Retailers, please stop bluntly asking for my email address at the till

The other day I placed a roll of sticky tape on the check-out desk of Office Outlet and prepared to hover my debit card over the contactless payment machine.

“Can I have your email address?” asked the member of staff.

“No, thank you.” I said as politely as possible, when it sounds impolite. I wonder how many people submit to this trick, dishing out an email address – perhaps not a real one – instead of risking possible impoliteness or awkwardness?

It’s no longer safe to buy even simple things like sticky tape, birthday cards, socks or gloves without being asked, often bluntly, for an email address.

Some have a slightly different tactic: “Can I have your email address to send your receipt?”. Because I might lose the printed receipt, but won’t lose the email one in a sea of promotional emails?

The reason these retailers want an email address is quite obvious – it’s a direct link to try and persuade us to part with more money, with the potential to enable them to profile us and target things at us accordingly. All great for them, but the reason to actually let them have it is less clear, particularly when they don’t even give a reason, they just ask for it.

I dare say that if I asked “why”, I’d probably be told “so we can send you special offers”. But that’s just not reason enough for me.

Is it really useful for me to have every retailer I’ve ever bought something from sending me emails? Do I really want to have to wade through all these offers in amongst the emails I really do want to read? Will any amount of offers make me return to buy more sticky tape before this roll has run out?

Clearly, there are going to be times when some people will value such emails. But this blanket and often blunt approach seems lazy and actually unhelpful to both parties. What’s the point of a load of fake email addresses or unread emails for the retailer – and what’s the point of an inbox load of sales spam for many people?

It’s also a worry now we’re so close to the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Near obliging people (saying “no” feels awkward) to hand over an email address at the till without any reason why doesn’t appear to conform to the regulation’s rule on consent:

“The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies will no longer be able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent. Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​”

“What’s your email address?” is hardly a reason for having it, so you can’t consent to whatever they might do with it. And those wanting to email a receipt shouldn’t actually do anything else with your email address – you only consented to receiving a receipt.

Being more selective over who these companies want in their databases and being compliantly up front about why is going to take a bit more effort than asking everyone for an email address – but surely it’s going to be better for everyone?

Pareto’s 80/20 rule has been hijacked by marketing writers to move from economics to sales, implying that 80% of sales volume comes from 20% of customers. Frankly it’s a bit too arbitrary for my liking when applied like that, but there is often some truth in the general principle. In many of the businesses I’ve worked with, there’s a core of customers who contribute more sales than many others combined.

Yes, by all means, these are great people to be in touch with – and they’re potentially more likely to value you being in touch too.

In the case of Office Outlet, if I was an office or purchasing manager for a business requiring lots of office stationery type products, then maybe yes, I’d value some offers coming my way. When I just buy a roll of sticky tape once in a while, then, no, I’m just not suddenly going to buy a laptop or a box of folders because you’ve sent me an email with a small discount.

So retailers, please stop bluntly asking me for my email address whenever I buy something from you. Perhaps decide if I’m really useful to you first – and give me a very good reason to sign up if you really want my details.

When promoting yourself or your business, self-praise is no recommendation

If as a child I happened to get a little carried away in proclaiming my achievements as being the greatest in the world, I could be sure to soon hear the phrase “self praise is no recommendation”.

At first I didn’t quite understand how my papier mache hot air balloon or chocolate rice krispie cake making skills could possibly be anything other than world class, but it turned out to be a very valuable lesson.

How easy is it to tell the world that you’re great? Very easy.

How easy is it to actually be great? Not so easy.

Do most people realise this? Yes, of course.

Even if people perceive your claims as more confidence than egotism, there’s the unfortunate matter of whether or not you’re telling the truth. So self-praise really isn’t any recommendation at all, ever.

Sadly, you won’t have to look far in the world of advertising, websites, company literature or even Twitter profiles to see self-praise at play.

“We’re the best”

“We’re number one”

“I’m an expert”

“The greatest doer of something somewhere”

I’ve even seen a few Twitter users proclaiming themselves to be a “great human being”, which takes self-praise to nauseous heights.

If it helps you have the confidence to do what you do by getting up in the morning and saying to yourself that you’re the best, then so be it – but the rest of us need a little more than your word to go on. This is particularly vital since people’s trust in what businesses say isn’t all that high.

According to a recent article in Marketing Week (1): “The Reputation Institute found that just 15.4 per cent of UK consumers believe what companies say in their advertising, with the rest neutral, disbelieving or unsure.”

So any trust in what you’re saying has to be earned – you have to show why you’re great, not just say so. The good news is that if you’re really so great, you’ll have plenty of evidence to prove it. Plus, there’ll no doubt be quite a few people who think very highly of you too.

What other people say about you is so much more influential than anything you might say about yourself.

Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages survey (2) indicates that: “Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, often referred to as earned advertising, are still the most influential, as 84 percent of global respondents across 58 countries to the Nielsen online survey said this source was the most trustworthy.”

All those years ago, it was a glowing endorsement from my class teacher that was rewarded with a Matchbox car of my choice – not my chocolate rice krispie cake boasts.

It’s also very likely that it’ll be the glowing endorsement from your customers, not you, that’s rewarded with greater sales success.


1. Marketing Week: ‘Majority of UK consumers don’t trust brands’ advertising’

2. Nielsen: Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages

Attracting customers – does your website mention your biggest asset?

It is often said that the close links and relationships that small businesses can build with their customers provides a key advantage over their larger rivals.

Also, in the absence of huge advertising and PR budgets, this people element can define how small businesses are perceived by their customers and be a key factor in winning new business.

So it greatly surprises me that many small business owners don’t mention themselves or their people on their websites. It’s like walking into a shop and finding all the staff hiding behind the counter.

It’s particularly odd when the business is offering a personal, creative or craft service. Here potential customers would be buying directly into a business person’s particular personality, skills and talents.

Sometimes little hints are dropped, such as “we’re a family business” or “the founders have more than x years of experience”, but that information alone lacks substance and isn’t useful. Introduce this family, their roles and experience – profile these founders and their experience.

Think of it from a potential customer’s point of view. Unlike the big names, they might have never heard of you before, or have any idea of your reputation and what they can expect from dealing with you.

Their questions, doubts, hopes and fears would no doubt be answered if they engage with your business. However, if your website is the first point of contact that a potential customer has with your business, it might be the only chance you get to convince them to do business with you.

Why leave these people wondering? You don’t need to provide life histories – and should avoid self-praise – just give your audience a summary of who you are and why you’re good at what you do, so they have some idea of who they’re dealing with.

Although you might have put a great deal of effort into showcasing your products or services on your website, the people element of your business could well be the key to winning that new customer.

Don’t hide behind the counter….or website.