How about consumers take some ownership

The customer is not always right & other truths

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) recently issued an infringement notice for AU$1,003,800, the biggest fine the regulator has ever issued*. Does the consumer have some responsibility in this process? I think they do.

What does ACMA suggest went wrong at Woolworths?

You can read the full news report below, but fundamentally Woolworths had multiple people signing up to their rewards program using the same email address. One person unsubscribed, it appears that Woolworths honoured that, but then emailed a second person using the same email address.

Most marketers can read thought leadership for a month or more that talks about how consumers want a personalised experience as they engage with brands. Is sharing an email address really the best way to ensure a personalised experience? Perhaps not.

Here’s one piece of thought leadership from the good people at McKinsey & Co about personalisation.

Read the following very carefully

“We [Woolworths] respect the right of our rewards members to choose how and when we communicate with them and apologise for failing to act on all unsubscribe requests as required under the law,” said Amanda Bardwell, managing director of Woolies X, the supermarket chain’s digital, e-commerce and customer services arm.

“Subsequent breaches occurred because we continued sending communications to email addresses shared by multiple rewards members, where only one member had made an unsubscribe request.
“While we were acting on unsubscribe requests from individual rewards members, we did not assume it meant other members sharing that email address had to be opted out as well.”*

What went wrong with the customers sharing an email account?

Let’s just think this through. Karen and James share an email address e.g. They both subscribe to Woolworths Rewards.

My first question would be “why share an email account?”, but let’s keep rolling with the scenario….

Karen is excited about her rewards points and eagerly engages with Woolworths and the emails she receives. She activates her points promotions and enjoys updates from the CEO about toilet paper supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, James is not enjoying the Woolworths Rewards emails and decides to unsubscribe from Woolworths Rewards.

Ok – stop here for a minute

Karen and James share a single email address/account. James has unsubscribed, Karen is not aware. Her emails from Woolworths, addressed to her e.g. “Dear Karen…” at the shared email address, continue to arrive. James is annoyed – but if he’d looked carefully he would have seen they’re addressed to Karen.

Regardless, James feels within his rights to submit a complaint to ACMA. Of course if James had his own email address, this would be a lot clearer.

Woolworths may have a data model that allows them to have a single email account connected to two different contacts i.e. two different people. This enables them to manage the preferences for Karen and James separately. Based on the fine issued by ACMA, this is a fundamentally flawed data model.

It would appear there are at least 1,003,800 reasons why Australian businesses need to have a one-to-one data model i.e. one single email account attached to one human contact.

Remember what Bardwell explained above:

“While we were acting on unsubscribe requests from individual rewards members, we did not assume it meant other members sharing that email address had to be opted out as well.”*

I’m very confident that Bardwell is not alone in her understanding of the legislation. It does pose the question though, where were the Woolworths lawyers in this process?

Consumers need to take some ownership & practice simple online security if they really want the personalisation McKinsey & Co. tell us they want.

Given the amount of online websites we all use to access personal details e.g. banking, health, insurance, dating sites & more, email accounts like, shared by multiple humans, needs to be thought through if people want online security and a unique experience.

At the same time marketers need to incentivise people to provide a unique email address when they sign up to services. Marketers need to be clear about what they’re offering and convey the value of their content.

At the point of capturing an email address, additional copy on the form like:

  • Work email address
  • Your unique email address
  • Please provide an email address that is unique to you

Eloqua users know that Eloqua simply does not allow duplicate email addresses. Some Eloqua customers use Custom Data Objects and other more complex scenarios to enable them to have one email address associated to multiple humans.

However, based on the fine issued by ACMA to Woolworths, this should probably be revisited sooner rather than later. It would be a smart to included in-house counsel in any redesign of your data model.

The email footer needs to be clear about a number of things, who the email was sent to, why it was sent to the person and for what purpose.

My suggestions on what an email footer should contain.

The email footer is where most people go when they make a decision to unsubscribe from a company’s emails. Marketers have a responsibility to present information as clearly as possible.

The reality is that most marketers will make footer copy very small – literally 8 or 9 point font size. This can sometimes be because of legal requirements to include certain details, however it can also be to make it as difficult as possible to unsubscribe. If that’s the motivation, you’re not in the CX business.

It’s my view that the Woolworths Rewards footer below is a mix of required legal information and other information that does little more than make it difficult to find the unsubscribe link. It could certainly be made a little clearer.

This is a pretty standard email footer. It looks to have been largely designed by lawyers (that hasn't helped Woolworths) and IT. Regardless, it contains what's generally expected to be there. It could be a little more customer friendly and a little easier to understand. There are 7 hyperlinks and two seperate emails provided for various services.
This is a pretty standard email footer. It looks to have been largely designed by lawyers (that hasn’t helped Woolworths) and IT. Regardless, it contains what’s generally expected to be there. It could be a little more customer friendly and a little easier to understand. There are 7 hyperlinks and two seperate emails provided for various services.

If I was Woolworths, I’d replace the above footer with something like this…

This email was sent to Derek Bell: as a service to members of the Woolworth Rewards loyalty program.

Update your personal details  |  Manage your preferences or unsubscribe  |  Help & FAQ’s  |  Contact us

Alternatively, contact us on 1300 10 1234 or

Never miss an offer: Add to your email Address Book or Safe List. Woolworths Group Limited, ABN 88 000 014 675, 1 Woolworths Way, Bella Vista, NSW 2153.

View this email online      CVM-1661

Copyright 2020 Woolworths Rewards. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

I would certainly remove this sentence “This is a system generated email sent to Please do not reply.”

Really! The email is not “system generated”. It was probably written by a PR firm or senior marketers, signed off by Brad Banducci, it was built by a marketer, the list prepared and the email was sent. The email above is being sent to “members” and comes from the CEO – talk to me as a human. I’d suggest use of the term “system generated” is used to dissuade people from even trying to respond e.g. “what’s the point, no one will respond”.

This is not unique to Woolworths, however it’s more common than not. If I opt-in to communications and allow a company to deliver their content into my inbox, the least they can do is enable a way for me to easily respond and engage with them. The most obvious one is to ensure that if I reply to the email, someone will in fact receive my comments.

Most companies are killing themselves to drive engagement and then they raise a brick-wall with the most obvious route, denying people the chance to simply reply to an email.

Over the years I’ve heard many lame excuses and reasons, usually from IT, about why they can’t do that. There are dozens of platforms that help manage inbound emails e.g. Zendesk, Salesforce has Case Management, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and others all have Case/Service Request management tools.

I see two options to improve the CX & keep the lawyers & bureaucrats at bay…

Live on the edge & hedge your bets

I know some “cowboy” marketers will see this as an option. Nothing more needs to be said here.

Conform to legal requirements & deliver a richer CX

For companies that choose to market their products and services with integrity, this is the only option. 

For many companies the Woolworths Rewards million dollar fine will cause some angst and questions will need to be asked. Boards have a responsibility to manage risk and marketers must be able to answer the hard questions.

So, back to the customer and their responsibilities in scenarios like this.

Personally, I don’t believe the “customer is always right”. That statement is ludicrous when you really take it apart.

Some people will cringe at my view. It’s a sentiment largely pushed from the US and has permeated its’ way around the western world. As a customer, I don’t want to engage with “yes” people or companies who will simply say yes to my every request. I want guidance and I want my assumptions to be challenged, I seek after and expect expertise from people I engage for various services.

I work in a B2B environment every day and have done so for many years, my role is to provide advice and direction. That role requires me, from time to time, to expressly advise a customer that they’re making a wrong decision.

More specifically in my current role, I will get enquires every now and then from Eloqua customers where they’ve received a complaint from their customer. The complaint is a little like the Woolworths Rewards scenario “I unsubscribed and you kept sending me emails”.

Really! If the client “globally unsubscribed” then Eloqua will not have sent them an email – simple as that. I’ve been able to walk clients through the Digital Body Language of their customer and clearly show what they have or have not done.

Robust enterprise level platforms like Eloqua do not randomly choose to change defined processes. Software platforms will do what you tell them to do. If the process appears to have failed at some point, it is generally because a human has been involved in some way to adjust or change the processes or the end customer has not done what they claim to have done.

I’d suggest it’s the responsibility of the marketing team to ensure the process to unsubscribe is not convoluted, difficult or onerous. It should be tested from the consumers side on a regular basis.

*SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald “Woolworths hit with record $1 million fine for spamming customers”  1st July 2020