How did I get on this company’s email list?

I’m going to take a step back and discuss a topic I have quite a bit of experience with – 12 years to be exact – but haven’t focused on in this blog: email marketing. Specifically, opting out/unsubscribing from emails sent by corporations.

Today I received emails from Chevrolet and United Airlines. I had no idea how I ended up on a Chevrolet email list, as I refuse to buy an American car after a horrible experience with my Pontiac Grand Prix several years back. Upon further investigation, Chevy (and parent company General Motors) runs its email programs through Autobytel. So after submitting an auto purchase inquiry to other car makers, Chevrolet bought my information from Autobytel figuring I might also be interested in one of its cars. So, a huge corporation in Chevrolet/General Motors lowered itself to buying email lists of potential buyers and added me without my permission or any welcome email to inform me that I am being added. This is, by the way, illegal or at the very least immoral, depending on your interpretation of the CAN-SPAM Act that governs unsolicited and solicited emails from organizations.

Moving on to United Airlines. I know exactly how I was added to this list. I registered for its Mileage Plus frequent flyer program a while back. Even though I was never specifically asked if I wanted to receive emails about my account and special offers from United (an iffy practice according to CAN-SPAM), at least United used the email communications to update my account status and present sale fares. I found it reasonable to assume I’d be interested in United flights after flying United previously, especially since the sale fares were included in an email that had information on my frequent flyer account. Probably not a best practice, but certainly not completely unsolicited. Technically, if you as a company want to send emails to customers, you’re supposed to specifically ask their permission somewhere – whether on an order form or in a purchase confirmation email.

After getting a few emails from United, I decided I no longer was interested in hearing from them. I found an unsubscribe link in very small text at the bottom of the email. I still have 26 year old eyes, so I clicked the link and was somewhat surprised and very frustrated to receive this message:

—————
You have successfully unsubscribed from United Offers & Announcements
Please allow up to 10 business days for your opt-out request to be processed.

You are currently subscribed to the following emails:
United Offers & Announcements
—————

I’m going to look beyond the very confusing text confirmation that first tells me I’ve been unsubscribed, then informs me that it will take 10 days to actually unsubscribe me, and then tells me I’m actually subscribed to the same list it just confirmed I was unsubscribed from. Instead, let’s discuss how long it takes United to remove me. How/why does a company as large as United need up to 10 days to delete me from its database? When a subscribers opts out of an email from us, my relatively small company has a system that removes them immediately. The only reason it would take up to 10 days is if an actual person needs to do something to remove me. Seems like a waste of money to me, especially when it’s not that hard to automate the opt out process.

Maybe it’s time to revisit corporate email best practices.

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