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Oct 23, 2007 | 2 minute read

Registration Usability - Permission Email Dos and Donts

written by Linda Bustos

Registration BoxWhile reviewing the registration process of 87 of the top online retailers, I observed 66% of these sites took advantage of the registration form as a way to remind customers to opt in to email marketing programs by including a check box on the form. However, 57% of these retailers pre-checked the opt-in box, which is poor 'Netiquette when it comes to permission marketing.

Registration with an ecommerce website is NOT opting in to receive future offers via email. Some marketers may intentionally pre-check the box to increase sign ups, knowing that a number of customers don't notice the box or will forget to un-check it. Although this might build a bigger list, this practice can backfire.

If your customer was unaware he had opted in, all future emails from that website will look like spam, which is a step backward in building trust and long term customer relationships, hurts your corporate image and dilutes your overall email campaign success. Low open and response rates from uninterested people skews your performance metrics.

Another way customers can unwittingly be added to opt-in email lists is when there is when the customer makes an error in the registration form, for example when her passwords don't match. She goes back and correct the error, and the form refreshes and re-checks the opt-in box by default. Assuming your customer quickly corrected the error without checking over the entire form, she begins receiving your emails. This can be an even worse situation if she remembers specifically un-checking your box and perceives your business as disrespectful to her wishes.

You may not have designed your registration form to do such things if you outsourced your web development. So testing your sign up processes is key to catching these blips.

The following table shows which online retailers offered email sign-ups with the registration form without pre-checking, with pre-checking and without offering email sign-ups. In my test of registrations, I specifically opted out of each email offer, yet I have received promotions (apart from welcome emails) from the retailers that are listed in bold type.


1800 ContactsAbe BooksAbercrombie
1800 FlowersAmerican
AlibrisBed Bath BeyondB&N
BassProBloomingdalesBed Bath Bodyworks
CafePressBlue NileBest Buy
DisneyEtronicsCircuit City
Eddie BauerFoot LockerCompuplus
Harry and DavidHome DepotCrate and Barrell
HallmarkJ CrewDomestications
HomeClickLLBeanDrs Foster Smith
Lillian VernonMacy'
Liz ClaiborneRalph LaureneBags
Nieman MarcusSchwan'seCost
OfficeMaxTiger DirectFTD
PC Connection


Saks Fifth Avenue

JC Whitney

Land's End

Linens N Things
Sony Style

Musician's Friend

The Sharper Image

Northern Tool

Office Depot

Omaha Steaks





Radio Shack




Toys R Us

Urban Outfitters

Victoria's Secret



Permission Based Email Checklist

  1. Do remind customers when they register for your site that they can receive email messages / special offers from you (if you offer them)
  2. Don't pre-check the boxes for these subscriptions
  3. Clearly state what the emails are generally about (sales, new products, exclusive offers etc)
  4. Clearly state that users can unsubscribe at any time
  5. Reassure customers you will not share or sell their information
  6. Use a "double opt-in" system to confirm permission. It's always possible someone created a fake account using their email address
  7. Send a welcome email within 24 hours of subscription confirmation
  8. Test your process to make sure that registrants who opt-out of promotional emails don't receive them

What kind of email do you find effective as a shopper? As a merchant?