Email Subscribe Forms Report

Are your email subscribe forms ready for GDPR?

By Kath Pay

How do your email subscribe forms stand up?

We’ve been hearing many conflicting stories about how well EU marketers are preparing to handle all the many changes that GDPR will bring to their acquisition. So, we decided to see for ourselves.

Now the verdict is in: Some retailers will be ready to go on May 25, when GDPR goes into full effect. Some need to do a little tweaking. The rest? They’d better read our report to see what they must do now to update their practices.

But doing this work does have a major upside: Reworking your acquisition plan, beginning with your subscribe forms, will help you do a better job of connecting with customers and launching email conversations that lead to a stronger email programme.

Why we focused on email subscribe forms

Email marketing is your brand’s best opportunity to encourage customers to stay loyal and spend more. So, investing time and money in the subscription process makes business sense.

A healthy email list gives you a competitive advantage. It costs less than paid search or ads. You own the customer relationship and the platform. You can learn more about your customers as the relationship goes on. Plus, the ROI can’t be beat.

But all these benefits depend on bringing in a steady crop of high-quality motivated subscribers, and that means having an email subscribe form that invites and encourages them to opt in to your email programme.

Hence, our investigation into retail email subscribe forms. We partnered with Pure 360 to subscribe to 80-plus UK retail brands and then studied three parts of the process: the newsletter opt-in form, the account-registration form, and the post registration experience.

We registered as customers of the brands gave us that option and then tracked the email results and compiled them to get an accurate picture of retailers’ email subscription practices.

6 findings from the report

We found many marketers missed obvious opportunities to connect with customers and begin the conversation. Sometimes it was just a small percentage of marketers. At other times, more than half of the marketers missed the boat on a key opt-in opportunity.

When you download Preparing for GDPR: The State of Retail Email Subscribe Forms in 2018, you’ll get all our findings, plus our analysis, our best advice for creating better subscribe forms along with an analysis of GDPR and its effect on permission practices. The good news is, this analysis and advice is suitable for all sectors – not just retail!

Here’s a quick list of some key findings:

Email subscribe forms

Getting this form right is essential for everything that happens farther down the road in the customer’s engagement and perceptions of your brand.

1. 87% of brands put the signup BELOW the fold, and one brand didn’t have a newsletter subscribe on the homepage.

A lot of subscribe forms ended up on the bottom of the homepage. Can you find this one?

Turf wars between email, web and other marketing stakeholders can end up dictating where the subscribe form goes. Or, the page designer puts it anywhere it fits – anywhere but the prime visibility at the top of the page.

To combat this, pull out the numbers and show the difference in cost between acquiring a customer through a prominent form on a platform you own (your website) and acquiring her through paid search.

This brand did a lovely job of recognizing the value of email by positioning the subscribe form in prime homepage real estate:

2. Only 46% of email subscribe forms list clear benefits.

It looks as if more than half of today’s marketers forgot to answer that key question in every consumer’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

Don’t assume your customers will see the benefits for themselves. Above all, remember this: A transaction is taking place, even if no money has changed hands.

Account registration forms

This form is separate from the subscribe form, but it can help or hurt the customer experience.

3. 62% of registration forms allow customers to register using the same email address that they had just signed up with.

This is a good thing, right? Yes, but think about the other 38%, which don’t let you use the same email address to open an account. What a confusing and poor customer experience!

Presumably, the technology would reject that move as a duplicate registration. Don’t let that happen, though. Work with IT to fix the technology. Your customers’ user experiences are more important.

4. Most account registration forms have 5 to 7 mandatory fields.

Many of your customers might use mobile devices to create accounts. Requiring many form fields can lead to abandonment and frustration. If you use account registration to drive email signups, those represent lost opportunities.

Seven of the 10 fields in this form are mandatory. The brand could easily have used progressive screens to collect that data.

In contrast, this Topman progressive popover asks for additional data after the opt-in.
Bonus: It explains why and how the information will be used. This is a necessity under GDPR.

5. 49% of checkboxes promoting email opt-ins during account registration were pre-checked.

Although U.S. email law still allows checked permission boxes on forms, they’re out for UK and other EU email marketers under GDPR. Canada’s Anti-Spam Law also prohibits pre-checked boxes or unchecked opt-out boxes.

Besides presenting our findings on email subscribe practices, our report also goes into some detail on acceptable email permission practices under GDPR, which affects marketers beyond the EU who have customers or subscribers in the EU.


As with the post-subscription experience, what happens after customers register for accounts can either build engagement and loyalty or hurt them.

6. Only 43% of retailers sent an account registration confirmation email.

The registration-confirmation email serves the same purpose as an email confirmation or welcome message. Personalize it with the account-holder’s details, and link back to the account to make corrections or updates a breeze.

This email also gives you another opportunity to promote your email program to customers who created accounts but did not check the box to opt in to your offers.

To be most effective, you should set it up using dynamic content, so that account-holders who have already subscribed to receive marketing emails see a different message. See how H&M include this as a CTA in its registration confirmation email.

What sets subscribe-form winners apart?

Happily, our findings also helped us draw a clear and convincing picture of brands who are winning with their email subscribe forms.

We concentrated on this aspect of the process because it’s so important. Once you master it, your list will grow like crazy with the subscribers who will drive the greatest value for your email program.

Here’s what we found about these winning brands:

  • They go above and beyond best practice, making creative use of technology.
  • They write clear, jargon-free opt-in messaging.
  • They sell the benefits of signing up to their lists.
  • They make strong use of popovers.
  • They have prominent forms everywhere that’s relevant.

Wrapping up

I hope you’ll grab a copy of our report, because we’ve lots more surprising findings, background information that will help you make more informed decisions and a breakdown of acceptable email subscribing and permission practices under GDPR.

Now is a great time to review your own subscribe processes and practices and to identify and test needed improvements.  You’ll boost your email programme and comply with the law, all at the same time.

Interested in finding out more? Check out how the awesome team at Holistic Email Marketing can help take your email programme to the next level.