How Zavvi Put Me Off From Future Purchases

When a friend of mine sent me links to a couple of items on Zavvi he and his family would like for Christmas, I saw no particular reason not to buy from them.

This was a name I was familiar with from the high street.  On that basis I was happy enough to click through to their site and order the items for my friends.  The items arrived quite promptly and in good condition.

What Went Wrong?

What happened next impressed me much less.  Having given them my contact details solely for the purpose of contacting me about my purchases I was less than pleased to receive an advertising email from them entitled “Andrew – you’ll also love these!

I had not asked them to send me unsolicited marketing materials or checked any box granting them permission to do so.  So, this email came as somewhat of an unpleasant surprise.   I took 2 steps to resolve this:

  1. I contacted them on Twitter to complain about this abuse of my email address and asking them to remove me from their marketing database.
  2. I also emailed Matthew Moulding, the CEO of The Hut Group (Zavvi’s owner), with the same complaint and request.

How Did They Respond?

No reply came back from their CEO.  This is pretty unusual: most companies tend to respond promptly and helpfully if you go to the top.

I did hear back from their Twitter team a couple of days later who asked me to unsubscribe. But that was not the point.  I had not subscribed in the first place – they had assumed it was OK to send me marketing instead of getting me to request it – so I did not see why I should have to do the work to unsubscribe.  I pushed back and asked them again to remove me from their marketing list.  After a couple of further similar exchanges on Twitter, they did eventually remove me from the list.

How Did I Get On To Their Marketing List?

On their site they have a checkbox with the wording: “I’d like to receive updates about my order and the latest exclusive offers, news and promotions from The Hut Group of companies.”  To be fair this is reasonably prominent and (very unusually for me) I had missed this when ordering the goods.  Normally, I’m very careful to watch out for this but everything was a bit of a rush and I was working very long hours during that period.

I have no problem with them having a checkbox to choose whether I want promotional material.  The issue I have with them is that they assumed the answer was yes and checked it for me.  You can see this policy for yourself if you go to their site, order any item and select the New Customers option.

If they had left it unchecked I would not have opted in, as I did not want marketing offers.  As I had somehow missed the fact that the checkbox was there, Zavvi got away with adding me to their marketing database without my knowledge (until the first item of spam arrived).   This feels a bit like buying an item on the high street only to find the shop assistant followed you back home and stuffed some flyers through your letterbox.

So Did I Consent or Not?

Without having legal training, in a strict legal sense I imagine I did consent by virtue of not spotting and unchecking the box.

In any normal sense, i.e. the way we use the word in everyday speech, I did not consent: in order to consent to something, you have to be aware that there is a choice and actively agree to it.

Could I Not Simply Have Unsubscribed?

Of course I could.  But I long ago got fed up with companies thinking that they could use my contact details (address, phone, mobile, email) to market their services to me, so I have a very firm and assertive policy to manage such situations.  As a result of this policy I get virtually no spam these days and a minimal number of scam/marketing calls or texts.

In this instance I addressed the situation:

  • Publicly asking them to stop this behaviour via Twitter.
  • Forwarding each new marketing email to their CEO and also sending a follow-up email to chasing a response to my previous emails.
  • As Zavvi asked me for a review on TrustPilot (a very useful site for seeing how other people rate companies), I provided feedback on my dissatisfaction at the way my personal data had been used.

Incidentally, Zavvi tried to get TrustPilot to remove my review and it did disappear for a couple of days.  TrustPilot rejected their request with the following response:

It does not contravene our guidelines and has therefore been placed back online again.  Should you not agree with the content of the review, we always recommend companies to contact the reviewer by either leaving a comment on the review … or contacting the customer directly. In our experience, if a company proactively deals with customer reviews, the issue can be resolved and the reviewer may be inclined to change their review. I recommend it in this case as well.

So far I have not had any pro-active contact from Zavvi relating to the review.

How Zavvi Can Improve Its Customer Service?

In order to maintain a good relationship with its customers in future, Zavvi could note the following:

  1. Do not opt your customers into marketing.  If the customer wants marketing, they will be happy to check a box to grant consent.
  2. Offer a clear choice of the type of marketing the customer is agreeing to.  Ideally, there should be up to 4 boxes that a customer may choose:
    1. For regular offers from Zavvi.
    2. For occasional offers from Zavvi, i.e. only when there’s a seasonal sale on.  Some customers may not want an email a couple of times a week but might appreciate knowing about special promotions 3 or 4 times a year.
    3. For offers from other companies within The Hut Group.
    4. If applicable, for passing customer details to selected 3rd parties.
  3. When a customer contacts you to complain they are getting unwanted marketing emails, it means they want these emails to stop.  Don’t put the onus on the customer to find the email again and hunt for the little Unsubscribe link at the bottom.  Instead provide some customer service and get them removed from the marketing database straight away!
  4. If a customer views an issue seriously enough to contact the CEO, this customer is very unlikely to go away even if you ignore them or block their email address (in fact I had to send the emails from different email address each time as the previous addresses appeared to have been blocked).  Employ an executive team to take the complaint seriously and resolve it promptly and efficiently.

It is not actually the marketing material that is most likely to discourage me from going back to Zavvi as a customer in future.  The main thing that put me off is the absence of customer service I initially received and the poor customer service that followed, i.e. telling me to unsubscribe 3 times rather than removing me from the marketing list.