What is a Read Receipt? (Explained)

Read receipts are notifications that a sender receives when an email or a message has been read by the recipient.

It offers some benefits to the sender such as a confirmation of email delivery. It also comes with some limitations such as customer privacy concerns and expectedly increased response time.

Let us discuss what is a read receipt and how it works.

What is a Read Receipt?

A read receipt is a response that indicates that an email or a message has been opened or read by the recipient.

The name suggests that it is an indicator of whether a message has been “read” by the receiver or not.

However, it does not guarantee that the message has been read practically. It can only indicate whether the sent email or message has been opened.

Read receipts can be used with email and messaging applications. Most instant messaging apps these days allow read receipts.

A read receipt is frequently used in smaller or closed networking programs used by large companies for internal communication. Most email service programs do not support read receipts currently.

Most email programs offer the feature only for business accounts. For instance, Gmail does not support the feature for individual accounts. However, it offers the same feature for business clients in G Suite.

How Does a Read Receipt Work?

Read receipts are also called message disposition notifications. It is usually in the form of a message or an email that notifies the sender that the sent message has been opened by the recipient.

Most email services only allow read receipts when both the sender and the receiver allow this feature. Once the receiver turns on the read receipt feature, the sender can receive the notification.

When the receiver receives the message, the email service program generates an automatic email that notifies the sender. This way, the sender can confirm that the sent email has been opened (read) by the recipient.

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Requesting Receipts

When a sender uses a read receipt feature when sending an email, it is called requesting receipts.

The receiver of such emails may not be aware of the request. However, the sender will only receive a notification if the receiver has also turned on the same feature.

Returning Receipts

When a sender sends an email that asks for permission of sending a notification to the sender, it is called returning receipts. It means the receiver has the option to allow or reject the request.

What Does a Read Receipt Tell?

A read receipt confirms that an email has been opened and “read” by the receiver. It includes the date and time of opening the email as well.

A read receipt can be useful in internal business communication. Large businesses may use this service to keep a track record of internal communication. It helps business managers decimate important information quickly and confirm the same has been received by the relevant persons.

There are some limitations to the working methodology of reading receipts as well. For instance, it cannot confirm whether the receiver actually “read” the email or only opened it.

An email message opened and trashed quickly cannot be confirmed as a “read” email. Similarly, it indicates only the body of the message has been seen by the receiver.

If the email contains an attachment, there is no indication of opening that file unless it is in the link form and it contains a tracking ability.

Read Receipts and Recipients’ Privacy

So, if read receipts are useful tools then why don’t most email service providers offer them anymore? User privacy is one of the main reasons behind abandoning the feature in recent times.

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Most email service providers consider it against the customers’ privacy rights. When an email contains a read receipt, it creates pressure on the receiver knowing the sender has been notified.

Senders may also expect quick responses. It means they can expect a quick response time when using a read receipt feature.

However, from a receiver’s perspective, several factors may compel a delayed response that cannot be notified with a read receipt.

Read response and read patterns can be pivotal in business communication. However, judging them in the same context as reading receipts can create problems for both sides.

Read receipts increase the expectation levels from senders for quick response time. They also expect favorable read patterns such as opening and responding on a priority basis.

Read Receipts and Email Marketing

Until recently, read receipts were considered an effective tool for email marketing. Although email marketing remains one of the most effective marketing tools today, read receipts are no longer that useful.

Read receipts have also become less useful for marketers since it does not fully function on all types of email accounts. For example, Gmail does not support reading receipts for individual accounts.

Also, both the sender and receiver must allow the feature to work properly. Thus, using this feature in email marketing wouldn’t be as effective.

Another limitation of this feature is, that it should be included in every email. It means the receiver should approve it every time. It may annoy the receiver knowing they are being “tracked” by marketing campaigners.

The read receipt feature offered by most email service providers may not work properly each time.

For instance, Gmail contains a pixel image that triggers the read receipt when an email is opened. However, it may not function properly if the receiver has disabled the image preview feature.

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Third-Party Read Receipt Software

Ever since read receipts have faded, third-party software developed for the same purpose has emerged.

Individuals and businesses can use specialized email tracking software to get notifications of email delivery. In practice, email tracking software offers more features than embedded read receipt pixel images.

These powerful software track emails without requiring permission from the receiver. Most of this software notifies the sender when an email is delivered to the intended receiver.

Some common features offered by this software include:

  • Notification on email delivery
  • Notification or alert on email opening
  • Unique opens count
  • Link click count
  • Did not open notification

These features make email tracking tools a better alternative to traditional read receipts. However, as with any other specialized tool, these email tracking tools also come at a cost. Most of them offer paid packages or monthly subscriptions.

Read Receipts in Instant Messaging Apps

Read receipts for instant messaging (IM) apps are a popular feature even when the email feature has diminished.

Read receipts for IM apps do not generate a separate notification with each read message. A common theme is to notify the sender when a message is read through the change of double-tick color or converting a single tick to a double tick.

Read receipts for IM applications also work only if both the sender and the receiver have turned on the feature. It means the privacy concerns about reading receipts are limited with IM apps.

Like email read receipts, this feature in IM applications does not guarantee that the receiver has read the message.

Attachments can also be opened and deleted without downloading them. Thus, this feature also has some limitations with the instant messaging apps.