering value!

about 7 years ago

James Bunting

James Bunting, Managing Director at Communicator

An interesting article and discussion.

I often think that those people unsubscribing can be the most valuable people in your email program.  Why? Because they can tell you what is wrong with your program.  They have become disengaged and gone to the trouble of unsubscribing for a reason.  How far behind them are the people who have stopped opening your emails?  Often understanding why people are unsubscribing gives you the chance to keep them in your email program but also helps you improve the program for everyone else.

We have had a lot of success with clients implementing two additional elements to the unsubscribe piece.

1.  Exit Survey - Not everyone will complete it, but finding out why people are leaving is incredibly useful.  Do they want to get emails less frequently, more offers, extra information on a specific topic, are they no longer buying your product but will do again in 6 months time?  All of this information can help you tailor your program for them and others and it also feeds into...

2.  Preference Centre - Most people unsubscribe from an email program as it no longer delivers what they are looking for.  By providing a preference centre you are able to give the recipient control over what they receive and when they receive it

about 7 years ago

Marc Munier

Marc Munier, Commercial Director at Pure360

Completely agree with Graham - making it hard for people to unsubscribe is a false economy. Instead of "I didn't like their newsletter so I unsubscribed" type feeling it becomes - "those guys keep sending me emails and I can't unsubscribe".

And as Judah says - if you give people what they want - and why wouldn't you they won't want to unsubscribe anyway.

My pet hate - needing to login to opt out HA HA bar/Restaurant take note!

about 7 years ago

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Andrew Bonar

Chris is correct about list-unsubscribe benefits. However since this discussion took place the benefits have moved on and you do not need to be in the safe senders list. It is supported by Gmail and Hotmail and I highly recommend people implement it.

about 6 years ago

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Gerald Price

Tesco's unsubscribe function doesn't actually work.

You make the (de)selecions, click submit, and an 'unexpected error' smiles back at you, with no option to report it.

There's losing your business, and then there's making sure you never, ever use a company again.

over 4 years ago

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Henal Patel

Mostly, I've found in my research that merchants and retailers include options (web address and/or email address) in the list-unsubscribe header. The second most common approach is the link, but I always check the list-unsubscribe header.

The only drawback of the list-unsubscribe header is that most email services don't show the full header, meaning you have to download the full email.

I don't even bother... I use Unlistr for iPhone and iPad that crawls your inbox like a virus scan, provides you a list of your email subscriptions and allows you to bulk opt-out of all of them in one swoop. You can't go wrong with a bulk opt-out tool that works almost all the time...

over 4 years ago

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Denise

I am so annoyed as I cannot unsubscribe easily because I have changed email addresses a few times and can't recall which I registered with or what the password was.
It is SO annoying of Tesco!!!

about 4 years ago

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