Friday, July 11, 2014

Email Unsubscribe Guilt Trips Should Be Avoided

This article discusses the dark pattern of the email unsubscribe guilt trip and how it should be avoided.

If you have ever purposely or accidentally signed up for a newsletter or bulk mailing list, you are likely familiar with the feeling of being plagued by having to process frequent communications from the company. Many people call emails of this caliber 'spam' because often times the emails that are received are absolutely cookie-cutter emails that have no personal significance to anyone. Most modern day email services offer 'spam' filtering, but sometimes they still slip through.

Example: Click to enlarge

In the early 2000's the problem of this unsolicited spam became so well known that there was even a law signed into effect by President George W. Bush that mandated that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforce the provisions. One piece of that law required that there be a visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism in every email that is emailed from a company.

Although there are other characteristics of the unsubscribe process that we can evaluate today, I'm going to focus specifically on the point at which a person has put in their request to unsubscribe. Upon clicking submit, they are typically presented with, or ported to a page that is intended to let them know that their unsubscribe request has been received or is in process.

But then it happens. The guilt trip.

In case this 'guilt trip' term is new to you, what it refers to is a form of communication in which someone tries to make someone else feel guilty in order to control their behavior. This is a type of psychological manipulation and coercion. In User Experience, we call this a Dark Pattern.

So then, why are so many websites employing such underlying tactics? I believe that this is just one example of how we tend to design to pattern other designs. Yes, we copy what others are doing. It is likely that a small percentage of websites out there are actually attempting to manipulate the user into re-subscribing, but for the most part it's simply common practice. For example, there are countless websites that use the exact phrase of "We're sorry to see you go".

It seems that these messages are being implemented before any real research is done. Just because someone is unsubscribing from your email newsletter or spam-bot, does it REALLY mean that they are leaving or going away?

I would like to submit to you that when a user clicks unsubscribe from your newsletter or bulk email, it does NOT mean they are ending their dealings with you. Although they are leaving your email spam, they may still plan to do business through other channels. 

For example, Let's say you shop at Home Depot. Maybe you love their products and services offered. But then, let's say that one-day you sign up for the newsletter because you are so hooked on the store. After 2 weeks of daily emails, you then decide that ok, maybe that's too much information (TMI), so you decide to unsubscribe. 

Upon unsubscribing, you are met with a GIANT font that reads, "WE'RE SORRY TO SEE YOU GO!". For one, no one likes being yelled at. So maybe at this point, you feel a little taken back at being yelled at, but then you have to ask yourself. Is this company breaking up with me? 

After a closer look you realize that they don't feel like you unsubscribing could possible be due to their sheer volume of emails.

It must be you. Wow. It is still likely however that even after you have been "Cyber-dumped", you are still probably going to go to the store when you need a new door knob, or call their roofing department when you have a leak. The relationship will probably continue.

Example: Click to enlarge
I doubt that this is the impression that is intended, however a close look might reveal that there is a need to focus on how the user is treated upon clicking the "Unsubscribe" link. 

I'm very interested in hearing your stories, successes or failures on this topic. Submit your comments to this article below.


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