- Internet & the Web
Eliminating Junk Mail
All of Us are Familiar With Email Spam
Anyone with an email address is familiar with spam - the flood of, mostly unwanted, emails from advertisers and common crooks that overflows our email boxes every day. Because the cost of sending spam is near zero, it is a great way to spread the word about one's legitimate or illegitimate product or service. Even if 99% of the recipients simply delete your spam emails, a great profit can be made from the 1% who take action. And 1% or more will take action as evidenced by the longevity of scams such as the highly successful Nigerian Bank scam emails which, despite the bad grammar, ludicrous get rich quick promise and all the warnings issued about it, people continue to fall for it. If people are going to fall for such an obvious scam as this, imagine the results a legitimate seller of a product or service can get from people who want the product. So what if 99.8% of a hundred million people delete the email, that still leaves 200,000 people who take time to read and possibly respond to the email with an order. If only 10% of these actually purchase the product the spammer can register 20,000 sales which is not a bad return for a marketing program that costs next to nothing.
Junk Mail Can Be As Annoying as Email Spam
However, electronic spam is not the only type of spam operating on the market. There is an older and increasingly more common paper version of spam that is delivered right to our home mailboxes every day courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. While electronic spam in our email boxes is a nuisance that costs us noting but the time it takes to hit the delete button on our computers, postal spam is not only a nuisance that consumes time and space in our trash bags but whose cost, until recently, was also subsidized by our tax dollars. While we no longer directly subsidize postal junk mail with our tax dollars the U.S. Postal Service is indirectly subsidized by not having to pay any taxes itself as well as being able to acquire much of its physical capital (buildings, equipment, technology) at very low cost due to other areas of the Federal Government picking up the interest associated with the financing of these items.
Until recently tax dollars did subsidize the cost of mailing much of the junk mail that we receive. The removal of these taxpayer subsidies, plus a growing public concern over the environmental impact of increasing paper consumption and increased use of the Internet have caused marketers to begin rethinking their use of junk mail. However, from the point of view of the U.S. Postal Service, a reduction in junk mail poses a major threat to their new marketing model. As a result of the increased use of the Internet, the use of USPS (United States Postal Service or the Post Office) mailing services by individuals has decreased drastically. From a personal perspective, I now pay all of my bills via my bank's free online bill pay and receive over half of my bills, bank and other statements electronically. I also use email to keep in touch with friends and family. The result is that, in the past couple of years, my stamp purchases have decreased from two or three purchases of hundred stamp rolls per year to a about a dozen stamps per year. In fact, I no longer pay attention to the Post Office with the result that I don't even know what the cost of a first class stamp is anymore - for the rare occasions where I do need a stamp, I stop by the 24 hour machine at the local Postal Station, place my letter on the scale and deposit the change needed for the stamp. I have also changed accounts in a couple of cases in order to move away from a company that does not do business electronically to one that does. For me it is not so much environmental consciousness as the fact that managing my finances and personal correspondence is easier and more efficient when done electronically.
The USPS is acutely aware of the huge decline in the use of their services by consumers and, after Congress refused to allow the USPS to extend their monopoly to electronic transactions (for which they would charge) the USPS decided to recast itself as a provider of business delivery and communication services especially in the area of mailing (as opposed to package delivery) services for which, in most cases it is still illegal to use private competitors such as Federal Express.
Rising mailing costs, of course, impact companies' decisions regarding the usefulness of direct mail marketing. Traditionally, a 10% response to a direct mail campaign has been sufficient to cover the costs (including postage) of the campaign and yield a profit. But, with postage being a major part of the cost of such campaigns, companies are forced to reconsider such campaigns. Legitimate companies are also aware of growing concern of many consumers over the environment and don't want to alienate existing or potential customers by appearing to not be environmentally friendly. All of these factors are driving companies to find ways to reduce mailings to people who won't respond or, worse, to people who will be driven away from the company as a result of a direct mail campaign.
I recently ran across a website called (Catalog Choicewww.catalogchoice.com) which claimed to be a site where consumers could opt out of receiving unwanted catalogs. The mail order business has been a highly successful and growing business for over a century. Companies like Sears began as mail order operations at the end of the 19th century and in the past half century mail order has grown by leaps and bounds. However, catalogs are becoming increasingly expensive to produce and mail. In addition to mailing costs, there is also the cost of producing and printing the catalogs with their color photos and numerous glossy pages. When you consider that many of these go straight from the mailbox to the trash can or recycling bin without being opened it is easy to understand why mail order companies are eager to find a better way. While more economical than building and staffing brick and mortar stores all over the nation, catalogs are not as economical as the Internet. Thus, while electronic spammers have no incentive, let alone desire, to cooperate with producers of spam filters, catalog mail order companies have good reason to work with outfits like Catalog Choice as this site provides them with an inexpensive way to allow their customers and potential customers to choose paper or electronic media. By giving people, who normally throw away catalogs upon arrival, an easy way to opt out of receiving them the companies are able to reduce their production and mailing costs by no longer having to send to such people. In addition to providing people with both opt in and opt out opportunities to be added to or removed from the mail order companies' catalog mailing lists, the site also provides the opportunity to opt in or opt out of electronic advertising announcements. This allows the mail order companies to not only reduce costs but to also better target both their electronic and hard-copy solicitations.
CatalogChoice.com also offers links to opt-out and opt-in sites for email, telemarketers, and other solicitations delivered via the U.S. Postal Service (the list includes opt-out and opt-in options for the masses of advertising circulars addressed to OCCUPANT. Among the many opt-out links are ones to credit reporting companies where one can request that the credit agency not allow credit card companies to view their credit information for the purposes of mailing credit card solicitations. while the credit reporting agency will immediately halt future inquiries by these companies, this does not immediately halt the credit card solicitations as the card companies use the lists they obtain for multiple solicitations over a period of months.
The site warns that it can take up to 90 days or six months for the opt-out requests to take full effect due to the fact that while a company will remove one's name from their list and stop selling or passing on lists with the names and addresses of those who have opted out it does not stop other companies who have purchased lists from these companies from continuing to send solicitations to people on the lists they purchased. However, these lists do go stale after a few months and solicitations should begin to decline as the new lists no longer include your information.