23 May, 2012
Occasionally we have fielded an offer from third party businesses asking if we'd like to purchase a list of email addresses so we can expand our potential customer base.
The first question that pops into my mind is: Why? Actually, I think there would be several more question marks than that. But on paper, I can see how purchasing a list of email addresses can look quite attractive to a business looking to extend their reach to more people.
Purchased Email Lists can be completely legal
A common misconception amongst consumers is that a business should not be able to email you without having you opt-in or by having a direct existing relationship to you as a customer. Purchased lists can be completely legal.
It is, however, the purchasing business' responsibility to make a reasonable effort to ensure that they are not breaking the spam act and that any email addresses on the list have been obtained legitimately. This can often be hard to accurately confirm. As the ACMA article that I have linked to below reminds, it's up to the sender to prove that consent exists. In other words, make sure you do your homework.
Not all businesses offering the purchase of email address lists will have obtained these email addresses legitimately, or at least some will have failed to make it clear to the eventual recipient. This is why, despite being on these lists, that people may still be quite shocked, even angry, when an unknown business contacts them. This is where things really get risky.
It's up to the sender to prove that consent exists.
Spam. It's all about perception
Spam is all about the final recipient's perception. Do they want to receive this email? Is it useful to them? Were they expecting to receive it?
Some third parties will be good about handling these concerns, setting up expectations and reminding their contacts that they are on their targeted lists and to expect to receive these emails. Regardless, these aren't generally questions the sender can accurately answer, in any form of bulk email campaign.
All else aside, if the final recipient believes they have been spammed, the recipient may take things to the next level: reporting your business. Undeniably purchased lists increase your chance of this scenario happening, although certainly a business can be reported regardless.
The definite risk doesn't seem to be worth the potential reward.
Advice: Be nice
Attracting customers is a deliberate process, as is attracting email subscribers. Time and time again I see businesses looking for shortcuts and more often than not they end up paying the price. In this case that price is potential damage to email deliverability and also to reputation. This damage affects not only potential new customers, but existing valued customers. In the age of social media this is only more risky.
We recommend against the use of purchased lists for the purpose of email marketing. The definite risk doesn't seem to be worth the potential reward.
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