Nice Guys Finish Last

A couple of weeks back I wrote an article under the title, “I’ll Kiss You Unless You Tell Me Not To.”

I got a bit of feedback on that.

A few people were a little surprised by the fact that I closed the article by suggesting that e-commerce sites collect as many names as possible through a two-step process. A process that begins with an opt-out opener.

Let me add a little meat to what I began to suggest…

Step One

At first contact, collect as many names as possible through an opt-out approach. So when you first make a purchase at my site, I’ll add you to my general newsletter list. Automatically. Unless you tell me not to.

Step Two

Convert as many of those folks as possible into an opt-in audience. So before too many people become irritated by the ‘interruption’ of my automatic newsletter, I’ll encourage them to opt-in to some other service or communication.

It’s a two-step kind of dance with the customer. Kiss them quick and then ask permission before kissing them the second time.

Some of the feedback I received suggested that I was a bad person for recommending this. After all, it’s not nice to kiss people without asking them first. Some people expected better of me. They expected me to be ‘Mr.100% Opt-in.’

Well, I suspect the sad truth of the matter is, nice guys really do finish last. (In real life, I know this to be true. I was one of those really nice guys in my youth and never got to kiss anybody.)

In e-commerce, the way it’s shaping up right now, I think you need to go beyond being ‘Mr.100% Opt-in.’

But if you are going to steal that first kiss — if you do start with an opt-out opener — you have to be really careful.

Because permission still rules.

Here are a few guidelines to playing the opt-out opening:

1. Make it truly opt-out.

That is to say, you really do give people a simple and immediately visible mechanism by which they can say, ‘No thanks.’

You don’t do what does. On its web site, where they could perfectly easily provide a box to check or uncheck, they say this:

‘If you do not wish to receive email updates, please send an email to and type “remove” in the subject line.’

This is just sneaky. Instead of giving a one-click opt-out option, they deliberately make it hard. Don’t do that.

2. Remember that an opt-out list is a very short-term asset.

You’ll have a lot of people there who don’t really want to be on your list. Take active steps to convert that first-touch, opt-out audience. Convert them into visitors who give you active permission to market.

How? Use your first couple of outbound emails to encourage people to opt-in to some other service from your site. You’ve opened by forcing your attention on them. So now you give them an opportunity to opt-in. Before they leave you.

Can you try the opt-out opener on any audience? No, you can’t.

If I tried it on the subscribers to the newsletter, they’d crucify me. Because our readers work in the online industry. Early adopters hate opt-out.

But right now, if I worked for a major online retailer and constructed a carefully thought-out opt-out opener, aimed at regular folk, I think I could achieve that with very few complaints.

And the site’s investors would love the math.

Because with an opt-out opener, I bet I would end up with a bigger opt-in list than another guy who started with opt-in alone.

In the increasingly competitive world of e-commerce, I suspect that nice guys will finish last.

Related reading