Catalog spam


I tried to get removed from a catalog mailing list yesterday. As usual, I never signed up for the catalog and they added my name (without asking) simply because I had made a prior purchase, but that’s a gripe for another day. At any rate, I was pleased to hear an option right on the phone menu for mailing list removal. However, it insisted on looking me up by phone number (which they didn’t have for me) or taking a recording of my whole address. Five tries and ten minutes later, I was still nowhere. Then I asked for a live representative, and we were done in about 45 seconds. The secret? He asked for the customer code on the catalog itself.

Now, I’m well aware that virtually every catalog has a series of numbers printed near your name to identify you. This might be called a Customer Code, Catalog ID, Referral Code, etc. The point is, at least one of those numbers matches up with your name and address in the retailer’s database. So why is it so damn hard to just provide that number when requesting catalog removal? Surely there is a logical reason for this, since it’s consistent with every list I’ve tried to get removed from. But the rationale still eludes me.

Perhaps they do this on purpose, to make it difficult to opt-out. Maybe they want to encourage people to give up, or increase the chances that you’ll leave them incomplete information that they can’t match up with your records. Either way, it’s just plan wrong. Every company that mails out catalogs should have a clear and straightforward way to get off the list. They should provide a phone number or website that asks for only ONE piece of data: the customer code or another numeric string on the mailing label. Not your name and address, not your phone number, not your SAT score, and not the batting average of some obscure minor league shortstop. You would enter that one piece of data, press a key or click a button to confirm you want to be removed, and you’re done.

But who am I kidding? My wish will never happen, since there’s big money in spam — and that’s what many printed catalogs are. If they were legitimate, it wouldn’t be so damn hard to get off the list.