Is Your Industry on the Email Naughty List?

We’re several weeks into Q4 and the holiday season is just around the corner. Email marketers in every corner of the e-commerce space are reviewing their data, eyeing their conversion targets, and brainstorming ideas to wring more revenue out of the next few months.
On the other side of the SMTP conversation, mailbox providers are anticipating a siege of holiday volume, increased phishing and spoofing, and overloaded mailbox users.
It’s commonly reported that deliverability declines during the holidays. Return Path’s recent “2017 Deliverability Benchmark” report indicates that some industries are more susceptible to increased spam folder placement at the end of the year. Anecdotally, I spend much of my Q4 working with brands that have found their ROI in shambles thanks to tanking inbox placement.
For this post, I wanted to spend some time digging into the data to determine how deliverability trends progress throughout Q4 and whether some industries are differentially impacted. I focused specifically on industries that rely heavily on a successful holiday season to hit their revenue targets.
The following industries were included in my analysis:

  • Apparel & Accessories
  • Deals & Rewards
  • Education, Nonprofit and Government
  • Flowers & Gifts
  • Household Goods
  • Kids/Babies
  • Toys & Hobbies
  • Sporting Goods
  • Travel

For the sake of simplicity (and legible graphs), I’ve categorized the above into three groups: gifts for kids, gifts for adults, and miscellaneous industries with clear ties to Q4 performance.
Overall, the filtering rates typically stayed above 10 percent, with some industries seeing in excess of 20 percent of their mail going to the spam folder. For mailers with lists of 1 million or more, this means that 100,000 to 200,000 emails are not being seen by subscribers. These rates can substantially drag down performance, and certain industries were definitely more likely to end up on the naughty list.
First let’s look at e-commerce categories that appeal to those shopping for children and young adults.
Interestingly, brands aligned with the Sporting Goods industry had higher overall spam folder rates, averaging nearly 18 percent for the final months of the year. In addition, spam filtering for Sporting Goods showed substantial increases over the course of Q4, with 22 percent of mail sent to the spam folder for the last two weeks of December.
While the Kids/Babies senders saw relatively even placement rates, Toys & Hobbies saw minor declines in the percentages of mail routed to the folder. This could be due to increased engagement among subscribers in preparation for the holidays. With spam folder rates still hovering above 10 percent, even senders in these industries have room for improvement and performance gains.
Gifts for Kids Q4 Email Spam Folder Placement
When we look at industries that are aligned with gifts for adults, we see relatively even placement rates for Apparel & Accessories as well as Household Goods, with minor spam folder increases in mid to late November. With the volume increases associated with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this jump is unsurprising.
The Flowers & Gifts industry has its own trajectory, with substantial increases in the percentages of messages mailbox providers routed to the spam folder during the quarter. The filtering trend takes a turn for the worse following Black Friday and maintains an even climb through the end of the year.
Gifts for Adults Q4 Email Spam Folder Placement
Finally, I reviewed several miscellaneous categories that align with increased holiday spending and travel. While Deals & Rewards and Travel senders saw fairly even placement, those in the Education, Government, and Nonprofit spaces saw spam folder placement that remained consistently elevated, hovering above 20 percent for the entire quarter and exceeding 24 percent at the end of December. Those in the nonprofit space may want to take a look at this post from last year, which highlights several challenges for the industry and covers ways to improve performance.
Misc Categories Q4 Email Spam Folder Placement
When looking at these trends, it’s clear that on average, all of the industries reviewed have room for improvement with regard to deliverability. If subscribers don’t see messages in their inbox, they are very unlikely to engage.
Do you know your brand’s spam folder rates? Deliverability varies greatly for brands within the same industry. To better understand where your program is and how to improve performance in Q4, make sure that you are aware of your inbox placement. Check out this recent post for several free tools that can help get you started.

As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”