A recent study conducted by the global data solutions firm Return Path found that on a global scale only 79 percent of permissioned email marketing messages were actually reaching consumer inboxes, down from 83 percent in 2014. According to the study, the other 21 percent were either delivered directly to spam folders or were considered missing, meaning that they weren’t delivered to the consumer whatsoever. In the United States specifically, email marketing messages were only reaching subscriber inboxes 76 percent of the time. The only country that fared worse was Brazil, at 74 percent.

When email success ratings were broken down into industry sectors, some businesses did better than others. While messages from apparel brands reached inboxes 92 percent of the time, food and beverage 93 percent, hospitality 87 percent, and travel 85 percent, messages from media and entertainment businesses only had a 73 percent success rate and those from telecommunications saw a 74 percent success rate.

Why the downward trend? According to the president of Return Path, George Bilbrey, “The inbox is becoming harder to reach partly because mailbox providers are applying increasingly sophisticated algorithms to understand what content their users truly value.” Thus, according to Bilbrey, for email marketers to be more successful going forward, they will need to analyze subscriber engagement and based on that data develop marketing programs that will capture the curiosity of consumers and represent things that those targeted consumers really care about. Additionally, businesses will need to rely on reputation and deliverability data to track email performances the same way mailbox providers are tracking it, which will enable marketers to take quick and effective action to reverse downward trends.

The 2015 study looked at a representative sample of 357 million email marketing messages sent by recognized brands. By “permissioned,” this means that the consumers were subscribers and had given the business consent to send them commercial email. Inbox placement statistics were based on data captured from more than 150 mailbox providers across North and South America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions.


Essany, Michael. “U.S. Email Marketers ‘Fared Worse’: 21 Percent of Commercial Messages Went to Spam—or Oblivion.” Mobile Marketing Watch. 10/15/15.

Return Path. “Email Marketing Inbox Placement Dips Below 80% Globally.” 10/13/15.