Kozmo E-Mail: Spam or Friendly Follow-Up

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Kozmo.com Inc. apparently refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to e-mail marketing.


The New York online shopping and delivery service sent e-mail Nov. 23 to consumers who had opted out of future e-mailings, asking whether they meant it.


"Through customer feedback we heard that many of our members like you, who originally opted not to receive occasional e-mail news from us, would like to change their preference," the e-mail from Kozmo customer service said.


"Now, you can opt in to our subscriber contact list via the Web site through http://www.kozmo.com -- by clicking the `My Account' button, going to the `My Personal Information' section and entering your e-mail address. If you choose not to opt in, your original preference will not change."


The effort is not sitting well with executives who have a vested interest in the commercial e-mail market. John Lawlor, president of e-mail service provider Email Channel, Boca Raton, FL, said it is spam, plain and simple, and therefore unacceptable.


"I see no gray area here at all," he said. "They gave the consumer a choice. The consumer took that choice, and now they're asking them to take that choice again?


"They validate rabid anti-spammers who say you can't trust marketers, and they validate [consumer] fears, the fear being, 'If I give my e-mail address out at all, I'm going to get pounded," Lawlor said. "On the verge of 2001, with all that's happened and the market so squirrelly, this is not good for the industry."


What's more, the Kozmo e-mail continues with a sales pitch for a new Kozmo gift-giving feature that allows delivery within 90 minutes of any item on the site to 11 cities nationwide. It even promises delivery on Christmas Day.


Known for delivery within the hour, the site sells items such as DVDs, electronics, books, music, diapers, chocolates and toys.


The sales pitch adds insult to injury, according to another industry executive.


"I'm shocked and extremely disappointed in the way that this has been handled," said Jeanniey Mullen, general manager at Grey E.Mail, a division of Grey Direct, New York. "I think this is something that definitely taints the perceived value of e-mail.


"The reason that it's been called opt-in is because people have the opportunity to opt in and then opt out when they're no longer interested in receiving new mail for whatever reason."


Kozmo sees no inappropriate behavior behind the "Are you sure?" e-mail.


"The reasoning behind it is, because of the way our site was structured, many customers inadvertently opted out of receiving promotional e-mails from Kozmo," company spokesman Matt Higgins said.


"Our customer service [department] would receive inquiries from consumers who didn't realize that they'd opted out. They complained they hadn't received certain notices from Kozmo."


Higgins said Kozmo added new functionality to its site that allows customers to update their information whenever they want. The site was redesigned in mid-November. On Sunday the company also dropped its first catalog as a freestanding newspaper insert. Drop size was nearly 2 million copies in 11 cities.


"So the purpose of the e-mail is to somewhat communicate with our customers to relieve the burden for customer service," he said. "It was a genuine problem, and the only way to speak to the issue was to send an e-mail."


Lawlor does not buy that explanation.


"This is a desperate attempt by a company to put a politically correct spin on something that nobody in the industry would say is correct," Lawlor said. "They'd be better off saying, 'Oh, our servers accidentally sent this message and we fired that guy.' "


The explanation also does not wash with Grey's Mullen, who only a few months ago expanded her agency's e-mail services for clients.


Mullen said there are numerous channels to reach people who have opted out of e-mail campaigns to give them the opportunity to opt back in.


"One of the channels that we use all the time here at Grey is a direct mail piece that could have simply said the same thing," Mullen said. "It could have even been a direct mail postcard. It would have been much more appropriate in the matter.


"But more importantly," she said, "I was very shocked and surprised to see the sales pitch below the request for people to opt back in."


Kozmo was not honoring the requests of consumers who preferred not to receive any promotional information, Mullen said.


"To me, as a reader, not being in the e-mail space, I would see this simply as an attempt to make sales during the holidays versus somebody who really felt that I may have changed my mind about e-mail," Mullen said.

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