Redbox: COI Doesn’t Fix All Bulk Email Problems

Because Redbox has been actively confirming subscriptions to its lists, I’ve kept quiet about the spamtrap hits that I see from them. They’re doing the right thing to confirm. I don’t want to discourage them. But their initial acquisition process for these email addresses is resulting in more initial spamtrap hits than any reputable company whose bulk email I’ve observed before. I think that they and their ESPs — Cheetahmail, a subsidiary of Experian, and ExactTarget — need to know this. Further, this raises an important issue for many companies that use bulk email: what to do about problems that confirmed opt-in (COI) doesn’t solve.

I see several emails from Redbox to spamtraps on most days. Since midnight today I have seen two confirmation requests, three emailed receipts, a survey request, and three other emails with offers for active customers. These emails were sent to four different email addresses, two of which started to hear from Redbox in the past few days. One of those email addresses is almost certainly a pure spamtrap as the domain has only had one legitimate email address. Redbox routinely hits new email addresses — spamtraps — with a few emails, sends a couple of confirmation requests, and then quits emailing those email addresses.

I don’t believe that the problem is that Redbox is trying to send their marketing emails to people who did not ask for them. Many of the emails are transactional emails with enough customer information that, if this email were to me, I’d be worried about the security of my private information. The rest are the sorts of marketing messages that are normally sent to active, engaged, current customers. I suspect the cause to be mostly a combination of bad handwriting and typos when the customer or the data clerk enters the email addresses.

If this were an occasional thing, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it is not occasional. Unfortunately, despite Redbox’s lack of malice and clear intent to do the right thing, Redbox is sending a LOT of garbage to email addresses that never asked for that email before their current process kicks in and puts an end to the emails. My spamtraps are not the issue: all of the other email addresses that belong to real people who did not ask for this email are the issue. Redbox needs to improve its tools for obtaining those email addresses in the first place. I’d recommend the following:

  • Get rid of handwriting! DO NOT use any process that expects either the customer or the clerk to write legibly enough for a data entry person to read and enter the results correctly! Seriously, in 2012 you expect legible handwriting? <wry grin>

  • Check smartphone or tablet input CAREFULLY! If a customer is using a smartphone or a tablet to place an order, implement extra checks to verify all information that requires typing rather than selection from a menu. Ever muttered, “D*mn you, autocorrect!”? I haven’t, yet, but only because I’m a cranky old computer geek who won’t get a smartphone til they live up to the name. :) Your order processes and data verification needs to keep up with the demands created by the tools that your customers are using.

  • Don’t require an email address for point rentals/sales. As most Redbox sales don’t involve live sales clerks, this probably isn’t a major part of their data quality problem, but it is for retailers who have real people checking customers out at retail points-of-sale. Even better, don’t have point-of-sales clerks offer incentives for new customers to provide an email address or press them to provide one. People don’t enjoy saying NO repeatedly. People don’t like to be rude. Lots of people also don’t want a bunch of marketing email, so some of them deliberately provide a false email address rather than say no. Viola — you’re sending email to somebody who isn’t your customer and didn’t ask for it. Not cool.

Confirmed opt-in (COI) is good. I and most other antispammers, including major blocklists such as Spamhaus, strongly recommend using it for most bulk email lists. As deliverability consultant Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise likes to remind people, however, COI is a tool for helping ensure opt-in, not a guarantee or a panacea. It doesn’t fix all bulk email problems. It doesn’t guarantee that your email will never be blocked. Even when you’re using COI, if you are sending enough confirmation requests and welcome emails to enough spamtraps, you’ll eventually get blocked. I’d hate to see this happen to Redbox, which has made a real effort to be a good Internet citizen.

Redbox isn’t the only company that has this problem. Any company whose bulk email lists are generated to a significant extent through retail points-of-sale or web-based forms accessed by smartphones or tablets needs to look at data quality issues. In addition, any company that uses incentives to get people to provide email addresses needs to do the same.

 
Spam Sample #1: COI Confirmation Email

Sending IP: 8.7.43.55

Actual Headers:

Received: from mta935.e.redbox.com (mta935.e.redbox.com [8.7.43.55])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Mon,  8 Oct 2012 07:xx:xx -0000 (UT)
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
DomainKey-Signature: <xxx>
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2012 12:xx:xx -0000
Message-ID: <<xxx>@mta935.e.redbox.com>
List-Unsubscribe: <mailto:rm-<xxx>@e.redbox.com>
From: "Redbox" <Redbox@e.Redbox.com>
To: <xxx>
Subject: Your immediate action is required
MIME-Version: 1.0
Reply-To: "Redbox" <support-<xxx>@e.redbox.com>
Content-type: multipart/alternative; boundary="<xxx>"

Readable Email:

From: Redbox <Redbox@e.redbox.com>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: Your immediate action is required
Reply-To: Redbox <support-<xxx>@e.redbox.com>

CONFIRM YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Confirm your Redbox email subscription and get a free* one-night DVD rental. Be the first to receive Redbox offers, freebies and new release details straight to your inbox!

Click on the button below to verify your account and you’ll get your code for a free rental!

YES, CONFIRM MY EMAIL ADDRESS AND GIVE ME MY FREE RENTAL

http://e.redbox.com/a/<xxx>

If you have any issues with the link above, copy and paste the link below into a browser to verify your account and get the code for a free rental!

http://e.redbox.com/a/<xxx>

<removed>

(c) Copyright 2012 Redbox Automated Retail LLC. All rights reserved.

Redbox Automated Retail, LLC
1 Tower Lane, Suite 900
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181
866-733-2693

 
Spam Sample #2: Customer Review/Survey Request

Sending IP: 68.232.199.179

Actual Headers:

Received: from mta.tx.redbox.com (mta.tx.redbox.com [68.232.199.179])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Mon,  8 Oct 2012 16:xx:xx -0000 (UT)
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
DomainKey-Signature: <xxx>
Received: by mta.tx.redbox.com id <xxx> 
        for <xxx>; Mon, 8 Oct 2012 10:xx:xx -0600 
        (envelope-from <bounce-<xxx>@bounce.tx.redbox.com>)
From: "Redbox" <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <xxx>
Subject: Give us your 2 cents on your recent return
Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 10:xx:xx -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
Reply-To: "Redbox" <reply-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>
x-job: <xxx>
Message-ID: <xxx>
Content-Type: text/html;
        charset="<xxx>"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Readable Email:

From: Redbox <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: Give us your 2 cents on your recent return
Reply-To: Redbox <support-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>

Thanks for using Redbox! ! Your copy of <xxx> was successfully returned on 10/08/2012 <xxx>. Did you enjoy it? Rate it here to help out future renters.

<complex, javascript-ridden email mostly removed>

Redbox Automated Retail LLC | 1 Tower Lane, Suite 900 | Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181

 
Spam Sample #3: Order Receipt (Transactional Email)

Sending IP: 68.232.206.23

Actual Headers:

Received: from bg23.mta.exacttarget.com (bg23.mta.exacttarget.com [68.232.206.23])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Mon,  8 Oct 2012 16:xx:xx -0000 (UT)
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
DomainKey-Signature: <xxx>
Received: by bg23.mta.exacttarget.com id <xxx> 
        for <xxx>; Mon, 8 Oct 2012 10:xx:xx -0600 
        (envelope-from <bounce-<xxx>@bounce.tx.redbox.com>)
From: "Redbox" <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <xxx>
Subject: Your Receipt
Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 10:xx:xx -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
Reply-To: "Redbox" <reply-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>
x-job: <xxx>
Message-ID: <xxx>
Content-Type: text/html;
        charset="<xxx>"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Readable Email:

From: Redbox <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: Your Receipt
Reply-To: Redbox <support-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>

Thank you for using Redbox! The receipt below is for your first day’s rental.

<removed>

Redbox Automated Retail LLC | 1 Tower Lane, Suite 900 | Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181

 
Spam Sample #4: New Customer Welcome Message

Sending IP: 68.232.206.21

Actual Headers:

Received: from bg21.mta.exacttarget.com (bg21.mta.exacttarget.com [68.232.206.21])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Mon,  8 Oct 2012 23:xx:xx -0000 (UT)
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
DomainKey-Signature: <xxx>
Received: by bg21.mta.exacttarget.com id <xxx> 
        for <xxx>; Mon, 8 Oct 2012 17:xx:xx -0600 
        (envelope-from <bounce-<xxx>@bounce.tx.redbox.com>)
From: "Redbox" <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <xxx>
Subject: Thank you for using Redbox!
Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 18:xx:xx -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
Reply-To: "Redbox" <reply-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>
x-job: <xxx>
Message-ID: <xxx>
Content-Type: text/html;
        charset="us-ascii"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Readable Email:

From: Redbox <receipts@tx.redbox.com>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: Thank you for using Redbox!
Reply-To: Redbox <support-<xxx>@tx.redbox.com>

Thank you for using redbox! This email confirms your rental. Look for a receipt email after you return your disc. If you rented multiple discs, you’ll get your receipt as soon as the last disc is returned.

<removed>

Redbox Automated Retail LLC | 1 Tower Lane, Suite 900 | Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181

3 Responses to Redbox: COI Doesn’t Fix All Bulk Email Problems

  1. Brilliant blog!

    Could you also blog about banks and financial institutions that send customer information to spamtraps? Or do you want me to do some work? ;)

  2. I think you should make Tom do some more work. :)

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