‘Forgotten’ Unsubscribes – Is This a New Trend?

With Black Friday now behind me, I ran a quick count and found 131 emails sent by retailers with whom I had unsubscribed. I was more than a little surprised to have received this many emails and wondered: Are these retailers counting on me having forgotten I had unsubscribed? Is this a new trend?

With Black Friday now behind me, I ran a quick count and found 131 emails sent by retailers with whom I had unsubscribed. I was more than a little surprised to have received this many emails and wondered: Are these retailers counting on me having forgotten I had unsubscribed? Is this a new trend?

The CAN-SPAM Act is very clear on the issue of how businesses should present and handle unsubscribes. It reads in part, you cannot charge a fee, require the recipient to give any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on a website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request.” In other words, it should be easy and it should be permanent. The retailers who have sent me an email in the last few days have done far more damage than good – though I admit, my diligence in tracking unsubscribes goes well beyond that of the typical subscriber—most people probably do forget having unsubscribed.

I’ve divided my 131 Black Friday marketing emails into three categories (remember, these are not business correspondence messages or transactional messages, for which opt-out rules differ in the US, as well as Canada and the EU):

  1. Retailers with whom I had done business, but not subscribed (permitted to send transactional messages only).
  2. Retailers with whom I had done business, subscribed, and later unsubscribed (permitted to send transactional and marketing messages until revoked).
  3. New retailers with whom I had concluded business and explicitly opted out of marketing messages at the time of transaction (permitted to send transactional message only).

Of these emails:

  • 6 provided no unsubscribe link or information (which is allowed by the CAN-SPAM Act, if they are using the reply-to process for unsubscribing)
  • 26 provided an unsubscribe link requiring me to visit a web page to set my preferences
  • 19 provided both an unsubscribe link and a preferences link

Past Relationships
So let’s take a look at these vendors’ approaches and assess the value of each:

Several years ago I bought hosting services from Glob@t. On the 28th and again today, I received emails from this vendor. I unsubscribed from their messages just once when our relationship ended, and yet Black Friday seemed to have provided the perfect opportunity—as deemed by their marketing department – to reactivate an unsubscribed name and send a message.

In this case their message actually did exactly as they hoped: I became re-engaged. Of course, they had no idea, but yesterday I spent three hours on a tech-support call with my current vendor, and had decided to start shopping hosting vendors. Glob@t’s email came at an opportune time, but that’s not to say I wasn’t annoyed by it—I certainly was. Nonetheless, I clicked the link to check out their hosting packages, and after checking pricing, I returned to the email to unsubscribe. I will monitor their messages to ensure I remain unsubscribed this time around.

New Relationships
Three weeks ago I made a purchase from eBay of a hard-to-find item, which launched an onslaught of emails. I have received one or more every day since the date of purchase and in each I have clicked the unsubscribe link. Their unsubscribe text at the bottom of those emails reads in part,

Learn more to protect yourself from spoof (fake) e-mails.

eBay Inc. sent this e-mail to you at [myemailaddress] because your Notification Preferences indicate that you want to receive general email promotions.

If you do not wish to receive further communications like this, please click here to unsubscribe. Alternatively, you can change your Notification Preferences in My eBay by clicking here. Please note that it may take up to 10 days to process your request.

What I find interesting about their unsubscribe text is the presentation. By starting out with a “learn more about spoofing” link, they have attempted to befriend me by offering tips on protecting myself. They are my concerned about me—or so it would seem.

Next they offer to unsubscribe me by clicking the link and when I do click it, I receive an unsubscribe confirmation and information on how to re-subscribe should I wish to.

Their unsubscribe text does let me know it may take up to ten days to process my request, but I have to wonder: Why is this? Every company using an email-automation system knows unsubscribes are immediate. What’s up with the ten-day delay? My guess is they hope within the next ten days they will be able to send me an email that will re-engage me. (Terrible idea.)

After more than ten days of continuing to receive one or more emails every day, I clicked the set my preferences link, which requires—you guessed it—a log in. The purchase I made was completed as a guest. I did not wish then, nor do I wish now, to create an account with them. I’ve had one cause (ever) to make a purchase from them, and didn’t see it happening again. If it did, I could make a decision at that time about whether or not an account would be necessary. This too is an annoying approach: require the user to create an account to unsubscribe. (Terrible idea number two.)

After two weeks of emails, I’m now so irritated by their entire process it will adversely affect my decision to ever buy from them again, even if the item I am seeking is less expensive, more available, or even exclusively available. I will remember their lack of respect for my wishes and it will deter me. I guess they’re not as friendly as they first seemed.

As marketers, staying engaged with your constituents is more than betting on their short-term memory loss. It’s about honoring the relationship and their wishes. I remembered Glob@t and would have come back to their site when my vendor shopping began, but knowing they do not honor my unsubscribe status has tainted my view of their business practices. My purchase from eBay was exactly the right product, delivered on time, and in great condition. My positive experience would have led me back to them at some point in the future, but their emailing practices have put them on my own do-not-call list. If the new trend is to make a brand more memorable by being annoying, I opt out.