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Will we ever clear our doormats of junk mail?

The average home gets 453 pieces of junk mail a year. No wonder so many of us want to cut the amount we receive. Robert Rijkhoff, of the Stop Junk Mail campaign, explains why current measures simply don’t work.

Britain uses about three times its fair share of paper. Yet, even though it’s clear we don’t have enough trees to sustain our level of paper consumption, we can’t even seem to cut junk mail.

What’s wrong with us?

The fox is guarding the hen house

Royal Mail distributes about half of all unaddressed junk mail that comes through the door. The company is well aware that not everybody appreciates all those leaflets from Virgin Media, Direct Line, Domino’s Pizza and the like, and so it has set up an opt-out scheme.

According to the latest figures, just under 0.8% of households has opted out. If you think that’s a rather low percentage, you might be interested to know that a second opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail, run by the Direct Marketing Association and ironically called “Your Choice”, has an opt-out rate of just 0.006%.

Opt-out schemes rarely work, and schemes that are as ineffective and customer-unfriendly as the above-mentioned ‘services’ will never achieve opt-out rates of any significance. I believe opt-out schemes like Your Choice exist purely to give the impression that the industry is being responsible. It’s the fox guarding the hen house; a prime example of how self-regulation shouldn’t work.

The new magic word: targeting

The Direct Marketing Association et al don’t make a secret of the fact that they don’t like the idea of people opting out. The industry’s preferred solution is “targeting”. By collecting vast amounts of data about people’s interests and lifestyles, marketeers believe they are nowadays able to target people with “communications” they’ll almost certainly be interested in.

Much as the junk mail industry would like to be in the same league as Google and Facebook, it’s clear that its figures don’t add up. After years of targeting, about 70% of all unsolicited mail is still unaddressed, and therefore not targeted in any meaningful way. Targeting can only be a small part of the solution to the junk mail issue.

The fear of the consumer

The industry’s solutions – setting up opt-out schemes and improving targeting – haven’t solved the junk mail problem. The reason is that both approaches have been dreamed up behind closed doors, without consulting the recipients of advertising mail. People don’t want complicated opt-out schemes, nor do they want the industry to use ever more sophisticated targeting tools. They just want less junk mail.

Marketeers don’t want to hear this. Yet, it’s the only solution, and one that has worked well in many other countries. Making it truly easy for people to stop unwanted advertisements is the only form of targeting that works. Not only does it prevent people from being force-fed advertisements, it also makes sense from an economic point of view.

You see, by not sending advertisements to people who hate junk mail, the industry doesn’t have to waste resources on targeting the unwilling, which increases the sender’s “return on investment”.

Any workable solution will have to start with a constructive debate. The industry would need to overcome some taboos and be willing to discuss, for instance, launching a single website where people can register with various opt-out schemes for unsolicited marketing (there are more than ten of them!).

Another topic that has so far escaped debate is whether or not reducing unaddressed mail should be easy as putting a freely and readily available “No Junk Mail” sign on your door.

So far, marketeers have been unwilling to have such a debate. It’s not just ironic that they want to know everything about us but refuse to talk about reducing junk mail – it’s precisely the reason why industry self-regulation is failing to reduce waste. Marketeers suffer from an irrational fear of the consumer.

Have you tried to stop junk mail?

Yes - and it's helped reduce it (37%, 211 Votes)

Yes - but it hasn't worked (35%, 198 Votes)

No - I don't know how to (20%, 112 Votes)

No - I can't be bothered (9%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 571

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Comments

Just seen that Defra are going to launch a new website to allow people to opt-out of all advertising mail. More info here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/junk-mail-binned-defra-website?newsfeed=true

I wonder whether this will work? What do you think?

Thanks for the news Hannah. Opt-out is a start but I would prefer opt-in because that would cut out a lot of wasted resources, including recycling of all the unwanted paper. If Defra is taking action and there is public backing, going on to have an opt-in system could be a quick and easy win compared with sorting out other environmental issues.

The service should be available from April. See the Defra website:
http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/11/01/unwanted-advertising-mail

After a previous Which? article I attempted to stop the Royal Mail Door to Door delivery of Junk Mail. Four times I had to register as every time I complained they claimed they had never received my request. They did receive the fourth one as it went by recorded delivery, but it still didn’t stop. That time they said they would inform the local sorting office, but it never stopped. Absolute waste of time.

I might add that the telephone preference service, combined with being ex-directory, works a treat. We have probably had half a dozen calls in twenty years!

Maurice Johnson says:
9 November 2011

I have written to Vigin Media to try and stop their mail addresed to: “The Occupier” at my address.
So far without success. I have registered with the Royal Mail re their “Door to Door” and they say that they are duty bound to deliver mail with my address on?

The November issue of Which? suggests that we should return mail to the sender, marked ‘Unsolicited mail’ and without postage. Do companies accept this mail and pay the postage (and surcharge) or refuse to accept it and avoid paying postage?

I used to send back a lot of unsolicited mail but have not done this for years. Sending it back is only worthwhile if I know that the sender has to pay the postage.

Brilliant suggestion!! Find out for sure that it’s costing the company money and the Post Office the effort and money…..then you too can make sure you punish those awful businesses for trying to make profits and preserve jobs.
And you can dish out this punishment just because they have had the temerity to irritate you so dreadfully by dropping a piece of paper on your doormat.

Thanks Robert. Occasionally I have used the Freepost envelopes in junk mail to return some or all of the junk they have sent me, to ensure that they do have to pay postage. I have done this with companies that offeri large loans or credit cards with high interest rates, encouraging people to get further into debt.

My reason for asking the question was to try to find out whether returning unsolicited mail cost the Post Office money or whether it makes money from the surcharge. Royal Mail are struggling and this would be useful information.

I try to avoid using companies that make unsolicited phone calls or send advertising material through the post and ignore the fact that I have registered with the MPS. If prefer to choose companies by recommendation, or use websites and Yellow Pages.

I don’t find unsolicited mail a problem – see my earlier comment – but the waste of money and resources does annoy me.

Wavechange, your reply is decent and reasonable.
However, I would love you to be able to come and see what would happen if we simply sat back and waited for people to come to us. Trying to make a profit in a business involves a certain amount of wastage. I and my salesmen make two free visits to potential buyers for every one order that we take. That is a “waste” of resources, petrol, time etc. But it produces enough money to sustain my family and several others.
Direct marketing leaflets inevitably involve “wastage” but the positive effects outweigh the negative on most occasions.

I am not trying to put you out of business Greg but I have signed up not to receive mail by post, so anything I do receive will at best be recycled and may put me off using that company in future.

I am not bothered by the leaflets that are hand-delivered and at the moment I am studying each one to try to find local printers that I could use to produce information leaflets for a charity.

I do try to support small businesses and these are often recommended by friends.

James says:
27 May 2016

Your company is inefficient if you cannot survive without spamming the local population, just the same as the people complaining that if minimum wage rises that they can’t afford to pay their staff…then I’m sorry but you can’t afford staff and if I ou Canterbury survive on the customers you get without wasting the planet’s resources to spam letterboxes then your business model is inefficient.

Andy Williams says:
16 November 2011

I am inundated with junk mail.

To me it is a big problem as I am partially sighted. I find it difficult to distinguish my real mail from the junk and I have thrown out important letters that have been mingled in with assorted leaflets and circulars.

I have opted out of unadressed mail from Royal Mail but they still post it through on ocassion.
I had a clear sign on the door stating ‘No Junk Mail’. This had little effect and I went out with leaflets when they been posted through. Most people said that they did not consider their leaflet to be junk and some were aggressive about this. Some said that they did not see the sign or they could not read English. I changed the sign to read No unadressed mail, no circulars, no leaflets, no charity bags. But it still comes through at all times of day. I don’t go out to challenge the delivery people any more as they can be really rude and abusive. I have contacted the organisations who post leaflets through to ask why they are posting when i hae made it clear that I do not want their mail. Some organisations say it was a mistake ( and continue to post), some ignore all communication and others say they will tell their delivery team.

This is a really big issue for partially sighted people, but no-one is doing anything about it.

Paul Stephen says:
16 November 2011

I’ve had problems with junk mail – hate the stuff. I signed up recently with green preference service, which seems like a great idea – and helps save CO2 – and helps stop junk mail.

if you’re interested it’s at http://www.greenpreferenceservice.com

Actually I find junk mail very useful,
I use it to get my log burner going now I won’t by newspapers from over politicised, biased and sensationalistic media.

It keeps our postman in a job too.

Do you have any tips on businesses wanting to encourage their employees to opt out of junk mail at work. We have hundreds of junk mail items a day that end up going into recycling that we would rather not receive in the first place! If we don’t receive it we don’t have to dispose of it.

Sensible suggestions on how to encourage our employees would be very welcome.

West Coast Kat says:
24 October 2012

Hi!

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Royal Mail to stop sending me unaddressed mail. I’ve had the same promises over and over again that it will be stopped, but to no avail. Is there any legal recourse? I really can’t see it stopping unless there is something I can threaten them with.

Cheers : >

Keith says:
7 November 2012

I am a postman,though not for much longer I fear. I hate delivering junk mail, especially to people that hate getting it. People assume it keeps me in a job but I get £13 to deliver junk mail across 770 houses/flats,if I just took my junk mail out it would take 3 to 4 hours with 1 type of junk mail. It is a criminal operation I feel. From the inside I can safely say junk mail is prioratized by the management, a manager of mine reflected that junk mail is his pension, sadly my contract does not qualify for a pension. Finally I just want to remind anyone reading the old saying just in case, don’t shoot the messenger.

I subscribe to a gardening magazine and when I received the latest issue there were 19 leaflets included in it – and six of these were exactly the same leaflet. In a time when we are encouraged to cut down on waste and recycle we shouldn’t be receiving so much junk mail. I signed up to the mail preference service because I was sick of receiving junk mail but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Today I received 27 items through the post – 26 were junk mail. By including leaflets with magazines companies can ignore the mail preference service. It seems to me that more companies are using this method for getting their leaflets into our homes. It would be interesting to know if other people have noticed an increase in the number of junk mail included with magazines that they subscribe to.

I expect it’s the case that the bumf included with the mags pays for the reduced price for a subscription compared with buying them over the counter. The charities and companies that pay to have their stuff delivered this way must think it’s worth while; I don’t give it a second glance as it goes straight in the recycling bin. I’d rather not have it in the first place but I wouldn’t want to pay more for the magazines just to exclude it.

James says:
25 June 2014

I enjoy receiving junk mail. I am MPS and TPS registered and therefore bill them £400 a time. Its fairly easy to do, and usually requires just 3 letters…

Notice of Demand For Administration Costs
Notice of Fault and Opportunity To Cure
Notice of Default

You should be able to find templates online for these documents. If they don’t pay up within the 10 day time limit, i send the next letter. If they refuse to pay, you have taken all the necessary steps to take it to small claims court. If they have a half decent legal team, they will usually pay up within 2 letters.

Strangely the junk mail seems to dry up, which is a real shame 🙁

Kay says:
26 June 2014

Hi!

I can’t find templates for Notice of Demand For Administration Costs
Notice of Fault and Opportunity To Cure
Notice of Default

Any pointers would be appreciated!

Cheers : >

big mac says:
30 September 2014

hi all.I was getting loads and loads of emails from vanquish bank.this was like every day atleast a couple and I got hacked off with it,i wrote too them telling them that they had 14 days to get me off there mailing list,and if they didn’t then I would charge them £250 for every email,every txt,and every bit of mail they sent.and after 3 of any of the mentioned were sent I was taking them too court for the money.and guess what,ive been email,txt,mail,free ever since.so its worth spending a bit of time writing too these companys as they think they are bigger than you but they are not.you control them and if they don’t do as you say then its harrasement if they carry on.and that’s against the law.so get writing and lay the law down to them.good luck

seamus says:
1 September 2015

It’s all junk to me some future day children won’t know what a 5ree is feck sake

Ian says:
27 May 2016

If only someone could turn off the constant stream of letters from telecoms firms and energy suppliers offering a ‘better deal’ that often turns out not to be…

Fred Bloggs says:
11 November 2016

I hate junk mail too. I have tried all the opt outs – useless, and you have to renew. The situation should be OPT-IN!! But it’s not. My solution is simply to accumaulate all the kunk mail (doesn’t take long) then every so often I post it into a Royal Mail post box. If we all did that, it might have an impact.