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When Confirmed Opt In is Just Plain Craziness


By Ken Magill

On the heels of last week’s report that Spamhaus has begun blacklisting retailers for sending email to addresses with typographical errors in them, some anti-spammers predictably weighed in with calls for retailers to employ fully confirmed, or double, opt in.

The typos in question were believed to be the result of addresses incorrectly entered into the retailers’ databases at point of sale as part of their e-receipts programs—paperless systems that allow customers to have receipts delivered to their inboxes.

Spamhaus indicated it wouldn’t have blacklisted the retailers if only one-off transactional messages were sent to the addresses. It was the marketing email that came afterwards that was the problem.

Spamhaus and other anti-spammers also contended that if retailers sent messages to the customers asking their permission to send them non-transactional email and only sent marketing email to those who replied “yes,” there wouldn’t be problem.

And from an anti-spammer’s point of view, they are correct.

But from a retailer’s perspective, they are swirly eyed, stark-raving bananas.

This isn’t to defend individual retailers’ sloppy marketing. It is simply aimed at explaining why a retailer would understandably consider the idea of asking for emailed confirmation of permission to send email to addresses collected at point of sale and only sending to those addresses that respond in the affirmative absurd.

Anyone who has been in direct marketing for, say, 10 or fifteen minutes will tell you the best time to hit a customer with a new offer is as soon after the previous purchase was made as possible.

They will presumably be happy with the purchase and have a good feeling about the brand. As a result, they’re more likely to buy again.

Hence, package stuffers.

This is also why charities hit up donors for more money so soon after having received their donations. As annoying as they may be, those follow-up solicitations work.

Moreover, people who supply their email addresses at point of sale represent a huge opportunity for retailers beyond simply making another sale.

Email addresses supplied at point of sale also offer retailers the opportunity to turn single-channel shoppers into multi-channel shoppers.

Presumably, at least some of the retail buyers from whom they collect email addresses aren’t yet online customers.

Multi-channel buyers buy more and buy more often than single-channel shoppers.

Email addresses collected at point of sale are marketing gold.

And yes, between pranks, mistakes and purposely supplied mangled addresses, there’s a lot of room for dirty data to enter the retailer’s file. But the answer isn’t fully confirmed opt in. It’s data hygiene.

And there are a ton of services out there for marketers who want to identify garbage names on their files and remove them. I’m not going to name one because then I’d have to name them all.

[Note to hygiene and email-validation-services providers: Feel free to pitch your solution and include links in the comments.]

Some anti-spammers also pointed out that mistakenly supplied email addresses often result in people with common names getting messages intended for others whose names are similar or identical to theirs.

Okay, but the answer isn’t fully confirmed opt in. The answer is a big “This is Not Me” button, or some such thing.

The problem with fully confirmed opt in is its drop-off rate is painfully high. For example, as many as 40 percent of the addresses supplied to The Magill Report don’t respond to the confirmation message.

It makes me sick to think about the percentage of those addresses owned by qualified readers who simply missed the confirmation message for whatever reason.

If I could abandon fully confirmed opt in, I would. But my file is too tempting a target for would-be list polluters.

Asking retailers to confirm addresses supplied at point of sale and only send email to those who respond is asking them to throw away an unknown, but no doubt, significant number of addresses of customers—friggin’ customers, mind you—who have demonstrated a recent affinity for the brand.

And with other, simpler solutions available, that’s just nuts.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Gerold
Date: 2013-06-05 06:48:03
Subject: Disposable email blacklist

Hi, a lot of blacklists for DEA domains are out there - most (or all) of it full with false positives. Which is bad as you will block legit users ... Thats why we started to provide a managed API that helps to detect temporary email addresses instantly without false positives. See for further information.
Posted by: Ali Swerdlow
Date: 2013-01-02 13:06:59
Subject: A clean list is the key to better email marketing results

I agree with Tom - an email hygiene service is definitely a great investment. LeadSpend accurately identifies harmful email addresses at the point of collection and on the back-end, allowing you to remove those addresses before mailing to them. By removing bounces and identifying, known traps, monitoring domains, blackholes, disposable addresses, invalid domains, and other nefarious addresses, the service significantly improves email marketing results. We're more than happy to run a free test on a sample of your list or at the point of collection on your website or landing page. Ali Swerdlow LeadSpend
Posted by: Alex
Date: 2012-12-30 13:24:36
Subject: unknown users

I'm curious about how people tackle the dilemma of unknown users in either case - COI or no COI with list cleansing. Let's say entering an email address into a form is required to complete some action - playing a game, completing a purchase, etc. Some people will enter fake addresses. With COI, emails go out to these fake addresses and hit a lot of unknown users. A list cleansing service can identify *known* spam traps, but they can't ping every single address to determine if it's valid, right? So either way, the mailer is hitting a lot of unknown users which affects their deliverability. I suppose another option would be to have the confirmation emails and the marketing emails come out of 2 IPs. This would have helped in the SpamHaus case, but it seems like mailing out of multiple IPs with vastly different volumes would trigger ISP anti-snowshoe spam type filtering. I'd be interested in what others think of this technique, perhaps I am misunderstanding the impact of mailing from multiple IP addresses.
Posted by: Christine
Date: 2012-12-28 12:12:39
Subject: Compromise

Agree that there are other solutions besides COI which can help retailers avoid sending mail to the wrong address, including traps. One of the simplest is to re-confirm or suppress any address that doesn't open or click in the first x mailings. Another is to do COI on addresses on domains with fewer than x subscribers.
Posted by: Tom Burke
Date: 2012-12-27 20:53:31
Subject: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Ken, Recovering from a blacklisting is a painful process, so it's a wise investment to use an email hygiene service to help prevent spam traps from getting on your list. I'll take you up on your invitation to mention that TowerData goes beyond plain email validation to identify and stop dangerous emails. There's no silver bullet, but we've done extensive research and data collection on spam traps, bots, and other malicious emails. Best, Tom Burke TowerData
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2012-12-26 17:05:00
Subject: Why not?

Works for me.
Posted by: Stephanie Miller (@stephanieSAM)
Date: 2012-12-26 16:32:39
Subject: Why not?

Ken, why couldn't a retailer make it clear at the point of collection that providing an email address BOTH gets you a e-receipt AND signs you up for marketing messages? Then, the marketing message needs to be a welcome message with a big "This is not me" button. And list cleansing on any records collected offline is ALWAYs a good idea. Thanks, SAM