Advertising Email Based on Prior Business Relationship is Spam, Users Say

Users were asked whether an email advertisement sent to them on the basis of a “pre-existing business relationship” was spam. All of the respondents were average Internet users, exactly the sort of user who receives this sort of email from countless businesses based on a prior business relationship with them.

And survey says…. a resounding “Yes!” Two-thirds said that email advertisements sent on the basis of a pre-existing business relationship, without express permission, are spam!


We asked:

You are at a store, checking out. You give your email address to the clerk so that they can email you your receipt.

The following week the store emails you an advertisement for their upcoming sale.

Is this spam?

Through both survey vectors – both private email from The Internet Patrol to the respondents, and on Facebook – fully two-thirds (actually slightly more) of respondents said that yes, this was spam.

Now, the sorts of businesses that do this – take your email address that you have given them for a transaction, or for an inquiry, and add it to a mailing list – justify it under what is known as a “business relationship” exception to best email practices. Those best practices say that you should never add somebody’s email address to a mailing list without their express permission.

However, these businesses rationalize putting your email address on a mailing list based on the fact that you have a “relationship” with them (regardless of how tenuous that ‘relationship’ is) because you contacted them, or engaged in a business transaction with them.

There are even companies who find and sell your email address to companies with whom you have done business in the past. This is known as email appending.

We have known all along that most people consider this spam. What is surprising is how clueless some businesses are (which at least is better than the businesses who just don’t care). What these businesses also don’t seem to understand is that if a substantial percentage of the people on your mailing list consider your email to be spam, then they are marking it as spam, which affects whether your email will keep going to the inbox (it won’t).

However, we were also surprised that nearly one-third of respondents did not consider this spam. We are reasonably certain that this represents a shift from even a few years ago, and we think we know why.

Many of our respondents who said that the above scenario was not spam included comments that expressed a sense of resignation. “You gave them your email address, you should know they are going to send you advertising,” was a common refrain.

In other words, so many companies are doing it these days that many people have resigned to it being the accepted paradigm.

Also, people are familiar enough with the herbal supplement and erectile dysfuntion meds spam that email from a company with whom they have engaged in a business transaction seems, if not welcome, at least benign.

We also were somewhat (happily) surprised to see that there did not seem to be a “me too” effect for the respondents on Facebook, by which we mean that on Facebook the respondents could see what those who had commented before them had said (whereas the email responses were completely blind and private). We say that because the Facebook results were spot-on consistent with the emailed responses.

We had 233 email responses, of which 158 said that the email in the scenario was spam.

On Facebook we had 230 respondents of whom 156 said that the email was spam.

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