Assumed Permission

Posted by Stephanie Colleton on

One of the key data points from our recent research study, Increasing Revenues by Optimizing Emailing Practices with Online Buyers, was the number of retailers who assumed that by placing an order, a customer would want to receive promotional emails. Thirty-one percent of the retailers in our study did not mention promotional emails at all during the checkout process but then immediately began sending promotional emails anyway. Five percent mentioned that promotional emails would be sent but gave the customer no way to opt-out.

Is this practice illegal? No. Is it a good idea? Not necessarily. We understand the temptation here. Customers are providing their email address in order to receive the transactional emails associated with their order. And retailers know that if they add a pre-checked opt-out checkbox, some customers will uncheck the box. By not asking for permission, more subscribers will be added to the list. But marketers must first ask themselves these questions before adopting this type of permission strategy (or maybe we should we call it non-permission strategy):

1. More subscribers will be added to the list, but will they stay on the list and, more importantly, will they remain customers? This is a paying customer. You risk alienating them by taking advantage of the relationship. Your biggest concern isn’t if they unsubscribe, your concern should be will they be annoyed enough by being opted in without permission that they decide not to buy from you again.

2. Will they complain to their ISP? Chances are high that at least some of them will and these complaints have a big impact on your senderreputation ultimately depressing your deliverability rates. And that means your previously happy subscribers – the ones who like getting your email and respond to it – might not see future messages.

3. If they stay on the list, will they be engaged subscribers? Is a larger, less responsive list better than a smaller, more responsive list? There is a cost (beyond the risk to reputation) to having a list bloated with uninterested subscribers. Having all that dead weight clogs up your metrics. It’s harder to detect trends and draw conclusions that can be turned into actionable measures when your data is skewed by so many inactive addresses. For example, if you have a list of 1 million subscribers and 1/3 of them haven’t reacted to one of your emails in 12 months, those 300,000 people are depressing your open, click and conversion rates. If your list was composed of more active subscribers, you would have a clear idea of what’s working, and what isn’t, in your program. And, while small, there is a hard cost to most marketers to send email. Sending to people who will never respond is a waste marketing dollars that could be better spent elsewhere.

Some marketers would defend the non-permission strategy by saying they are within their legal rights. This may be true, but the average person does not know the fine print of CAN-SPAM and other legislations. They do not have attorneys looking for the loopholes. They know spam when they see it and they apply their own criteria, or simply react when irritated, when they move their mouse to the spam button. Or they unsubscribe or delete unread. None of these actions is helpful to your efforts and the net effect is annoying someone who just gave you money. Never a good idea.

If you are you opting in subscribers without their consent, consider the alternative. Closely track your unsubscribe, complaint and response rates from those subscribers. Then do a test. Add an opt-out checkbox during checkout. Track the subscribers who opt-in during checkout using the same metrics. See what happens.

To read the study or watch the on-demand webinar, click here.


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About Stephanie Colleton

Stephanie began her digital marketing career 20 years ago with AOL followed by BMG Columbia House. She has been with Return Path for 11 years working with clients to optimize their email marketing programs by leveraging custom consulting and innovative AI solutions. Stephanie is based in New Jersey.

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