Practical Ecommerce

Will Gmail’s New Tab Layout Affect Ecommerce Merchants?

Consumers have many options for email services. The top three providers are Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail, which recently changed to Outlook. Occasionally these services make changes that can impact ecommerce email programs. The changes are often dynamic — changing algorithms, rules, and user interfaces. So it’s imperative to monitor any changes that may impact your business.

If you market to consumers, most of the email addresses in your database are likely with one of those three domains. When any of them changes significantly, it can severely impact your email program.

Gmail Introduces New Tab Layout

Recently, Gmail introduced a new layout for its users. Instead of having the traditional inbox and a spam or junk folder for everything else, it has now divided the inbox into different tabs, presumably to better classify incoming mail. Here is a list of the new tabs available.

  • Primary. This is reserved for personal contacts — i.e., email from people in your address book or other personal communications.

  • Social. This tab filters automatic updates from social media sites, such as when someone tags a picture of you in Facebook, or follows you on Twitter. All of those notifications will get placed in this folder.

  • Promotions. This is where all of the email promotions and notifications from companies that people subscribe to will get filtered.

The result is an inbox that looks like the following.

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Gmail sample.

Gmail sample.

Impact of the Gmail Change

Since this is just being adopted by Gmail users, it’s hard to say whether it will be positive, negative, or neutral for ecommerce merchants.

  • Negative implications. Users may, over time, look at the Promotions tab less frequently than the Primary tab. This will likely lead to a reduction in open and click rates for many emails sent by ecommerce merchants. If users do look at this mail less frequently, timely offers and deadline-oriented campaigns will need to be carefully weighed by ecommerce merchants, as Gmail recipients may take more time to look at their Promotions tabs. Also, there may be increased competition. While your email is sitting in a folder with other offers and promotions, subject lines and offers need to be even more attractive to stand out.

    In addition, triggered and transactional emails are at high risk with this new tab layout. These emails are highly effective for ecommerce professionals because they are timely and relevant. In fact, most abandoned shopping cart emails sent within the first few hours after the abandonment have the highest return on investment. If these messages appear in the Promotions tab, it could reduce the effectiveness of those triggered programs, and the revenue they generate.

  • Google ads. Another issue with this new change is Google placing its own ads at the top of the Promotions tab and making them appear to be legitimate emails. The ads appear above all of the actual email that the subscriber receives. This pushes the actual emails down, and consumers may get annoyed with these ads over time and check their promotions folder even less.

  • Positive implications. The new change could have a positive effect, too. First, by giving users the ability to filter how they want their email to display in their tabs, the messages they truly want will go to the Promotions tab without being sent into the dreaded junk or spam box. For those truly engaged customers, conversion rates will likely be higher because they’ve taken the time to seek out your message in the Promotions folder.

    In addition, promotional emails may have an increased “shelf life” as a recipient may go back to that email weeks later to take action. Open and click rates may take longer to register, so an email’s effectiveness may not be as readily apparent.


Overall the impact of this Gmail change is unknown until more people start using it. In the meantime, analyze the percentage of your current database that are Gmail users. Start to benchmark open, click, and conversion rates on those users now to compare over time, later.

If metrics start to fall for your Gmail users, develop a different strategy to address these changes.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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  1. Todd Krueger June 17, 2013 Reply

    That’s a pretty comprehensive assessment of the new feature; a lot better than most reviews for almost anything. I appreciate your thoroughness and insight … and I will heed your advice.


  2. Domien Van Eynde June 18, 2013 Reply

    Thx, clear article.

  3. donotcrack June 18, 2013 Reply

    Love this post! Thanks Carolyn Nye!

  4. Razibul Hassan June 19, 2013 Reply

    The Gmail changes were meant to make an email user’s life easier. But the eCommerce store owners should not be that much worries in my opinion. The click rate on emails would be less for sure, but the percentages of real customer clicking the emails would definitely increase.

    Personally if someone gets more than 10-20 eCommerce newsletters and promotional emails would mark many of them as spam. Now the tab layout would assure them that they won’t need to do so very often.

  5. Kathy Chavez July 24, 2013 Reply

    I anticipate this tab to be used as an easy way for gmail users to dump all emails marked as promos with a couple of clicks. This could have the possibility of becoming a secondary spam box.

    I think it will be important for email marketers to very conscientious about the emails they send out and how content is organized. Whether or not your email is requested or of interest to the recipient, it will be more likely to be thrown in the ‘junk pile’ and tossed out with the trash.

    People get a lot of junk email and are becoming less and less willing to sift through it for ads and promotions they ‘really’ want.

    I believe frequency of mailings will have an effect on classification too. For instance, in one of my Gmail accounts I get notifications from a project management system. That means lots of notifications. They all went to the Promo tab.

    Senders of promotional, sales, advertising emails and even newsletters will need to take the time to make the people on our list aware and remove our stuff from their ‘junk pile.’ Now we ask them to remove us from the spam list. Now we need to ask them to remove us from the promo tab. I think we will need to target groups of subscribers and send notifications and requests on lists based on email client. …hopefully those notifications won’t get lost in the promo tabs!

  6. Kathy Chavez July 24, 2013 Reply
  7. Elizabeth Ball July 24, 2013 Reply

    At the risk of it ending in a promotions box, many of your own Gmail-using customers may hate it as well.

    They honestly might appreciate an email on how to get rid of the tabs and return to the previous look:
    In Gmail, click on Settings (the daisy symbol on far right), click on Configure Inbox. Then de-select Social and Promotions, which will leave the Primary box grey-ticked. Hey presto, everything back to normal.