NEW YORK — Even in an age of Twitter posts and Instagram photos, e-mail is still the way marketers reach the hearts — and wallets — of consumers. And that is why retailers are up in arms about Google’s latest tweak to Gmail.
Over the summer, the Internet behemoth gradually introduced a new inbox with an assortment of folders for different types of messages, including a main inbox and ones for social-networking alerts, e-commerce promotions, updates from businesses like banks, and Listserv messages.
For Google, it’s another moneymaking avenue (note the ads that look like e-mails that now appear at the top of the promotions folder). Also, the company says it wants to fix e-mail overload.
Yet any tiny change that the Internet giant makes has cascading effects for businesses across the Web.
“I don’t like it,” said Ada Polla, chief executive of Alchimie Forever, a skin-care brand. “My guess would be that you might log on to your Gmail 20 times a day, and look at promotions once a week.”
Retailers, who have a love-hate relationship with Google, say this is the latest tussle in an increasingly contentious union. Google, they say, has effectively classified their messages as junk mail by shunting them to an inbox ghetto.
It is too early to tell exactly how Gmail users treat the new tabs, because Google is still rolling out the feature. Although retailers fear that fewer customers are clicking on their sites — because they didn’t read the e-mail promising 40 percent off — so far, there has been only a small effect. The rate at which consumers open e-commerce e-mails has declined about 1 percent since it was introduced, according to three services that manage mass e-mails: Yesmail Interactive, MailChimp, and 3DCart.
Another change, though, might be more worrisome for e-commerce companies. Although shoppers typically click on promotions within hours of receiving an e-mail on other services like Yahoo and Outlook, Gmail users are waiting more than 24 hours, 3DCart said.
Retailers also say the changes do not apply to every business; Google’s own marketing messages from Google Analytics and AdWords have been appearing in the primary inbox — belying the company’s argument that the promotions folder is vibrant.
But Alex Gawley, a Gmail product manager, said there was “no special treatment” for Google’s own promotional e-mails, and that the algorithm was still learning how e-mails should be categorized.