Google unveiled Gmail Tabs this week and like anything new on the Web today, the initial reviews are mixed.
Some people love the new compartmentalized look to their Inbox. Others are furiously scrambling to remove the Gmail tabs and return to the Gmail look they are familiar with.
And marketers — well many of them are decidedly unhappy as they discover what the tabs will mean to their marketing messages and transactional e-commerce messages.
— Angel Inokon (@angelinokon) July 18, 2013 
Anyone else adjusting to the new #gmail ? I keep losing messages!
— Carissa Fit2Flex (@CarissaAnneB) July 18, 2013 
If you haven’t opened your Gmail recently, when you do you’ll notice a major change. Three Gmail tabs will top the first message in your Inbox: Primary, Social, and Promotions.
You can add others or delete these to return to the traditional look by navigating to Inbox Settings inside Gmail.
A Look At The New Gmail Tab Settings
Here’s a brief explanation of what you can expect to find in each of these Gmail tabs. (Note: These tabs are not the same as the Categories which you already probably use to organize your emails.):
Primary: These are inter-personal messages from your regular contacts. Or they could be messages that don’t fit the other tabs you’ve set.
Social: Very simply, these are messages you receive through social networks. They could include updates on new Twitter followers, direct messages you’ve received, and other updates from social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and others.
Promotions: These messages, at least at first glance, are marketing messages. Based on my initial use of the new Gmail tabs, they are generally messages from sites where you’ve signed up for updates.
Google will automatically pre-sort messages and place them under what it believes to be the appropriate tab. You can also add tabs for Updates (messages from sites like PayPal) and Forums (pretty self-explanatory).
How It Could Affect Your Business
If your business relies on e-commerce, this new tabbed layout could mean that abandoned shopping messages and other order communications will not immediately be seen by customers. This could lead to lower customer satisfaction and missed sales opportunities.
And for those that do email marketing, they will find their messages likely pushed to the Promotions tab.
Only time will tell whether or not people actually read the filtered messages in the Promotions and Social tabs. Some fear those messages may get buried.
Some of the Issues Predicted
There’s already some buzz on the Web about how these new tabs (particularly Promotions) could impact businesses.
- Promotional posts archived. Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker observes  that if the filters available on Gmail are applied, emails in the Promotion tab could be archived automatically. That means they would never be seen.
- Delayed action on marketing emails. Many email marketing messages are ending up under the Promotions tab. Carolyn Nye of Practical Ecommerce  suggests this may cause customers to look at them much later. You may need to rethink timely offers and deadline-oriented campaigns.
- More abandoned shopping carts. The delay and archive of promotional materials may also thwart abandoned shopping cart notices which have the highest return on investment of any ecommerce email  if read within the first few hours.
- Greater competition. Having your marketing email piled up to be read later with other marketing messages may mean you must do even more to stand out. Also Google’s inclusion of its own promotions within the tab only creates more noise detracting from your message.
- Less emails in the junk box. On the positive side, Carolyn Nye suggests having special tabs may cut down on the number of your emails ending up in the junk or spam box. That’s because users now have a place to put promotional messages they really want to receive.
- More engaged customers. Also on the positive side, conversion rates could also be higher among customers who take the time to seek out your emails in the Promotions tab.
- Greater email shelf-life. Emails may no longer be the immediate response marketing tool they once were. Customers could go back to that email in the Promotions tab weeks later to actually take action.
Some Simple Advice
But rather than wait to see what the new Gmail Tabs will do to your email marketing campaigns, instead be proactive. Digital marketing expert Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels suggests  contacting your customers now.
Tell your subscribers that the email updates you send them may be going to their Promotions tab. Tell them if they still want to see those emails regularly they need to either visit the tab or mark the email “not promotions” for the future.
Watch Google’s brief visual tour of the new Gmail Tabs below: