“We’re Sorry to See You Go”: Understanding the UX of Unsubscribing

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Most of us are attached to our mobile devices 24 hours a day, and we all have our own unique ways in which we integrate the use of these devices into our daily lives.

For me, the iPhone has become a constant companion in daily life – taking photos of my kids, reading emails on the go, looking up chili recipes… So, needless to say, I do use it a lot, maybe more than I should. I’ve started to think about possible ways in which I could have some control over unnecessary usage without feeling disconnected.

One morning I was busy deleting emails on my phone, as I normally do, because I don’t like the little icon indicating I have unread mail. Yes, I don’t like the little icon to stay there too long, even if I know none of the emails that are unread are actually of any importance – I still dislike seeing it. I realize this means that I am having to check my phone often and going through emails multiple times a day…

I HAD TO FACE IT, MY EMAIL HAD WAY TOO MUCH CONTROL OVER MY TIME.

On any given day, I get about 20-30 emails, out of these emails maybe one or two are actually of some interest to me. There is clearly something wrong with this picture – receiving so many messages with only 10%-20% of them being of interest seems off balance. I decided it was time to unsubscribe.

As I was going through the process of unsubscribing from promotional emails I noticed the wide variety of user flows that were implemented to achieve this. Some emails made it easy, some made it difficult, some – annoyingly, didn’t work at all!

Allowing the customer to unsubscribe easily is a very important aspect of user experience, allowing them to leave without being “stalked” by promotional emails is a very important aspect of trust, and when it is lacking – it reflects poorly on the brand behind the email.

As a UX designer I didn’t really have a very strong opinion about the process of unsubscribing quite yet…

I IMAGINED IT TO BE SOMETHING LIKE THIS:

1. Find the “unsubscribe” link within the email and click it

2. Be taken to a page where my email address should be recognized, where I can then confirm my decision to no longer receive emails from this company

Sounds simple, right? Sadly, the above scenario was only applicable to a handful of “unsubscribe” experiences out of many. For the most part, I encountered unexpected steps and issues in the process… Below, I have outlined some of these UX scenarios I encountered, using real examples (without pointing fingers at specific brands)

FIRST, FIND THE LINK…

This was unexpectedly difficult. There seem to be some conventions around the placement of the unsubscribe link – it usually appears either within the fine print at the top of the email or within the fine print at the bottom of the email.

However, while links in the fine print paragraph at the top and bottom of the email are often styled with the traditional underline or a slightly different color text, the “unsubscribe” link often does not get the same treatment. When there is no visual indication at all that it is clickable, it requires the user to skim through the entire paragraph and look for the word “unsubscribe”.

Unsubscribe

A great example of a visible “unsubscribe” link in the footer of a promotional email. A link to manage email preferences is available for the user as well.

From the perspective of the sender of the promotional email – they surly do not want the recipient to unsubscribe, and that is understandable. But there should be a balance between not making it the focal point on the screen vs. making it impossible to find…

If someone is looking for an “unsubscribe” link and cannot locate it, their frustration level may grow, which makes the rest of the process seem even more cumbersome.

“WE ARE SORRY TO SEE YOU GO”

If the user managed to locate the “unsubscribe” link and proceed to the next step of the process, they will likely be taken to a page on the sender’s website where they will encounter a “we are sorry to see you go” type of messaging. This is obviously designed to make the user want to stay instead of unsubscribing. A harmless message like this is a nice token of appreciation for the user’s time, as long as it is followed by a simple link to unsubscribe.

I’ve found that these messages can range from short and pleasant to real guilt-inducing disclaimers as to why you should not unsubscribe. The latter only makes the process more frustrating since the user has clearly taken the time to find the unsubscribe link, with that goal in mind. They probably wont want to be convinced too much if they have reached this point.

A casual message such as “We get it, sometimes you just have too many emails in your inbox” can create the perception that the brand behind the email is understanding and isn’t making it into a big deal. There are few worse things than making users feel as though they cannot back out of a process which they are not obligated to participate in.

UNSUBSCRIBE FORM VARIATIONS

Unsubscribe

Whoa, wait a minute! I clicked that by mistake!

It rarely happens that by clicking the Unsubscribe link a user is taken to a page which says “You have now unsubscribed”. It is reasonable to ask the user to confirm before the actual process of removing them from a mailing list takes place. After all, some users may have clicked the link by mistake.

I’ve found that unsubscribe forms vary dramatically, here are some variations I have encountered, along with some pros and cons:

1. The user’s email is recognized on the page and they need to click one button to unsubscribe

Pros:

  • The personalization of the experience reassures the user that their email will indeed be removed from the mailing list, while a generic page would leave them to wonder if their email and preference were actually captured by the system
  • The user only needs to perform one simple action – a click to confirm

Cons:

  • This scenario leaves no option for the user to remain on the mailing list in some capacity

2. The user’s email is recognized, and they need to select an option for their subscription status (such as: unsubscribe completely, receive only weekly emails, receive fewer emails, etc)

Pros:

  • The personalization of the experience reassures the user their that email will indeed be removed from the mailing list, while a generic page would leave them to wonder if their email and preference were actually captured by the system
  • This does give users some flexibility to remain on the mailing list in some capacity if they are interested

Cons:

  • The user needs to think about the options presented to them and make a decision, this resembles a “manage your subscription” page more than an “unsubscribe” page, which may leave some users frustrated and confused

Unsubscribe

Decisions, decisions…

3. The user needs to enter their email address in order to unsubscribe

Pros: None

Cons:

  • Users want things done quickly, and quite frankly typing a full email address on a mobile device takes a long time and effort by today’s standards
  • Users will need to double check that they have typed their email correctly to make sure it matches up with the email on record, this adds more time and uncertainty to the process

4. A user needs to choose which mailing list they would like to unsubscribe from

Pros:

  • This scenario caters to the user’s interests and allows them to remain on some mailing lists while unsubscribing from others

Cons:

  • Some of these lists can grow to be quite long, and checking so many boxes can get time consuming and frustrating

 

WHY SHOULD WE MAKE UNSUBSCRIBING EASY?

A user may choose to unsubscribe for a multitude of reasons. They may be receiving too many promotional emails, or they may be disinterested in a specific product or service. Making the process easy and painless is important even though the brand is losing a subscriber.

A bad unsubscribing experience will certainly leave a bad impression with users and will reduce the likelihood of them subscribing again in the future.

Furthermore a user can get so frustrated with the entire experience that they would mark the promotional email they could not unsubscribe from as spam. This is the worst kind of outcome for a brand since this would mean they completely lost any ability to send promotional material to the user now and in the future.

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