Best Practices for Point-of-Sale Email Address Collection
The practice of collecting email addresses at the point of sale (POS) isn't a new one. However, more companies are embracing the trend, and they're doing so with increasing regularity. For example, when customers are at the cash register, many brick-and-mortar stores now offer to email them receipts.
Issues surrounding POS email address collection gained additional attention this past holiday season when the influential anti-spam group Spamhaus Project added some major retailers to blacklists. Spamhaus took this action against some companies because they sent too many emails with incorrect addresses. These addresses were assumed to have been incorrectly input by store associates at the point of sale.
Since the holidays, lively debate has ensued about the action taken by Spamhaus. Many believe it was punitive. Consider, for example, that the companies that were blacklisted were brands with a general history of adhering to permission email best practices. Furthermore, these companies wouldn't intentionally email to incorrect addresses during their busiest time of the year — or any time of the year, for that matter.
Whether Spamhaus was trying to send a message to retailers about their email acquisition practices, a few issues are important to understand when it comes to the exchange of a consumer email address for special access or other forms of value. These issues are even more important when that exchange occurs at the point of sale:
- Transactional vs. marketing email content: If consumers provide their email addresses at the point of sale because they want an electronic alternative to a cash register receipt, first and foremost, send them the transactional details they're expecting, and do it right away. Should you send marketing content as well? You can always create terms and conditions for your acquisition program that you can refer disgruntled customers back to if they complain. If you want to avoid having disgruntled customers in the first place, however, there's no sure way to safely assume that customers will be happy to get your marketing emails even if they've given you their email addresses as part of a transaction. In fact, of 1,000 consumers surveyed by BlueHornet last year, almost 76 percent said that it's not OK for a company to start sending them promotional emails if they've purchased something from the company but didn't specifically sign up to receive emails from that company.
- Single opt-in vs. confirmed opt-in emails: This issue is closely related to the previous point. The safest way to ensure positive post-purchase email relationships with customers is to confirm their opt-in. In the POS scenario above, include an opt-in call to action on the emailed receipt.
- Age verification: Just because your customers have email addresses and they've willingly given them to you at the point of sale, that isn't a guarantee that they're old enough to participate in your marketing email program. Depending on the products you sell and your customers’ state of residence, there may be age restrictions you must comply with.
Confidently collect email addresses at POS: Use text to join
Your email service provider should be able to implement a text-to-join acquisition program for you that executes quickly and can be built specifically to mitigate the risks around POS data collection. Here's how it can work, again using the receipt scenario above:
- Instead of relying on sales associates to accurately input email addresses, your customers can use SMS to text their email addresses to your short code.
- Customers receive an immediate SMS reply message letting them know to check their email for their receipt.
- A mobile-optimized receipt is immediately emailed to the address.
- This can be followed by an email inviting customers to join your company's email program. Offering a purchase discount can increase opt-ins. New joiners can be sent an age verification email, if relevant.
- Your welcome email, including discount coupon, is sent and the relationship starts off on the right foot.
In addition to increasing your confidence about POS email address collection, a text-to-join program can increase your acquisition rates. It can engage those customers who prefer to provide their information privately via their mobile devices. It can help protect companies against potential blacklisting because of typos and confirmed opt-ins. It can even reduce overhead costs by saving sales associates valuable time. Understanding these important email address collection issues and adopting the prescribed best practices are critical to ensuring customers have a safe, positive and valuable experience with your company at the point of sale and beyond.
Susan Tull is the vice president of marketing for BlueHornet Networks.
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