When Senders Get Greedy

As part of the Return Path team, I frequently do a review of a client’s mailing practices by signing up as a user to their services. I create an account that is only used for that sender alone so that I can monitor their mailing practices and their use of my email address.

One such client had worked very diligently for 6 months to improve their internal practices, but after that period of time, they decided to “share” my email address. I don’t know the specifics of whether my address was sold, shared with a partner or affiliate, or brokered. But whatever the arrangement, after the address was “shared”, I received over 500 email messages in a 30 day time period. This also happened to the other 2 email addresses that I set up with the sender, so it probably wasn’t a fluke.

Not only were the messages from mailers I did not have a relationship with, they were for products that have no interest to me. I do not have children, thinning hair or a credit problem; I own my house and my car; I am not interested in sports or religion. I do not speak Spanish; I have my Master’s degree; I am happy in my job; I will only ever have one credit card; I have never in my life played sweepstakes; I am not in any way a bargain shopper. The list of irrelevant offers goes on and on and on (with the exception of a free pint of ice cream).

While I kept the account going for a month to see what would happen, the only obvious option for me as a consumer was to cancel the email address.

Even a hermit desperate for communication would never put up with a mailbox that receives 20 or more irrelevant messages on a daily basis. Not to mention, I have a hard time finding mail that I want to receive – from friends and from business with which I have a relationship – because the mailbox is so out of control.

The obvious lesson is that if you share your customers’ information with companies that do not uphold the highest levels of best practices, you risk loosing the customer. You loose them either because they can’t find the mail they want from you, or because you have forced them to cancel their email address. Is the short-term monetary compensation for the name worth it?

While this is the most extreme case I’ve seen, there are many others out there that take on the same pattern. This particular mailer may not have taken a direct hit because the offers are not coming from their network, but they rightfully have taken a hit in data quality (unknown users) and complaints (because they mail the same content) as an offshoot. I wonder how many subscribers they lost in the long run.

Also of particular significance – this sender is an opt-in sender who discloses in their Privacy Policy that they reserve the right to share your address proving that your practices are often more important than how you are portrayed on paper. It is about living up to the subscribers’ expectations and having respect for your subscribers that is most important to the longevity of the relationship.

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