Why Consumers Don’t Trust Opt-Out

Discounted pharmaceuticals, adult toys and printer cartridges – the average consumer with an e-mail account gets a slew of unwanted and often inappropriate messages from “vendors” trying to sell their wares. As a result, e-mail inboxes are clogged with junk-mail messages from unknown sources, and consumers are skeptical of any marketing message – legitimate or not.

E-mail marketing initiatives are losing their edge for consumers, marketers, Internet service providers and even spammers. Conventionally known as unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail, spam is the No. 1 privacy-related complaint that consumers make to TRUSTe, the nonprofit privacy seal and certification organization. Sixty percent of complaints filed through the organization’s Watchdog Dispute Resolution program relate to spam.

The problem is only worsening. According to Jupiter Communications, e-mail volume will rise fortyfold by 2005. And with 59 percent of all e-mail categorized as spam, most e-mail users have stories of frustration. Even an FTC commissioner has expressed surprise at the quantity of spam he gets at his Federal Trade Commission e-mail address.

To try to reduce spam-related confusion and increase buyers’ trust, companies offer the option to unsubscribe, or opt out, from the organization’s e-mail marketing database. But consumers aren’t using the unsubscribe option and, as a result, are becoming increasingly frustrated by the number of e-mail marketing messages that flood their inboxes daily.

Don’t touch that “unsubscribe” link. Consumers don’t use or trust opt-out options for various reasons:

· Authoritative scare. Trusted sources such as Consumers Union, media and other third-party organizations have recommended that users bypass unsubscribe and opt-out options.

· Address validation. Consumers often fear that opting out of spam e-mail lists will simply validate their address and lead to an influx of spam in their inboxes.

· Poor consumer experience. Many consumers have used an unsubscribe option, only to continue receiving e-mail from the sender. Frustration with ineffective or ignored unsubscribe requests can lead consumers to lack faith in any unsubscribe option encountered.

· Inconsistency. Because of a lack of industry coordination, a wide variety of unsubscribe techniques are in circulation. Unsubscribe options requiring multiple clicks, forwarding e-mails or even personal information have created lengthy processes that test consumer patience.

· A recent study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that more than 37 percent of consumers don’t use unsubscribe options. The top three reasons were:

· Fear that the unsubscribe will confirm their address to spammers.

· Uncertainty as to whether the unsubscribe request will work.

· Doubt that the unsubscribe will be honored.

Ponemon’s study also revealed that 47 percent of respondents would feel more confident about an unsubscribe option if it were verified by a trusted third party.

Consumers want control over their inboxes and would like to trust unsubscribe features. They need the ability to remove themselves easily from online lists and newsletters while maintaining e-mail as an efficient communication channel.

But consumers also need tools to reduce the effects of unsolicited e-mail. Consistency across opt-out processes, such as clicking unsubscribe links, replying with special text or forwarding to a specific e-mail address, would greatly diminish consumer confusion.

Consumer distrust of the opt-out option is also a problem for legitimate, direct e-mail marketers. For example, instead of unsubscribing to unwanted e-mails, consumers frequently send spam complaints to Internet service providers and blacklists. These complaints can result in the blacklisting of legitimate marketing messages, creating a delivery problem for the entire list. In addition, brand damage among ISPs and blacklists can be difficult and time consuming to repair.

It’s understandable that legitimate senders don’t want unwilling recipients, as they detract from list quality metrics such as open rate, click-through rate and conversion. Moreover, marketers often carry an unnecessary cost burden for the software and hardware components required to distribute messages to large-scale databases.

Earning consumer trust. To rebuild and improve consumer trust in opt-out processes, marketers can work toward a “trusted unsubscribe” by following a few baseline standards recommended by TRUSTe:

· Don’t make the unsubscribe process more than a few clicks away.

· Don’t require recipients to provide additional personal information.

· Process opt-out requests within five business days.

· The unsubscribe procedure should be functional for at least 30 days after mailing.

· Consumer information should not be shared after they opt out of your list.

· The unsubscribe request should be valid until the consumer initiates a new relationship.

· Provide an option to cover all communications from a company and its subsidiaries and affiliates.

To preserve e-mail’s effectiveness, legitimate senders need to respond to consumer concerns and distrust. Their needs must be addressed in industry standards that will rebuild trust and benefit senders and recipients.

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