Ask Laura: Will our ESP kick us off for mailing purchasers?



Dear Laura,
We’re a small online retailer and email is a very important sales and communication channel for us. We do marketing and newsletters with Mailchimp, transaction confirmations with Bigcommerce, and a few other messages via Salesforce. Our volumes are relatively low, but we’re in an industry that can be a bit of a red flag for spam.
We have a few different lists in Mailchimp. The smallest is for our newsletters, and this is a good, current, double-opted-in list. Engagement is good, and we’re happy with how this list performs. We have another list of people who have participated in our crowdfunding projects. They’ve given us permission to email them about those projects, but have not specifically opted in for other types of communications. Finally, we have a large list (well, large for us – about 10,000 addresses) of everyone who has ever bought anything from us.
So here’s the question: we’re running a significant promotion (40% off of everything). We have reason to believe that our customers — who love our products — would want to learn about this promotion, but we don’t have explicit permission to email them. Is it reasonable for us to do this? Will Mailchimp kick us off the platform? It’s not like we’ve purchased a list of people we don’t know – these are our customers and none of them have asked us NOT to send them email…
Thanks for your advice,
Trying To Do the Right Thing

Dear TTDtRT,
We get this question a lot. And it’s a good question. As you know, we often talk about sending wanted mail. And we recognize that there’s a difference between wanted mail and requested mail. After all, who doesn’t want to save some money around the holidays?
So the trick here is to be honest with yourselves, and craft a strategy that really is customer-centered. Yes, it’s probably ok to email these customers once in a while about a big sale or promotion. No, it’s probably not ok to subscribe them to your newsletter, send them coupons once a week, promote contests every month, etc.
You might also consider segmenting these lists by date. If these are customers that have engaged with you in the past year, that’s different than someone who last purchased from you three years ago. Mailing only the more recent customers may help reduce the risk of abuse or spam reports, as well as bounces and unsubscribes.
Mailchimp and other ESPs look at a variety of factors as they consider what constitutes abuse. It’s not as simple as reaching a certain threshold of abuse reports. And they’ll likely warn you before kicking you off the platform (unless you do something egregious, of course).
In an ideal world, senders would only mail people who have explicitly requested mail. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and as such, we all need to make responsible decisions about what constitutes wanted mail.
Use your powers for good.

Confused about delivery in general? Trying to keep up on changing policies and terminology? Need some Email 101 basics? This is the place to ask. We can’t answer specific questions about your server configuration or look at your message structure for the column (please get in touch if you’d like our help with more technical or forensic investigations!), but we’d love to answer your questions about how email works, trends in the industry, or the joys and challenges of cohabiting with felines.

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