Historically, inbox placement rates held steady at about 80%, with one in five emails getting blocked or routed to a spam folder. Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg described the situation as a "perfect storm."
"Clients are having difficulty in getting their emails delivered, ISPs are tightening requirements on reputation metrics and the number of companies using email to market continues to increase," said Blumberg in a statement. "We see both higher overall email volume and an influx of relatively unsophisticated senders, resulting in decreased inbox placement rates."
ISPs are continually raising the bar on reputation metrics, meaning marketers find it more challenging than ever to reach consumers' inboxes. And, reports Return Path, ISPs are using metrics that are generally unavailable to marketers through traditional deployment platforms, including engagement data, subscriber panel complaint data, and trusted subscriber data—making deliverability extremely challenging for marketers not using data monitoring tools.
Consumer overload is also a major factor. Many people subscribe to marketers' email for access to a specific deal or discount, especially around the holidays. But if the flow of messages from that marketer starts to be too much, they hit the "report junk" button to unsubscribe.
While North American inbox rates went up in the first half of 2011, the region experienced a significant 8% decline in the second half of the year, with inbox placement rates of about 79%, according to Return Path. Spam folder placement jumped 19% to 7.4% in the second half, and missing or blocked email, increased 38%.
In Europe, Middle East and Africa 15% of email never reached the inbox in the second half of 2011, with 5% being identified as spam and 10% being blocked by the ISP. The report shows the region did show the world's highest improvement in inbox placement, at 85%.
Commercial email in Central and Latin American still struggles to reach the inbox with almost 30% of all email being blocked or classified as spam. An average of 10% of opt-in commercial emails are blocked in this area. Asia-Pacific's inbox placement rates declined by 14% with only 67% of all mail reaching its intended inbox destination; overall, 28% of all mail never reached its intended recipient.
Return Path also analyzed a panel sample of over 40,000 Gmail mailboxes and over 110 million messages from July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. 93% of all Gmail subscribers now have priority inbox enabled, a 15% increase over previous studies. But, Gmail inbox placement rates declined to 79% with 21% of mail being delivered to the spam folder. Out of the 79% of mail delivered to the inbox, only 8% were marked priority, a 54% decline.
Return Path monitored data from its Mailbox Monitor service for campaigns conducted from July to December 2011, tracking the delivery, blocking and filtering rates for more than 1.1 million campaigns. Data from 142 ISPs in North America, Central and Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Asia Pacific was reviewed. You can download the complete study here.