Auto Opt-In Subscribers: An Email Deliverability Debate

Chris Kolbenschlag, Director of Deliverability

Last week I purchased some cycling clothing from an online retailer and all was well until I started to receive marketing emails from them. While I did make a purchase, I did not sign up for marketing newsletters. It was also not clear that by making a purchase I would receive messages.  Is it okay to send messages to individuals who didn’t explicitly opt-in?  Let’s take a look at this scenario and how it can affect deliverability.

Some might say that since I entered into a business relationship by making a purchase, adding my information to their list is a logical next step.  But did they explicitly ask my permission? No. Did they tell me I would be added to their list? No. Right off the bat, we’re starting the relationship with some issues. Let’s debate both sides of this story:

Marketer’s View

I want to take a look at both sides of this and explain why this method can bring high risk to your deliverability. From the marketer’s perspective I’m a good candidate for emails – I showed interest in their company, products and ultimately purchased.  So, it’s likely that I have the potential of buying again from them and becoming a loyal customer. Why not take this opportunity to seize a new subscriber at an opportune time, right after a purchase?

Shopper’s View

Now, for my view as a consumer. Sure, I had purchased, but will most likely never purchase again since I had some issues during the process. However, THEY assumed that my experience was good and that I will want to hear from them and buy again. I’ve had no “say so” in the decision to be added to their list. My experience wasn’t horrible, but I just don’t have an interest in shopping there again. What should I do with these emails I am now getting that THEY felt I wanted? I have the choice to do 3 things:

  1. I can click on the link at the bottom that says “to unsubscribe, click here”
  2. I can just ignore the emails from them moving forward and they will get a hint I am not interested and if they follow best practices of “make up or break up” they will stop mailing me if I never show any interest.
  3. I can click on the trusted “this is spam” button in the email reader UI and that will get me off the list, because like many recipients who didn’t opt-in, they view this type of message as spam.

How This Affects Deliverability

The reality is that all 3 of these options can damage your reputation as a sender. Often, people don’t trust the unsubscribe link so they will move on to options 2 and 3. Option 2’s reality is most marketers won’t remove the user and continue to send to the person. This continued unengagement will hurt the sender’s reputation with ISPs. Option 3 marks the end of the story for the receiver, but it’s only the beginning of the story for the sender since spam complaints are the #1 reputation killer and main reason emails land in the junk/spam folder or get blocked.

Lets take a look at the risks. If 20% of the auto opted-in addresses do interact/engage, there are some people who would feel this is a huge victory but don’t forget about the other 80% who are ignoring you, that’s also huge. With this practice you can expect higher complaints, higher unsubscribes, decreased opens/clicks, reputation issues and deliverability issues. You also run a high risk of being listed on Spamhaus due to the situation where someone buys something from you and the consumer made a typo in the email address they provided to you. This typo address, which happens to be a Spamhaus spamtrap, can cause massive issues since auto opt-in isn’t considered “correct permission” according to Spamhaus, and explaining that to an ISP or anti-spam agency will be tough. Check out Improving Email Deliverability for In-Store Sign Ups that talks about issues with addresses that are not verified.

The strategy team at Bronto often talks about the benefits of organic list growth.  What if the marketer takes a step back from the buying process and looks at how to optimize sign ups for when individuals are shopping on their site?  Just take a look at Get the Sign Up: Stand out and Entice that outlines great ways for the shopper to sign up before they even make a purchase. By having shoppers sign up, there is greater likelihood that they’ll continue to engage with your brand and ultimately help (not hurt) your deliverability. The key here is that organic list growth sees better results in both engagement and deliverability than an automatic opt-in. So before you implement an auto opt-in program, be sure to evaluate how it can negatively affect your deliverability and look into other ways to grow your list organically…both you and your shoppers will be happy you did.

Chris Kolbenschlag
Director of Deliverability at Bronto

  • If permission is the missing piece of the sequence, just find the right place where permission fits, and put it in.

    If a retailer wants to auto-opt-in, they should not put them on a regular email newsletter list, but instead a ‘warm leads’ list.

    The first email could say, “We hope you liked your purchase! Was it okay for you? Take this anonymous survey and let us know.”

    The customer will interpret this as authentic communication rather than marketing. (And that’s the ultimate goal of marketing: to systematize authentic communication.)

    Then, one week later, another email asks them to connect on social media and subscribe to the newsletter list. Bingo – permission solved.

  • Chris Kolbenschlag

    Thanks for reading the post and commenting. I like the soft approach to get them to sign up, but know that in that scenario you’d still run the risk of abuse complaints since the recipient hasn’t even signed up for that follow-up email. The issue again could be that the purchaser may feel taken advantage of since they didn’t opt to receive emails not directly related to the purchase. In general, we like to evaluate and maximize all the ways that the shopper could sign up on their own and allow them to feel in control of the relationship. But I agree, your example could work well – would be interesting to test out that scenario and compare the results to a list comprised of opt-ins collected by organic means. If you do test it out, would love to talk about your findings!