Retailer Opt-out Emails for Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday fell on 14th March this year. It is a special day on which we celebrate all mothers, and comes soon after International Women’s Day, on 8th March, which celebrates all women.

However, Mother’s Day is not universally received as a happy occasion. It can be particularly upsetting for those who have recently lost their mother – or are struggling to become one.  

With that newly recognised insight many UK retailers were offering ‘opt-out’ choices for people who didn’t want to receive Mother’s Day themed marketing emails this year. This sensitive trend offers an intriguing glimpse of what the future might hold for personal marketing preferences. IPS believes in ‘opt-out by default’ wherever possible. We wanted to dig into the impact of this change given its broad support by a range of UK retailers.

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Back in 2018, there was a motion debated in Parliament calling for a change that would make it easier for consumers to opt-out of Mother’s Day marketing.  It was tabled by MP Matt Warman, who spoke movingly of his own “dread” following the death of his parents. He suggested that retailers could do this as part of a voluntary code.

The online florist Bloom and Wild was the first retailer to offer its customers an early chance to opt-out of Mother’s Day promotion simply by clicking a box or link. This is a much more subtle choice than someone choosing to ‘unsubscribe from all marketing emails.’ This is someone choosing to personalise their interests by volunteering NOT to receive emails relating to a particular subject. The voluntary aspect sits much more comfortably with data privacy advocates than some shadowy algorithm analysing death certificates to update user preferences automatically.

This year

We are living amidst an ongoing pandemic which has resulted in many deaths. Retailers this year appear to have become increasingly sensitive to the devastating effects Coronavirus has had on many families.

In 2021 more major retailers than ever participated in this voluntary opt-out scheme. Tesco, M&S and Boots have joined the scheme. sent out their opt-out email back in February. Online greetings card and gifts retailer Moonpig did something similar (see image below):

Social media users shared the Moonpig email on Twitter with one person saying: “Wish more companies offered this.”

Sainsbury’s and Waitrose also took part. Waitrose has also decided to extend the option to Father’s Day on 20th June.

Many consumers welcomed the option and expressed support of the sensitivity being shown, whereas others felt the opt-out messages are more upsetting than the marketing itself. Receiving multiple emails reminding you that Mother’s Day is coming up – whether an opt-out email or not, can still be painful.  Similar patterns must also occur in relation to births, deaths and marriages.

Retailers find themselves in a strange position given the rise in direct digital marketing in the last 20 years.  It has almost gone unchallenged that email campaigns ‘work’, delivered better ‘Return on Investment’ than almost any other tactic and  can always be ‘pushed harder’.  Perhaps we have reached an era of ‘peak email’ where brands need to revisit some retailing mantras that echo through history: ‘the customer is always right’ and ‘less is more’.

Why would those affected want to change their minds next year? Perhaps the opt-out should last a lifetime by default?   These retailers must now continue to adopt a sympathetic approach in asking their customers how they feel about these new options, choices and controls. In setting up an account we may well be invited to add discretionary information that shows how we would like to be treated by the retailer in future. It is definitely a potentially awkward digital topic, but it will be up to the brand to keep open the opportunity to close down certain uncomfortable channels of communication.

One customer put it bluntly: “Please do this permanently and don’t ask me next year. My mum is not coming back (from the dead) and I don’t need reminding”.

For help and support if you feel impacted by the occasion please contact:

Cruse Bereavement Care

IPS Summary

Amidst the usual onslaught of pre-Mother’s Day marketing it was right to spare a thought for those who wish they could avoid the whole charade rather than face up to the messaging that can prompt tears, trauma and a refreshed sense of grief.
Email triggers can come at any moment and from many unexpected sources. The idea that retail brands are learning to be both sensitive and intelligent in getting the balance of communication right with their audience has to be seen as a positive and progressive step.  When they are offering to email you less, and offering to remove topics that you find upsetting things are swinging back in favour of the customer having more control. The future holds the promise of further advances like this. When good behaviour makes sense because it’s just good business, then we will all benefit.


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