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Retailers vex consumers with post-purchase spam

05 October 2010 - 12:24 by Mike Price

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A study has concluded that many of the leading retail brands offering e-commerce opportunities to consumers in the UK are annoying their customers, by sending large amounts of follow-up spam in the form of deals and offers after a purchase has been made.

Conducted by Spam Ratings, the report encompassed the top 100 UK retailers who operate safe shopping online and it ran for six months to get a good idea of where retailers are succeeding in e-commerce and where they might make improvements.

Forty-four per cent of stores sneakily commit users to mailing lists when they make a purchase, requiring that they actively opt out, rather than giving them the obvious choice either way. The culprits include various high street names like Boots and Marks & Spencer and, although the newsletters and offers may be useful to some, to others they are an inbox-swelling annoyance.

E-commerce sites typically operate a tick-box system which allows users to choose whether or not they want to receive future mail from the firm or its associates. The authors of the report say that the sites which either pre-check the box, requiring that the consumer reads the small print and unchecks it themselves, or provide a box which must be checked in order for the consumer to opt out, are deliberately misleading customers.

The flow of emails from many retailers who offer an environment for safe shopping online, but then fail to retain the trust of consumers because of their canny email marketing tools, is further problematical because government guidelines allow firms to follow up on purchases with emails, as long as they relate to relevant, similar products or services to those which the consumer originally purchased online.

This area is something of a minefield for both e-commerce providers and consumers. Some might even question whether the term 'spam' is reasonably applicable to this type of email, which borders on the unsolicited but further investigation is required.