Misdirected Nordstrom E-Mail Raises Spam Issues

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Nordstrom recently conducted an e-mail campaign to customers whose e-mail addresses were appended to Nordstrom's house file of existing offline customers by Acxiom Corp. The campaign became an issue this week when it was discovered that one of the e-mail messages was received by a co-worker of a Nordstrom catalog customer. According to a New York Times report, the e-mail reached the server of the intended recipient's employer and was misdirected to an individual who had never been a Nordstrom customer.

It is not known if more e-mail messages reached noncustomers of Nordstrom. But the bigger issue is that, even if all intended recipients were Nordstrom customers, the prevailing attitude among many in the industry and among privacy advocates is that e-mail addresses acquired through appending creates spam.

"The key thing is that they sent e-mails to people who had not given permission to receive stuff by e-mail, whether they were customers or not," said anti-spam advocate Rodney Joffe, president and founder of Centergate Research Group LLC, Tempe, AZ.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Shasha Richardson did not comment on the spam issue, but she said the company had never appended e-mail addresses to its file before and may not do so again.

Meanwhile, Acxiom defended its Infobase E-Mail Enhancement appending service and disagreed that it facilitates spam.

Allison Marr, product manager at Acxiom Corp., Little Rock, AR, said that, unlike other appending service providers, Acxiom does not give e-mail addresses to the client until Acxiom has delivered the first e-mail message and offered the recipient the chance to opt out.

However, most anti-spam advocates favor opt in or even double opt in for e-mail messaging.

"If they have not opted in to receive e-mail marketing messages, even if they have opted in to receive direct mail messages, then I don't think that gives any company permission to contact them via e-mail," said Kim MacPherson, president and founder of online direct marketing agency Inbox Interactive Inc., Bethesda, MD.

But Marr said that "U.S. commerce standards say that businesses have a right to contact and service their customers" and that a relationship exists until the customer requests not to be contacted, regardless of the channel.

Until the marketers and privacy advocates agree on a standard regarding e-mail marketing, this issue will continue to plague marketers.

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