Millions Facing Junk Mail Deluge
Secret Royal Mail plan to link up with web marketers
We were contacted by a whistleblower who felt that households could be inundated with junk mail under a scheme that means if you click on an item on the internet you could be sent information about it through the post without your permission.
Our source felt that this sort of marketing was too intrusive.
The Daily Mail newspaper ran the story on its front page.
Millions are facing junk mail deluge: Secret Royal Mail plan to deliver marketing letters to shoppers who simply click on a product online
- Homeowners to be sent ‘targeted’ junk mail based on web shopping habits
- Simply clicking on products and adding them to ‘basket’ will trigger post
- Plans are being trialled by Royal Mail to boost revenues amid falling sales
- Difficult to opt out of scheme as it falls outside of generic junk mail system
Homeowners will be sent ‘targeted’ junk mail based on their internet shopping habits under plans being trialled by Royal Mail.
The firm will deliver personalised marketing letters encouraging customers to buy goods from retailers they have looked at online.
Simply clicking on a product and adding it to an online shopping basket would be enough to trigger adverts in the post.
A secret pilot has started between Royal Mail and a well-known UK retailer, and the system could be rolled out within months.
The news sparked fears that households will be ‘deluged’ with more junk post.
Royal Mail has ramped up its marketing mail business to boost revenues amid falling letter sales and competition for parcels.
With almost three-quarters of British adults shopping online – nearly 37million people – the plan could generate significant income for the recently privatised firm.
It would be difficult to opt out as the scheme would fall outside the Royal Mail’s system for stopping generic junk mail.
The unnamed retailer in the pilot is collecting data on which products customers look at on its website. It uses ‘cookies’ – a file stored on shoppers’ computers about their internet activity – and matches this to customers’ postal addresses.
Royal Mail is then paid by the retailer to deliver a letter ‘in a day or two’ encouraging the recipient to buy items they clicked on.
The trial will raise concerns that people’s private online shopping habits could be revealed to others sharing their home.
Jonathan Harman, of Royal Mail’s Market-Reach, boasted at a recent industry talk that ‘as soon as you identify an individual and match their postal address and online activity through a cookie then you’ve got the ability to really join up the customer experience’.
He said the collaboration would allow shops to target ‘high-value prospects’ with a follow-up letter, rather than an email or online advert. But he appeared to be aware that the project would be controversial, adding that privacy is a ‘big deal’ and that the programme must be used sensitively.
The letters are sent out to internet users who have abandoned an online shopping basket before purchasing anything.
It means that if someone clicks ‘buy’ on an item, but does not follow through with the transaction, they could receive a catalogue or advert from the retailer the next day.
Royal Mail insisted it was not collating or sharing any data on people’s shopping habits or postal addresses. But the idea of personalised junk mail is likely to be deeply unpopular with many customers.
Daniel Nesbitt, of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘These plans mean that not only will people be bombarded by targeted adverts, they could also be deluged by letters, often with no knowledge of why or how Royal Mail have got hold of this information.’
He added: ‘Businesses must think very carefully about how they inform their customers about their part in the scheme … People have a right to know where this kind of marketing is coming from and most importantly why they’re getting it.’
A recent Royal Mail report told businesses that marketing mail can ‘reinforce your brand’ by allowing customers to ‘absorb its message in a largely unconscious way’.
The report, titled The Private Life Of Mail, found post stays in homes for an average of 17 days and can make people feel ‘more valued’.
It added: ‘Mail brings a brand into the home and into close proximity with the people living in it … A single piece of mail can represent multiple opportunities for people to engage with a brand, reminding them of it, reinforcing its values, and ultimately becoming part of everyday life.’
The firm said a letter was more effective than a prompt via email or a pop-up advert online, which had a low response rate.
Royal Mail earns £3million a day from marketing mail. In the 12 months after the firm was privatised in October 2013, almost 3.2billion items of ‘unaddressed’ junk mail arrived in homes – nearly double the 1.7billion delivered annually five years ago. These figures do not include the vast quantities of ‘addressed’ junk mail also delivered.
A spokesman for Royal Mail said it would not use its own database of addresses in the pilot, and that the trial was to find out whether the firm could send the targeted mail within ‘a day or two … before the opportunity is lost’.
He added: ‘This will help ensure that marketing mail continues to be useful for consumers, and valued by brands.’
The Office for National Statistics said 74 per cent of adults in Britain bought goods online in 2014, up from 53 per cent six year earlier.
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