Practical Ecommerce

Email: Confidentiality Required

I get thousands of emails each day. A good majority are spam, and I use Cloudmark (the best system I’ve found) for filtering them. Being in business, however, I still have to take the time to scan them all, making sure I’m not missing an initial request for work from someone who may have been filtered. It’s a tedious task that has become a requirement for most businesses.

Every now and then I am bombarded with updates and sales pitches, and the most recent of many acts has led me to this column—laying down the line on a common, yet shameful practice no one should ever approach in order to drum up more business.

Use the proper email program

I received an email from an individual who runs his own online store. It was unsolicited and was sent via his own email program—the poor man’s way of sending email updates to potential and/or current customers. It’s the first mistake in his case, because anyone running a mailing list should be using appropriate software or services to send out the mass updates.

Now, I know this email was sent to more than 400 other email addresses because they were all listed in the CC field (that’s the carbon copy field, where it lists all the recipients to all the recipients). Jackpot! I now have his entire mailing list! And while I won’t cull these addresses, I can only sit and wait to receive more spam as a direct result.

The response from many recipients was loud and clear, as many did a reply-all to the “list” of email addresses, turning into a threaded discussion of rants. The fact that many never signed up to receive any information paled in comparison to the disgust that their email addresses were essentially made public to hundreds of others. And who can blame them? I know for sure I didn’t signup for this list—though the guy has corresponded with me in the past (and he’s not the first to just toss my email address onto a mailing list; I often get added to mailing lists after being contacted about services).

Some of the recipients were forgiving, asking that the rest cut him some slack. If only all your customers would be so accepting of this practice, and if only everyone else who’s never shopped your site would buy from you after receiving such an email.

Here’s my “blunt” lesson for the month

If you plan to contact customers after they order, make sure you explain this during the order process, and if you plan to contact them frequently via a mailing list, ask first. If your domain has ever been flagged on any anti-spam list, you’ll realize how important it is to use opt-in lists.

If you maintain a list, don’t use your own email program to send the emails, and certainly don’t use a generic, freebie email account as the “from address.” Either setup a utility on your own site or use a third-party service to send out the email updates.

If you send any correspondence to folks on the fly, always use the BCC field for all the recipients, unless you’re actually having a “public” conversation among a group.

And, if you make such a mistake, due to ignorance or just not caring, it is appropriate to send an apology—at least that shows that you had good intentions.

I haven’t spoken to the guy behind the chaos of the email (which resulted in more than 20 replies to the entire list, and they’re still coming in), and after many more complaints, he sent out a mass apology. HI hope he realizes that my reasoning for using his actions as an example were to simply provide insight to store owners. He isn’t the first to make such a potentially disastrous mistake, and he certainly won’t be the last. But if I can prevent even just one more experience like this, I’ve actually helped one more store owner from losing business.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Legacy User May 20, 2007 Reply

    I think anyone who sends ANY mail to multiple recipients either in the Cc or To field, should be fined $3500.00 for each additional recipient after the first mail was sent to, then make restitution to each of those recipients in the amount of $1000.00 !! …have their computer use rights revoked for 90 days, then be forced to use a dial up connection at 28.8 kbps for a period of not more than 1 year. Even if all those are on the same team, it's still a privacy issue, it's like giving out a non-published phone number – damn it !@

    Send the email TO >you

    — *Ron*

  2. Legacy User August 18, 2007 Reply

    Oh for heaven's sakes – ANY good Administrative Professional (AP) knows how to and USES the bcc: field for blast emails.
    For the last 5 years, when our life & health insurance office receives one from a carrier, I reply with the request to use the bcc: field. If they don't, (they usually do after an immediate apology from the AP reading the reply), we "Block Sender" them and don't use them in our client quotes. And if their reps. come around to visit, I tell them why.
    Simple & effective.

    — *Meri Lou*