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Email Marketing: A Rant

The first email marketing blast was sent in 1978. Since the birth of the internet, individuals, organizations, and businesses have been using email marketing as a method of selling products, sharing news, or learning about the newest trends from your favorite companies. Email marketing is great – I join subscription lists for companies I want to hear from, companies I have an interest in, or organizations I want to learn more about. However, there is one big component of email marketing that has always been an annoyance for me: unsubscribing.

Those in the digital marketing industry understand how important it is to remove as many barriers as possible to get a customer to checkout and purchase a product or sign up for a subscription. Amazon does this exceedingly well, with their one-click checkout buttons that literally take one click to complete the purchasing process.

In an increasingly digital world, it makes sense to minimize barriers to checkout or subscribe to a new product or service. However, from Unsubscribing from an email subscription should be as simple as hitting the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the newsletter or email. In many cases, many businesses tend to add obstacles in the way of unsubscribing from their newsletter or service.

Recently I subscribed to a subscription box service for wine as a gift. I intended to order one box and then cancel the subscription. I was extremely annoyed to find that to unsubscribe or cancel the subscription I had to email the support team and ask them to do it, and even after doing so the first response back after several days was “we have not cancelled your subscription” and they wanted to understand why I wanted to cancel to begin with. Not only was this incredibly annoying, but what if my subscription was auto-renewed in that period of waiting?

From my own experience I’ve found a few different ways companies add obstacles to unsubscribing (listed in order of least annoying to most annoying in my own opinion).

1. Being told it would take several business days to weeks to be unsubscribed

2. Re-entering your email to unsubscribe

3. Giving you options to reduce frequency of emails and hiding the unsubscribe entirely option hiding somewhere in the middle of the list

4. Hiding unsubscribe options in the settings of an account page

5. Not allowing the user to unsubscribe on their own (requiring emailing, calling, or going in-person to unsubscribe)

I’ll bet you have encountered one or all of these situations at some point in the past. From the perspective of a business it makes sense – these companies don’t want you to easily unsubscribe or stop using their product. From the perspective of the customer, these obstacles only change the way the company is perceived. Customers that want to opt out should be able to do so as easily as these companies want us to have us opt in.

Companies that are confident in their product or service shouldn’t have to hide or add barriers to unsubscribe. This minor annoyance makes me think about the administration in these companies, the fact that they need to hide behind this wall and behind these obstacles to retain customers. In the long run, it may be more beneficial for companies to allow customers to exit easier. This would not only retain the customers that have a higher chance of purchasing a product or continue using a service, but can also increase key-performance indicators.

In short, having obstacles to unsubscribe from a product or service are the equivalent of eating something delicious but leaves a horrible taste in your mouth afterwards.



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