E-Tailer Plots World War III By Snail Mailing Junk Mail Based On Online Activity

A potential trial between Royal Mail, the postal service company in the United Kingdom, and what's being described as a "big retailer" underscores why it's important to take online privacy seriously. Should the two sides move forward with the trial, online users living in the U.K. will receive market materials via snail mail based on their online shopping habits.

Let's say a shopper named Joe visits this so-called big retailer and adds an item to his virtual shopping cart. If Joe doesn't complete the transaction for any reason, he would receive a physical letter or product pamphlet in the mail encouraging him to buy the item he was looking at.

Call me crazy, but I can't see this going over very well. For one, it's a monumental waste of resources -- time, money, paper, etc. Email has become the dominant form of communication because it's cheaper and more convenient, so resorting to spamming online shoppers with paper materials just seems like a bad idea.

Junk Mail

It's also a privacy concern. Marketing shenanigans like this are the very reason why it's important to take online privacy seriously. Conventional wisdom says its identity thieves and hackers that we need to worry about, but if you don't want to see an increase in physical junk mail, you can add big retailers to the list.

On the bright side, Royal Mail said it will be easy for customers to opt out. Or if viewing the glass half empty, another way of putting that is to say that online shoppers will be opted in by default.

"Sooner than you think, an online retailer might re-target the owner of an abandoned shopping basket using mail as it does digital display today," explains Jonathan Harman, boss of Royal Mail's MarketReach direct marketing division. "Digital print and modern production techniques mean it could be in the post the same day. Sure, it’s a lot more expensive per thousand than online display, but it may also be about 100 times more responsive."

Obviously there are dissenting opinions on the matter, such as that of Daniel Nesbitt of Big Brother Watch. As far as Nesbitt is concerned, this trial means that "not only will people be bombarded by targeted adverts, they could also be deluged by letters, often with no knowledge of why or how Royal Mail got hold of this information."

What's your opinion on this? Share it with us in the comments section!