Ghosts of Christmas Past (Or, How to Avoid a Spike in Spam Complaints Due to Overly Aggressive Remarketing Tactics)

Posted by Christine Borgia 

Earlier this month, I started receiving daily coupons from a golf retailer, who I shall refer to as The Golf Store (names have been changed to protect involved parties, and any similarity to an actual store is entirely coincidental). I have shopped at The Golf Store in the past, mostly to purchase Christmas gifts for family members. I’ve never signed up for their newsletter, and never received one until now, when out of nowhere they decided to start mailing me daily coupons. Yes, daily. Obviously, my first reaction was “Wow, they are so going to get blocked when people start complaining!” This was shortly followed by “Hmm, I wonder if there are any good coupons in here.” Don’t blame me, it’s the season for shopping!

But, let’s pretend for a moment that I’m Jane Average Consumer. As Jane A. Consumer, I am not happy to suddenly get emails from a store out of the blue, Christmas or not. I’m also not happy about the fact that they are sending me coupons every day. I like to shop and all, but really? And lastly, I am not happy that at the end of it all, they will probably continue to email me until I surrender and unsubscribe. (But remember, I might be afraid of the unsubscribe link or am so annoyed that I don’t want to bother to find that link, so the likelihood is high that I will report spam on the message. And I’ll have plenty of messages to click spam on as they pile up in my inbox before I decide to do something.)

I get why The Golf Store wants to send me email. They know I buy golf stuff during the holidays. The holidays have rolled around again, and they want to be sure to remind me that I have family members that like golf and that I shopped in their store before. Some marketing experts will say that it’s acceptable to start mailing a previous purchaser – as long as they are not in your unsubscribe file – during the holidays. I agree in principle, but think there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. One way will lead to spam complaints, repeated spamtrap hits, and unsubscribes. The other will lead to a list of verified customers who are likely to purchase from you and who you can safely mail to again next year.

So, if you sell golf supplies, neckties, non-fiction books, or sports paraphernalia, please consider the following if you want me to shop with you this holiday season:

Say hi, ask to come in: Sending me coupons out of the blue without reminding me who you are and why I care will lead to complaints and/or spamtrap hits. Rather than adding me to your list and sending me daily coupons out of the blue, why not ask if I want them? Send me an email saying “Hey Jane, you bought stuff from us last year during the holidays. We think that means you like to buy golf supplies as gifts. Got anyone on your list that you need to shop for? Click here to sign up and we’ll send you coupons throughout the holiday season.” Better yet, remind me of what I bought last year and make some suggestions. Give me a really awesome coupon if I make a purchase within a certain number of days.

Control yourself: I’m not Tiger Woods. I don’t need new clubs very often. As a matter of fact, I don’t even play golf. Please don’t assume that I want your mail every day. How about once a week, or better yet, give me some choices. By emailing me daily, you increase the chance that I will report you as spam or unsubscribe, and you can never mail to me again.

Don’t overstay your welcome: When the holidays are done, send me an email asking me if I want to stay on the list. Encourage me to unsubscribe if I have no foreseeable purchases. Or, offer to take me off the list until next year. Either way, make it easy on me, or I’ll probably end up reporting your mail as spam eventually… if I don’t turn into a spam trap first.

Invite me back: If I unsubscribe, consider asking me if I’d like you to stop by again next year, especially if I purchased something. After all, I buy golf stuff during the holidays. You know this. Better yet, ask me if there any other times during the year that I might want to buy neckties, non-fiction books, or sports paraphernalia.

Remember, you get the best delivery when you treat consumers with respect, give them choices, respect their preferences, and stay connected and targeted. After all, it’s not the number of inboxes you reach, it’s what inboxes you reach that counts.

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About Christine Borgia

As Senior Director of Data Support, Christine ensures that Return Path's employees, customers, and consumers are able to get the answers they need about our data and data sources. Prior to joining Return Path, Christine spent seven years fighting spam for AOL where she led a team of content filtering and IP reputation experts. Connect with her on Twitter @christineborgia or at

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