Six months ago, Gmail unveiled their new inbox: a tabbed interface that promised to give account holders more control over their digital communications. The announcement was met with a good deal of frenzy by email marketers who scrambled to determine their next steps. As a marketer, I’m always curious to see how business, and especially the industry, responds and adapts to changes that could impact strategy and returns. As an account holder – and former, persnickety usability tester – I’m just as interested in the user experience. Over coffee, I sat down with three FreshAddress colleagues and Gmail enthusiasts to chat about their experiences.

Nicole Edwards, our Director of Client Services, and Mike Iarrobino, our Product Manager, both access their accounts from desktop web browsers and mobile devices. Mark Rafferty, Director of Strategic Sales, checks his personal email from the native Gmail client at home. (He admits to being a bit of  a Luddite when it comes to mobile.)  As for me, I’m a bit of a mutt: a Mac gal who uses a Chrome browser and an Android mobile app.

HMW:  So, what do you think?

MR:  My experience, thus far, has been positive. I use the Gmail client on my desktop.

NE:  I also use the native client on a desktop and I also access my account on an Android mobile.

MI: I primarily use it on desktop, but I have a Windows phone with an app. Frankly, the app stinks.

(Laughing all around)

HMW: What stinks about it?

MI: It doesn’t support the tabbed interface. I actually liked that it was separating everything out and now I just see everything as one big list.

HMW: My app separates the content, but the interface doesn’t show the tabs.  It’s not nearly as useful as the web-based email client. I’m also not thrilled with the way notifications are processed. You’re not saving me much time and energy if you can’t signal message importance.

NE: I’ve noticed that, at least with my phone, I only get notifications for the primary inbox, but I don’t get them for the promotions tab.

HMW: Since the conversion took place, would you say you’re more or less engaged with the marketing emails you receive?

MR: I’d say more engaged because I’m more aware of who’s sending me things. I really like the tabs, but sometimes they get it wrong. I’ll find my personal communications in the promotions inbox.

NE: Oh, me, too! Yesterday, I was waiting on an email and I was convinced I didn’t get it. It turned out it was in my promotions tab. The subject was, “How about these?” I’m not sure what their filtering algorithm is; it certainly would be interesting to learn.

MR: One thing I don’t like and I have no idea if this is related to this rollout, but if I don’t open something right away, Gmail decides its junk and moves it to the junk folder for me. I don’t think they should make that determination. I may just not have gotten around to it.

HMW: Do you feel like you’re more or less in control of your mail?

NE: I feel like I’m in control, but I’m finding I’m not opening the promotions tab as much.

MI: I agree. I just went through my promotions tab because I realized I hadn’t checked it since the beginning of October. I deleted over 70 messages.

HMW: I had a similar experience up until the weather turned and I realized… I need sweaters. Now, I’m all over that tab. Honestly, though, if I don’t have the funds, I may scan the list, but I definitely won’t open.

NE: That’s also happening with me. Before, even if I wasn’t looking for something, I would still open it, look at it. I might have even opened my wallet. Now, I only go to the promotions tab when I need something, or I open it up to scan for my CVS deals.

(Laughing)

HMW: Did any of you turn off the tabs?

MI: I tried, but I couldn’t figure it out.

MR: This also isn’t part of the rollout, but I don’t like the way threads are linked.

NE: Oh, and the way messages are composed now! It feels like a text message. I find it annoying!

HW: I don’t like it either. The pop-out is irritating.

HW: I noticed that with this rollout, they removed the delete button on mobile devices. You had to hunt for it, because that’s exactly what I want to do when I’m driving and trying to…

MR, NE, MI  (in unison): DRIVING?!?!?!

HMW: Um, no! no! I mean sitting in traffic on the 95. Yes, in traffic. On the 95. Not moving.

(Laughing)

MR: Yeah, I could see how looking for the delete button while you’re changing lanes would be a challenge.

HMW: Oh, it is! Especially when I’m wearing Google glass!

NE: Even Better!

HMW: Mike, did you notice that? The missing delete button?

MI: No, but I will say that I think the overall user experience is far superior to Yahoo, for example.

NE: I agree. Even though there are elements of Gmail that I find annoying, I have several other accounts that I refuse to use because the experience is so much better with Gmail.

HW: So, Mike, you have a Yahoo account. They recently underwent a massive redesign… essentially trying to play catch-up with Gmail. Do you notice any similarities or improvements?

MI: It was basically a re-skinning. I didn’t really notice new features, but… I’m not as engaged as I am with Gmail.

MR: Is this helpful at all? I mean, are we learning anything?

HW and NE (laughing): Yeah, don’t email and drive!

So, fearless reader, what about you? Are you using Gmail? How are the tabs affecting the way you engage?

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