Posted by: Chris | September 12, 2007

Barnes and Noble, Surely You Know About Permission Marketing-It’s in Your Top 50,000

As a former English teacher and a pretty avid reader, Barnes and Noble has held a prominent spot in my lineup of favorite places to shop for years. So it was with disappointment that I became aware of the fact that B&N had probably been distributing my e-mail address without my explicit permission for years. I became aware of this recently when I was going through the process of opting out of B&N’s e-newsletter. I logged in to my account, only to find that every marketing option in my “Communication Preferences” had been checked, including the “Special offers, events, new products and services from trustworthy third parties” option, which I would have never selected otherwise. No doubt, this occurred the first time I ever ordered from B&N, many years and spam e-mails ago. I probably went to order a book online, so I established the obligatory account, and this was the default marketing setting that was imputed upon me (without my knowledge or express consent). To be fair, I went to bn.com just this morning and established a new account, hoping to discover that my assumption was incorrect, or to see that B&N had mended their ways since I first created an account with them years ago. Sure enough, I was not given the opportunity to opt out of third-party e-mails during the sign-up process, and sure enough, when I checked my marketing settings, I was signed up to receive every type of correspondence (both B&N and third party) via every medium.

While I realize that this sort of thing has been relatively common in the past, I guess the thing I find most unsettling is that I would not expect this from an otherwise reputable company like B&N. B&N should be an example to other companies. They are the older, more responsible kid in the family. They shouldn’t need to play tricks like this. These days, even the smallest, seediest internet companies allow you to choose not to receive “Special offers, events, new products and services from trustworthy third parties” during the account setup process. Spam carries such a contagious stygma that most companies want to make absolutely sure that they have express permission from you to distribute your e-mail address to third parties right up front, even if it means that they also lose you from their own list. This sort of thing (automatically putting you on the third party marketing list, simply because you entrusted a company with your e-mail address under the assumption that it would only be used for purposes of taking care of your account) can only be described as, well, sneaky. It’s a sin of omission. Sure, I never told you to exclude my name from third-party e-mail lists, but you never asked. Barnes and Noble, I think you should have.

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