The other day I was looking at a Halloween costume on toysrus.com. In order to find out how much shipping was and whether it would get here in time for pumpkin day, I was required to begin the checkout process and enter a billing address, which included an email. Below was a nice little opt-in box (pre-checked, sneaky) to receive emails for “the hottest products, promotions and sales”. I carefully UNchecked the box and submitted my “billing info”. After finding out they could not guarantee that my item would arrive before the Great Pumpkin did, I left and went somewhere else.
But lurking in my inbox was a little email entitled “Welcome to the “R”Us Family!”.
I didn’t join anybody’s family. I didn’t even create an account. I simply entered my billing info to find out the shipping cost.
The next day I received another email: Welcome to Toys”R”Us!
It began by thanking me (again) for joining the Toys”R”Us family (which I hadn’t) and then stated: “Now you can expect frequent updates and exciting news on savings opportunities, special programs & events, plus exclusive email offers & coupons.”
On day 3 I got two more:
Congratulations! You’re Invited. (to a promotional event from a third-party affiliate)
25% OFF LEGO, Bikes, Scooters & More! 2-Days Only
I needed to take decisive action, so I clicked the unsubscribe link. It took me to a Preferences page, which asked for my password. I didn’t know my password SINCE I NEVER CREATED AN ACCOUNT, so I used password recovery, logged in, and did the following:
- unsubscribed from every type of email
- changed my email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
- changed my name, address and phone number to “delete me”, 12345, etc.
Mission accomplished? Nope. I got two more emails:
Thank You For Updating Your “R”Us Preferences
Thank you for your interest in “R”Us Mobile Messaging
What? At what point did I ever inquire about mobile messaging? Are they going to start texting me now?
This morning (day 4) I got yet another email:
Last Chance to Save 20% on Your Purchase!
This, dear reader, is a customer experience horror story. By not buying anything I somehow landed on an email list from which there is no escape, and any attempt to opt out simply generates even more emails. They have turned an almost customer into someone who never ever wants to visit their website again, ever.
I share this as a cautionary tale. Despite widespread email overload, federal legislation, and an extremely negative view of spammers in general, even big name brands will still drown your inbox with emails if given the chance. Companies frequently act as though theirs are the only emails you ever get. It’s extremely disrespectful to average consumers, and it discourages people from wanting to do business with you.
If your business collects email addresses and sends out promotional messages, here are a few guidelines to make sure you don’t become “that company”:
- Make sure your mailing list is opt-IN, not opt-OUT. An opt-in box that is prechecked doesn’t count.
- Respect your customers’ inbox. Nobody wants an email from you every other day, no matter how much they like your company. Keep email frequency to 1 or 2 emails per week at most. Every other week is even better.
- Test your system yourself. Sign up for it, and make sure you’re not spamming people accidentally. A technical glitch on your end could mean a horribly frustrating experience for a customer.
- Make sure every email has an unsubscribe link, and make sure it WORKS. Failure to do so violates the CAN-SPAM act of 2003, and could make you liable for some hefty fines.
- Include your physical address and phone number. Without this information, your email could be considered spam under federal law.
- Do NOT sell, rent, or share your email list with third-parties unless subscribers specifically give you permission to do so. C’mon, that’s just rude.
If your business wants to send out newsletters or promotions, consider using an online service such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, or even the free TinyLetter. They handle subscribing and unsubscribing, opt-outs, CAN-SPAM compliance, analytics, and much, much more, for just a few dollars a month.
For a free CAN-SPAM compliance guide for businesses from the FTC, click here.
Have you had an experience with a trusted brand that disrespected your inbox? Let me know!