Will Gmail’s New In-box Format Make Us Shop Less?

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Gmail's new inbox.

Ever since Gmail changed its format last week, my in-box has looked alarmingly bare. Meanwhile, my bank account has remained full, even though this is prime time for end-of-summer clearance pillaging. Such is the effect of Gmail's new tabs system, which siphons promotional e-mails into their own section and away from your default "personal" in-box. Apparently, hiding those tempting "SPECIAL OFFER!" subject lines has kept me from frittering away my money.

And I'm not the only one. Early surveys of e-mail marketing behavior shows that the click-through rates for promotional e-mails dropped sharply when Google rolled out the new platform. From the FT:

Immediately after the changes were completed, MailChimp, the email marketing services provider, reported that Gmail open rates had fallen sharply. Whereas Gmail users used to open 13 per cent of marketing emails, they were now opening just over 12 per cent. That may not sound like a big drop, but it means that millions more emails are going unread ...

Return Path found that overall, Gmail open rates fell from 10.6 per cent before the change to 9.8 per cent after. Or to put it another way, that means the total number of emails getting opened has tumbled by 7.5 per cent.

In short, Gmail users are now opening fewer promotional e-mails. Does this mean they're buying less as a result? It's hard to tell. This is a notoriously slow time of year for shopping, and retailers haven't released any studies or numbers to indicate new buying patterns. But a quick survey of Cut staffers shows that it won't make much difference. "The promotions tab is my favorite!" says one co-worker, not really joking. Another colleague got rid of the tabs and clicks on the promos just as much as she did before. And a third says she never fell for them much in the first place, so the new format doesn't affect her shopping habits (she's disciplined). 

Another casualty of the promotions tab: newsletters and alerts from websites like this one. I can't be the only one who panicked last week when I awoke to find my in-box devoid of morning e-mails from my usual news sources (not to mention, annoying subject lines like "HOW TO WEAR OVERALLS THE RIGHT WAY!" that clutter up my Gmail on a daily basis). The point is, not everything in the promo tab is stuff we want to avoid. Gmail users will still click over there.

The new Gmail format probably won't change retail numbers so much as it'll affect the way shoppers are directly targeted. Meanwhile, there are some great sales happening right now ...