Dear businesses, always get permission.

Don’t ever send e‑mail ads to past or potential customers without permission. Ever. This is such a no-brainer that I wouldn’t expect it would need to be stated. By all means, ask customers if they’d like to receive e‑mail ads as part of the process of making a purchase, but even then, the default should be to not receive ads. Make the customers who want the ads take an action to receive the mailings.

Permission is a wonderful thing. If you’ve got a group of people who had to take action to get on your list, you know they want to be there. As long as you make sure what you send them is worth their time, everyone’s happy. Indeed, everyone is thrilled. You’re on your way to building a following that’s a community.

On the other hand, if you assume that it’s okay to send ads to customers who buy from you, you risk upsetting potential repeat customers. Is that what you want? Sure it’s not illegal to send likely unwanted ads to customers, but do you really want to set the bar so low? I’d suggest that if your goal is anything other than pleasing your potential customers, you’re in the wrong business. Creating good will with potential customers is a valuable investment even if it means the loss of a sale in the short term. Look at it this way…would you rather have one sale, or a customer who is a fan. Remember that the source of the word fan is fanatic. Fans prefer to deal with your business over others and they’ll also spread the word and direct their friends to you.

I made a purchase from Camera Canada some years back. Days later, I was not amused to receive an e‑mail ad from them. Of course I need to give them my e‑mail address when making a purchase, but they took it upon themselves to add me to their e‑mail ad mailing list. Is it such a big deal to simply unsubscribe and move on? It depends on your point of view. As a customer, I do unsubscribe and move on, but I remember the annoyance and avoid the retailer in the future. As a retailer, I would avoid any direct action that would annoy customers. Not only would I want a repeat customer, but an enthusiastic customer.

I was not pleased with Camera Canada’s decision to send me spam, and I wrote them to say so. The owner himself wrote me back, explaining that since I purchased a product from them, it’s clear that I was interested in the products they sell, and it never occurred to him that anyone would object. That, in turn, surprised me. Could he really be so unimaginative? It appears that he was, because his choice to send me spam kept me away from his business for two years, during which time I did buy products he sells, but from other retailers. I wasn’t terribly surprised when I made a small purchase from his business recently, I was again automatically added to his company’s e‑mail ad mailing list.

So what am I to think? He can’t say that it never occurred to him that this action could upset anyone. I’m forced to conclude that he simply doesn’t care. It’s more important to him to get his ads in front of me than it is to make me happy. I’m amazed that retailers can be so amazingly short-sighted. Not only will I go out of my way to avoid Camera Canada, but I will suggest to my friends, family, and acquaintances that they should look to other retailers.

This is not rocket science. Treat people with respect and consideration. Don’t merely do what you are allowed, but think about the possibilities and try to thrill your customers. Given the way companies usually act, this isn’t terribly difficult. Retailers who aren’t smart enough to realize that short-term gain is often a long-term loss aren’t worth your time.