By using Replypad, you agree to our Cookie Policy.

Distribution List vs. Shared Mailbox vs. Shared Inbox: Which is best for your business?

Distribution List vs. Shared Mailbox vs. Shared Inbox Software

Many businesses need to manage their incoming emails as a team. While managing an inbox may be relatively easy when there are only a small number of people on your team, as your business grows, the chances for miscommunication increase.

For example, you may find yourself realizing you have unanswered emails only days later or duplicated responses sent to customers – and you are not alone. Inbox confusion is one of the biggest pains for customer-oriented teams. Making mistakes is common when several people need to handle the same shared email addresses such as or, which puts your entire workflow at risk – issues that ultimately impact customers.

In this article we will cover the following typical ways people choose for team collaboration when working with email:

  1. Distribution lists – A list of email recipients addressed as a single recipient.
  2. Shared Mailboxes – A mailbox shared with one or more people.
  3. Shared Inboxes (software solution) – A collaborative tool for teams to answer emails jointly.

What is a distribution list?

A distribution list, also referred to as Contact Group, is a feature of email applications (such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft 365, and Gmail) that allows people to maintain a list of email recipients addressed as a single recipient.

Distribution lists usually are handled by an entire team like customer support, finance team, or Human resources. Common examples of distribution lists include, or

How do distribution lists work?

  • When sending an email message to the address of a distribution list, that message is copied and delivered to multiple inboxes – the recipients defined for the distribution list, usually all the people in the relevant team.
  • The email is sent to the personal email addresses of the recipients, each receiving a copy of the email.
  • When a team member replies to an email received through a distribution list, the response gets sent from their personal email address.
  • Emails cannot get sent from the email address of the distribution list.
  • When an email received through a distribution list is deleted, it removes the email only for the person who performed the action.

Distribution list benefits

Distribution lists are methods made for one-way communication, which is why it works best for sharing company announcements or information and is less likely to work well as a communication channel with your customers.

When it comes to customer communication, they seem helpful because they allow anyone on the team to receive all incoming emails from customers. However, managing a back-and-forth communication with customers may become confusing and create problems, as explained below.

Distribution list problems

Using distribution lists for external company communications can become complicated for the following reasons:

  • Cluttered inboxes – When everyone on the team receives a copy of every message, it may create cluttered inboxes and inefficiency. Copies mean that everyone on the team spends time reading and sorting the same email messages.
  • Lack of collaboration – When a team member replies to an email message, they need to Cc or forward the email to other people on the team to notify them about the communication or discuss it internally.
  • No clear ownership and accountability – Without a way to declare who is the owner of a message, customers may receive different answers from multiple people – or no answer at all.

These problems lead to a lack of accountability, lack of visibility, and lack of collaboration. As a result, many customer-facing teams may replace distribution lists with email-based shared mailboxes or shared inbox software to manage company communication.

What is a shared mailbox?

A shared mailbox allows several team members to log into it to read and send emails from the same email address. Team members log in using the same shared username and password for the shared mailbox. Common examples of shared mailboxes are, or

A shared mailbox is just like an individual email mailbox, except it is used by multiple people on the team using shared credentials.

How do shared mailboxes work?

  • Shared mailboxes are handled by an entire team, like the customer support team, human resources team, or sales team.
  • When a customer sends an email to a shared mailbox address, it delivers a single copy of the message to the shared mailbox address.
  • When a person sends or replies to a message in a shared mailbox, the reply appears to come from the shared mailbox email address and not from the person’s email address.
  • When deleting an email message from a shared mailbox, it deletes the email for everyone who has access to this email address.

Shared mailbox benefits

Shared mailboxes allow anyone on the team to handle incoming emails. It’s a great way to ensure that your team is always on the same page about which incoming messages have been replied-to and which haven’t.

Shared mailboxes eliminate the need to Cc or forward email chains to inform other team members when replying to a customer. However, they may still need to use these methods for internal discussions, which can lead to confusion.

Shared mailbox problems

Although shared mailboxes provide a more manageable solution than distribution lists, using shared mailbox for managing external company communications like support and billing can become disorganized for the following reasons:

  • No clear owners or accountability – Emails tend to slip through the cracks or have multiple replies sent simultaneously from different team members because it is not clear who is responsible for what.
  • No way to chat privately – about a message.
  • No way to track outstanding emails – waiting to be answered.
  • Inbox confusion – People may need to log into other accounts or toggle between screens to keep track of their inboxes.
  • Confusing forwarding rules – People may decide to set up forwarding rules from the shared address to their inbox. Following every thread with forwards, cc’s, and bcc’s generates clutter and no real visibility.

These problems lead to a lack of accountability and lack of collaboration. As a result, many customer-facing teams may want to replace shared mailboxes with shared inbox software to manage company communication.

What is a shared inbox software?

Shared inboxes are collaborative email inbox tools that help teams work together effectively, allowing internal discussion, working around staff absences and unexpected technical issues, and keeping all the information available within a single location.

Unlike help-desk software solutions, which are usually expensive and hard to implement due to complicated usability, shared inbox software solutions keep the power and simplicity of working with an email client while providing in-app collaboration capabilities. Your customers feel like they receive personal emails without the typical help-desk “ticket-like” replies.

How do shared inboxes work?

  • When sending an email to a shared inbox address, the message gets forwarded to the shared inbox software.
  • Messages get handled by an entire team like customer support, human resources, or sales teams.
  • The message gets managed. This means it can be assigned to specific team members, prioritized, discussed internally using internal communication, replied to with the help of predefined canned responses, and more (as described below).
  • When a user sends or replies to a message in the shared inbox, the reply appears to come from the shared inbox email address and not from the user’s email address.
  • When deleting an email from a shared inbox, it deletes the email for everyone in the team.

Shared inbox benefits

Shared inboxes help you provide consistent and manageable customer service while keeping your business organized.

Benefits are:

  • Centralized management. Easily manage several email addresses – Managing addresses like and easily is a core functionality of all shared inbox software. Having access to all your shared inboxes in a central location without logging into other accounts or toggling between screens allows your team to respond faster and prevent emails from falling through the cracks.
  • Clear ownership. Assign requests to individual team members for better accountability – Assigning new emails to specific team members will let each person know what they’re responsible for, avoiding duplicate replies and forgotten emails.
  • Automation. Automatic assignments, auto-replies, and saved responses – Some shared inbox tools help your team deliver answers faster with automation, freeing time to focus on making customers happy. Automatic assignment enables you to distribute the workload; auto-replies will send an immediate response to a new incoming email, reassuring the customer that you are taking care of their issue; and saved responses keep your team’s consistency.
  • Better collaboration. Private, internal discussions with other team members – Most shared inbox software solutions allow you to talk to other team members using internal comments in the original message instead of forwarding or replying-all. Using internal notes to discuss important information directly in each email is a real-time-saver, which helps to simplify your entire process.
  • No Collisions. Prevent duplicate replies and collisions – Collision is that uncomfortable moment when you realize that two people on your team replied to the same customer twice and gave them the same, or even worse, different information. With a collaborative inbox, you can prevent this from happening by assigning incoming messages to specific team members.
  • Protect sensitive information. Use permissions and access rights – Some customers’ information may be sensitive, and requires that only specific team members may access it. Advanced shared inbox solutions offer the ability to protect sensitive conversations and make them accessible only to relevant team members.

To summarize, as opposed to distribution lists or shared email mailboxes, shared inbox solutions provide a comprehensive way to work with email as a team. Teams who have chosen to move forward and work with team collaboration tools see improvement in their team collaboration abilities and improved customer service levels.

Shared inbox problems

When it comes to working with email as a team, using a shared inbox software is the most comprehensive solution we know.

Signs it’s time to consider a shared inbox software

There are several signs that it’s time to consider a shared inbox software:

  • You use multiple public email addresses – And your team needs one tool to manage all of them, without having to switch tools or tabs.
  • Duplicate replies – You realize duplicate replies with the same or contradicting information get sent to the same customer.
  • Lost requests – You receive follow-up emails from customers asking about requests they sent in and never get a response.
  • Difficult to follow – You can’t follow who handled an issue, and it takes some digging to find the person and the solution they offered.
  • Collaboration is becoming crucial – You feel that you lack the tools for effective collaboration. You realize you need to find a way to assign things to specific people or have internal discussions about customer issues without the customer seeing it and without so much email forwarding or using separate tools.
  • You are flooded with customer requests – And you prefer not to increase team size, and can see how automation may help.

These may be your indications that it’s time for something to change. When you feel this starts happening more often, it’s probably a good time to start looking at shared inbox solutions.

Replypad is a real shared inbox solution for teams. We specifically designed it to keep your business organized, your team efficient, and your customers happy – all without breaking the bank. Replypad empowers teams and scales as a business grows. Try Replypad with your team for free.

Escape the chaos of shared mailboxes or distribution lists.

Try Replypad, the inbox for teams.

Try for free

15-day free trial. No credit card required. No strings attached.