Wham Spam: Consumers Are Being Deluged With Holiday Email

The Washington Post has graced us with an article alleging that retailers are sending immense volumes of spam this holiday season.

Spam? Isn’t that junk email from a crook of some kind, like a phishing artist?  

Not really. Judging by this article, the designation should include brands that send emails based on web site visits and contact with other supposedly anonymous touchpoints.

Case in point: A Post reporter visited the True Classics site to seek a media contact for this article and received promotional emails less than five minutes later. 

Of course, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that email recipients be given a chance to opt out of commercial emails, the article notes. 

But the standard among reputable companies is to obtain permission from people prior to sending emails to them or sharing their name.     

That apparently wasn’t done in the case of a Michigan businessman Adam Helfman. He visited a toothbrush company via a Facebook ad, and promptly started getting triggered emails from the firm. 



Helfman usually receives about 200 emails per day, but two weeks before Thanksgiving, that number has risen to “more than 800 messages daily, mostly marketing spam.” 

There’s that “spam” word again.

The question is: Did Helfman provide his email to the company at some point? Or did Facebook, without his knowledge? 

There are two issues here: One is the fact that the permission-based standard may not be universally observed.  

A recent study by Mitto found that 83% of consumers received communications from brands they never heard of during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday period. But 68% of them welcomed the messages.

Still, all these findings reflect the ferocity of this year’s holiday email marketing. Twilio SendGrid processed 4.2 million emails per minute during peak hours over the holiday period.

A Connecticut receptionist named Kristi Petersen Schoonover received “86 promotional emails during her 25-minute commute to work the day before Thanksgiving."

“It’s become abusive,” Schoonover said. “We are already overwhelmed, and all this is doing is making people run away.”

Now some or all of those 86 emails might have been “relevant.” But how can a consumer wade through all of them, and what lists was Schoonover on?

In theory, a web site visit constitutes first-party data, but this can be misused, just like any kind of data. 

“Because it’s so cheap to send automatic emails, companies are willing to risk alienating customers for as little as a 1 percent increase in total purchases,”  Richard C. Hanna, co-author of “Email Marketing In A Digital World, told the Post. 

The Post adds that even if the customer unsubscribes from a marketing list, “they are back on it immediately if they visit the retailer’s website or order again.”

Merry Christmas, industry. 


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