The Stupidity of the Opt-out Checkbox

Published on 14th September, 2007

Trying to fool your customers is a very short-sighted business strategy.

Regardless of any personal morality regarding such matters, common-sense dictates that anything that leaves your customers feeling stupid or cheated is unlikely to lead to long-term business success.

Given such self-evident truths, its surprising how many companies indulge in petty cons when it comes time to fill out a few forms.

The most common example is the opt-out check box. This particular sleight of hand operates on the assumption that most people desperately want to receive a deluge of direct mail, email, and text messages from you and your carefully selected business partners.

The few misguided souls wishing to miss out on such delights must explicitly state this by ticking the relevant check box, a task requiring constant vigilance, and a love of small print.

This is a particularly stupid and short-sighted policy as nobody wins, particularly the business employing such trickery. Instead of a database chock-full of high-quality leads, they end up with mailing lists polluted by those unfortunate individuals who took their eye off the ball for a second.

This in turn leads to inflated marketing costs, lower response rates, and a lot of people cursing your company name for cluttering their doormat with unwanted junk mail.

A Series of Sneaks

The other day I encountered a piece of corporate folly that caused the opt-in scam to pale in comparison, and prompted this post.

The culprit was the “Buy Now” page of “Debenhams Buildings and Contents Insurance” web site. Appended to a column of legal small print was a check box bearing the legend “Tick to remove payment protection”.

Having no need for payment protection, I dutifully ticked the box.

The screen refreshed, displaying exactly the same total cost, quote details, and so forth. The check box was ticked, as you might expect, but the label had been changed to read “Tick to add payment protection” (emphasis added).

But hold on, it’s already ticked. And I don’t want payment protection. What the deuce?

Unlike the obvious sneakery of the opt-in check box, I can’t decide whether this is an idiotic attempt to con me into purchasing payment protection, or simply an instance of appallingly bad interface design.

Either way, it’s potentially very damaging to Debenhams. They’re selling a product that promises to protect my home and my most treasured possessions, and at the exact moment of purchase they give me cause to doubt their trustworthiness.