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Why does it take two weeks to process an unsubscribe?

Why does it take “10 business days” to process an unsubscription request?
It almost never does. An unsubscription request will often take effect instantly and it would be rare that it would take more than a few business days.
So why do some businesses say your email address will be removed “within 10 business days” when they know it’ll be almost immediate?
It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver. No recipient is going to be annoyed if they stop getting mail sooner than they were promised. But tell them they’ve been unsubscribed and will receive no more email, then have mail from you end up in their inbox the following morning and they may get mad.
Why “10 business days” in particular?
The US CAN-SPAM act says you have to honor unsubscription requests by then, so that’s the upper limit to what’s legal:


If a recipient makes a request using a mechanism provided pursuant to paragraph (3) not to receive some or any commercial electronic mail messages from such sender, then it is unlawful –
(i) for the sender to initiate the transmission to the recipient, more than 10 business days after the receipt of such request, of a commercial electronic mail message that falls within the scope of the request

Why would it ever be anything other than instant?
Sending bulk mail isn’t usually just a case of taking a list of email address and a message and hitting a button. More often you’ll do something like export a subset of email addresses from your database, depending on who you’re targeting your message at, then have someone double check it, then upload those addresses to the ESP you’re using to send your mail in time for a regularly scheduled weekly mailing. Then, when someone hits the unsubscribe link mail to them may be suppressed by the ESP immediately, but those unsubscription requests will also need to be passed back to the list owner so they can suppress mail to them sent from elsewhere.
If you’re regularly sending out a mailing on Wednesday morning, you’ll want to have your recipient list ready to go by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. More likely you’d want to give yourself a days headroom to fix any problems – “stuff just goes wrong sometimes” – so you might aim for Monday afternoon. You’ll need to extract the email addresses and some metadata about the customer in batch, have someone in another group sanity check things then, if needed, extract the addresses and metadata again. In a large ecommerce system that’s redlining just handling peak transaction rates you may well push that to off hours, which would mean you’d extract the addresses Thursday night, have them sanity checked Friday and redo the extraction Friday night, if needed. Doing anything Friday night is doomed to failure, so aiming to do the initial extraction Wednesday night is more plausible. You’d download the suppression list from your ESP just before doing that initial extraction, on Wednesday morning. That could easily lead to a five business day latency between an unsubscription request and mail still being sent to the recipient. And that’s in the ideal case, where nobody is taking vacation, everybody does everything right and so on.
So some businesses may well be able to suspend mail to a recipient immediately they receive an unsubscription request but more complex ones – those that use multiple ESPs, segment their customer database for targeted mail rather than just doing a “batch and blast” to everyone, and have humans in the loop when deciding who to send email to – may take a little longer.
 

8 comments

  1. John L says

    may take a little longer. …
    But nobody really needs 10 days. I attribute it to Bad Marketer Syndrome, gosh, we can send our fabulous marketing mail for two more weeks, and they might still buy something!

  2. steve says

    I see this claim every so often, John. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it happen (or seen any evidence of it ever happening).

  3. Catherine Jefferson says

    I tend to agree with Steve on this one. There *are* morons that would think the way you suggest, John, except that (in my experience) these morons don’t bother obeying CAN-SPAM in the first place. They also don’t send email for legitimate companies through legitimate ESPs.
    A combination of a Legal department insisting on obeying the letter of the law, and a marketing department with the sense to realize that you don’t promise people more than you can actually deliver with near-100% certainty, is probably behind the “10 days” statement.
    I would like to suggest a slight rewording to the statement to indicate that removals are initiated immediately upon receipt of a removal request, and are usually completed within a few (hours|days), but in every case are complete within 10 days. That would actually communicate what I find most mailers mean better than “within 10 days” does.

  4. Al Iverson says

    I needed ten days when more directly helping clients manage databases. The “why” was simple: We did a weekly sync, and if something broken, I still would have legally had a few more days to investigate and fix whatever prevented the sync. A lot of this stuff was near-sneaker-net where I used to work. It’s not where I work currently, but I have no clue as to how up-to-date others are.

  5. Tony says

    As someone who does allot of these emails for my company I can tell you it is instant. It is an instant database check and it can and should remove you immediately. Typically when you unsubscribe to an email list it verifies the account when you hit the unsubscribe link and takes you to a webpage confirming your subscription. That is usually the amount of time it takes to search the database and set its preferences. Unsubscribing is not rocket science. The most common response I get when I unsubscribe and get that notice is that it takes that long for their system to process and if I were to open a new email I get from them it resets my preferences to subscribed again. I have heard this from 2 major retail sites. After trying to unsubscribe several times from both of them a phone call got me taken off immediately.

    1. laura says

      Not every company has their DBs so integrated. I’ve worked with multiple companies where the database of record is separate from the database at the ESP. So that means that there can be a delay. There’s also the issue with using different ESPs and having to share unsubs between them. In both cases instantaneous unsubscribes are not always possible.

  6. Merne says

    I agree with Tony. If you care about honoring your customer/potential customer requests, you should be checking your distribution list against your DB right before being sent. Its lazy not to do this, and it can be automated with very little effort. My opinion is the companies that use this find the law gives them a loophole of 10 more days to attempt to succeed in marketing whatever product they’re selling. I find it unethical.

  7. Dale Scott Rothman says

    The time to get removed from a list should be the same as the time to get added. Then again, I notice that banks are much quicker to remove funds from your account than they are to add them. And refunds take much longer to process than bill payments are. Basically, companies will try to get away with as much as they can.

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