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Store E-mail Newsletters Need to Comply With New Law

Canada’s Anti-Spam legislation comes into effect on July 2nd. Stores that send out e-mail newsletters need to be aware of requirements and penalties for non-compliance. Basically, you need to be sure that at some point the people on your list have opted in to receive it. There needs to be clear identification of who the e-mail originates with. Third, there needs to be a clear and simple mechanism to unsubscribe.

For our store, the issue of express consent would be just about impossible to gauge. Over the past seventeen years, we’ve sent numerous sample store newsletters to people with whom we were already engaged in a product enquiry or related search and many have opted in. Many times the consent has been verbal at the store. Many times, the history of individual contacts for the 250 names we have on our list go back to computers where there was no need to retain e-mail files when the computer was updated. Furthermore, in 2010, we streamlined our database to work only with raw addresses. In some cases the recipient is known to us and obvious by their address, but in some cases I don’t know who the address relates to, even though I possibly serve that person on a regular basis.

It’s already been suggested to me that because our newsletter has historically been a list of upcoming Christian events in the community its commercial purposes form a very small part of the content. I’m not sure I would want to rest on that assumption, but our little business simply cannot afford the consultation for a legal opinion.

Getting express consent would be difficult. Some times we include direct questions in our newsletters and we get about 5% response. The law allows for a 36-month transition period. Names and e-mail addresses added to the list after July 2nd would require consent, and probably a lawyer would tell you that you now need to retain records of that consent.

What does this mean?

At the same time as Facebook is proving itself ineffective in reaching our customers, now the government is killing off any incentive to continue to release e-mail newsletters. Once again, we’re seeing how at both the provincial and federal level, small business is under attack.

For stores reading this, one option is to try to go back to asking churches for periodic bulletin announcements. Twitter is great in theory, but very few customers have accounts. Another idea is to simply swallow the costs and try for a broader reach through advertising in local newspapers. Finally, distributing flyers through church and parachurch organizations may be the best and most cost-effective option, especially if you can insert some local information relevant to your market.

Penalties quoted range from $1M to $10M. Obviously, these are meant for corporations; the information is unclear how the government intends to prosecute small business.

People are very particular about their privacy and their e-mail account. Only one complaint from a customer could destroy your store.

  1. May 24, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Looking at this from my capacity as a Technical Writer/Computer Programmer, I’d suggest that you make full use of the 36-month grace period to prefix all emails to folk who haven’t opted in with a prominent notice along lines such as this:



    New regulations coming into force on 2nd July 2014 mean that, as from 2nd July 2017, we will no longer be permitted to contact you in this manner unless you have specifically opted in to our email update service.

    This message is only appearing because, although we have mailed you regularly in the past, we have no record that you have chosen to opt in. If you wish to do so, please click the ‘YES’ button below, and you will not see this warning in future messages.

    If you do not wish to go on receiving our updates, please click the ‘NO’ button and you will be removed from our list.



    Split your mailing list into two – those who have opted in and those who haven’t – making sure that the new list has somewhere to record details of when and how consent was given. Then only send emails with the above notice to the “haven’ts.” The psychology is that they should soon tire of having to scroll past the same old notice and respond to it. As they do so, transfer them to the “haves” list.

    Obviously, all emails to the “haves” should have a message at the bottom along the lines of:


    You have received this message because you have previously subscribed to this list. If you no longer wish to receive such emails from us, please click on the button below.


    Hope this helps.

  2. pat chown
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