Skip to main content

Your subscribers are in their inboxes practically from the minute they wake up in the morning until their heads hit the pillow late at night, according to findings in our 2017 Consumer Digital Usage and Behavior Study.

But, more often than not, consumers are scrolling through their inboxes because they’re looking for something to do or avoiding something they don’t want to do, and that can affect how interested they are in checking out or acting on your email messages.

They’re also chatting, texting and checking in on social media – and that applies to all ages across the board these days, even the formerly desktop-bound Baby Boomers. Email is just one of the avenues consumers use to stay in touch with friends, family and the world at large – and your messaging must acknowledge that increased “distractedness” in both content and design.

This year’s study also confirmed our 2016 finding that mobile is the dominant device now for email access across all age groups. Nearly all of the 1,245 respondents in our study use smartphones and nearly 50 percent also use tablets to read and act on email.

1. The dominance of mobile – primarily via smartphones – makes inbox-checking more likely a random day-long activity rather than a purposeful quest for information

These findings are consistent with what we learned in our 2016 study. The graph below breaks down what consumers do with their smartphones first thing in the morning.

This graph tells you what they’re looking at:



As you see, personal communications rule first thing in the morning, especially among younger consumers (teens and Millennials). But even Baby Boomers are checking in earlier in the morning, and that is because the dominance of smartphones puts the world at everyone’s fingertips.

Where email and other forms of communication were once confined to purposeful sessions in front of a desktop computer – in the home office, at work, in a computer lab, etc. – mobile access means people can check their email whenever they feel like it, and they do:

What this means for you: Mobile puts email right in your customers’ hands, but it also makes them more distracted than ever. Instead of sitting down for a purposeful session of email reading, they’re more likely to break off an email to attend to something else. Your message content and design must take this scattershot approach to email into account.

Consider the time of day for your offers: Yes, your customer might see your fabulous vacation deal first thing in the morning, but do you think she’s going to sit down and click through to your site and buy even before she’s had her first cup of coffee?

You can’t afford to assume she’ll save your message for later. Instead, consider whether noon or evening would be a better time to catch her attention and whet her appetite for your messages.

Design content for mobile-first reading: Email design has evolved in monumental stages since the first HTML messages were broadcast a decade-plus back. Whether you go full on with responsive design, which customizes your email content to the viewing device or simply choose a streamlined, single-column format that works on all devices, make sure your message looks and function wells on devices of every size and operating system.

2. Good news! The unsubscribe button is working

Marketer efforts to promote the unsubscribe button as a trustworthy means to manage email are working. This year, 73 percent of consumers told us they use it to stop unwanted email. That’s 8 full percentage points higher – a trend, not a statistical blip – than our 2016 study revealed.

What this means for you: This is a major finding. Unsubscribing benefits your email program because it improves deliverability and list viability. So, treat your unsubscribe zone like a valuable member of the family.

Don’t hide it on the page or try to camouflage it in tiny type. Test it often to make sure the link still works. Also, give your subscribers alternatives, such as opting down to a lower frequency or changing their interest topics.

Many subscribers just want to update their email addresses. These are your best customers because they want to keep you in the loop. So, offer address change as an alternative in your unsubscribe section.



3. Text and email can form a partnership, especially among younger consumers

As you saw previously, email is one of the things consumers check first thing in the morning, but it’s not the only thing. Further, just as they check email throughout the day, whether just at random or strategically, consumers are also fielding messages via texting (SMS) and social media.

This year, while we saw a 9.4 percent drop in the percentage of teens who embrace email for brand communications, we also discovered that they’re more interested in a combination of email and SMS.

Among teens, this became the second most popular means of receiving brand communications – up 20% from our 2016 study.


Although preferences for receiving brand messages via SMS is in only the single digits among other age groups, we still see the potential for an email-SMS partnership. However, the many caveats attached to SMS messaging – primarily, that it is by federal regulation a permission medium only – mean marketers must proceed with caution.

When we asked consumers what kinds of text messages they sign up for, most said “I don’t.” But when they do, they sign up to get coupons, notifications and company information.

Consumers also told us they don’t want to field an unending stream of texts, either. One to two messages a week is optimal, according to 82.4 percent of consumers.

What this means to you: The same value exchange that drives successful email marketing is also at work in SMS messaging, and at even higher degrees. Consumers who might tolerate high frequency from valued brands don’t necessarily want their phones pinging with push messages several times a day. High-value and nuanced frequency will go hand in hand toward building positive consumer attitudes on text messaging.

Next post: Consumer attitudes on email privacy and transparency and how marketers must respond.

For your own copy of the study, with results and insights you can use to compare with your own customer base and apply to your email marketing program, download our 2017 Consumer Digital Usage & Behaviour study