Fact vs. Fiction: What Retailers Need to Know About Unsubscribes

By Sharon Shapiro

Unsubscribes are a necessary evil of the email marketing world.

If you’re a retail marketer who spends nearly your entire day strategizing about new email campaigns to strengthen customer relationships and drive revenue, the last thing you want is to see customers unsubscribe. But we all know it happens.

What we’re less clear on is the true impact of an unsubscribe and what you can do to manage the fallout. It’s time to change that.

Exposing the True Impact of Unsubscribes for Retail Marketers

In our effort to expose the true impact of unsubscribes for retail marketers, we evaluated data from 400 retailers to identify who unsubscribes, break down common circumstances surrounding unsubscribes and quantify the cost of those unsubscribes.

Along the way, we found several commonly-held beliefs about unsubscribes. However, some of those beliefs turned out to be more fiction than anything else. Let’s take a look and separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to unsubscribes.

Fact: The Majority of Unsubscribes Come from Non Buyers

On average, the overwhelming majority (77%) of unsubscribes come from non buyers. To put this in perspective, non buyers only make up 55% of email recipients for most retailers.

This breakdown comes with positives — as non buyers are worth far less to your brand than multi-time buyers — and negatives — as shoppers who unsubscribe before ever buying anything represent unrealized revenue potential and decrease the long term ROI of email capture programs.

Fiction: “Unsubscribe 0” is the goal

While an unsubscribe rate of 0% might sound attractive, it’s actually not the goal. Sure, you want to get your unsubscribe rate as low as possible, but having some unsubscribes is a necessary part of maintaining a healthy email marketing program.

For example, unsubscribes can help keep the rest of your email benchmarks high by eliminating people who would never open or click on your emails. You can also use unsubscribes as an indicator of success when experimenting with different types of emails and email content. In general, the key is to find your “unsubscribe comfort zone” and take steps to achieve that goal, recognizing that a 0% unsubscribe rate is both unrealistic and undesirable.

Fact: Unsubscribes Vary by Time of Year

As we head into the holiday season, it’s important to note that unsubscribes spike well above average in November, December and January.

We can likely attribute these spikes to shoppers who subscribe during the holiday season to find the best deals and then unsubscribe shortly thereafter. As a result, don’t be alarmed if you see higher than usual unsubscribe rates over the next several months.

Fiction: Unsubscribes = Lost Customers

It’s easy to think that once a customer unsubscribes, they’ve cut all ties with your brand. Fortunately, the situation isn’t quite so dire. Just because someone unsubscribes, doesn’t mean they will stop buying from your brand (although it is a red flag) — it just means you’ve lost one channel on which to communicate with them.

With the right technology in place, you can still collect information on shoppers’ online behaviors and target them on other channels like Facebook and search even after they’ve unsubscribed.

Fact: Unsubscribes Can Curb Revenue

Yes, you can still communicate with customers on other channels after they unsubscribe and they might still purchase from your brand, but unsubscribes do lead to losses in potential revenue.

Afterall, email remains the preferred communication channel for consumers as well as the chief driver of online revenue and biggest customer retention channel for retail. That means that losing access to communicate with customers via email leads to soft costs (e.g. limited channels for engagement and nurturing opportunities) as well as hard costs in the form of lost revenue.

What is the Cost of an Unsubscribe?

Exactly how much do unsubscribes cost retailers in terms of lost revenue potential? Find out the answer to that question and more in our new eBook, The Cost of an Unsubscribe.

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon leads Bluecore's content marketing program, collaborating with top retailers and strategists to highlight the latest trends in retail marketing, spotlight industry leaders and share advice on how marketers can stay ahead of the curve. An experienced story teller, she has spent her career building content marketing programs for B2B SaaS companies. Sharon has had works featured in MarketingProfs and Content Science Review..