Tabbed Inbox Threatens Email Sender Open Rates

Google is slowly introducing a feature into Gmail which has the potential to dramatically change email marketing as your enterprise and its recipient list know it.

Gmail's new "tabbed inbox" automatically seperates and sorts emails that users receive into four tabs - primary, social, promotions and updates.

- The Primary message tab includes email from friends and family typically and is the first tab users see when loading the new tabbed interface.
- The Promotions tab includes deals and offers, "promotional" and marketing emails such as those sent by ecommerce merchants
- The Social tab includes the automated messages sent from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, etc. as a result of some activity (e.g. follows on Twitter) 
- The Updates tab features confirmations, bills and receipts. 
- The Forums tab shows messages from online groups and discussion boards.

What all this automatic sorting and seperation of email means is that the email being sent as a result of your direct or indirect messaging to consumers and customers (be it social, transactional, or promotional) it could render out of initial view of the Primary message tab, grouped alongside messages of a similar nature. That can be a good thing for marketers to ensure essential messages are seen (such as a payment receipt) but it is definitely not good for marketers whose emails end up in the promotional tab. 

There's a great deal of speculation about what will happen in the future but the impact is already being felt and it is causing all high-volume senders to panic. Early reports from users reveal that one of the first thing Gmail users do when their Promotional tab starts to fills up, is start unsubscribing. The worst part is that Google and its Gmail team haven't even rolled out the feature to all Gmail users yet.  Mailchimp last week released some research which expresses just how dire the situation could quickly become.

As you can see in the graph below, open rates to Gmail (before the tabbed layout) hovered around 13% for 15 weeks, never dipping below that threshold (with the exception of holidays). With the introduction of the tabbed inbox however, open rates dipped and stayed down for three consecutive weeks.