We're Just Daring You To Get This Newsletter

One of the most amazing things to me is the number of unnecessary hurdles that many companies thrust in front of their customers who are simply trying to sign up for their newsletters. Sometimes the simplest newsletter has more security surrounding it than some of my investment banking accounts.

One fun trick is to make you fill out a page of information, only to have it rejected and erased because you forgot to fill out the "title" field such as Mr. or Miss (for some reason, my title -- "His Excellency" -- always seems to be missing). I have filled out a lengthy questionnaire four or five times, only to be rejected for one reason or another.

One of my favorite examples is a newsletter that kept rejecting my password with no seeming explanation. Over and over I carefully typed and retyped my password to make sure that I spelled it properly in both boxes, only to see the page of info that I had carefully filled out washed clean with the words "password rejected" in red letters, with no other explanation. Finally, I saw in tiny print near the password: "Passwords must be 6 characters but no more than 10 characters. Each password must contain at least one number and alphanumeric character but must not start with a number."



Now, this was a newsletter for something like breakfast cereal -- hardly a national security hole. So why all the special restrictions around email passwords? I am positive that most people would have given up before I did, and months later some big shot breakfast cereal marketers would sit around a large wooden table and declare their experiment with "this Internet thing" to be a complete failure.

Other newsletters just plain miss opportunities to gather info that can help them improve marketing for their services. To explain what I'm talking about, here are some real life examples that I ran into just today in doing some research on Retail Email Newsletters:

JCPenney: Here is one of those fun "password" things that really should win an award. My usual password is around 11 letters. When trying to sign up for the JCPenney newsletter, it kept getting rejected over and over. The page clearly states: "To protect your information please create a password (4-16 characters -- alpha or numeric)." Mine is 11. So I entered it again, figuring that I must have misspelled it. Rejected again! Then I looked more closely. Although the sign up page clearly states that the password must be between 4 and 16 characters, the error message states: "Password must be between 4 and 10 characters." ??? Go ahead and try it yourself to see what I mean.

And while JCPenney asks for your name and address, they don't ask your gender or about your interests, which could help them segment their offers and tailor them to their customers. On the positive side, JCPenney immediately sends out a welcome letter -- and many of the retailers I looked at didn't.

Sears wipes out your data if you forget to check the box that says you are over 13. I wasn't aware that there was a movement by preteens to break into the Sears Newsletter like some modern-day Captain Billy's Wizbang. Again, Sears doesn't ask if you are male or female, letting a major opportunity pass by. However, they do collect interest info and ask whether you have kids.

Amazingly, Target and Wal-Mart only collect your email address -- nothing else.

Kmart may not know what they are doing offline, but they have it together online with one catch: They ask about your gender and interests -- but also your date of birth so they can send you a nice greeting on your birthday. Unfortunately, they have a confusing field called "Address Title." I'm not sure exactly what "Address Title" is supposed to mean (any word entered seems to fit the bill), but you leave it blank at your peril. After filling in a lengthy bio I clicked "enter," only to see the White Screen of Death with all my carefully filled out information Washed Clean: the error: "YOU DID NOT FILL IN THE ADDRESS TITLE, TRY AGAIN."

So there.

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